Demos Kratos – An Example of

The following is a courageous example from the 1920s of people power. An example of how public belief and conviction at that time changed the British government’s policy in international affairs.

If people then, had had the attitude of defeatism and apathy towards politics that is prevalent amongst the public today, how different the outcome might have been. This story illustrates that people can make a difference and that belief, bravery and a public display of solidarity can change the direction of the world we live in today.

“In Stepney, a dock strike took place that changed a government’s policy in International affairs. It was after 1917, when the working people of Russia took the decision to end the despotic rule of the Czar and the corruption of the landowners and employers, set up their own government for “Peace, Bread and Land” and published the secret treaties (See October Revolution). Great mass meetings and demonstrations left no doubt as to the sympathy of the British workers; but the British government was openly hostile to the new Soviet Republic.

In 1919, there was widespread opposition to the actions of the Lloyd George Government in sending an expedition against the Bolsheviks; soldiers mutinied and refused to go to this new front. The formation of a national “Hands off Russia” Committee forced the government to withdraw its forces and stop direct intervention. But it continued to send money and supplies to the White armies who were fighting against the Soviet Government. This direct intervention reached its highest point when Poland was encouraged to invade Russia in 1920.

The British workers replied by setting up Councils of Action, and then came the Jolly George incident that made the London dockers famous throughout the world. The Jolly George was being loaded with munitions that were to be shipped to Poland; when the dockers discovered the nature of the packing-cases that were lying on the quayside waiting to be loaded, they sent a deputation to Fred Thompson and Ernest Bevin – the London and General Secretaries of the Dockers’ Union – and received assurances that the Union would stand by them if they took strike action. This has been described by Harry Pollitt who at that time was working in the dock and was a member of the Boilermaker’s Union. Fred Thompson’s account is more detailed. The London District of the Dockers’ Union decided to prevent the transport of munitions by all means in their power. This decision was then sent to the Executive, but as it failed to find endorsement, the London dockers decided to act on their own. Every dock and wharf was combed for munitions, and action was centred on the Jolly George. The Dockers were determined to stop this ship at all costs. They decided to render the ship unseaworthy before taking action. This was done by putting such a list on her that it would be unsafe to move her, even in the dock. Then at the agreed time, every docker in the ship and on the quayside ceased work.

What developed next was like a fast game of football, The London lads had kicked off their side; the ball passed to the dockers in other European ports, who began by taking similiar action. In Ireland, the Dublin dockers refused to unload munitions intended for use against their own Nationalists. The Irish railwaymen entered the game by refusing to move any train containing British troops or ammunition. Back to Britain. The (old militant) Daily Herald printed the name of every ship bound for Poland. The T.U.C., in spite of the opposition of Jimmy Thomas, decided that unless the government withdrew its troops from Ireland and ceased its support for Poland they would call a general strike. And all over Europe, dockers and railwaymen, inspired by the Jolly George incident, refused to handle arms for Poland. The British government caved in and there was no war.” [1]

Official government documents from the time are now available from the Public Record Office. Such secret papers are now available for the period up to the fall of Coalition government in October 1922 and beyond. The Directorate of Intelligence (Home Office) Secret Report on Revolutionary Organisations (Cabinet Papers 1772), states:

“Some fifty reports received on the subject can be summarised in the words of my Lancashire correspondent who wrote ‘Never have we known such excitement and antagonism to be around against any project as has been around amongst the workers by the possibility of war with Russia. On every hand ex-serviceman are saying that they will not take part in any war again. The workers are dead against a war with Russia'”.

Within the British War Cabinet even the Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill, who was unreservedly committed to the smashing of Bolshevism recognized by 1919 that

“the invasion and occupation of Russia at the present time is not considered to be a practical proposition”

and accepted the need for the withdrawal of British troops from their Northern bases at Archangel and Murmansk. [2]

[1] Excerpt taken from ‘Good Morning Brothers!’ Ch. III, Jack Dash, 1969

[2] Hands Off Russia: British Labour and the Russo-Polish War, 1920, by L. J. McFarlane p.126-127

6 thoughts on “Demos Kratos – An Example of

  1. Pingback: The State of British Democracy « Bala Fría

  2. Pingback: The Day We Stopped The War « Complex System Of Pipes

  3. In a time of perceived helplessness you are right, this is a truly optimistic and inspiring story that not many people know about. The story shows what strong solidarity and unity can achieve and it makes you wonder what could have been achieved if the 2 million people who filled the streets of London in the build up to the war in Iraq in 2003 had stuck together and continued the protest when the war began? It is a story like the one above that shows you true hope and the true power of the people.

    I think it is time for lots of us who are banging our heads against the wall as individuals, people who have so much energy and passion to offer, to get involved and to make our drives for change felt. Fuck this government and fuck the anti-union laws! If you are not with your trade union at work go in tomorrow and join up, ask questions, enquire and get involved. The workers are divided and weaker for it. That was the purpose of the anti-union laws introduced by Thatcher’s government and now it’s time we all stood up to be counted!

    We don’t believe in this system, these parties and this society. We need to stand up and support change. We need a new workers’ party for the people. It’s time for our generation to stand up and say enough is enough. Let’s not let our time pass by with a whimper in what, if truth be told, are probably some of the most fucked up darkest times that there have ever been. We are all out there and we are awake and perturbed by what we see happening in our world today. We need to stop suffering alone and to get out there and start waking people up and banging on doors.

    In the words of Salvador Allende – ‘Viva el pueblo! ¡Vivan los trabajadores!”

    (Long live the people! Long live the workers!)

  4. Pingback: MPs’ Expenses – Kick Them All Out. Time For True Democracy! « Bala Fria

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