Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

How a Movement was Strangled

(June 1958)

From The Newsletter, 21 June 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Now that moves towards the formation of rank-and-file committees are under way in a number of trades, it is to be expected that the Communist Party, though it has not favoured this development, will try to move in.

In this connexion the history of the National Minority Movement – the greatest rank-and-file organization Britain has ever known – is a cautionary tale.

Formed under communist leadership in pre-Stalinization days, it was later strangled by its communist leaders in accordance with the needs of their Moscow masters and in fulfilment of their instructions, which bore no relation to the realities of the British situation.

The destruction process passed through three stages. Already at the time of ‘Red Friday’ in 1925, the culmination of the NMM’s influence in industry, the rot had set in.

Cultivating their goodwill

Stalin’s adoption of the line of ‘socialism in one country’ had corollaries in his foreign policy. So far as Britain was concerned, the development of independent action by the working class gave place to cultivating the goodwill of a group of trade union bureaucrats who had made statements friendly to Soviet Russia.

The Minority Movement had to play down its fight for democratizing the unions and its criticisms of their ‘Left’ leaders – indeed, had to become essentially a kind of supporters’ club for the latter.

This led straight to the betrayal of the General Strike, when the Minority Movement proved incapable of taking over the leadership from the ‘Lefts’ who sold out.

For two years following the end of the General Strike the Minority Movement drifted; there was neither explanation of what had happened nor a clear lead for the future.

Against a background of unemployment and victimization Right-wing persecution harried a confused and demoralized movement.

‘Social-fascist’ somersault

Then came the somersault ordered from Moscow in 1928–29: from tailing helplessly after dubious Left-wingers among the bureaucrats, it was now necessary to go over to treating the trade unions as such as ‘social-fascist’ bodies, the Labour Party as a blackleg organization and so forth.

This policy very effectively helped the Right wing to isolate and whittle down to almost nothing what had once been a powerful mass force.

After the 1931 General Election had replaced the second Labour Government by the viciously anti-working-class ‘National’ Government of MacDonald and Baldwin, the communists made a belated and hesitant adjustment in their trade union policy.

What not long before had been the deviation of ‘Hornerism’ (after Arthur Horner), meaning that militants ought not to refuse to try to work through the official machinery, now became official doctrine.

And the first practical consequence of this turn was the final winding up, in 1932, of the little that remained of the National Minority Movement.

What is ‘revisionism’?

Khrushchev is hurling around the epithet ‘revisionism’ with a more vicious edge to it than ever.

If you are a ‘revisionist’ this is said to lead you logically into the camp of the enemies of the Soviet Union – for an example, see what happened to Imre Nagy: Yugoslav and other deviators, take warning and submit.

‘Rebels should be treated as rebels ... I think that every Government with self-respect will take action against rebels. Take for example the State of Ohio in the US. If a revolt were to break out there the US Government in Washington would not remain passive.’
– (D.N. Aidit, leader of the Indonesian Communist Party, March 31)

The position seems to be that it is the man or men currently on top in Moscow who give the rulings on these great questions.

Like the anti-Semitic mayor of Vienna who, reproached for having some Jewish associates, replied: ‘I decide who’s a Jew around here’, Khrushchev and Co. have taken full powers to define ‘revisionism’.

Communists may well be wondering just how one tells what is ‘revisionism’ and what is not nowadays. Especially when the Daily Worker has published in recent months the following new interpretations of the Marxist theory of the State, without adverse comment:

‘But the function of the State machinery is not to help this or that class, or coalition of classes, but to prevent their mutual relations from developing into open conflicts and acts of violence ...

‘It is, of course, not for the police to intervene on the side of labour against capital.’
– (E.M.S. Narnboodripad. on Communists in Office in Kerala, May 20)

Last updated on 10.10.2011