Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Two Books that Light up the Present

(June 1958)

From The Newsletter, 14 June 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Two classics of Marxism which are especially helpful to understanding current events in France are The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Marx, 1852) and The Only Road for Germany (Trotsky, 1932).

Tribune has brilliantly employed quotations from The Eighteenth Brumaire in its presentation of the French crisis – though what a pity that the worst of available translations was used, in which some passages become nonsense and the meaning of others is reversed!

Perhaps the main reason why The Eighteenth Brumaire deserves study today is not such superficial similarities as exist between the coup d’état of December 1851 and that of May–June 1958 (Algerian generals etc.) but Marx’s basic political analysis.

He comes out against the discussion of what happened in terms of a struggle between ‘reaction’ and ‘the people’ – ‘a light in which all cats are grey’ and which ‘veils the class struggle’.

And he shows the fatal consequences for the workers of merging politically with the petty-bourgeois democrats, accepting their slogans and their leadership.

United front rejected

Trotsky’s analysis of the passage of the German State through Bonapartism to fascism shows bow the two working-class parties both rejected the united front that alone could have saved Germany and the world from Hitler’s victory.

The social democrats followed the line of the ‘lesser evil’ supporting Hindenburg ‘against’ Hitler (much as the French communists supported Pfümlin ‘against’ de Gaulle) while the communists, operating Stalin’s orders, were in practice helping the Nazis.

It was for circulating this and Trotsky’s other writings on the 1930–33 crisis in Germany that the first British ‘Trotskyists’ were expelled from the Communist Party; they were, so to speak, ‘premature united-frontists’.

The middle class

More nonsense is talked in the working-class movement about the middle class than about any other subject.

The Right wing justify their policies of ‘restraint’, ‘moderation’ and all-round half-heartedness with the argument that ‘you mustn’t antagonize the middle class’.

Yet the Right wing has in historical fact done just this again and again: see, for instance, what happened with the Labour Governments of 1924, 1929–31 and 1945–51.

Basis for fascism

In fact it is Right-wing policy that drives the middle class into the arms of reaction.

The Right wing does just enough, industrially and politically, to irritate the middle class, while not impressing them with the power and determination of the workers.

In Italy in the early 1920s and again in Germany ten years later the hesitant, disunited, indecisive actions of the Labour movement made it seem to the middle sections a factor capable of causing disorder and inconvenience without being able to take control and refashion society in its own way.

This provided the basis for fascism.

General Strike Lesson

It is when the working class is acting with the maximum militant unity that the middle class begins to swing over to its side.

This was seen very clearly during the last days of the General Strike of 1926, just before the sell-out.

It is important for the workers’ organizations to take up the special demands of the middle class, and to carry on direct work among them (and the Right wing usually neglect both these things, since what dictates their attitude is not really the interests of the middle class but those of the monopoly capitalists!).

But the only road to winning great masses of the middle class solidly to the workers’ side is to demonstrate the immense strength of Labour and its ability to enforce its will upon capital.

Last updated on 10.10.2011