Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

When Printers Censored a Capitalist Paper

(June 1959)

From The Newsletter, 27 June 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

The sanctions imposed by the printing workers on the News Chronicle last week recall the historic action taken by the machine-men of the Daily Mail in 1926, the ‘first shot’ in the General Strike.

The General Council of the Trades Union Congress had been empowered on Saturday, May 1, to call a general strike in support of the miners.

But on the evening of Sunday, May 2, they were still negotiating with the Cabinet, and had agreed to urge the miners to accept the possibility of a reduction in wages.

They had made it quite plain to the other side that they did not want to fight, and a section of the Tory leaders, headed by Churchill, were keen to force a showdown, being confident that they could beat such half-hearted opponents.

Late that night Baldwin, the prime minister, sent for the representatives of the General Council, told them that ‘gross interference with the freedom of the Press’ had taken place and demanded that they repudiate this.

Bewildered, they went into a huddle to confer; and when they came back later to tell Baldwin they would do what he asked, they found he had gone to bed.

They had to go ahead with the General Strike whether they wanted to or not. As we know, they headed it in order to behead it, with disastrous consequences for the whole working class.

For King and capitalism

The incident which had indirectly forced the General Council’s hand sums up the whole story of the great strike.

The Daily Mail was going to press for Monday, May 3, with a leading article (entitled For King And Country) which called on ‘all law-abiding men and women’ to be ready to act as strike-breakers.

The stereotypers cast the plates for the article, but the machine-men refused to print it. George Isaacs, secretary of Natsopa, was sent for and told the men to resume work.

But they refused.

As soon as he heard of this rank-and-file initiative – and of the line taken by the trade union bureaucrats concerned – Churchill demanded that Baldwin at once issue an ultimatum to the General Council.

Ever since the betrayal of the General Strike the Daily Mail has carried at its masthead the slogan ‘For King and Country’ (now metamorphosed into ‘For Queen and Commonwealth’) as a sort of trophy of victory over the printing workers and the working class as a whole.

As we move into a new period of intensifying conflict between the classes, it becomes more and more urgent that the principal lesson of 1926 be put into effect – that strong rank-and-file organizations be set up throughout industry to make sure that the Isaacses of our time are rendered incapable of playing the bosses’ and the Tories’ game and selling out their members.

Of educational interest

he other day I came near to arranging, through mutual friends, a debate with an old acquaintance, Jack Cohen, who works in the education department of the Communist Party.

Unfortunately the plan fell through; the Communist Party has imposed, it appears, a blanket ban (or proscription?) on debates between its officials and people connected with The Newsletter.

This was all the more of a disappointment to me as I had been looking forward to discovering whether Jack Cohen’s controversial methods have changed much since twenty-odd years ago, when I first knew him. (He was then in charge of Communist Party work among students.)

At the time of the first big ‘anti-Trotsky’ trials in Moscow, Cohen contributed an article to the communist monthly Discussion (issue of September 1936) entitled “Heroes” of Fascism and Counter-Revolution.

In this he referred to an article by Trotsky, pointing out the need for a political revolution in the Soviet Union, which had been published ‘in the German paper Weltbühne at the end of 1933’, and went on to write: ‘No wonder the German Trotskyists are in such favour with the fascist movement.’

The headman’s axe

The ‘favour’ of the Nazis for the German Left Oppositionists was, of course, expressed by means of the headman’s axe.

But the insinuation is clear: that Trotsky published an attack on the Soviet government in a Nazi, or Nazi-tolerated paper.

In fact, the journal in question was an anti-Nazi German publication printed in Prague (and called Die Neue Weltbühne).

As for Die Weltbühne (correctly described in a recent issue of Democratic German Report as a famous Berlin radical magazine of the 1920s), its editor, the pacifist Karl von Ossietzky, had been put in a concentration camp by Hitler immediately after his accession to power; he died in 1938 from the effects of his treatment there, after being awarded the Nobel Prize for peace.

As a practitioner of what the lawyers call suggestio falsi Jack Cohen is well-qualified to be a Stalinist ‘educator’.

Last updated on 12.10.2011