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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

XIV. Political and social unrest

97. Up Labour, Organise, 1921

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1Helen Crawfurd (1877-1954) was one of the most virulent left-wing political activists in Scotland in the early decades of the twentieth century. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1910. She took part in the organisation of the anti-war movement in Glasgow and was one of the founders of the Women’s Peace Crusade. She was also active in the rent strikes of 1915-16. She joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1921 and remained a committed Marxist until her death.

2“The Jazz Period”, The Communist, 8 October 1921.

“The Jazz Period”

The British Labour movement to-day is a spectacle to make men and angels weep !!!

Thousands of unemployed workmen parading the street. Others (in face of work reductions) hanging like grim death to their jobs, to terrified to grumble. The Government may begin again the horrors in Ireland. They may ship munitions of war to Poland or Romania, to be used against Soviet Russia, reduce wages of miners, railwaymen, dockers, and cotton workers, but British Labour seem impotent. Why?

It has been out-generaled. Its leaders during the last few years have led them into the hands of the enemy every time. Generals who drive their armies into defeat and captains who drive their vessels on the rocks, are deprived of command. It is not only the generals and captains who are at fault. Labour’s plan of campaign and chart have been drafted by men who do not accept the obvious fact class war.

The eleven hundred Trade Unions in this country, whose leaders are at the head of the British Labour movement (our generals), go over occasionally for a confidence with their enemy, just to find out how they can attack them without hurting them. They are far more intent on upon improving their filed kitchens and camp tents and dug-outs than improving their machinery of war. The generals in the Capitalist army have certainly shown themselves more subtle and capable. Those of the workers, on the other hand, do not realize that it is a real fight and not a sham one. […] The jazz period must end. Our national machinery must be licked into shape. More capable generals are needed and a more active rank and file. It may have been a delightful time for the generals in the labour army, but its prolongation means a jazz of death to the suffering and toiling masses. Each unit in the vast Labour army must play its part in this great scheme of reconstruction, whether employed or unemployed. We must think as we have never done in the past. We must scrap all outworn parts and renew them with some idea of the age in which we live and the enemy we have to deal with.

Mr. J. H. Thomas speaking (with his tongue in his cheek) at Newton Abbot on Sunday, September 18th, said: “The idea that a mere general strike is going to find work for people already out is ludicrous. The idea that a social upheaval is a cure, is equally fallacious.”

On the same day, T. R. Clynes, speaking of Birmingham, said “You cannot play with hungry men and women.” No, Mr Thomas, you cannot and you would be well advised to stop it.

On the same day, T. R. Clynes, speaking at Birmingham, said “the Government were afraid of organising the national resources of men, muscle and machinery, because such an organisation would make an insidious attack upon the capitalistic social order, and they were unwilling to subordinate deep-rooted and well-established private gain to such a thing as national well-being.” Yes, Mr Clynes, and are not you also afraid?

The prolongation of capitalism means that the lowest standard of the workers will determine of all. To-day the British worker is not only face to face with highly industrialised countries like Germany, America and Japan, but also with the competition of the Indian and Chinese worker whose standard of living is much lower.

Is it an impractible dream that the men who, by brain and muscle, wrest the raw materials from the earth, mould and fashion the machine, direct production, direct transport, man the ships, till the soil—who have harnessed the wind and made it their servant—cannot they organise distribution?

If it is a dream which cannot be realised, then these pretended leaders of labour leave by a shameful pretence of doing what they themselves regard as impossible.

If it is something capable of fulfilment—then for God’s sake stop jazzing and get to work. Up Labour! Organise! Organise! Organise!!!

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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