Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Butskellism Has a Pedigree

(March 1959)

From The Newsletter, 14 March 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

It is amazing how rapidly issues are being clarified in politics these days. What passed for ‘new thinking’ only a few months ago is now widely seen to be merely the wishful thinking of tired men.

In September I heard a lecture given, under WEA auspices, by H.L. Beales, who was once well known as a sympathetic historian of Chartism and the early English socialists.

His subject was The Class Struggle Today, and his argument was that it does not exist any more – mainly, it appeared, because many workers’ wives now have washing-machines and because there are many MPs of working-class origin!

I doubt whether in March 1959 Mr. Beales would get away with that so comparatively easily as he did six months ago.

Labour and capital

One of his remarks, I recall, was: ‘Party programmes are becoming similar. This is a hopeful thing.’

The endeavour to show that Labour is not so very different from Tory – or, at any rate, Liberal – is of course, like much in the ‘new thinking’, really quite old.

In 1921, when the discrediting of the Liberal Party offered careerists in Labour’s ranks the bright prospect of becoming, provided they played their cards properly, the second or even the first party of British capitalism, a little book appeared under the title When Labour Rules.

It was directed to ‘that great and useful community of business men as apart from wage earners’, in an endeavour to show how ill-founded was ‘the instinctive antagonism of the average business man to the notion of Labour being in power’.

All that Labour wanted, the author explained, was a more ‘reasonable share in the decencies and comforts’ of life. ‘A reasonable return for capital will not be denied when Labour rules.’

‘Rt Hon. Dress-Shirt’

The author was J.H. (‘Jimmy’) Thomas, the railwaymen’s leader whom Low immortalized as ‘Rt Hon. Dress-Shirt’.

A few years after going over openly to the Tory side, in 1931, he came a cropper through giving away budget secrets to his City of London pals.

It was a logical enough end to a career based on reassuring business men that Labour leaders meant them no harm, in return for a bigger share (for these leaders) in the ‘decencies and comforts’ of life.

What is said and what is not

‘Arising from the political events of 1956, some of the editorial staff left the paper because of political disagreement. They have been replaced by comrades who, as letters and meetings show, are considered to be doing a better job.’

This paragraph, relating to the Daily Worker, appears in the Report of the Executive Committee to the Communist Party for the period January 1956 to December 1958, issued in preparation for the party congress at Easter.

No figures are included in the report, however, showing the changes in the Daily Workers circulation during this period. Nor are there even any such figures for party membership.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

I see that the so-called ‘parliamentary’ delegation which is coming here shortly from the Soviet Union includes B.N. Ponomaryov.

As Mr. Ponomaryov is head of the department of the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party which looks after relations with the communist movement in other countries, this opportunity to visit Britain must be very welcome to him.

He was, incidentally, the author of a lying pamphlet about the Moscow trials, published here in 1938, under the title ‘The Plot against the Soviet Union’.