Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Victor Grayson

(December 1959)

From The Newsletter, 19 December 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Veterans or the Labour movement are recalling today the long, hard struggle that had to be waged before the party could be got, in 1918, to include in its constitution that famous phrase about common ownership, which the Gaitskells, on their way back to ‘Lib-Lab’ politics now wish to strike out. A landmark in that struggle was the election for the Colne Valley division of Yorkshire, in 1907, on a straight socialist ticket, of a young man whose name became for a few years an inspiring symbol to advanced workers. This was Victor Grayson. His election threw the official leaders of Labour into consternation. But in a comparatively short time, he eliminated himself from the political scene owing to personal weaknesses.

Grayson drank heavily and was a womanizer. After accepting £3,000 from one of his admirers he suddenly married another, a lady whom it would be polite to call amoral. In 1913 he had a nervous breakdown and went off on a long, voyage to get better. Not only, however, did he return a confirmed drunkard, but after the first world war he appeared on public platforms as a paid propagandist against strikes.

In 1920 he disappeared without trace. But the movement he had served for a while went on, the richer for his contribution, the poorer for his defection.

Carr on Soviet History

In the second volume, just published, of his Socialism In One Country, 1924–1926 (Macmillan, 45s.), Professor E.H. Carr takes his story down to the eve of the coming-together of Trotsky with Zinoviev and Kamenev in the united opposition of 1926. The book includes valuable studies of the administrative developments of the period, in the party, in local government (‘Revitalizing the Soviets’), the Red Army and the security organs. These should be compulsory reading for all who talk learnedly about ‘Stalinism’ without any knowledge of the actual historical and geographical conditions in which that phenomenon took shape.

‘Of Trotsky alone,’ writes Carr, analyzing the party crisis of 1925, ‘could it be said that his attitude would be determined, and his actions directed, by a profound and unchanging conviction of the correct course to pursue and by an indifference to personal factors if they seemed irrelevant to this conviction. This quality was a source of political weakness as well as of strength. But it won respect and gave him a unique position.’

Trotsky is indeed one of those who in Cornford’s phrase, throw a longer shadow as time recedes. The newspapers now planning what anniversaries to commemorate in 1960 will certainly be commissioning articles on the 20th anniversary of Trotsky’s murder, in August next. What will the Daily Worker do about it, I wonder? When, the murder happened the Daily Worker of August 23, 1940, carried an article by J.R. Campbell, in which Trotsky’s role in the revolution and civil war was dismissed as a ‘few ultra-revolutionary contortions’ and the general tone was set by the title: A Counter-Revolutionary Gangster Passes.

Words Fail Me

‘Driven to despair by the theft last week of £5,000 of her jewellery, Dorothea, Lady Ley, was faced yesterday with a further tragedy.

‘Her 10-year-old white pekinese Brumas disappeared in Belgravia while being taken for a walk by the maid, who believed someone had stolen him:

‘“I was quite overcome,” Lady Ley told me. “I began to think someone was deliberately trying to ruin my life. The person who broke into my flat knew exactly where the key to my wardrobe was, and took all my diamonds and rubies.”

‘Luckily, Lady Ley’s luck changed. During the afternoon her Peke was found and returned to the police.’
(William Hickey in the Daily Express, December 14)

Last updated on 13.10.2011