Andrew Rothstein

RPD—Memories and Reflections

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 57, No. 2, March 1953.
Publisher: Unity Publishers (Finchley), Ltd.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

‘A PERSON who was on my staircase last term is R. P. Dutt. He was a scholar, and last summer got shoved into jail as a CO, but was afterwards released and still comes up to college occasionally’ (February 2, 1917). . . . ‘Talked with Dutt. He was a socialist objector, not a pacifist[1]’ (April 4, 1917). . . . ‘On Saturday evening I was at a meeting of the Socialist Society . . . . R. P. Dutt, the Balliol scholar who was in prison last year as a CO and is their leading light now, made a speech saying that we were approaching the servile state, and ought to go back to the good old revolutionary Marxian, Jacobin uncompromising struggle for liberty’ (May 29, 1917).

These extracts from letters home recording first impressions on a boy of 18, freshly arrived at Balliol with a scholarship but brought up in a ‘hard-shell’ Social-Democratic Federation family, were unforgettable, just because Dutt was so different from the other undergraduates (even those who accepted socialism), in the harsh circumstances of the middle of the first world war. I was called up six weeks later, and so heard nothing of his speech at a private meeting of students in October, denouncing the war on Marxist lines and supporting the Bolsheviks in the final stage of their struggle with the Kerensky government then still ruling Russia. It was one of the first things I learned on coming back in January 1919, together with the fact that because a group of super-‘patriotic’ hearties had attacked and broken up the meeting it was not they who, had been sent down from Oxford, but Dutt.

It was but the first of many such occasions on which there stand out in my memory Raji’s inflexible determination to make the sharp revolutionary Marxist analysis of class issues involved, and not prevailing emotions, decide his position, whatever be the consequences. So it was on the outbreak of the second world war, so it was at the time of the Chinese attack on India.

For him the class struggle was to be judged always in its worldwide setting, nothing narrower: and this setting from 1917 onwards was that of the parallel existence of and conflict between the world of capitalism and that of the beginning world of socialism, exemplified in the state established by the victorious workers of Russia. Difficulties, errors, excesses in the Soviet Union-all those ‘birthmarks’ inherited from ugly capitalist society of which Marx wrote in the Critique of the Gotha Programme a hundred years ago—were for Raji always to be set against the gigantic historic fact of the proletariat leading the people of one great country in the building of the socialist order without exploitation and against the exploiters, foreign as well as native. Alike in the first articles he wrote in the Communist, the weekly organ of the Communist Party after August 1920, and in his famous ‘Notes of the Month’ in this journal over the next half-century, this conclusion from Marx’s historical materialism—that support of the world’s first socialist state against all its enemies, by whatever name they call themselves, is the unquestionable duty of all claiming the title of socialist, let alone that of Marxist-Leninist—was Raji’s unswerving principle. The echo of his stand of October 1917, rings out again in his ‘Notes’ of December 1974, the month of his death:

The unique character of the first socialist revolution as an achievement without previous parallel in human history, eclipsing all the previous greatest, but relatively short-lived revolutions, has become increasingly manifest. 57 years after the victorious socialist revolution in 1917 which founded the Soviet Republic as the first socialist state in history, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics carries forward its continuous existence and maintains its essential basis of socialist working class power won by the victory of November 1917, developing this to further manifold forms of extended participation of all sections of the working people in all the affairs of state.

He added his tribute to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for continuing ‘to fulfil the role of leadership’ which had brought the working class and its allies to triumph in 1917, and which today, in the midst of current problems, goes on preparing the conditions for transition ‘from the present stage of an advanced socialist society towards the future objective of communism.’ Raji after the end of the first world war had drawn the inspiration from this example—however different the historical circumstances of Russia and Britain—which carried him forward from the Independent Labour Party in the war years to the Communist Party of which he became a foundation member in 1920. Communists of an older generation cannot but remember with gratitude his most detailed and conscientious work, together with Harry Pollitt and Harry Inkpin, on the Party Commission of 1922, which brought about the fundamental reorganisation of the Communist Party and enabled it to emerge unshaken through a host of subsequent trials and troubles. Moreover, Dutt was the first British journalist to have transformed the traditional socialist periodical familiar since the 1880s, a budget of articles, into a journal built up primarily out of workers’ letters and news reports of their struggles in various fields, supplemented by comments on national and international affairs—the Workers’ Weekly of 1924 onwards, the model carried on by the Morning Star today.

