A. H. Evans

What’s wrong with Peter Seltman?
An analysis of Seltman’s pamphlet, “What’s Wrong with the British C.P.?”


First Published: by David-Goliath Publications n.d. [1965?]
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Peter Seltman, in, the above pamphlet, raises some interesting questions. Thus, the very title leads to the suggestion that although there is much that is wrong with the British Party these wrongs can be righted. This opinion is reinforced by an examination of Seltman’s penultimate and end paragraphs. He states:

“A great deal of debate must go on within the British Party. At Congress in November there must be voiced the demand to stand firm for Marxism, to insist on genuine discussion, for the election of leaders who will promote ’Party democracy and will extend a quality of leadership which will command the support of the British workers because their experience will show it to be correct.

“We Communists in Britain face the moment of truth. Either the Party under the present leadership continues’ to tread the path of political impotence, or it takes this opportunity to look at itself, squarely and honestly, and decides for a Communist Party which the working class will respect and support.”

One cannot help but note that even the terminology is steeped in bourgeois Subjectivism – “The moment of truth.”

Truth, like all else, is not an absolute. But then, this pamphlet we are examining proves once again that Seltman is hopelessly lost in the field of Marxist philosophy.

The British working class of today have their heads stuffed to the brim with, in the main, social democratic illusions. To believe that they will automatically turn to you because you are offering them correct Marxist leadership is to live in fairyland. Leadership has to be persistently; fought for over the years. Only a comparatively small handful of the working class, petty bourgeois and intellectuals, will, under existing conditions, turn toward Marxism.-Leninism. It is around this handful that a Marxist-Leninist Party will eventually emerge.

Seltman fails to understand that ideas flow out of social relations, and are subservient to exact, concrete conditions. As objective conditions undergo transformation a new set of relations are forged between the working class and the capitalist class, and between the petty bourgeoisie, intellectuals, and the two polar classes. New ideas flow into peoples heads, reflecting, more or less accurately, the change in social relations.

Surely it is evident that the working class of the days of mass unemployment thought differently than in times of full, family, employment? A contented belly sings for pleasure, far different the growl of a hungry man. Seltman is blind to this sort of analysis, a typical petty-bourgeois intellectual he wants to jump stages, he is in a hurry, the patient hard work that is involved he wants to push aside, in short, his methodology is the methodology of Trotskyism.

Seltman is of the opinion that the British Communist Party has a great deal that it can be proud of in its early history. But has it? Upon close examination we find that the great movements of the working class during the ’twenties and ’thirties were essentially due to the spontaneous reaction of the British working class to the specific conditions of that day and age.

There is little evidence of careful, revolutionary Marxist planning on the part of the top leadership of the British CP, nor is there any hint of recognition that the Labour Party was the chief obstacle to the spread of genuine Socialist ideas in Britain. This blindness to the dangers arising from a powerful historically rooted, social democratic organisation persisted even after the last world war, the CP leadership calling the attention of the people to the Mosleyites – stressing it – even while they worked in practice as lap-dogs of the Labour Party.

The CP leadership hid their collaboration with the Labour Party by an outpouring of “Left” phraseology, totally ignoring the basic relationship of the Labour Party to the capitalist system as a whole. Even to this very day the CP leadership hides, covers up, the correct theses voiced by Mao, that the Labour Party is a capitalist Party.

Facts Regarding the CP

What are the facts regarding the British Communist Party from the date of its birth? Is it not that the influence of the dominant ideology among British workers, the ideas and practices of social democracy, strongly influenced the Party? How possibly could it have been otherwise? A child is marked by the physiognomy of its parents, the semblance is there for all but the blind to see ľand Seltman is one of them. Is it not a fact that all great Communist leaders have, pointed out that long decades must go in constant struggle with the older ideology until it is finally rooted out? This Seltman has failed to correctly understand. No sane person can safely ignore the objectivity of history, or influence it by wish-fulfilment and attempts to put those wishes into practice. All such attempts – and there have been very many – ended in disaster, unfortunately not only for the vainglorious fools who initiate such ventures. The facts prove that British imperialism was enabled to ensnair (sic) and bribe-off the labour aristocracy, whose influence upon the rest of the working class, should never be ’minimised. More than this, the entire British working class, without exception, received in some degree a share of the spoils from imperialist looting of colonial and semi-colonial lands, and from its monopolist ability to rob its neighbours.

