Why Was There No Communist Revolution In Britain? - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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Inter-war period (1919-1938), Russian civil war (1917–1921) and other non World War topics (1914-1945).
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#14082675
Why did communism never come to the UK? I have heard that from the 1920s to the 1960s the British communist movement was relatively strong. A series of events such as the Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956 and again in Czechoslovakia in 1968 caused people to lose confidence in this ideology. It is also possible that many simply lost interest and the excitement for communism went away with time. The UK had a strong working class like Germany and the Russian Empire. Was it due to social democratic concessions like those granted by Clement Attlee?
#14082693
Because even the working class in Britain believe(s/d) that the aristocratic class had a natural aptitude for governance. It is not surprising, to me, that the British found in India a lost kindred soul.

In many ways, however, the left did achieve success in Britain, especially in the Post-War (1945-1970s) period. This being said, Potemkin or Decky can likely give a much more thorough explanation than I can.
#14082702
Because even the working class in Britain believe(s/d) that the aristocratic class had a natural aptitude for governance.

Unfortunately, I think you're right. This is something which Engels was constantly complaining about - he noted that in Britain even the middle classes still deferred to the aristocracy, and were almost totally lacking in the self-assurance needed to become a ruling class. He put this down to the historic class compromise between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie in Britain during the early modern period, something which was conspicuously absent in the rest of Europe.
#14082709
Potemkin wrote:He put this down to the historic class compromise between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie in Britain during the early modern period, something which was conspicuously absent in the rest of Europe.

I think that early demise of absolutism in Britain meant that radical ideologies never took hold like they did in France, Germany or Russia since the British aristocracy were more accepting of reform and never managed to get themselves deposed again. The same conditions for communism also gave birth to fascism and Britain largely avoided that.
Last edited by Quantum on 15 Oct 2012 23:14, edited 1 time in total.
#14082713
I think that early demise of absolutism in Britain meant that radical ideologies never took hold like they did in France, Germany or Russia since the British aristocracy were more accepting of reform and never managed to get themselves deposed again. The same conditions for communism also gave birth to fascism and Britain largely avoided fascism.

I absolutely agree. :up:
#14082742
Something else to consider was the social structure in Britain. Britain as it existed before WWI did have a communist revolution with some success in Ireland. There were soviets and socialistic republics set up that didn't end up working out for various reasons.

Further, before the war a lot of what we might crudely call the Middle Class of the day had not left the country-after the war they're pouring into Paris and Berlin and picking up rifles in Spain. Why would the agitator stay in a fatally crippled shadow of a former empire bent on trying to reinvent Victorianism when there are Trotskysists marching in Germany, anarchist fighting units in Madrid, and Stalinists consolidating in France?

Britain had been attempting to modernize the empire before the war, now was dealing with the legacy of a war that didn't end with them until the Irish Free State degenerated into Civil War and South Africa fell from grasp.

In short, the people that wanted the revolution stopped calling themselves British or went to fight where a toe hold could be made.
#14082771
I'd like to add a thought as well, although it may be completely wrong, but we'll see. I think sometimes that the way that the land is parcelled out and the population density in the UK also has something to do with why it was more difficult inside Britain to get anything done.

I couldn't help noticing that the three places where communism really took off and got underway rapidly, were places where there was a large section of rural people who were almost completely disenfranchised and had been cut off from everything.

In those circumstances where the land is laid out like that, the elites would find it geographically more efficient to do 'tax farming' (outsourcing their tax collection tasks to increasingly corrupt quasi-private enforcement thugs), and also it is simply easier to ignore people when you are not surrounded by them. So in an almost ironic way, communism anticipated that the revolution would come once everyone had been proletarianised and dragged into the urban areas, but what in fact seems to have happened is the opposite - that the desperation of deprived and half-starved rural peasants ran ahead of the industrial proletariat's desperation and led to communism taking off instead in:

  • Russia.
  • China.
  • Indochina.

But since no one had expected that (I think?), it seemed to mean that they would have to play by ear. Meanwhile, the industrialised proletariat in Britain was closely snuggled under the wing of the British ruling class in metropolitan areas, imbibing the ruling class' ideology and morals.
#14082785
Meanwhile, the industrialised proletariat in Britain was closely snuggled under the wing of the British ruling class in metropolitan areas, imbibing the ruling class' ideology and morals.

They did? I must have missed that. In fact, the British aristocracy tend to be based in the countryside, only dropping in to the cities to visit their London Club while staying at their pad in the city. Their main home is in the countryside, and that's where they feel most comfortable. And it's the rising middle classes who imbibed the aristocracy's ideology and morals (though they notoriously failed to also imbibe their grace and charm). The British industrialised proletariat do not share the same manners or values as their social 'superiors', whether aristocratic or bourgeois.
#14082809
Ah, I knew I made a mistake somewhere in there, I hope it hasn't imploded my whole theory though.

