Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Never Again?

(November 1959)

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

Far be it from me, who am no economist, to prophesy in such matters, and farther still to seem to wish for a repetition of the terrible depression of the early 1930s, with its train of misery and suffering. Nevertheless, I have never been convinced by those who argue that such a slump is totally out of the question nowadays, and was therefore very interested in Professor J.K. Galbraith’s article in the Observer of October 25 on the thirtieth anniversary of the Wall Street crash.

As author of The Affluent Society Galbraith is very much an OK-name among New Thinkers. I trust they have noted his warning that ‘there is a considerable chance that our past experience with boom and collapse will be repeated – sooner or later. I am myself keeping a small list of those who say that 1929 is unimportant and irrelevant because nothing like it could ever happen in the stock market again.’

With the Tory election slogans about our never having had it so good still ringing in our ears, Galbraith’s concluding sentence falls with quite a sinister sound: ‘The time to worry will be when important people begin to explain that conditions are fundamentally sound.’

Stale slanders from Khrushchev

Presumably in order to frighten Mao with a possible charge of the gravest of heresies, Khrushchev managed to bring a crack about Trotsky into his speech to the Supreme Soviet on Soviet foreign policy. ‘Lenin and the party’, it appears, ‘had to fight hard against Trotsky’ at the time of the Brest-Litovsk peace negotiations in 1918. That wicked man ‘raised leftist objections’ and ‘put forward his notorious slogan of “Neither peace or war,” thus playing into the hands of the German imperialists.’ ‘Considerable difficulties’ resulted: ‘such were the fruits of adventurism’.

It is surprising that Stalin’s successor should risk serving up this stuff in present-day conditions, when access to archives is said to be much easier in Russia than it used to be. The minutes of the meetings of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party for the relevant period were published in the historical journal Proletarskaya Revolyutsia, No. 2 of 1928 (No. 73 of the whole series). From them the student may learn that it was not Trotsky at all but a group which included Dzerzhinsky, later one of the saints of the Stalinist pantheon, that opposed on ‘leftist’ grounds signing peace with Germany and wanted a revolutionary war; and that among Trotsky’s supporters against Lenin at one stage was none other than Stalin himself. So late as February 23, when the German army had resumed its advance, Stalin was still arguing that ‘we need not sign’!

Khrushchev’s illiterate (or disingenuous) references to the Brest-Litovsk episode conceal the real point at issue in that crisis. Lenin was most keenly conscious of Russia’s inability to fight Germany in the circumstances of February 1918. Trotsky realized that too, but attributed very great importance to another factor as well. The Bolsheviks were then still generally regarded among the workers in France, Britain and the Allied countries as a whole as a set of ‘German agents’. It was necessary so to behave at Brest-Litovsk as to destroy that particular slander. The whole world must see that Soviet Russia was yielding to German imperialism only at the very point of the bayonet.

Whether or not one considers Trotsky went too far in his anxiety to clear up the misconceptions of the Western workers, it can be argued (as Trotsky himself did in his introduction to the official Soviet edition of the peace-negotiation documents) that he thereby created great difficulties for the interventionists in France and Britain, making it much harder for them than otherwise it would have been to justify their allegation that Lenin and Trotsky were stooging for the Kaiser. This was the positive outcome of Trotsky’s ‘socialist brinkmanship’ at Brest-Litovsk.

A unique document

Among the bravest and best of the volunteers who fought in the International Brigade in Spain were the men of the Polish contingent. They came to Spain from a country where the Communist Party was illegal, to fight against the establishment of Fascism at the other end of Europe. Better than many others they knew what they were fighting against.

In 1938 the leaders of the Polish units were called to Moscow. There they ‘disappeared’, along with the entire leadership resident in Russia of the Polish Communist Party, including the Polish representative on the Comintern executive. It became known that Stalin had decreed the dissolution of the party in Poland, on the grounds that it had become thoroughly penetrated by police agents, fascists, Trotskyists, etc.

Thus, Poland faced the Nazi onslaught in 1939 without a Communist Party, and the present ‘United Workers’ Party’ had to be built up practically from scratch in the years following Hitler’s invasion of Russia.

This episode in the history of Polish Communism was one of several which were discussed by Isaac Deutscher, himself a member of the Communist Party of Poland for some years, in an interview with a Polish journalist which appeared in Sartre’s magazine Les Temps Modernes last year. It had been arranged for the interview to be published in Gomulka’s own paper, Polityka, but somebody changed his mind; the text was, however, circulated in the Internal Bulletin of the Polish United Workers’ Party.

The Socialist Labour League has now made this important contribution to recent history available in English as an 13-page pamphlet, The Tragedy of Polish Communism Between the Wars, price one shilling ...

Some of the points dealt with are: the Rosa Luxemburg tradition in Polish Communism, the role of the party at the time of Pilsudski’s coup d’etat, and its consequences, the ‘People’s Front’ phase in Polish politics, the role of the Left Opposition in Poland, and the relations between the Russian and the Polish movements.

Last updated on 13.10.2011