Lenin and Mao have stated that “the comparative ease with which they conquered power was in large measure due to the fact that their working classes were almost totally free from the cursing blight of social democratic illusions.” Is this not so? Let me illustrate. The German people suffered a direct loss of close to 9 million military dead in two world wars, they witness and lived through the destruction of countless towns and villages, suffered every kind of humiliation and degradation, while mass hunger as a black shadow, yet despite all these ravages, capitalism survived. What is more, it is almost certain that the German People will once again descend into the garden of Gethsemeni, into another pit of hell, before they will, as a united nation, take the path of true socialism.

Why is this? Basically, because the German Communist Party, as well as its predecessor, the Sparticist League, failed in the task of forming a Party of a new type, as did the immortal Lenin. The German revolutionary movement was still too strongly under the sway of social democratic thoughts and practices for Socialism to triumph.

It might be well at this point, in order to avoid the trap of subjectivism, fall into the bog of the Great Man theory of history, to note that the Russian and Chinese bourgeois failed to conquer and consolidate state power before the revolutionary wave of the people, led by its working class under Communist party leadership, burst in all its fury and took over control of the state.

Added to this, we must remember the historical stage of development through which Russia and China were passing, the stage of primitive capitalist accumulation. This means that the gap in wage-rates between varying strata of the working class differed but little, hence fragmentation among them was at a low level. The result of this high level of homogeneity was that the working class thought as a class, moved into action as a mass. Coupled to these facts, we should remember that the gap in living standards between town and country had narrowed in the period immediate to the revolution, and this factor was of vast importance in countries predominantly peasant, as were Russia and China.

Honest Elements among CP Leadership

The present CP leadership used all its power to prevent strikes during the last war, and in 1947 it set up the now notorious “Committees to Increase Exports,” thereby becoming a strike-breaking agency for British capitalism, during a period when increasing production was literally a matter of survival for European capitalism.

How possibly could one organise such Committees, particularly during a period when a great surge to the Left among the workers had taken place, save by sabotage and, where necessary, by direct orders to shop stewards and T.U. officials under CP control to break strikes at any cost? This was that period when it might have been possible through energetic action to have brought into being a strict 8-hour day, 5-day week; instead of which, overtime and forms of piece-work became the rule without exception. Yet, after a thousand betrayals of the working class Seltman asks the CP leaders to look at themselves, “squarely, honestly”! As well expect the wolf to take a hand at the shears.

The Seltmans of the movement never ask themselves the question of why Engels dubbed Professor Duhring a dishonest nitwit, although Duhring was a highly respected member of the German Social Democratic Party. Similarly, why did Lenin lash out at Bernstein, Axelrod, Martov? break with Carl Kautsky and hurl the epithet, “renegade”! at him? Break, likewise, with such a man as Plekhanov, whose principal contribution to theoretical Marxism is beyond praise?

Lenin broke with these men when he realised that there was not the faintest possibility of bringing them back to the fold of Marxism, when he fully realised that such men for one reason or another were lost to the working class – generally because of a terrible super-egoism verging on madness, basically a disease of intellectuals but not unknown, among other classes.

The Great Danger

The fact is that Seltman fails completely to realise that the present leadership would, without a second’s hesitation, do another volte face, as they did with Comrade Stalin, as they did with the renegade, Tito, as they have done times over in their infamous document, “The British Road to Socialism,” in which they have thrown overboard the very principles of Marxism-Leninism, that without which it becomes a mummified body.

Seltman had referred directly to these things, he has written a great deal on the subject, yet in his eagerness for “unity” he proved himself more than ready to embrace the prostitutes of King Street. There is no room for misunderstanding: the present Part leaders would do another 180 degree turn if they thought there was the faintest possibility of them losing control of the Party. Loss of control of the Party would be jobless; their living, and quite a good one, is what is at stake.

Return to Marxism?

Seltman completely fails to realise what an ostensible return to Marxism-Leninism by the King Street revisionists would mean, or that such a “return” would be calamitous for the revolutionary movement here in Britain. These people have proven their inability to come to grips with Marxism; they have matured, many have reached old age, in the service, in one form or another, of revisionism, for they are opportunist to the core. These so-called leaders would, without a shadow of doubt, continue their role of swindlers under another mountain of Marxist phraseology.

One might as well take the words of the Moscow revisionists for deeds – these splitters of real unity, these devils who tried to fling Albania to the wolves, while they heaped praises and sang halleiujah choruses with the Judas Tito as chief Tenor, that same Judas who has received 7 billion U.S. dollars!

