Duncan Hallas

Stalinism in Britain

(February/March 1971)

Book review, International Socialism (1st series), No.46, pp.33-4.
Transcribed & Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Stalinism in Britain
Robert Black
New Park Publications 22/6d.

There is a need for a serious marxist account of Stalinism in Britain. This book does not meet it. Written in reply to Betty Reid’s pamphlet Ultra-Leftism in Britain, it contains a good deal of useful material, mainly quotations. from Communist Party publications, together with a crude and inaccurate summary of the evolution of Stalinism and Trotskyism in Russia and internationally.

Black has no difficulty in exposing the sickening servility of the leaders of the British Party to their Russian mentors. Here is John Gollan, writing in Challenge at the beginning of the second world war, ‘Poland has titan victim to brutal Nazi aggression. Nazi aggression must be defeated by all the resources of the British people and the peoples of the Empire.’ A month later, after Moscow’s will had become clear, the same Gollan wrote, ‘The case of Poland cannot be compared with that of Czechoslovakia, China or other victims of Nazi aggression ... Reality and the interests of the people demand an end to the war now and an immediate peace conference.’ Less than two years later Moscow’s tune had changed and Gollan somersaulted once more and was enthusiastically supporting the new party line that ‘the speediest victory of Britain and Britain’s allies over Hitler is not the special interest of one class or section of the nation but the common interest of all classes and sections of the nation ...’

Vet even at this simple level Black is inadequate. After all, in 1968, Gollan did not obediently echo the Russian propaganda machine on Czechoslovakia. Why not? Black has nothing to say. Something new is happening and he simply fails to notice. He misses the obvious ideological disintegration of British Stalinism and the development of the CP into a social-democratic party. For Black nothing has changed. lie is committed to the absurd position that during the war the CP ‘served firstly the interests of British imperialism, and through it, the Kremlin, not the Soviet Union.’ As if the interests of British imperialism required that the CP pursue an anti-war line from 1939 to 1941!

Unfortunately this is the least of Black’s faults. There is his empty and ignorant bombast. ‘When the time comes to break with Stalinism, the break will be clean and forever.’ When the time comes? What on earth is he talking about?

Worse, there is deliberate lying. Black refers to ‘Mrs. Reid’s slanders, distortions and omissions.’ It is a case of the kettle and the pot. He writes, ‘They, (the IMG) from the very first meeting in 1966, made it wry clear that the campaign (VSC) was at all costs to be liquidated into the Communist Party, and from there into social-democracy.’ Or again, IS ‘believes that Stalin only continued the work begun by Lenin, that in fact Bolshevism we the precursor of Stalinism.’ And the man talks about slanders!

This impudent lying is combined with the paranoiac obsession that the world revolves around Black’s organisation, that everyone’s political activities are determined by their attitude to the SLL. A joke? Hereo is a matter which our author considers very weighty. ‘With one exception the National Secretary of the League is referred to as either "Mr Healy" or just "Healy". But when Reid turns to the various revisionist groups her tone softens, Instead we have Ted Grant (twice) and the highly familiar Ernie Tate (also twice). A small point? No. The style is also the politics. Mrs. Reid’s politics are Stalinist and cannot but be full of hatred for the principles of Trotskyism. This hatred is expressed in subjective form by the habit of addressing her revisionist allies by their first names ...’

As I said, there is a need for a serious marxist account of Stalinism in Britain.


Last updated on 3.10.2007