Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

The Main Channel

(February 1959)

From The Newsletter, 28 February 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Labour’s front bench presents a markedly middle-class appearance nowadays. But everyone knows that the real string-pullers are the trade union bureaucrats – men who have risen (if that is the word) from the working class and whose proletarian background is, indeed, their stock-in-trade, in the most literal sense of that expression.

They wield the big guns in the Labour Party, making and unmaking the middle-class figure-heads.

It was they, headed by Ernie Bevin, who ousted Lansbury in favour of Attlee, and who had Cripps expelled.

It is through the trade union bureaucrats, these parvenu ex-workers, that capitalism mainly controls the organizations of the Labour movement.

Though men with old school ties and fancy accents may present more obvious targets for exposure, militants should never lose sight of this key fact of modern politics.

Consolidated caste

In the early 1920s the Communist Party devoted disproportionate attention to the penetration of Labour Party leading circles by ex-Liberal middle-class elements – important though that was.

They did not see (and in the crucial years 1925–27 were discouraged by Moscow from even attempting to see) the far more decisive role of the trade union officials who in that period became consolidated as a powerful conservative caste, closely linked with monopoly capital and serving as the main channel for its influence in the organized workers’ movement.

Among hyenas

One of the men executed following the Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia in 1952 was Andre Simon, also known as Otto Katz.

He was accused, like the rest, of being a Titoite, fascist, Trotskyist, Zionist conspirator against people’s democracy.

Into his evidence this man, who had given long service to Stalinism as an international journalist, introduced a number of allegations of such a fantastic character that it seems probable he was trying in this way to show friends abroad that the trial was a frame-up.

For instance, he named Claud Cockburn (‘Frank Pitcairn’, of Daily Worker fame) as a British secret service agent.

This titbit was given in the Daily Worker’s first edition that day, but omitted from the later ones; too strong meat for some comrades’ stomachs, presumably.

The Democratic Journalist, published by the International Organization of journalists (Prague) carries in its January issue a communication from the secretary of the Union of Czechoslovak Journalists in which he says that Andre Simon was ‘justly condemned’.

Does this mean that Claud Cockburn was indeed a British secret service agent?

In an article in the New Statesman of February 4, 1956, Cockburn suggested rather plainly that Andre Simon was unjustly condemned. Exactly what the Democratic Journalist (save the mark!) would expect of a British secret service agent, of course.

‘Big Peter’ as Bourbon

Certain Spanish industrialists are reported to be forming, with the approval of the Church hierarchy, a party of the ‘Christian Democrat’ type, to be ready to take over should Franco’s regime become so discredited that it has to go into liquidation.

In this way the ruling class would pass power from one hand to the other without the masses of the people getting a chance to intervene – or such is their hope.

This year sees the twentieth anniversary of Franco’s victory in Spain. How did it happen that the people, who had power in their grasp in 1936, lay prostrate before fascism three years later, and that for the last two decades, instead of a workers’ and peasants’ republic, a bloody dictatorship of the landlords and capitalists has reigned in the Peninsula?

Peter Kerrigan, who was a ‘commissar’ in the Spanish civil war, was asked at a recent meeting of young people in north London whether he still thought the crushing of the workers’ movement for the sake of so-called national unity lad really helped the Republic. Had it not rather contributed a great deal to the victory of Franco?

Kerrigan’s answer was that he thought the same today as in 1937. Shown two Communist Party pamphlets of the time, Our Victory Demands the Suppression of the Trotskyists and Trotskyism in the Service of Franco, he declared that he stood by every word of them.

Less incriminated communists may well consider, however, that this is a chapter that ought to be re-examined.

What the Belgian workers know

‘A worker’s labour power is his only wealth. It is also his strongest weapon.

‘The irritated cart-horse that snorts and kicks in impotent rage makes no impression on its master so long as it continues to drag its load along the way.

‘But when it sticks its hoofs into the macadam and refuses to budge, then the driver is up against a tough proposition.’
The Worker (organ of the Clyde Workers’ Committee), January 29, 1916.

A 1917 ‘Trotskyist’

The late D.Z. Manuilsky co-operated during the first world war ‘in a Left Menshevik anti-war paper in Paris. Returning to Russia in May 1917, however, he rejoined the Bolsheviks in August that year’.

The paper mentioned was edited by Trotsky, and Manuilsky joined the Bolshevik party along with the rest of Trotsky’s political group, to which he belonged. This was an important episode in the regrouping of forces which made the October Revolution possible.

Thenceforth the party was generally known as the party ‘of Lenin and Trotsky’. But one would not expect that to be mentioned by ‘A.R.’ (Andrew Rothstein), from whose obituary of Manuilsky in the Daily Worker my quotation is taken.

Last updated on 17.10.2011