Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

The Antidote to Racialism

(September 1958)

From The Newsletter, 27 September 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Theorizers about the causes of the race riots have to explain why they have occurred in some areas with a large coloured population plus bad housing and so forth, and yet not in others where the same combination of objective factors is present.

In fact it is impossible to leave out of account the part played by fascist and semi-fascist groups and also, of fundamental importance, the strength and militancy of the Labour movement in the given area.

Both of these aspects were brought to the fore at the meeting held by the Movement for Colonial Freedom in Trafalgar Square on Sunday.

The vice-chairman of Lambeth Trades Council pointed out that they had no race riots in his area, ‘and that’s the way we’re going to keep it’. On the other side, ‘National Labour Party’ supporters in the crowd displayed banners with their slogans: ‘Keep Britain White’ and ‘Britain for Britons’.

Gaitskell’s experience of being shouted down by Orange-women in Liverpool is a reminder from another quarter of how the dark forces of prejudice and fanaticism always raise their heads where the Labour movement has lost its grip and fallen into opportunist ways.

‘Only Connollyism’ (meaning revolutionary socialism) ‘can deal with Carsonism’, it used to be said in Belfast.

Men still talk of the days of the 1919 general strike there, for the forty-hour week, when the city was freer of faction fighting than for a long time before or after, and ‘Shame on the man that names religion’ was a reigning principle among the workers caught up in their common fight for their class cause.

Barefaced deception?

A young man with a Mosleyite badge who bought Peter Fryer’s leaflet Sweep the Racialists off the Streets from me in the Square glanced through it and remarked sourly: ‘This has been written by a communist.’

‘Well, as a matter of fact,’ I replied, ‘Fryer was expelled from the Communist Party.’

‘Ah,’ was the reply, with a knowing air, ‘facially he may have been...’

‘Seditious libel’, 1925

Chancing to pick up the late T.A. Jackson’s Trials of British Freedom (1940), I found myself reading the last chapter, which deals with the arrest of twelve of the leaders of the Communist Party in October 1925 and their prosecution for ‘conspiring to utter seditious libels’.

That was a political case if ever there was one.

The Tory Prime Minister had declared that ‘the wages of all workers have to come down, in order to put industry on its feet’.

The ruling class was actively preparing for a major showdown with the workers, and part of its preparation was to intimidate the workers’ leaders.

The Communist Party at that time was the body with which most militants were associated, and it was putting forward a programme for counter-preparation by the working class.

Roused to anger

Hence it was the obvious target for a prosecution. The effect on the mass of the workers was to rouse them to anger against the Tories – tremendous demonstrations of solidarity with the accused took place, and MacDonald complained that by its action the Government had ‘played into the hands of Bolshevism’.

The trade union leaders were suitably frightened, however, by the sentences of twelve months and six months imposed on the communists.

When the crisis came, in May 1926, the Government had only to hint that the General Strike was ‘illegal’ and the General Council of the Trades Union Congress came to heel, betraying the millions who had trustingly followed them.

As Jackson puts it, these bureaucrats ‘had no desire to go where the Twelve had gone, being fearful of what their followers might do in their absence’.

Jimmy Thomas and his pals were able to carry through that historic betrayal only because the Communist Party had confined itself to putting forward excellent proposals, for the Jimmy Thomases to carry out, but had taken no step to show the workers the need to build up a rank-and-file leadership, from the factory level upwards, which could have taken command of the strike out of the traitors’ hands.

‘Increasing misery’

There is a curious contradiction in the treatment in no. 1 of World Marxist Review, the new ‘Cominform’ journal, of the question of the ‘increasing misery’ of the proletariat.

On page 51 the Russian A.M. Rumyantsev declares that the interpretation of this concept as meaning a decline in the workers’ living standards is a revisionist distortion: what it means is that there is a widening gap between the living standards of the workers and their needs.

Thus, even while the workers’ real wages were increasing they could be suffering ‘increasing misery’ because their needs were increasing still faster.