I'm rather afraid it has, Rei. :)

Where do the British proletariat get their values from, then?

From Eastenders, mainly. ;)
#14082840
Potemkin wrote:From Eastenders, mainly. ;)

No, but I mean at the beginning, when they were reading all that stuff from Samuel Smiles and obeying the so-called 'good book' and filing orderly into factories to do work, how did their bosses keep them under control if they weren't communicating values to them?
#14082870
Maybe because the majority of the British people didn't want to live in a system where people live in really shitty communal housing, there is no freedom of speech, and individuals are supposed to work as hard as possible while receiving whatever the communist party leadership thinks they ought to get? :|

In the 1920's? Because Britain had a Parliament and so on, and they had seen progress - they had hope things would improve over time, which they did.

Russia had a much more autocratic government and people thought the Czar was hopeless. So they went for the revolution and the commies hijacked it.

As Donald Sutherland said in the hunger games, you gotta give people some hope. In Cuba's case, people just kept hoping Castro would die, which turned out to be a big mistake.
#14083100
No, but I mean at the beginning, when they were reading all that stuff from Samuel Smiles and obeying the so-called 'good book' and filing orderly into factories to do work, how did their bosses keep them under control if they weren't communicating values to them?

Both Gramsci and Althusser had a few ideas on that score. One thing they both suggested, however, was that the values the ruling class tried to impart to the toiling masses through what Althusser called their 'ideological state apparatuses' were not the same as their own values. After all, the ideology and values which somebody must believe in to be an effective and productive factory worker are not the same as the ideology and values which somebody must believe in to be an effective and productive member of the ruling class. This is one of the chief reasons the British educational system is segregated along class lines.
#14083135
Admin note: This is an on-topic forum, folks. Responses along the lines of, '...because Communism was rubbish, blah, blah' are not consistent with our ethos. Constructive and considered criticism of Communism is most welcome, of course... ;)
#14083169
I couldn't help noticing that the three places where communism really took off and got underway rapidly, were places where there was a large section of rural people who were almost completely disenfranchised and had been cut off from everything.


I would say you are focusing on the wrong thing when looking at the Russian revolution. Look at where the working class were concentrated. The fact that they were concentrated in Moscow and Petrograd (working in a few huge factories rather than lots of smaller ones) meant they had more clout than you would have assumed they had (from their pathetic size and a proportion of the population).

It made organising very very simple compared to organising in a mature capitalist society.

Why did communism never come to the UK? I have heard that from the 1920s to the 1960s the British communist movement was relatively strong. A series of events such as the Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956 and again in Czechoslovakia in 1968 caused people to lose confidence in this ideology. It is also possible that many simply lost interest and the excitement for communism went away with time.


There was a period where we were doing very will indeed.

Revolutionary industrial militants had reached a turning point in 1919. Syndicalism had shown itself capable of confronting individual employers, but not able to sustain lasting advances in the face of the full repressive power of the State. Many of the militant shop stewards were influenced by the theories of Marx and Lenin (popularised by John McLean and others). Events in Russia were followed with close interest, and when it became clear that British troops were being used with those of other capitalist countries against the revolution, a powerful solidarity movement emerged in the form of the 'Hands Off Russia' campaign. Practical solidarity, following intensive agitation, was shown by East London dockworkers when they refused in 1918 to load a munitions ship destined for Russia, the 'Jolly George'.


http://www.unionhistory.info/timeline/1918_1939.php

At this point we have the unions actively refusing to supply arms to the whites.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_George_Square

And here we have the closest Britain came to a socialist revolution.

Scottish soldiers were locked in their barracks as the government thought they would join the revolution rather than fire on the revolutionaries (soldiers were brought from England by train).

The UK had a strong working class like Germany and the Russian Empire. Was it due to social democratic concessions like those granted by Clement Attlee?


This, a million tons of this.

If it wasn't for Blair turning the Labour party into Thatcherites I am 99% confident I would never have read a single book by Marx. My family are naturally Labour supporters and I would have been a staunch member of the Labour party and never had to look at radical ideologies (as we would have a mainstream party fighting for 100% employment and other wonderful magical things that seem like a fantasy to someone living in modern Britain).
#14086158
Decky wrote:Scottish soldiers were locked in their barracks as the government thought they would join the revolution rather than fire on the revolutionaries (soldiers were brought from England by train).


Isn't that a myth? Glaswegian troops were confined to barracks but as far as I know it was largely Highland regiments which were used to put down the movement. Even your own link says:

'No Glaswegian troops were deployed, with the British government fearing that fellow Glaswegians, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers' side if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow. Under the orders of Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, Scottish regiments were transported from other parts of Scotland and stationed in Glasgow specifically to avert this possible scenario. Troops from the Highland Light Infantry were also transported from Maryhill Barracks from Maryhill Central railway station to Buchanan Street railway station but without their Glaswegian men. Other troops, including the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Gordon Highlanders and Seaforth Highlanders arrived from Stirling Castle, Redford Barracks and Fort George into Queen Street Station.'

