Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Demagogy versus Science

(February 1959)

From The Newsletter, 21 February 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Reader F. Cooney, in his letter in our issue of January 31, expresses ideas which are widespread among industrial militants.

These ideas usually evoke approving noises when uttered at meetings. But for one reason or another they are rarely put down on paper.

In spite of the honesty with which they are held – and they are one aspect of an important trend in the working-class movement, anarcho-syndicalism – they are quite alien to socialism.

And reaction has often shown itself skilled in utilizing these ideas against the socialists.

The Black Hundreds in tsarist Russia operated with demagogic anti-student slogans, and in our time every fascist and Nazi gangster has followed their example.

How ‘Stalinism’ began

It was no accident that the first coming together of the original ‘Stalinist’ nucleus in Russia, against Trotsky, took the form of a protest by a group of NCOs of the old army and partisan leaders in 1919 against the War Commissar’s insistence on using the services of trained staff officers whose knowledge and experience he saw to be essential to the Red Army.

Stalinism has never lost this taint of mean-minded anti-culturalism. Marx wrote of it in his day: ‘General envy, constituting itself a veritable power, is nothing but the masked form under which greed makes its home and satisfies itself in another way.’

Key book

The engineering employers’ statement Looking at Industrial Relations, with its frank admission of what they were up to in 1957, should send anybody who missed it at the time to that remarkable book The Employers’ Challenge, by H.A. Clegg and Rex Adams, to which attention was drawn in The Newsletter of November 16, 1957, soon after it came out.

Clegg and Adams examined the clash of March 1957 against the whole background of relations between Capital and Labour in engineering, and concluded that ‘the strike resulted from an attempt by British employers to alter the system of industrial relations which has grown up in Britain over the last twenty or thirty years’.

The Employers’ Challenge is one of the most acute pieces of research on industrial history that has appeared in recent years; and the general line of its argument is now more than confirmed, straight out of the horse’s mouth.

No ‘trouble-makers’ then?

McAlpine’s Strike. Mass Picket in Action.; These headlines caught my eye while looking through the Minority Movement weekly, The Worker, for August 9, 1924.

They referred, I found, to a strike on a McAlpine job in Scotland.

According to the report, Sir Robert’s representative ‘had hinted darkly at a hidden hand sort of business. Someone outside of the job was fomenting disturbance.

‘The men’s representatives treated this William LeQuex stuff with the derision it deserved, and got down to “brass tacks’’.’

Our campaign and the election

A few months earlier (on February 9, 1924) the Worker had the following to say in an editorial:

‘The capturing of the rank and file for more militant policies is necessary in order to present the deterioration and corruption of the Labour movement.

‘No Labour Party success in parliamentary contests will be of any avail if the working class are allowed to sink into passivity.

‘A healthy Labour movement is based on a struggling working class. To keep the workers passive in order not to hamper a Labour government is to stifle the only force which can make a real Labour government possible.

‘For the struggle to set up a real Labour government is not merely an electoral struggle. It is a struggle waged on every avenue of social activity. It is a struggle in which the broad masses of the workers must participate.

‘In so far as the Minority Movements are tending to revive the spirit of the struggle they are accomplishing work which is vital to the whole Labour movement.’

Big slice of cake

A correspondent queries the estimate I mentioned that the bureaucracy takes between 20 and 30 percent of the national income of the Soviet Union.

David Dallin, in The Changing World of Soviet Russia (1956), put the body of officials and intelligentsia of all kinds at about 12 to 14 per cent, of the Soviet population – ‘greater numerically than all the higher classes of old Russia put together’ – and calculated that they received between 31 and 35 per cent, of the distributed national income, i.e., about the same share as the workers and more than that of the peasants.

I allowed for the effect of the reforms of recent years in shifting the balance somewhat in favour of the masses of the people,

It must, of course, be kept in mind that the bureaucracy also benefits by privileged access to scarce goods, notably housing.

Before arrival

Reading the late Wilfred Fienburgh’s novel No Love for Johnnie – which is about the Labour government of 1960 – I found myself recalling the bitter words of a shop steward, uttered long before things had come to their present pass in leading Labour circles.

‘Imagine a Labour majority, a Labour government, composed of the present crowd of reactionaries, swindlers and traitors.

‘Imagine the patronage that will be in the possession of this evil crew – the number of jobs they will be able to give their friends – the bribery and corruption that will be brought into the Labour movement.’

These words appeared in the shop stewards’ paper Solidarity for March 25, 1921, and the writer (need I say?) was that frequent contributor to these columns Jack Tanner, now of IRIS.

Last updated on 12.10.2011