One might go even further, and take the words of U.S president’s at their face value, as accept the possibility of real change in the heart of these men who set up “Committees to Increase Export” and took practical steps to see to it that all, just criticism of their traitorous action never reached the pages of the Daily Worker and other journals they controlled. It isn’t as if these men were blindly stupid – that in itself would be bad enough, but such people could, without a doubt, be reformed – it is that they are reformist through and through. These CP leaders have fought a cold-blooded, consistent fight over the long years in defence of revisionist ideas. These men, and it can no longer be doubted, knowingly act as agents of the capitalist class among the ranks of the workers. Too much water has flown under the bridge for them to be unaware of what they fight for and are seeking to protect, the preservation of capitalism.

Seltman’s Immaturity

Here is further proof of Seltman’s immaturity as a Marxist-Leninist. Seltman states that the present leadership of the CP “is treading the path of political impotence,” would that this-were so. What are the facts – some of which Seltman himself gives, but from which he draws a completely false picture. The Daily Worker still has a sale of some 30,000, and this – what Seltman overlooks – in a period when the class strugg1e in Britain is at a very low ebb. It cannot be denied that the Party line is still accepted by many class conscious workers, and the Party still exercises influence among the politically conscious petty bourgeois i.e. and among intellectuals.

In short: the CP leadership is an implacable enemy of Marxism-Leninism, revisionist through and through, opportunist to the last dying breath; they cannot be lightly dismissed as of being of little account. Can one ignore or minimise the danger from Trotskyism, or even treat with contempt lesser groupings? To do so would be evidence of arrogant stupidity, of which Seltman has a fair share.

Another thing. Does Seltman seriously expect people to believe that these CP leaders will allow themselves to be defeated from the floor of their coming November Congress? To think this is to show a lack of political awareness similar to that of Trotsky when in 1927 he stupidly, like a complete fool, called on the Moscow proletariat to demonstrate in the streets against the Stalin line and got less than 500 to answer his call! The King Street group of revisionists will pack the coming Congress just as effectively as they packed the 1964 Meeting of the British-China Friendship Society. Have they not had a lifetime of practising Tammany Hall manoeuvring?

A Bad Boil, a Running Sore

Eclectism runs through these pages of Seltman’s we have been examining like a bad boil, a seriously running sore. For example, on page 7 Seltman says: “The truth is that the Communist Party behaves in practice as a Left-wing section of Labour, not as a Marxist Party ...This means that it serves in the final analysis the interests of the bourgeoisie, not the workers,” and he emphasises the entire passage in order to point to its seriousness. And yet, as we have pointed out, Seltman in the next breath appeals to social democratic leadership to turn back from their evil ways! Perhaps Seltman will explain the exact difference between his appeal to the CP leaders and their annual appeal to the Labour Party to let them in, “in order to strengthen the unity of the British Labour movement.” God help such ’unity’!

This sort of ’unity’ is praised by Seltman, the ’unity’ which is bound to submerge Marxist ideology to that of the enemy, to social democracy. Seltman states in a condescending fashion, in order to flatter the rank and file: “It has had its successes in influencing British politics, notably in the struggle against fascism.”

As a historical fact beyond dispute the attempts at all costs of the Communist Party of Western Europe to form a united front with social democracy during the late twenties and early thirties ended in bitter defeat for the revolutionary movement in Germany, Austria, Belgium, France and Spain. More than this, this policy of collaboration with social democracy almost led to the total victory of fascism over all Europe and much of Asia. Can this statement be disputed? No, it is impossible to do so.

Only the insistence of Stalin and those who supported him, such as Molotov, now under house arrest in Moscow, in fighting at the correct moment for the lst 5-year plan, with emphasis on heavy industry, only the defeat of the Trotskyists and rightists who opposed it, saved Europe and much of Asia from complete subjection under the fascist jackboot.

Are these not facts that cannot be blinked away? Were not men such as Leon Blum and Attlee died in the wool social democrats, of the same identical breed as the Menshevists whom Lenin pilloried, fought, and bled to death in battle after battle? Yet Seltman is ready to heap praise on the leadership of those days because they came out against fascism.

Just as Mao pointed out that there was a Left-wing among the Keomingtang so too was there a Left-wing among the fascists, particularly so in Germany. Wasn’t that proved by Hitler’s butchery of the Brownshirts, in the night of the “long knives”? This is not the place to closely examine the nature of this fascist Left-wing, or the reasons why advantage was not taken of it. Suffice to point out that anti-fascism is not enough to make one a Marxist-Leninist.

