Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

‘No Politics Please’

(August 1958)

From The Newsletter, 2 August 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

AT a well-attended meeting called by my local Nuclear Disarmament Committee I was struck by the way the H-bomb is treated by the leaders of this movement as though it had sprung from nowhere, like the Demon King in pantomime rising through the stage.

There is never any social or historical analysis – indeed, anything that looks like heading that way is liable to be ruled out as ‘sectarian’ and ‘divisive’.

Consequently, no clear conception of how the bomb can actually be abolished ever emerges.

Christianity by the bucketful is poured over the audience, this being, apparently, non-controversial: the effrontery of this assumption was particularly noticeable at the meeting in question, where a good proportion of the audience was Jewish!

Does opportunism pay?

In the thirties there arose the menace of Hitlerism, and also that of chronic mass unemployment.

In various countries certain groups of skin-deep socialists declared that to combat these threats socialism must be put away in a cupboard.

Whatever else socialism might be the answer to, it was only a hindrance in face of the most dangerous manifestations of contemporary capitalism.

So we had an epoch of people’s fronts, support for Roosevelt and so forth.

Today fascism is rising again in France, and something very like an ‘old-fashioned’ slump seems to be under way in the United States.

Yet, in relation to the new danger from the H-bomb, some people are saying: ‘Let there be no talk of socialism – this is too serious a matter for that!’

The army that got away

One of the biggest factors in the Middle-East situation today is a negative one – the absence of a factor which used to play a big part in that region’s affairs.

I refer to the Indian Army, which in the old days could always be thrown in to ‘restore order’ with ‘an economy of British lives’.

The Iraqi revolt of 1920 took 73,000 soldiers to put it down – but 61,000 of these were Indians, who will not be available this time.

A whole strategical system was blown up when the Royal Indian Navy mutineed in 1946 and forced the transfer of power in India.

This seems, by the way, to have taken the British authorities quite by surprise. Indeed, it was provoked by the treatment meted out to those Indian officers who had tried to serve the national cause in their own way by fighting alongside the Japanese, and had been taken prisoner when Japan surrendered.

And it was the savage sentence imposed on a Moslem officer that touched off this historic revolt by a predominantly Hindu body of serviceman.

Only a little time before it happened, anything like the RIN mutiny had appeared remote.

In 1944, I remember, Thakur Chandra Singh had been released from prison; the news recalled the incident in 1930 in which he had played the leading part, and this seemed to a British observer to belong to a past age.

He it was who had led the Garwhali soldiers who refused to fire when sent to Peshawar to put down nationalist ‘riots’.

The Garwhalis were chosen for this police work because it was assumed that, being Hindus, they would have no objections to shooting Moslems.

Chandra Singh was the equivalent of a company quartermaster-sergeant – in Indian conditions a man with a lot to lose. Nevertheless, he organized the NCOs to refuse to fire. As he wrote afterwards:

‘We decided that it would be better to be shot and die rather than to let down the name of Garwhal.’

The soldiers recalled how the 6th Gurkhas had massacred demonstrators at Amritsar in 1919, and ‘even today people spit at the mention of their name’.

Chandra Singh and his men refused to fire, causing consternation among their country’s oppressors and becoming legend that entered into the national revolutionary tradition.

‘Military discipline has no right to be used to outrage a soldier’s conscience.’ It was none other than Ernest Bevin who said that, at the great rally in August 1920 called by the Council of Action to stop British intervention in the Russo-Polish war. And he was referring to British soldiers.

More Russian than the Russians?

Of all the English-language publications of-the so-called ‘people’s democracies’ issued in London, New Hungary, edited by Lawrence Kirwan, is perhaps the best-produced technically and the most servile politically.

A recent issue, in which the murder of Imre Nagy is justified, also contains an article on the anniversary of the death of Petofi, the Hungarian poet who died in 1849 fighting for his country.

The writers’ club which played an important part in the early stages of the revolution of October 1956 in Hungary was named after Petofi, but this, of course, goes unmentioned.

Not only that, but we are told that the poet was ‘cut down by the sabres of Croatian cavalrymen’.

It is politically convenient to stress the role of the Croats (Yugoslavs) in the suppression of the Hungarian struggle for independence – and to ignore the decisive role played by the Russians.

After all, one of the reasons why the editorial board of the Russian journal Problems of History got purged last year was that they published an article about Russian intervention in Hungary in 1849, mentioning the ‘honourable treason’ of Captain Gusev, a Russian officer who helped the Hungarian rebels.

A Russian school textbook published in 1952 states:

‘In the fighting against the tsarist troops there perished at the age of 27 the great revolutionary poet of the Hungarian people, Sandor Petofi, who fought in the front ranks of the Hungarian revolution.

‘Chernyshevsky, the Russian revolutionary democrat, wrote in his diary in those days: “Being a friend of the Hungarians, I hope for the defeat of the Russians there, and would be glad to sacrifice my own life for this.”’

In Connolly’s footsteps

My colleague Brian Behan has shown me some issues of the new Dublin monthly The Plough, which is published by a group associated with Dr Noel Browne, the Minister of Health who was forced out of office a few years ago for trying to introduce a national health service in the Republic.

The Plough makes very interesting reading, with many well-informed and hard-hitting articles on Ireland’s social problems.

One contributor makes the point that the IRA raids are ‘a blind expression of the class war’ and that ‘Sinn Fein has no social policy’.

In trying to link the national struggle with the struggle for social change, the Plough group are continuing the great work of James Connolly and Liam Mellowes.

The Plough costs fourpence and can be obtained from 23 Parliament Street, Dublin.

Last updated on 11.10.2011