Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Geese and Ganders

(September 1959)

From The Newsletter, 5 September 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Newspaper readers learnt on August 27 that the Chinese Communist Party had publicly admitted that a number of China’s production claims for 1958 had been grossly exaggerated – output of grain, for example, had been 250 million tons, as against the 375 million tons originally claimed. From the category of newspaper readers we must, however, except those who read the Daily Worker and no other paper

The Daily Worker (headlining the story More Aid for China’s Farms. New Ministry Created) omitted to report this astonishing contrast. It gave only the new claim and commented blandly: ‘It was found that the output figures for last year’s bumper harvest had been rather too high, because of lack of experience in assessing such unprecedentedly large crops.’

Who would suppose that behind those words ‘rather too high’ lay a 50 per cent, exaggeration?

Why does the Daily Worker do this sort of thing? Mainly because its editors know that there is a section of its readers who read no other paper and believes nothing that does not appear in the Daily Worker.

The value of these blinkered fanatics to the Communist Party leadership was demonstrated during the ‘party discussion’ of 1956-1957, when they could be relied on to shout down any members who tried to raise awkward questions. These are the people who still deny the authenticity of Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin speech at the Twentieth Congress on the grounds that it was never reported in the Daily Worker!

To preserve the faith of such devoted ‘old believers’ it is worth while – so the Communist Party leaders calculate – to risk making a fool of oneself before the rest of the world.

For there is danger in printing these admissions which have a way of bursting forth from time to time in the present critical period.

The first seeds of doubt in the Stalinist myth were sown in the minds of a number of those who were to break with the Communist Party in 1956–57 in the speech addressed by Malenkov to the USSR Supreme Soviet on August 8, 1953, when he said that it was ‘essential to put an end to the incorrect practice of evaluating the results of the work of collective farms as regards the production of grain and other produce, not on the basis of the amounts actually harvested but merely on the basis of apparent yields. We should not forget that our country, our collective farms, can only be rich in crops actually stored in the barns, not in crops still out in the fields.’

Western economists had for years been alleging that Soviet grain production figures were phoney, being based on estimates made before the grain was actually harvested, i.e., without taking into account the actual loss due to weather, vermin and waste, which might amount to as much as 25 per cent.

Earnest Stalinists had always repudiated this suggestion – yet here was the Soviet premier himself admitting that it was true. When so fundamental a production index was discredited, what other official Soviet claims could be taken on trust?

The Communist Party leaders who have so painfully rebuilt the mood of blind acceptance among their followers during the last two years are determined not to risk damaging it now. Hence their ludicrous suppression of a major item of news.

Geese and ganders

I am as much in the dark as anyone about what is actually happening on India’s north-eastern frontier. But a wartime experience makes me feel sick at the hypocrisy of the propaganda against China now being put out in this connexion by American imperialist circles.

In Chiang Kai-shek’s heyday, official Chinese maps showed not only the area now in dispute but also parts of northeastern Burma as belonging to China. And the Kuomintang regime did not stop at maps either.

In 1945, during the final phase of the war in Burma, quite a nasty little ‘war-within-the-war’ was fought along the river Shweli. Chiang’s troops in that area had taken advantage of the departure of the Japanese to move boundary-stones, begins levying Chinese taxes and generally treat what the British regarded as part of Burma as a part of China.

They were not dislodged without a diversion of forces and a battle – on which no communiques were issued by the British headquarters.

What made the episode particularly ticklish, and what recalls it to my mind now, was that the Kuomintang bandits were operating with the tacit approval of the American commander in northern Burma. So long as ‘China’ meant Chiang, Wall Street and its general had no objection to Chinese expansion at the expense of countries in the British sphere.

Elizabeth II and the class struggle

Is the attitude of the Labour leaders to the British monarchy compatible with a serious intention to do away with capitalism? Some sincere socialists shrug the problem off with remarks about the monarchy having purely formal significance nowadays. But, in the first place, that is far from being true, and in the second place, even if it were true it would not be decisive.

The British bourgeoisie knew better when it abolished the title of the Mogul Emperor and banished him from Delhi in 1857, ‘despite the fact that that title had become a purely nominal one by that time. For the British bourgeoisie understood that given certain conditions the Great Mogul might focus the struggle of the Indian upper classes against the British sovereignty.’ They saw ‘the danger of even the most fictitious monarchy.’ (Trotsky, Where is Britain Going?, 1926).

Well played, sir or comrade!

‘Jolly old Winchester! Jolly old New College!
Cream of our fine middle classes!
By cheerful unbendings in soccer and social clubs
We can get on with the masses.’
– John Betjeman (prophetically) on Gaitskell in Moscow

Last updated on 13.10.2011