Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

‘Hornerism’ Has a History

(July 1958)

From The Newsletter, 5 July 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

THOUGH never a ‘Trotskyist’ – on the contrary, a bitter enemy of that school – Arthur Horner has on at least one previous occasion found himself in agreement with the Marxist position.

A certain tendency to face the facts and difficulty in pretending that the naked emperor has a lovely suit of clothes on seem to be at the bottom of this recurrent ‘Hornerism’.

There may well be voices around Covent Garden saying now: ‘We should have expelled him in 1931 ...’

In that year, while the Communist Party was busy isolating itself thoroughly from the main body of organized workers in this country, it was at the same time declaring that the British workers were rallying in ever-increasing numbers to Moscow’s banner.

Horner made a scandal in the party by saying bluntly that ‘the revolutionary movement in this country is bankrupt from every point of view’.

Hardly had he been denounced in due form in a statement in the party journal headed The Political Bureau versus Arthur Horner than the general election following MacDonald’s betrayal proved how right he was.

That sort of thing does not endear a man to his less percipient colleagues. It did not please the pontifical R.P. Dutt, who, around the same period, was writing that the Labour Party ‘lay in ruins’.

Warning to Tito

‘Tito will get what Nagy got!’ Thus succinctly did a Communist Party stalwart express himself to a comrade and myself as we were distributing leaflets at Hyde Park on Sunday.

The most appropriate comment was made by a bystander when Solly Kaye was ecstatically welcoming the contingents entering Trafalgar Square: ‘The more the Beria.’

Tom Durkin appeared in the unfamiliar but somehow fitting role of special constable when he told me to stop distributing leaflets in the Square unless I had a permit.

Having distributed leaflets in the Square at all sorts of meetings since I was 19, I carried on and suffered no further interference.

Gadfly still stings

One of the difficulties of the situation in which the Soviet leaders are compelled to operate is that, having to masquerade as the heirs of Lenin, they must publish his writings in large and cheap editions, and these are a constant source of fuel for ‘dangerous thoughts’. Other books, too, which have become part of the revolutionary heritage, have to be kept available to the people, in spite of their increasing ‘unsuitability’.

Among these is the novel The Gadfly, by Ethel Voynich, which enjoys remarkable popularity with each succeeding generation in Russia.

Though published here in 1897 – the authoress, Ethel Boule, acquired her Polish surname by marriage – and for a time popular in Left-wing circles, The Gadfly is today out of print and practically forgotten in Britain.

The book’s strong anti-clerical, in fact anti-Christian, trend has doubtless made it unacceptable to the various powers that be and produced a conspiracy of silence around it: for, though no masterpiece, The Gadfly is a moving story, and some passages, notably the madness and death of Cardinal Montanelli, have unusual quality.

Banned by police

The Gadfly was translated into Russian soon after publication, immediately banned by the tsarist police – and taken to their hearts by the revolutionary young people in Russia.

Laid in Italy in the first half of last century, the story of The Gadfly deals with a group of characters all connected in one way or another with the fight for Italian unity and independence.

The conflict between the revolutionary and the liberal trends in the national movement underlies the clashes between these characters.

What may well be an embarrassingly topical feature of the novel in Russia today is its treatment of the manoeuvre of Pope Pius IX, who tried to disarm the movement by a policy of apparent ‘self-liberalization’, a sort of false ‘thaw’, in the Papal States.

Many liberals fell for this, just as many worthy wishful thinkers have in the last few years fallen for ‘Khrushchevism’.

‘Splendid’ – or ‘yelping’?

The hero of The Gadfly is a revolutionary journalist who makes many enemies by refusing to be taken in, but is proved right in the end.

A character named Gemma praises one of ‘The Gadfly’s’ articles: ‘This passage, where he compares Italy to a tipsy-man, weeping with tenderness on the neck of the thief who is picking his pocket, is splendidly written.’

To which another retorts: ‘Gemma! The very worst bit in the whole thing! I hate that ill-natured yelping at everything and everybody!’

Last updated on 11.10.2011