Contrastingly, the reviewer, on pages 111–12, of Thorez’s booklet More About Impoverishment appears to endorse the French communist leader’s view that ‘increasing misery’ means what it is usually taken to mean: that the workers’ real wages, taking into account intensity of labour, and other relevant factors, tend to fall, any advance in one direction being more than counterbalanced by losses in others – for example, a better flat at the cost of less food.

It would be enlightening to have some discussion of this important aspect of Marxist theory in connexion with Harry Finch’s articles.

Twentieth-century revolutions

World Marxist Review announces that active preparations are now under way in the German Democratic Republic for the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the revolution of November 1918.

It gives Ulbricht’s official definition of that revolution as ‘a bourgeois-democratic type of revolution which in sortie measure was conducted by proletarian means and methods.’

How much of Europe’s and the world’s subsequent history was decided by the failure of the trend in the German working-class movement led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg to capture power at the end of 1918 and beginning of 1919!

Had there been a real Bolshevik Party in Germany then, supported by the majority of the workers, it would certainly have been victorious.

Would it not then, besides carrying through in a thoroughgoing way such overdue bourgeois-democratic measures as expropriation of the Junker class, have proceeded to socialist measures such as the nationalization of the principal industries?

How could it have avoided doing so, even had it wished?

The Permanent Revolution

It is good news that Trotsky’s The Permanent Revolution (1930) is to be reissued in the not too distant future in an improved translation.

This book examines whether bourgeois-democratic revolutions which remain such can in fact be carried out in modern conditions, and analyses the theory and practice of Stalinism, especially in colonial countries, in relation to this question.

As an appendix the book will include a new translation of the same writer’s Results and Prospects, written in 1904–06, which forecast with astonishing accuracy the course actually taken by the Russian Revolution.

This pamphlet has long been unavailable in English, though in 1921 it was translated by Joseph Fineberg and published by the Communist International.

Military theory and politics

Every columnist is delighted to hear from his readers and I am very pleased indeed to have received my first ‘reader reaction’ in the shape of a letter from Leeds about my remarks on T.E. Lawrence.

The writer points out how Lawrence was the source of Liddell Hart’s military doctrines, and what was the political background of those doctrines.

‘The senseless slaughter of the Somme, Verdun and Passchendaele contributed to the collapses of 1918, the French army mutiny of 1917 and the subsequent revolutionary wave in Europe.

‘You will remember how Arnold Zweig deals with this in the trilogy that starts with The Case of Sergeant Grischa and ends with The Crowning of a King. The Foch strategy of concentration reflected in its application the contempt of a general staff reared in aristocratic isolation for the common mass of soldiery.

‘Liddell Hart was, in a sense, the Fabian of military strategy and he had to apply his mind above all to the political questions of warfare presented by the first world war.

‘This is where T.E. Lawrence’s ideas came in so handy – surprise, deceptions, distraction, pinning down large forces with small ones, the psychological paralysis of an opponent ...’

Perhaps the key to the Lawrence cult was indeed that, as David Garnett puts it, ‘he won his victories without endangering more than a handful of Englishmen,’ and Liddell Hart’s writings constitute an attempt to work out a military doctrine for waging imperialist wars without involving the workers too much, lest they rebel against the sufferings inflicted on them as they did in 1917–18.

The ‘Redman’ pamphlet

The Newsletter possesses a limited number of copies of The Communist Party and the Labour Left, 1925–29, the pamphlet by ‘Joseph Redman’, with an introduction by John Saville, which the Reasoner published early in 1957 and which helped considerably to stimulate the current interest in Communist Party history.

These are available at 2s. 3d. post free.

A few copies of Hungary and the Communist Party, by Peter Fryer, are also available, price 1s. 3d. post free.

Get this

‘The Peter Kerrigan in this case is not the Peter Kerrigan who is industrial organizer of the Communist Party.’
– From the article by W. Roy Nash on the Editorial Board of The Newsletter, in the News Chronicle, Sept. 23.

Last updated on 11.10.2011