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The Councils of Action 1920 and the British Labour Movement’s Defence of Soviet Russia - John Foster

£4 (plus £1.50 p&p)  ISBN 978-1-907464-28-7

When, close to a century ago, the labour movement in Britain prepared to take industrial action in defence of the young Soviet Union, the ruling class was terrified.

On 7 August 1920 the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress and the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party jointly convened a Council of Action with the aim of preventing the British government from declaring war on Soviet Russia or of supplying troops or munitions to its enemies. Over 300 local Councils of Action were subsequently called into being to provide the organisational base for a general strike.

Two days later the government abandoned its plans and instead backed Soviet proposals for a peace treaty with the principal aggressor, Poland. This was the first occasion on which the leadership of the British Labour movement had formally countenanced industrial action to bring pressure to bear on a ‘constitutional’ government. Its success in doing so provided both precedent and rationale for the 1926 General Strike.

John Foster examines the Councils of Action against the background of a rising militancy and in the political context of a government divided over how to restore Britain’s power, the ideological challenges to right-wing Labour arising from the Irish national movement and Soviet power and the formation of the Communist Party.