Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Keeping the Reds at Bay

(January 1960)

From The Newsletter, 2 January 1960.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

I wonder how many Communist Party members really believe the legend spread among them by their leaders that the Socialist Labour League consists of agents of Wall Street? One place where they don’t believe it in any case, is the American Embassy in this country.

A letter dated December 17, from the Visa Section of that embassy, instructs our editor Gerry Healy that he cannot be admitted to the sacred precincts of the United States, on grounds set forth in an attached extract from the Immigration and Nationality Act. This is aimed at keeping out ‘members of the Communist or other totalitarian party of any foreign State, or of any political or geographical sub-division of any foreign State.’ At any rate, I imagine that must be the operative bit of what is quite a long document – two-and-a-half foolscap sheets.

But perhaps they think Healy teaches ‘the duty, necessity or propriety of the unlawful assaulting or killing of any officer or officers (either of specific individuals or of officers generally) of the Government of the United States’?

This sort of anti-Red bumbledom usually has its farcical side, and the American document is no exception. Apparently one can get round the act if one can convince the Consul that one’s membership of the undesirable party ‘is or was solely when under 16 years of age, by operation of law, or for purposes of obtaining employment, food rations or other essentials of living and where necessary for such purposes.’

No Cheers for the Red, White and Blue

The Communist Party’s continual question-begging chatter about ‘British interests’ and its general Union-Jackery nowadays make appropriate some thought about what sort of ‘patriotism’ is fitting for Marxists. Here is what Lenin wrote on the subject, in December, 1914, when Russia was still in the grip of the jingo mood that accompanied the beginning of the first world war:

‘Is the sense of national pride alien to us, Great-Russian class-conscious proletarians? Of course not! We love our language and our country, we are doing more than anybody to raise her toiling masses (i.e., nine-tenths of her population) to the level of the conscious life of democrats and socialists. It pains us more than anybody to see and feel the outrage, oppression and humiliation inflicted on our splendid country by the tsarist hangmen, the nobles and the capitalists. We are proud of the fact that these outrages have aroused resistance in our midst, the midst of the Great Russians. ... we are filled with a sense of national pride because the Great-Russian nation has also created a revolutionary class, has also proved that it is capable of showing mankind great examples of struggle for freedom and for socialism, and not only great pogroms, rows of gallows, dungeons, great famines and great servility towards priests, tsars, landlords and capitalists.

‘We are filled with a sense of national pride and for that very reason we particularly hate our slavish past (when the noble landlords led the peasants to war in order to crush the freedom of Hungary, Poland, Persia and China), and our slavish present, when these same landlords, backed by the capitalists, are leading us to war in order to throttle Poland and the Ukraine, in order to crush the democratic movement in Persia and China, and in order to strengthen the gang of Romanovs ... who are disgracing our Great Russian national dignity.’

Stalinism and Coal

The current betrayal of the miners by their Communist Party leaders has to be seen as the latest phase of something which goes back more than 20 years.

It was in 1936 that, on the basis of their record of militancy in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, a number of Communist miners were elected to official positions in the miners’ union. Arthur Horner became president in South Wales. Very soon the Communist officials were taking steps which they would themselves have been the first to condemn only a little time before.

An agreement with the South Wales mine-owners to liquidate company unionism included provisions restricting the right to strike. When this came under criticism in the New Leader (the then journal of the Independent Labour Party and an important paper in the working-class movement) Will Paynter wrote to tick the critic off.

The paper’s industrial editor pointed out that ‘it is not easy to see how the commitments of the new South Wales agreement [relating to conciliation] are to be made compatible with the general struggle for improvements’ which Horner had talked about when selling the agreement to his members.

Following this South Wales deal, the agreement made in Nottinghamshire, the other main centre of company unionism, perplexed and confused mining militants. Only one-third of the hundreds of miners who had been victimised in that coalfield for refusing to join the company union were to get their jobs back, and Spencer, the traitor of 1926, leader of the company union, was to be life-president of the ‘unified’ union.

Mick Kane, the Notts miners’ Communist leader, pressed acceptance of this agreement on his men; and when he and others were arrested after a brawl with blacklegs at Harworth, and sent down with savage sentences, the Stalinists switched demands for a nation-wide strike of protest into a mere petition campaign.

I well remember how eagerly even workers remote from the coalfields and whom one had thought ‘politically undeveloped’ signed that petition in the summer of 1937. Clearly there was potential support on a wide scale for militant action. The general situation was most favourable for such action – the slump had given place to ‘recovery’ and the rearmament programme made the Government and the bosses anxious to avert industrial troubles and a coal shortage.

Why, then, did the Communist Party officials join with the Right wing in damping down the struggle? Basically for the same reason as now. The diplomatic calculations of the Soviet bureaucracy dictated that the class struggle in Britain should be ‘contained’ and the Communist Party cut a figure of moderation and respectability, in the hope that this would somehow’ make Liberals and even Tories readier to compromise with Moscow. To this vain hope the miners were sacrificed, along with other sections of the workers, in this and other countries, wherever the Stalinists had decisive influence in those fateful years on the eve of the Second World War.

Joe Pawsey

Early in January, 1957, one very cold night, there came a knock at my door. I opened it to find an elderly-looking, white-haired man carrying some magazines. When I had let him in out of the biting wind he said he had seen my address on a letter in the New Statesman and thought I might be interested in a new publication called Labour Review. He added that he must mention that he was a Trotskyist.

I bought the Labour Review from him and gave him another address in the district to call on. Later I heard he had made a sale there, too. He had come up to Finchley from Tottenham to attempt these contacts.

This was an important event for me, marking my introduction to the literature of the movement out of which The Newsletter and the Socialist Labour League have grown. For Joe Pawsey, my visitor, it was a routine affair.

Later I got to know him well, in the Hornsey and District Socialist Forum and in other activities. He was very skilled at explaining the political lessons of the last 30 years of the British working-class movement, drawing on his own rich experience in the Independent Labour Party and the Labour Party. I learnt a great deal from him, as did many others how active in the Socialist Labour League.

When I hear certain new-baked converts from Stalinism or reformism talking superciliously about the ‘old-time Trots’ and their shortcomings, I remember Joe Pawsey, and wonder which of us will leave behind a record half as fine as his.

Last updated on 15.10.2011