1926 General Strike: Workers Taste Power - Peter Taaffe


The General Strike holds a unique position in the consciousness of the socialist and working-class movement of Britain. It is an equal reminder of both great failure, and great possibility. Yet at the same time, the key figures in this dark drama have virtually faded from the popular memory of today. The heroic steadfastness of miners' leader A. J. Cook, the comparative wilting prevarication of railwayman leader Jimmy Thomas, the treachery of Baldwin and the thuggery of Churchill. Only one of these figures lives on in the national imagination, and it is not for his villainous role in the strike. A truly striking and accessible popular history of these events is badly needed.

This book will not serve such a much-needed function. Taaffe is the leader of the Socialist Party, (formerly Militant,) and the partisan outlook you might expect from this is prevalent throughout, effectively making the work half history book, half SP pamphlet. Once you remember this, it is a perfectly worthwhile piece. The narrative of the book is a fair précis of the main events of the strike, with nice bits of colour bringing it to life. The sense of an alternative society forging itself in the strike organisation is brought out well, as is the sense of calamity, of having to take sides.

As would be expected from a Trotskyist perspective the main criticism is directed at the reformism of the union leadership of the time, not just the right-wingers like Thomas and Bevin, but also leftists like Cook, damned for ultimately being too tied in to the right for their own good. This is well argued, and it is admirable to for an activist to try and make useful comparisons to the present day as Taffe does.

Yet sometimes the modern day links seem shoe-horned in, and tenuous. It is the role of the activist to be an optimist, but comparisons of the recent pension protests in the UK the events of 1926, nuanced as they, are way off the mark. The frequent comparison of the travails of Militant in the 80s with the Communist Party of the 20s are similarly off the mark, and predictably sectarian. The language too slips into occasional cliché and jargon.

I do not wish to be too harsh on what is a very clear and concise brief history of the strike for beginners, and a very clear statement of the Socialist Party's take on the events. If that's what you're after, do buy. But it did make me pine for a more vital, fuller, all-embracing history of these epoch-defining moments, and in the broader picture, a more innovative and inspiring view from the modern revolutionary left on the struggle today.