Potemkin wrote:They did? I must have missed that. In fact, the British aristocracy tend to be based in the countryside, only dropping in to the cities to visit their London Club while staying at their pad in the city.


Rei made reference to the 'ruling class', and surely that is not necessarily the same thing as the aristocracy? Whilst Britain preserves some of the trappings from aristocratic government, and the 'upwardly mobile' often aspire to the titles and lifestyles, is it not the case that during the nineteenth century the emerging capitalist class usurped the aristocracy as the ruling class? The British aristocracy has survived and even preserved some of it's privelages, but one could argue that it has done that by being open to new blood and by allowing the bourgeoisie to don it's clothing. That doesn't mean that in itself it constitutes the 'ruling class'.
#14086521
I'm somewhat surprised no one has suggested that Britain had an effective democratic system of government. Extreme ideologies like Communism tend to be more successful where either there was no legitimate political outlet in the first place (moderates tend to be rounded up, only the hard core remain etc.) or where the democratic system has failed (Weimar Germany's political crises for example served to delegitimise the SPD). Britain on the other hand had a system where there were more moderate left options and a government system that would tend towards some level of consensus rather than extremes or complete inaction.
#14086663
PI wrote:I have heard that from the 1920s to the 1960s the British communist movement was relatively strong.

I don't think this is true. British Communist movements were always politically marginal. You never had the situation of many Continental European and Latin American countries where 20, 30 or 40% of the population regularly voted for Communists.

I think that early demise of absolutism in Britain meant that radical ideologies never took hold like they did in France, Germany or Russia since the British aristocracy were more accepting of reform and never managed to get themselves deposed again. The same conditions for communism also gave birth to fascism and Britain largely avoided fascism.

This is the case. The British elite was much more intelligent than that of most other countries in accommodating change.

The failure of Communism in Britain does pose a fundamental challenge to original Marxism, which predicted revolution there especially. I think the short answer is Marx's theses of increasing pauperization and size of the proletariat inevitably leading to revolution were simply wrong. The more advanced and successful a capitalist country is, the more able it is to "buy off" the proletariat (and other would-be revolutionaries) with consumer goods, wages and welfarism. This is why Communism was always implausible in Britain, the U.S. and the White Dominions.

I don't think it is a coincidence if Communist Parties have, with scarcely any exceptions, only come to power in the most "retarded" countries of the capitalist world.. (When these countries were not actually pre-capitalist!)
#14086684
Ombrageux wrote:The failure of Communism in Britain does pose a fundamental challenge to original Marxism, which predicted revolution there especially. I think the short answer is Marx's theses of increasing pauperization and size of the proletariat inevitably leading to revolution were simply wrong. The more advanced and successful a capitalist country is, the more able it is to "buy off" the proletariat (and other would-be revolutionaries) with consumer goods, wages and welfarism. This is why Communism was always implausible in Britain, the U.S. and the White Dominions.
I've never understood why all of Marx's work is thrown out the window because he made a few predictions about society in general? If by this standard, we are to measure success, then we should be ridiculing the theories of Bretton Woods economic system, since we saw the death of it in 2008. They are already talking about a Bretton Woods II. Just because Marx predicted how things should happen, does not mean that this will always be the case. Another example is to look at Francis Fukuyama, who predicted the end of history. Just because a prediction is incorrect, does not mean the thoughts should be ridiculed or ignored.

Ombrageux wrote:I don't think it is a coincidence if Communist Parties have, with scarcely any exceptions, only come to power in the most "retarded" countries of the capitalist world.. (When these countries were not actually pre-capitalist!)
I've always considered the communist revolutions as nationalist movements, considering that socialism/Marxism was quite influential during that period, especially with success from the Soviets. Having a choice between the status-quo and and opportunity to see potential progress within your country (Socialists provided this hope to the common people, just look at Soviet architecture), the people are probably going to pick the Socialist movements. We are seeing a similar phenomenon in the Middle-East, as people are joining these "Freedom Movements" under the banner of liberal-democracy, to rid themselves of all that is wrong with their country. Whether it is positive or not, are you going to start blaming liberal-democracy for the failure of states like Libya and Egypt, because they don't understand democracy as Whites understand it?
#14086692
Eauz - I was not dismissing Marxism based on this failed prediction, but was pointing out that it poses a problem, at least for the more theological versions of Marxism. But on the contrary, I think Marxism is extremely interesting and insightful as a theoretical and interpretive system, as witnessed by the large number of very worthwhile Marxist intellectuals.

As to the track record of Communism, I think you know my feelings on the subject and there's not much point thrashing that about in this thread ;)
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