As far as Britain was concerned, it is plain to see that the British bourgeoisie placed reliance on the Labour Party and not Mosley’s blackshirts. Some people may say, “But this is hindsight”, just so, but without this kind of ’hindsight’ Marxism remains nothing but an ”empty philosophy, for it is the ability of Marxism-Leninism to undertake the examination of concrete situations and arrive at a correct analysis that sets Marxism apart from all other philosophies. It cannot be too seriously stressed: the ability to unravel concrete conditions is the hallmark of Marxist maturity.

Seltman is bending over backward in trying to flatter the CP rank and file, for it is extremely difficult for a worker to admit that he has been following a treacherous leadership. Only too well does this writer realise the devotion of the rank and file to what they consider a truly revolutionary party. After all, 22 years of this writer’s life was spent as an active member of the U.S. and British CP’s. One cannot help but wonder what Seltman actually knows of the heated exchanges on the shop-floor, of stormy site-meetings with fists flying, of strikes and the endless round of picketing, of the dreaded blacklist. If he had been sold out, if he had lived through and fought the traitors who helped smash the huge leftward swing of the British working class following the war, one wonders if Seltman would be so eager to establish ’unity’ with them. Seltman is ambitious, and that is not a bad thing in itself. Seltman wants to be a leader of the working class, and that too cannot be condemned. But in order to obtain any degree of success he should follow the guidance of men such as Lenin and Mao, who spent their entire lives in active contact with the people. Theory is impossible to grasp unless it is firmly related to practice. Seltman, in this document we have been examining, and in other work he has published, has yet to prove a close relationship with either, let alone with both.


In this pamphlet which you have read I have charged Peter Seltman with ignoring the advice urged upon all intellectuals who are attracted to the revolutionary movement by the Chinese and Albanian leadership to go among the working class and, where they still constitute a substantial social force, to go among the workers and peasants of the countryside, in order to learn their way of life and, by doing so, enrich their revolutionary understanding of the of society as a whole.

No one has better expressed this advice than Mao Tse-tung in a key pamphlet of his, On Practice. Here is what he says: “Our practice proves that things understood are more profoundly perceived. However, no problem can be solved without practice. Anyone who wants to know a thing can only do so by having personal contact with it, that is, by living and practicing in the actual surroundings of the thing he wants to know.” (My emphasis)

It must be clearly pointed out that today’s bourgeeoisie of the West have little in common with their namesakes of the East, as well as in other territories where the bourgeoisie is only starting to emerge as a separate class. These latter bourgeoisie are not deep-rooted, dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries, as is the bourgeoisie of the advanced capitalist countries. It is utterly essential that comrades remember this fact, it must be driven home that classes have their own laws of development.

When a class is emerging in order to survive and grow strong it is forced to enter into violent struggle with the order of society it seek to dispossess, this is to he clearly observed when we examine the struggle of feudal societies against the older slave-owning societies and when we examine the struggle of early capitalism against various feudal forms of society.

When a class is emerging, particularly when it has reached that stage in its growth where it is struggling for state power, it throws up representatives who, for their day and age, were a truly revolutionary, but when such minority classes have seized power and stablized their rule then that class little by little changes many of its former characteristics, it ceases to be revolutionary and comes to fear real social change even as the devil is reputed to fear holy water.

We must never forget that Marx and Engels, Lenin and Mao, came from upper classes who were fighting for political power against feudal reaction. In order to win power against the landowning, feudal elements, it was necessary for the bourgeoisie to win allies, to win over to their side the majority of the population, and they entered into temporary alliances with segments of society far to the left of them, segments who at a later date were to become their mortal enemies, such as today’s working class.

Remembering this, it can be seen that it is clearly impossible for the bourgeoisie or the petty bourgeoisie of the advanced capitalist countries of our time to throw up brilliant individual offshoots. The bourgeoisie of the advanced capitalist countries have long since passed that stage, it can be truly said that they are blindly reactionary.

The bourgeoisie of the West have a century and more of political domination back of them, in the case of Britain over three centuries, in the case of France since 1789. And it should not be forgotten that U.S. imperialism never came out of a feudal womb, hence its ruling class cannot help but be the most ruthlessly reactionary of them all.

Recognising that capitalist ideology in the highly developed capitalist lands is deeply imbedded, that it acts as a screen preventing one from seeing things as they really are, it must be emphasised that only through practice can reality take the place of the capitalist ideological mirage. The proletariat learns this through bitter experience, and this is the only way, likewise, for those intellectuals who are attracted by the idea of Socialism. Theory must be wedded to practice else it becomes a most dangerous tool. This the Peter Seltmans must learn if they wish to take their place alongside the fighters for true Socialism.