Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

A Timely Book

(November 1959)

From The Newsletter, 7 November 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Following the Labour Party’s setback at the polls we may expect a period in which the main sphere of working-class political activity (in the broader and truer sense of the word ‘political’) will shift to industry. Because of the class-collaborationist line of the trade union bureaucrats, the struggle in industry will have to be conducted very much as a soldiers’ battle, through rank-and-file movements.

In some respects, the period ahead resembles that which opened in 1911, when the Labour Party’s serious losses in the two general elections of 1910 revealed the workers’ loss of confidence in its leadership, owing to the latter’s increasing assimilation to the Liberals whom they had originally set out to challenge.

That period saw unprecedented ‘labour unrest’ in which the shop stewards came into their own as the real leaders of the industrial workers. It came to an end with the great post-war depression which began at the end of 1920; but by then the Communist Party had emerged (to a considerable degree directly from this movement) and the Labour Party had been compelled to adjust itself to the mood of the workers by adopting a socialist programme.

The whole period is full of lessons relevant to problems of today, both for its achievements and for its disappointments. Of particular interest now are the discussions that went on around ‘workers’ control’, which have a clear bearing on the question of what the difference is between capitalist nationalization and socialist nationalization.

A book published a few months ago by Basil Blackwell, of Oxford, gives a more comprehensive and detailed account of the period than has hitherto been available. It is The Shop Stewards’ Movement and Workers’ Control, 1910–1922, by Branko Pribicevic, a young Yugoslav scholar who worked at Nuffield College under the late G.D.H. Cole. (Cole was, of course, one of the leaders of ‘Guild Socialism’, an influential trend in the movement for workers’ control of industry at the end of the first world war). There is a book to be read and studied by all militants. Make sure your local library has it – or get them to get it for you through the National Central Library.


Khrushchev told the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party that what he called the cult of Stalin’s personality had done grave damage to the Soviet Union. Those who criticized this cult in its beginnings were therefore, one presumes, rendering a service to the Soviet people, while those who tried to discourage such criticism were (at any rate objectively) ‘anti-Soviet’.

‘When comrades affected by social-democratic tittle-tattling ask the question: “Isn’t Stalin being overpraised?” let them remember the role that Stalin played in this mighty transformation, and they will have their answer.’

Younger members of the Communist Party may be surprised to learn that the contributor of that great thought to the Communist Review for June 1935 was none other than John Ross Campbell, who now has the infernal cheek to accuse the Trotskyists of being anti-Soviet.

Last updated on 13.10.2011