Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Convertibility and Class Struggle

(January 1959)

From The Newsletter, 3 January 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Some people have been heard to say that we of The Newsletter are obsessed by parallels between developments in the nineteen twenties and at the present day.

Be that as it may, I doubt whether even the most sophisticated of ‘new thinkers’ has failed to notice the disturbing similarity between the decision to restore convertibility and the return to the gold standard in 1925.

That measure, dictated by the same concern to restore the financial role of the City of London, necessitated attacks on the working class in order to ‘strengthen the pound’.

The return to the gold standard was followed inevitably by the attack on the miners in 1926 and the Trade Disputes Act in 1927, strait-jacketing the trade union movement.

The return to convertibility will drive the capitalists in the same direction now. Whether they will get away with it this time as they did in 1925–27 will depend, of course, on how far the lessons of that period and subsequent periods have been learnt by the workers-especially as regards reliance on the trade union bureaucracy in a phase of conflict when the employers really mean business.

Once again it is the miners who are in the forefront of the battle.

All sections need to see today, as they did then, the key significance of the miners’ struggle – but also to see many things that were not seen then, or not acted upon if seen.

CND and suffragettes

Many of the earnest people active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are now pondering on the future of their movement.

Those among them who consider themselves socialists but who, in despair or irritation, have turned away from work in the Labour movement, should consider the story of the suffragette struggle.

The militant leaders of that campaign were ‘socialists who laid aside their socialism to get the reform they had set their hearts upon accomplished’, and their activities ‘withdrew from the socialist movement certain forces which never returned’ wrote Joseph Clayton in The Rise and Decline of Socialism in Great Britain (1926).

Certainly, in estimating the reason why there was no workers’ revolution here in the years on the eve of the first world war one cannot leave out of account the part played the suffagette agitation in diverting energies from the decisive front.

Must not the test for the true progressiveness of any social or political movement in our century be whether or not it feeds the struggle for socialism, the only solution to our problems?

Something for everybody

From World Marxist Review, the successor to the old Cominform journal known as For–For, we learn that a conference on the history of the Labour movement took place in Berlin last October.

The Soviet delegate talked about a new textbook being prepared on the history of the Soviet Communist Party.

‘The delegates were particularly interested’ – I quote – ‘in the conception of the second world war as set out in the new textbook. The war began as an imperialist war both on the part of Germany and on the part of Britain and France. On its outbreak the Communist Parties and the Communist International rightly defined its character and accordingly formulated their practical slogans (against the imperialist governments of their countries and for an end to the war). In contrast to the first world war, the second, from the very outset, was a just war of liberation on the part of those countries which were victims of aggression by the fascist powers, whose aim was to destroy these national States and enslave their peoples. In the measure that fascist aggression expanded, the resistance of the peoples grew. Parallel with this, the character of the war as a whole also gradually changed, for the provisional government of France [de Gaulle?] and the government of Britain, under the direct threat of Nazi invasion, were compelled (while not abandoning in the long run their imperialist designs) to join forces with the people’s war of liberation. The process of changing its character was completed when the Soviet Union entered the war.’

Well, there is certainly something to please every school of thought in that formula; indeed, it looks as though it has been drawn up by some bureaucrat with just that aim in mind.

It’s like the result of the ‘caucus race’ in Alice in Wonderland: ‘Everybody has won and everybody must have a prize.’

Whether it makes sense and whether it squares with the facts of history are, of course, quite different matters.

Labour books

Visiting the bookshop at Transport House recently I was intrigued to notice what is stocked and what is not.

Universities and Left Review is well in evidence, but not the New Reasoner or Labour Review.

Benn Levy’s pamphlet putting the case for unilateral nuclear disarmament is there, also Drift’s Crisis of Britain and the British Empire and Gluckstein’s Mao’s China, but nothing that could by any stretch of the term be called ‘Trotskyist’.

Thus Cannon’s recently-published Notebook of an Agitator, though favourably reviewed by Tribune, is not there.

Nevertheless such thought-provoking books as Julian Symons’s The General Strike and V.L. Allen’s Power in Trade Unions are displayed.

Then and now

‘A new type of leadership is essential, if future struggles are to succeed. Revolutionary struggles demand the service of men untrammelled by capitalist law or bureaucratic etiquette.

‘These methods the present bureaucratic leadership refused to adopt, so that the miners have fought this struggle with their hands tied behind their backs by legal tape, and their eyes bandaged by union constitutions.’
– Arthur Horner, not then general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, in Coal: The Next Round (1926).

Last updated on 12.10.2011