Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

It’s a Complex Crisis

(March 1959)

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

Colleague Tom Mercer pointed out the other week that ‘even if recovery comes it will be followed by another and probably worse slump’.

It is vital for socialists to realize that the crisis of British capitalism is no straight-line affair: as a wise man remarked months ago, ‘let not the boomers become slumpers’.

The post-war boom did not go on for ever, getting better and better in every way; nor will it necessarily be succeeded by a permanent, steadily-deepening slump.

There are no situations with no way out for the capitalists – if the workers let them find a temporary solution by means of wage-cuts, wars and so forth they can always carry on ensuring bigger and worse disasters in the future.

This is worth remembering with the example before us of what happened to many British Marxists, or would-be Marxists, in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

The end of the long mid-Victorian boom and the onset of the ‘great depression’ had convinced them that the last hour of capitalism had now struck in an almost literal sense.

Then, when unemployment started to fall and trade to pick up again, they decided that they had been had, and turned away from revolutionary socialism.

Thus the Marxist forces were weakened at a decisive moment; and when the next big convulsion of the British capitalist economy occurred, in the early 1900s, the Fabians were already well dug in and the Independent Labour Party had emerged under non-Marxist leadership.

Militant workers tended to turn to syndicalism, with its deceptive romantic appeal.

The movement cannot afford an over-simplified conception of the nature and course of capitalist crisis. Like all theoretical vagaries, it has serious practical consequences.

Pre-congress reading – II

Besides the party reorganization report of 1922, another publication well worth study by Communist Party members preparing for their Easter congress is the pamphlet The Finnish Revolution: A Self-Criticism, by Otto Kuusinen, published here in 1919.

This is, so to speak, the answer in advance to The British Road to Socialism.

Kuusinen, for many years a leading figure in the Comintern, is now a member of the presidium of the Soviet Communist Party, and spoke at the Twenty-First Congress.

His pamphlet was widely read among British communists until 1925, when it became ‘scarce’.

This happened because Kuusinen, in his contribution to the book The Errors of Trotskyism, attributed the defeat of the workers’ revolution in Finland in 1917–18 to the alleged errors of Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk, whereas in his pamphlet he had shown most convincingly that it failed owing to the errors of himself and other leaders of the Finnish Marxists at the time!

However, the pamphlet was brought out from under the counter in 1940, and published, in a fairly full version, in the Labour Monthly, which I warmly recommend comrades to consult.

‘A masterly analysis’

R.P. Dutt, in his introduction to the 1940 reprint, wrote of it as ‘a masterly analysis’.

The pamphlet shows how the Finnish socialists were ‘led astray’ by the phantom of parliamentary democracy. Having won a majority at the elections, instead of ‘preparing for revolution’, they ‘sat and waited calmly for the meeting of the Diet’, leaving the capitalists to choose the most convenient moment for their armed attack.

When this came, Kuusinen and company confused and dispirited the workers by calling on them to fight, not for socialism, but for a ‘democratic constitution’.

Their efforts to conciliate the middle classes gained nothing and merely hindered them from giving the ‘clear signals’ which could have roused the workers. Hence Mannerheim’s victory and its fatal consequences.

Dockers jewels’ and dockers’ wages

‘Ordinarily we do not even notice how deeply ingrained in us are the anti-democratic habits and prejudices concerning the “sacredness” of bourgeois property.

‘When an engineer or a banker publishes information concerning the income and expenditure of a worker, when he publishes data concerning this worker’s earnings and the productivity of his work, this is considered perfectly legitimate and just.

‘Nobody undertakes to discover here an attempt on the “private life” of the workers, “spying” or “informing” on the part of the engineer.

‘The work and the earnings of the hired workers are regarded as an open book which every bourgeois may look into, using it to expose the workers “extravagance,” his alleged “laziness” etc.

‘But what about reversing the procedure? What if the unions of office workers, clerks and domestic servants were to be invited by the democratic State to go over the records of income and expenditure of the capitalists, to publish data concerning these items, to aid the government in fighting against the concealment of incomes?

‘What a savage howl the bourgeoisie would then raise against “snooping” and “informing” ...’
– Lenin, The Threatening Catastrophe and How to Fight It, September 1917.

Last updated on 12.10.2011