Harry Pollitt 1937

The Twentieth Anniversary and Great Britain

Source: International Press Correspondence, Volume 17, no 51, 27 November 1937. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The Twentieth Anniversary of the Russian Revolution received widespread attention in Great Britain, not only through the great number of meetings held in celebration of this event by the Communist Party, the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Society for Cultural Relations and other organisations, but also by reason of very considerable press comment and by vigorous discussions in the branches of working-class organisations and discussion circles.

At all the anniversary meetings, which were held in the principal industrial cities, great enthusiasm was shown, by the thousands of people who attended, and it is worthy of note that despite a carefully prepared campaign in the press around the trials and arrests of last year, wherever the real position of the Soviet Union was explained the response of the workers was immediate and enthusiastic.

A number of intellectuals who have hitherto been loud in their protestations of friendship to the Soviet Union have recently lined up with the anti-Soviet pack in their denunciation of the methods taken by the Soviet Union to protect itself against fascist – Trotskyists attacks; every despicable method aimed at the creation of doubts and confusion about the Soviet Union was resorted to by the capitalist press, particularly by the Daily Herald; [1] but despite all these things, the celebrations in this country have shown that the mass of the people stand solidly behind the Soviet government in every measure it has taken to safeguard the gains of the October Revolution.

It was interesting to note the way in which the press reported the great Moscow demonstration of 7 November; even the most hostile newspapers could not hide the fact that it was one of the most impressive working-class demonstrations of our time, one that convinced all who saw it that it was representative of the spirit of a great country commemorating the achievements of two decades of selfless sacrifice and constructive effort, a country that is confident of its ability to defend itself against its enemies.

The signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact [2] in Rome on 6 November only served to bring into high relief the fundamental differences between the land where the power of the workers and peasants has built a new country, a new life, a new perspective, and the fascist countries whose war policies have cost so many lives in Abyssinia, Spain and China, and who are not so much preparing to attack the Soviet Union, as Austria and Czechoslovakia.

On 7 November, I was addressing the greatest demonstration ever seen in Manchester. When, in dealing with the Anti-Comintern Pact, I referred to it as constituting a greater danger to the people of Britain and France than to the Soviet Union, the significance of this was immediately seen by the vast audience, and when I went on to quote from the speeches of the Nazi and Italian fascist leaders that ‘Bolshevism must be destroyed’, following this up with a quotation from the speech of Comrade Litvinov [3] at Geneva, it got the biggest cheer of the evening.

It is time to tell these avowed praters of hate [said Comrade Litvinov] that it is not for them to profess concern for the interests of humanity – that they who have resurrected the most savage and long dead theories of the evil and dark ages may not dare to speak in the name of modern Europe; that they who burn the finest creations of the human spirit, who persecute the most brilliant representatives of art, science and literature, that they who are despised by the whole world of culture, only make themselves ridiculous when they prate of saving civilisation and use that plea to preach a crusade against other people. (Speech at League of Nations Assembly, 21 September 1937)

The difference between 6 November in Rome and 7 November in Moscow is the difference between two social systems; one exists for the big bankers, landlords and employers; the other exists only for the working population and serves the interests of all progressive humanity. It was the difference between those whose only aim in world politics is aggression and war, and those whose dominating policy is to preserve peace. This fact is being realised by an increasing number of people in Britain who understand that the USSR is a bulwark of peace to them as much as it is to the Soviet people themselves.

There can be no doubt that the Twentieth Anniversary has caused many people to contrast for the first time widespread talk of a coming slump in the capitalist countries with the fact that in the USSR production goes on from strength to strength unhindered by any fear of slump or competition for markets. Many people are beginning to realise that whilst at home the burden of rearmament is being felt in an intolerable increase in the cost of living, when bread, eggs, milk, sugar, bacon, margarine and butter, potatoes and meat are all rapidly increasing in price, in the Soviet Union prices are falling, and simultaneously wages are rising.

More and more will the feeling develop that the path of the Soviet people will have to be the path taken by the peoples of all lands. The idea will grow in strength that capitalism must be stormed, and this idea will help develop the struggle to achieve working-class unity as the prerequisite for any appreciable advance on the part of the workers against the National Government.

The visit of Lord Halifax as the envoy of Chamberlain [4] to Hitler; the conspiracy of the ‘Hooded Men’ in France [5] – these things have a significance which is being increasingly appreciated by the British people. The British people have noted that these things take place immediately following the virtual recognition of Franco, after the betrayal of China by the National Government – and they draw a natural contrast with the policy of the Soviet Union in Spain and China.

The influence of the Twentieth Anniversary must not be looked upon as something which expressed itself for one day only, 7 November. It will express itself with gathering momentum as the political situation sharpens, as the menace of war draws nearer, as fascist aggression develops, as the cost of living increases, as the shadow of the trade slump casts wider and deeper.

We Communists have the special duty of seeing that the correct political lessons are drawn from the contrast between the two worlds. The contrast of life and death, of construction and destruction, of stagnation and progress, of the advance to culture and the descent into barbarism. More and more must the workers be made aware of the fact that their position is the result of the policies of reformism, of class peace and cooperation, of subjecting the policy of Labour to that of capital, of rejecting the revolutionary path of struggle for the elusive path of reformism, which leads not to the promised land of the Socialist Commonwealth but the quagmire of reaction and fascism.

This realisation must be linked up with the fight for unity in the daily struggle against reaction and fascism. This is the immediate task which confronts us, a task made all the easier because we have behind us the whole rich experiences of the Soviet people, not only in defeating capitalism, but in defeating those agents of capitalism who from time to time have endeavoured to penetrate the ranks of the Soviet people.


All notes have been provided by the MIA.

1. The Daily Herald was a socialist newspaper that appeared in various guises from 1912 to 1964; at this point it reflected the opinion of the leadership of the Labour Party, that is, a right-wing social-democratic standpoint. It was very critical of the Moscow Trials.

2. The Anti-Comintern Pact was concluded between Germany and Japan on 25 November 1936, and although aimed publicly at the Communist International, it contained clauses requiring each contracting state to maintain a friendly neutrality should the other be involved in a war with the Soviet Union. Italy signed the pact on 6 November 1937, and Germany’s allies subsequently signed it after the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.

3. Maxim Maximovich Litvinov (1876-1951) was at this point People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, and was replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov in May 1939.

4. Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, First Earl of Halifax (1881-1959) was a Conservative MP during 1910-25, and held ministerial posts in various Conservative and National Governments, including Foreign Secretary during 1938-40, favouring a conciliatory stance towards Nazi Germany. Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) was a Conservative MP during 1918-40, Minister of Health during 1923, 1924-29 and 1931, Chancellor of the Exchequer during 1923-24 and 1931-37, and Prime Minister during 1937-40, heading the coalition National Government which declared war on Germany in September 1939.

5. The Hooded Men, Cagoulards: Comité secret d'action révolutionnaire (Secret Committee of Revolutionary Action), a fascist group led by Eugène Deloncle and financed by the perfume magnate Eugène Schueller. They engaged in provocations, assassinations and sabotage in their quest to overthrow the French Republic.