In March 1920, came his first book, The Two Internationals, written in his capacity as secretary of the International Section of the Labour Research Department. It was the first to reprint in its entirety in Britain the historic manifesto of the initial Congress of the Communist International in 1919, which, irrespective of the different trends existing then as they do today, for the first time acquainted the advanced workers and socialists of all countries with the fundamental picture of the crimes and crisis of imperialism, as it stood at the end of the first world war. The analysis devoted special attention to the nature of colonial slavery, and to the opportunities for its overthrow created by the establishment of the rule of the working class in Russia. The struggle against imperialism became one of the major guiding lines of Dutt’s thought. From the beginnings of the Labour Monthly in 1921 and up to the very last issue which he edited, the exposure of the horrors of imperialism and its modern forms of neo-colonialism, the vital necessity for the socialist movement of the more developed countries to join in the fight against them, side by side with the incomparable aid which the USSR and other socialist countries were giving to the various revolutionary struggles of the still oppressed peoples, were a dominant theme. And there were no serious revolutionaries from these countries, whether bourgeois, socialist or communist, who did not seek the opportunity of consulting Dutt about their problems, when they had the chance. His travel notes on a visit to India, printed in Labour Monthly in 1946, give only a hint of this. But his books, notably India Today (1940), Britain’s Crisis of Empire.(1949) and Problems of Contemporary History (1963) bear witness to the predominance of the anti-imperialist struggle in his theoretical as well as his practical work.

The first of his books had been a painstaking if brief attempt to explain the background of the attitudes on war adopted by the Second International before 1914, what happened to it during the first world war, the emergence of the Communist International and the positions taken up by the various socialist parties in the immediate post-war years. In the bibliography Dutt wrote: ‘There is no standard work on the Socialist International as a whole.’ Some attempts were made in after years to fill this gap, but with only partial success. Raji himself met the need, over 40 years later, in his book The International (1964): and it was no accident that he was called upon to make an important contribution to the Outline History of the Communist International produced by the institute of Marxism-Leninism of the USSR (English edition 1971). However, one can safely say that over these fifty years no journal in the English language anywhere has provided such a sustained series of individual studies of working class history in many countries, past and present, as has Labour Monthly under his editorship. This has held true from the very first issue, in which Dutt wrote in the first editorial: ‘The situation of labour in any country has become a part of a general international situation, and it is only comprehensible in relation to it.’

The month was July 1921: burning questions for British labour at home were Black Friday—the defeat from within of the Triple Alliance of miners, railwaymen and transport workers, pledged to stand up against the attack of the coalowners and the Lloyd George government—and the consequent capitalist offensive against the whole trade union movement. The problems created by these events were to dominate the British working class movement for many a year, and they were the basic reason why that movement, instead of going on from the heights it reached in the immediate post-war years, 1919 and 1920, was driven back to engage in a far-reaching effort of self-study and self-criticism. That effort, in altered forms and with a vastly wider wealth of experience (especially of a series of Labour governments between 1924 and 1974), is still going on. To this study Raji also made his memorable contribution, from his Socialism and the Living Wage of 1927 (when capitalism and Toryism were making the most of the betrayal of the general strike in 1926), his Fascism and Social Revolution of 1934 (at a time when the most militant section of the British capitalist class was ‘pushing’ fascism upon the British people for all it was worth) and to the books already mentioned. But above all the ‘Notes of the Month’, these 53 years, have provided an unequalled encyclopaedia of British working class history, viewed and with lessons drawn from the standpoint of Marxism-Leninism. Nor was it only politics and economics in the strictest sense that constantly aroused Raji’s interest and his suggestions for articles. On many other sides of human activity—social, literary and artistic, as the pages of the journal will reveal to the inquirer—the opinions of sympathetic specialists were asked, and not asked in vain.

Indeed from very early on Dutt conducted Labour Monthly in a spirit of unity of all who were prepared to take a stand on socialist and internationalist principle, whatever the party card they carried. Again and again members of the General Council of the TUC and other trade union leading bodies, leaders of the Labour Party and other parties, found a common ground with Communists in such causes within the pages of the journal. Examples of this were the discussions on a new policy for the unions (1924) and on international trade union unity (1924-25), the Labour Monthly conferences for a common front of all sections of the working class against the growing war danger (1932, 1935 and 1937), the initiation of the People’s Convention (1941), the discussions on ‘The Arts Today’ (1967-68), on the trade unions and government (1969), on the Common Market (1971) and others. These symposia, conferences and other forms of friendly debate on questions of moment for British labour made their mark on working class thinking, as the agendas of numerous conferences of the broader movement could testify. And throughout, Raji provided a brilliant illustration of how unweakening fidelity to revolutionary principle in no way excluded the tireless search for what one could unite on with those who would not go all the way with him for the moment: on the contrary, it really implied such a search.

In addition to a few months in 1921, it was my privilege for the last 35 years to take part in the collective discussions opened by Raji Dutt on all these subjects. I for one, and others can say the same, I am sure, can imagine no influence more profound and more lasting. And it is with all the greater sense of bereavement that these lines are written in the moment of RPD’s passing.



1.  In the first world war, conscription came into effect in March 1916. The majority of COs—conscientious objectors—took their stand on pacifist or religious grounds; but there were a number of socialists who refused to take part in a capitalist war.