Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

How the Pioneers Did It

(April 1959)

From The Newsletter, 4 April 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Surprising as it may seem today, the miners were one of the last major groups of the British working class to be won for the idea of independent labour politics.

There was a long, strong tradition of Liberalism in the coal-fields which took a lot of breaking down.

And in view of the head-shaking about Socialist Labour League ideas of transforming the face of working-class politics through rank-and-file movements in industry, it is worth recalling how the job was done.

The ‘militant branch officials’ of the miners’ unions were often members of the Independent Labour Party, Frank Bealey and Henry Pelling point out in their Labour and Politics, 1900–1906 (1958), and ‘it was they who were responsible for the unofficial organizations set up within the areas covered by the unions – organizations that pursued policies contrary to those of the miners’ leaders’.

Thanks largely to the work of these trouble-makers, as the Liberal union officials regarded them, the miners’ delegate councils in South Wales and Durham at last in 1905 gave majorities in favour of Labour.

Cornford and the anarchists

An error crept into one of my quotations from Cornford last week – an error which it is particularly worth correcting, as it weakens the point of the passage quoted.

It was not the ‘socialist’ but the ‘anarchist workers’ that Cornford thought the Spanish communists should concentrate on winning.

Though he had no time for anarchism, Cornford saw that the main body of militant workers in the principal industrial region of Spain, around Barcelona, were anarchists, and, being a sincere communist, that meant for him that the party’s task was first and foremost to get among those workers, establish close ties with them, and win them for Marxism.

The line actually taken by the Stalinists was first to stick a label on the anarchist workers (‘uncontrollables’, the 1937 equivalent of ‘Left adventurists’), then to work up a pogrom spirit against them among the followers of the Communist Party, and finally to attack and decimate them, using an armed force recruited among former policemen and the middle class.

Never so good

‘A fascinating social fact emerges when one starts looking for a property in this part of the world [the Cotswolds].

‘Before and immediately after the war the large house was almost as difficult to sell in the Cotswolds as elsewhere. These were the years of austerity and the middle class had become so conscious of being without servants that entertaining went out of fashion.

‘One might perhaps ask the neighbours in for a drink, but not for dinner.

‘All this seems to have changed in the last few years. Entertaining is becoming fashionable again. Friends are asked for the week-end, and buyers are therefore anxious to get a house with two or more spare rooms in addition to those needed by the family and the (possibly foreign) staff.

‘The result is that the larger house in the area has been steadily rising in price.

‘A representative of Knight, Frank and Rutley, one of several London agents who are experts on the Cotswolds, said recently that there is a “good and steady demand for houses with eight or ten bedrooms”.’
– Hilary Maugham on Property Problems, in the Observer, March 29, 1959.

Last updated on 12.10.2011