Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

A War was Stopped

(August 1958)

From The Newsletter, 30 August 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Nothing so far in Harry Pollitt’s Memories of a Communist Leader, now appearing serially in World News, is so currently relevant as the chapter on the Jolly George affair in his autobiography Serving My Time (1940).

It would be a real service to the Labour movement if the Communist Party were to reprint that chapter now in pamphlet form.

For it shows how direct action against war by men on the job brought the mighty trade union machinery into action – and also that this came about only as the result of many months of slogging preparatory work aimed at just such an incident as the refusal of the East India Dock workers to load the Jolly George with munitions.

‘Not by pacifist appeals but by action,’ wrote Pollitt, ‘can we retard and prevent war and build up that power and organization that can end capitalism, the cause of all wars.’

Counterblast to Cohen?

‘If this committee imagines for a moment that we are going to confine ourselves to sterile parliamentary opposition at a time when they are making use of the most ruthless class policy ... they really must think that all the guts have gone out of Englishmen.’

Thus spoke Aneurin Bevan on September 18, 1931, commenting on the National Government’s plan to solve the crisis of that time by ‘economies’ at the expense of the working class.

Nevertheless, so far as the official leadership of the Labour Party was concerned, opposition did remain within the parliamentary framework, and so the capitalists had their way.

It is up to the rank and file to decide whether things will take the same course this time.

Overtaken by events

We hear little nowadays of a theme which only last year was a favourite in Socialist Forum discussions – ‘Strachey versus Marx’, or how capitalism has overcome its contradictions.

Perhaps the recession is responsible for the muting of the trumpets recently. It would not be the first time that a revisionist’s book was refuted by events before the printer’s ink was dry, so to speak.

Inspired by the absence of a major commercial crisis for two decades, Eduard Bernstein brought out his famous critique of Marxism – and what happened?

Rosa Luxemburg recalls, in her Reform or Revolution how hardly had Bernstein rejected, in 1898, Marx’s theory of crises, when a profound general crisis broke out in 1900: seven years later a new crisis, beginning in the USA, hit the world market.

Facts proved the theory of ‘adaptation’ to be false. They showed at the same time that the people who abandoned Marx’s theory of crisis only because no crisis occurred within a certain space of time merely confused the essence of this theory with one of its secondary, external aspects – the ten-year cycle.

The description of the cycle of modern capitalist industry as a ten-year period was to Marx and Engels, in 1860 and 1870, only a simple statement of facts.

It was not based on a natural law but on a series of given historical circumstances that were connected with the rapidly-spreading activity of young capitalism.

Centralized flatties

The Home Secretary’s veto on the appointment by Gateshead’s Labour Council of a locally-bred copper to be Chief Constable highlights an important contradiction between appearance and reality in our State structure.

Though the London police are quite openly outside the control of the London County Council and directly dependent, through the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, on the Home Office, provincial forces are in theory subject to the democratically-elected local authorities.

In practice, however, for a long time now the high cost of modern police technique has enabled the central Government to dictate in all essentials concerning the police in the provinces, as in the metropolis.

Continued refusal by Gateshead to bow to Mr Butler’s views on who should be (or, more precisely, who should not be) their Chief Constable could mean withdrawal of the police grant to the borough – equivalent to a 1s. 3d. rate, in a place which already has, at 23s. 6d., the highest rates of any county borough.

The Lawrence legend

The revolt in Iraq has put an end to the system of indirect British rule in the Middle East which was devised by Colonel T.E. Lawrence.

It is curious that this subtle-minded imperialist should have been claimed as a sort of muddled anti-imperialist by the two communist authors who wrote about him – Ralph Fox (A Writer in Arms, 1937) and Christopher Caudwell (Studies in a Dying Culture, 1938).

Perhaps the best excuse for their illusions is that David Garnett’s collection of Lawrence’s letters was published too late for them to read (both were killed in Spain).

Lawrence wrote, to Professor William Yale in 1929:

‘It is my deliberate opinion that the Winston Churchill settlement of 1921–22 (in which I shared) honourably fulfils the whole of the promises he made to the Arabs, in so far as the so-called British spheres are concerned.’

The instrument of ultimate control in Iraq and Transjordan was to be the RAF, and several tribal rebellions were in fact put down by bombing from the air.

Lawrence wrote on this subject to Liddell Hart in 1930:

‘It is of course infinitely more merciful than police or military action, as hardly anyone is ever killed – and, the killed are as likely to be negligible women and children as the really important men.’

Last updated on 11.10.2011