Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

The Price of Silence

(January 1959)

From The Newsletter, 24 January 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

What a scoop it would be if The Newsletter could publish the price paid by private industrialists – the steel kings, say – for their coal.

Many people believe that a major factor in the financial troubles of the nationalized coal industry, to which miners are now being sacrificed, is the concealed subsidy it is obliged to pay to private industry by accepting an absurdly low price for its products.

I must be careful, however, not to seem to incite any reader who has access to the actual figure to supply it to us, as this might cost him a long stay in the Tower; though you and I know well enough what we pay for coal, the price paid by big business is a closely guarded secret.

I understand that Arthur Horner once admitted that the executive of the National Union of Mineworkers had been given the figure in question – but in strictest confidence.

If Horner had not kept that confidence I suppose he would not be (as someone put it at The Newsletter’s ‘Solidarity with the Miners’ meeting in London the other day) the only old miner leaving his job this year who will be making a trip to Australia and back.

Horner, 1928

Talking of Arthur Horner reminds me that thirty years ago he brought out, in collaboration with Allen Hutt, the historian of the working-class movement and now chief subeditor of the Daily Worker, a very useful little book about the mining industry and the miners’ union, called Communism and Coal.

Some of it reads quite topically today:

‘Most of the officials received their training when the industry was expanding and are like fish out of water in the new situation. Hence their pathetic attempt to cling to the old policy and to their old privileges ...

‘When self-interest is added to deeply ingrained prejudice, and interested officials are mostly elected to paid jobs for life and have special privileges in the organization, the resistance to the fundamental changes of leadership, outlook and policy which the new situation in the industry demands, is tremendous.’

Horner and Hutt were particularly indignant about miners’ agents being elected for life and having power to vote at national conferences.

‘Hopelessly undemocratic’ and ‘a gross scandal’ were their epithets for this position, which remains, I understand, essentially unchanged today, though the Communist Party, for obvious reasons, has lost interest in challenging it.

The third man

Victor Zorza’s articles on eastern Europe in the Manchester Guardian are always worth reading, and this is certainly true of his discussion of evidence about the social conflicts underlying Khrushchev’s struggle with the so-called ‘anti-party group’.

He suggests that what is at issue is the question of how benefits and burdens are to be distributed between the industrial workers and collective-farm peasants.

Missing from Zorza’s analysis, however, is the third main element in Soviet society – the bureaucracy, which is estimated to absorb between 20 and 30 per cent, of the national income through its disproportionate salaries and miscellaneous perks and privileges.

Whoever gains, they mean to gain more, and whoever loses, it mustn’t be them – that is their permanent outlook.

It is these people, who seek to live now mainly at the expense of the peasants, now mainly at the expense of the workers, who are the real ‘underminers of the worker-peasant alliance’.

Only by overthrowing the bureaucrat can the Soviet worker and peasant ensure harmony between themselves.

Why do they need to lie?

Cruelty, a novel by Pavel Nilin, is now available in English. This was one of the relatively frank novels about Soviet life which were published in Russia during the brief literary ‘thaw’ that came to an end after the Hungarian revolt.

One of the characters, protesting against a political frame-up, says: ‘I refuse to believe that there is a thesis according to which one should lie and punish an innocent man in order to prove something to somebody. That’s impossible. I think that the man who lies is the man who is afraid of something.’

That is quite a profound thought, in its bearing on politics. Communist Party members should ask themselves why it was necessary for their leaders to invent and spread the slanders about Trotsky and ‘Trotskyists’ which nowadays have quite disappeared from the party’s publications, in shamefaced admission of their falsity.

Incidentally, there is now a significant difference between what appears in the communist Press and what is still said by certain party members.

For instance, I heard recently that a British employee of a certain Soviet institution in London was ‘explaining’ that if persons associated with The Newsletter had been beaten up by the police, arrested, fined and given prison sentences by the capitalist court for their activity in connexion with the South Bank dispute, that was just an elaborate spoof, designed to delude the workers as to the true character of these ‘Trotskyists’.

They wouldn’t dare put that in print nowadays – or would they?

Batista was once a ‘progressive’

A correspondent points out that a considerable part in the consolidation of the Batista tryanny in Cuba was played by the Communist Party.

At a critical stage in his progress towards full power, constitutional as well as actual, when Batista needed to present himself as the nominee of a ‘broad alliance’, he legalized the Communist Party, sure that it would support him. It did.

That was in 1939. John Gunther wrote in Inside Latin America (1942) that Cuba was ‘the only country in Latin America, Chile excepted, where the communists support the government in power. But they have very little power themselves. By bringing them into his coalition, Batista hamstrung them’.

Last updated on 11.10.2011