Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Geese, Ganders and Gaitskell

(March 1960)

From The Newsletter, 26 March 1960.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

THE New Statesman points out that Gaitskell and his advisers, in disciplining Crossman, ‘have challenged the central principle of debate in the party (a freedom of which, in attacking Clause Four, they have availed themselves; freely)’. The ‘leadership faction’ (or Frognal Set) have indeed tried to establish a precedent whereby the Right has rights while the Left has none. But this didn’t begin with the Crossman affair. Yet the New Statesman made no protest when supporters of The Newsletter were being thrown out of the Labour Party last year to the tune of propositions like this: ‘They oppose the declared policy of the Labour Party from within the Labour Party’ (Peter Robshaw in London News, May, 1959).

It is because Gaitskell and Co. were allowed by the ‘respectable’ Left to get away with their action against The Newsletter, the Streatham and Norwood Labour Parties and the Socialist Labour League that they were encouraged to take the further steps which have now made even the New Statesman begin to see that the real threat to the Labour Party comes from them, from the Right, and not from our much-maligned selves.

‘Forgotten’ Words of Marx

Readers looking for material to combat the latest spate of Moral Rearmament propaganda will find it useful to refer back to the two articles by Bob Pennington which appeared in The Newsletter for January 9 and 16.

The pamphlet which MRA are distributing so widely at the present time was evidently written in the first place for an American public. Hence such gaffes as a verse from the Internationale given in the version they sing over there, which differs from ours – and the statement that the British Labour movement began in the East End of London ...

I noticed that William Wainwright, discussing the pamphlet in the Daily Worker, saw fit to include among its weaknesses a ‘quotation from Trotsky on “permanent revolution” without mentioning the fact that he was expelled from the Communist Party and from the Soviet Union’. This caught my eye because of a conversation I had just had with a Communist Party acquaintance who is reading Deutscher’s books and being made by them willy-nilly to reconsider some of his old ideas. Struggling hard, he put the point to me that it was a mistake on Trotsky’s part to think up ‘such an unfortunate expression as “permanent revolution.”’ When I demurred that, whether or not the expression is an unfortunate one, it was first used by Marx, not Trotsky, he was genuinely incredulous.

The phrase was first used (so far as I know) in the Address of the Central Council to the Communist League, written by Marx and Engels in March, 1850. Discussing the tactics of the revolutionary workers in revolutions directed against feudalism and autocracy, they observe : ‘While the democratic petty bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible ... it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been displaced from domination, until the proletariat has conquered State power ...’ And they conclude the document by urging the workers of Germany not to allow themselves ‘for a single moment to be led astray from the independent organizations of the party of the proletariat by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeois. Their battle-cry must be: “the permanent revolution.”’

The document is altogether of a character such as to embarrass the Wainwrights and other miseducators of would-be Communists like my acquaintance. Take this, for example : ‘Weapons and munitions must not be surrendered (by the workers) on any pretext: any attempt at disarming must if necessary be frustrated by force.’ Or this: ‘Far from opposing so-called excesses, instances of popular revenge against hated individuals or public buildings that are only associated with hateful recollections, such instances must not only, be tolerated but the leadership of them must be taken in hand.’

Never So Good – 25 Years Ago

‘It is cold comfort to tell the wage-earners that they are better off than their fathers and grandfathers were ... The standards of the workers have advanced, but the rich, too, have had their standards raised even more. The general luxury of today would amaze the property-owning classes of fifty years ago far more than would the workers’ standards of those who were then toiling in the factories, mines and fields. Although both classes have advanced, the gap between the two has widened. The extremes are more violent and more remarkable.

‘This general advance brings into still higher relief the tragedy of poverty, disease and slums, because it emphasises the fact that science has now provided us with the means of overcoming these evils if only we will mobilize our forces to deal with them effectively.’
– Stafford Cripps, The Struggle for Peace (1936).

More To Come

The review of Deutscher’s book The Prophet Unarmed : Trotsky, 1921–1929 in the second issue of New Left Review is headed Trotsky: The Final Act. This must be what is called, I believe, in New Left circles, a Freudian slip – wishful thinking coming out in a verbal mistake. The year 1929 by no means marked the end of The Trotsky Story; and Deutscher has a third volume in preparation, The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929–1940, which will tell of his hero’s activities in exile. These laid the basis of the Trotskyist movement on a world scale, including the British section which has developed into the Socialist Labour League of today.

A Socialist Manager

Alasdair MacIntyre’s mention of the role played by Herbert Morrison in getting the Labour movement to accept the ‘London Transport’ model for nationalization without workers’ control recalls the help Morrison was given in that crucial discussion in 1932–1934 by A.L. Rowse.

Rowse was in those days, as author of Politics and the Younger Generation (1931), one of the Labour Party’s bright young men. He contributed an essay on Industry in the Transition to an influential symposium called Where Stands Socialism Today (1933), and in this essay argued in favour of a socialist government entrusting the top management of nationalized industries to the same people who had held the jobs under capitalism.

One of his points was that Lenin had appointed Krassin, manager for Russia of the great Siemens electrical concern, to some key economic positions. Later, as a result of the confidence shown in him, Krassin had come over to Bolshevism. At first he was an outsider, a great manager, not really understanding the social aims and ideas of Communism ... To my mind, the story of Krassin’s coming over is a story the moral of which, for our own purposes, we should take heart.

What the worthy historian concealed from his readers’ view in this example was that Krassin had been a Marxist from student days, had been to prison and Siberia for his views, and had been a member of the first Bolshevik central committee! He was responsible for a great deal of the Bolshevik underground work in Baku, which was later attributed to Stalin. True, in the period of reaction after 1908 Krassin drifted out of active politics, like many other ‘old Bolsheviks’; but in 1917 he once again placed himself at Lenin’s disposal – and this Krassin was no naive, non-political ‘specialist’ such as Rowse would have had his readers visualise.

The moral of which is that even the most respectable-seeming of historians ought not to be taken on trust when he writes about political issues of his own day.

Last updated on 14.10.2011