Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Legend and Reality

(August 1958)

From The Newsletter, 16 August 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

The Middle East situation, with Anglo-American troops intervening to support reactionary regimes, has been compared to the Spanish situation of twenty years ago, when the interventionist role was played by Germany and Italy.

The comparison has much to recommend it, especially in that it must make people ask themselves just what was settled by the Allied victory in the second world war.

It also should cause us all to take a long, hard look at the reality behind the legends about Soviet support for the Spanish Republic.

‘Soviet aid to the Loyalists, after reaching a maximum in December of 1936 in order to save Madrid, gradually diminished through 1937’, writes David T. Cattell, whose study of Soviet Diplomacy and the Spanish Civil War appeared recently.

Russia ‘only played a delaying game in Spain’, perhaps ‘to keep the war going for use as a bargaining point in negotiations with Hitler’.

Danger – scholars at work

The Labour movement being now an established topic for academic study, and the twenties being sufficiently long ago to rank as history, the Communist Party must face the prospect that scholars are going to subject its record, to research and learned consideration.

The Oxford historian Henry Pelling is understood to be bringing out a full-scale history of the party next month.

The latest issue of the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society contains the text of the lecture he gave last year on the 1920–29 period of British communist history; it includes a number of shrewd observations and whets the appetite for the fuller treatment that his book will presumably provide.

Not so scholarly

Not in the same category, however, is the McCarthy-style pamphlet The British Road to Stalinism just produced by IRIS, the anti-working-class intelligence service.

This type of attack upon the British Stalinists can only help them; even though they will not thank IRIS for including a warning against that ‘significant minority’ of ex-party members who have ‘sought refuge in Trotskyism’.

A total lack of historical sense and even of elementary accuracy characterizes the pamphlet.

Thus, it is not true that William Paul edited the Sunday Worker ‘from 1925 to 1930’; Communist Party membership was nowhere near 9,000 in 1932; Saklatvala did not die ‘shortly after’ 1931; the ‘Socialist Forum movement’ no longer exists; etc. etc.

Won’t lie down

The death of Dimitrov’s widow has revived speculation about how her famous husband met his death. Was he the victim of a medical murder in Moscow-put out of the way because he disagreed with Stalin on the line to be taken with Tito?

It is said that when Mao Tse-tung was last in Moscow he, for some reason, demanded of Khrushchev that he come clean on this story – but got no answer.

Mystery still surrounds the fate of Thaelmann. That he died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944 is known: but why did the Soviet Government, which rescued other communist leaders such as Rakosi and Anna Pauker, by exchanging captured Nazi agents for them, never ask Hitler for Thaelmann?

This awkward question is said to have been raised again not long ago in the leading circles of the Socialist Unity Party by some of Ulbricht’s critics.

Attlee on industrial action

‘Thus a government might, in defiance of its election pledges, take action which amounted to aggression leading to a war. It might deliberately disregard public opinion in the matter.

‘It might ignore its manifestations and continue on a course which was bound to involve the whole nation in great loss and suffering, if not ruin.

‘It may be, then, right and necessary for a minority to take action ...’
– Earl Attlee, The Labour Party in Perspective (1949 edition), p. 94.

English understatement

‘... I think the betrayal of the General Strike in 1926 seriously minimized the great hopes that had previously persisted.’
– Harry Pollitt on the TUC General Council, in Marxism Today, August 1958, p. 255.

Last updated on 11.10.2011