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Jim Higgins

More Years for the Locust

Appendix 4

Matilda told such Dreadful lies
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda.
The effort very nearly killed her.

Hilaire Belloc, Matilda


Letter to IS Branches from National Secretary
10th April 1974

Dear Comrades,

It is with much regret that the EC has to announce that following the last National Committee meeting’s decision on the future orientation of the Socialist Worker, Roger Protz has decided to resign as editor. This is particularly regrettable given the very long period in which he has guided the paper through the most difficult years of its growth. However, the EC respects the political positions advanced by Roger on the orientation of the paper and in view of the deep divisions the dispute has created within the staff of the paper sees no alternative but to accept this resignation, pending ratification by the National Committee. In the interim, the EC has recommended to Roger that he take a month’s leave to think matters over.

If Roger’s resignation is acepted by the NC, the EC will recommend at the end of that time that if he feels it possible to accept another appointment on the paper or on any of the other publications of the group – the EC would be pleased to discuss this with him.

At the editorial staff meeting of Socialist Worker on Monday the acting editor, Paul Foot, was instructed to write to the EC drawing to its attention the view of the majority of the staff on the position of Jim Higgins. In the opinion of the staff, it was not possible to reorient Socialist Worker if Jim was still on the staff. The letter said, “I told Jim that I thought it would be impossible for us to make a go of the paper along the lines argued at the National Committee if Jim was still in the office. His opposition to what had been decided was bound to interfere with the smooth running of the paper”.

The EC met Jim and discussed this in detail with him and without entering into the rights and wrongs of the issues at stake, it seemed to the EC that its responsibility to the group for the continued production of the paper made it impossible for the wishes of the staff to be ignored. This is particularly important given Roger’s resignation as editor and the attempt of the staff to reorient the paper in difficult external conditions. In these circumstances it is absolutely essential that the members who have to carry the paper should be able to work together as a team without the divisions which have affected morale over the last six weeks. Therefore, after much discussion, it was decided that Jim should not continue as a journalist on the paper. However, the EC reaffirmed that in no way should this inhibit discussion of the political differences expressed by Jim and others on our future orientation, and its confidence that Jim’s role on the National Committee and in the organisation generally will remain important.

Yours Fraternally
Dave Peers
National Secretary

Duplicated letter to all IS Branches
dated as postmark [circa 12th April 1974]

Dear Comrades,

We feel bound to bring to your attention a number of facts that are notably absent from the letter to branches, over the signature of Dave Peers, on the removal of Roger Protz and Jim Higgins from Socialist Worker.

At the last NC on Saturday 6th April a debate took place on the future role, orientation, style and character of Socialist Worker. The two different positions are more or less summed up in the document in the recent Internal Bulletin. The discussion was long and in the result the line of the EC was upheld by a two to one majority. At no time in the NC discussion did the EC or their supporters on the Socialist Worker Editorial Board give any indication that they thought there would have to be changes on the Socialist Worker staff.

Immediately after the NC, the EC held an emergency meeting at which Jim Nichol and Dave Peers were instructed to interview Roger Protz on the following day and to secure his resignation. About midday on Sunday 7th April the two EC members arrived on Roger’s doorstep. They made it clear to Roger that there was no place for him on the paper. Roger saw some justice in the notion that he should not continue as Editor holding a different conception of the paper from that of the NC majority. He was, however, anxious and willing to continue as a reporter under whoever was appointed as Editor. This was turned down by the EC members. Finally Roger agreed in the interests of the paper to resign. Another interesting fact of this Sunday meeting was that Comrade Nichol told Roger that Jim Higgins would also be going.

It was therefore not surprising when the following evening a majority of the Socialist Worker Editorial Board called on Jim Higgins to resign on the grounds that his presence would make impossible the carrying out of the new orientation. In reply, Jim said that he would to the best of his ability carry through the new line. He undertook to continue in the post, not to raise the disputed issues in the office, but reserved his right as an IS member to raise questions at other more suitable forums, the NC etc., he further stated that he would not resign.

Paul Foot, as acting Editor, wrote to the EC which met on Tuesday 9th to interview Jim Higgins. At that meeting all the EC contributions, with one exception, were directed to Jim’s dismissal. After some deliberation he was informed that he was sacked with effect from that meeting. The EC then began to backtrack on their hard line regarding Roger Protz and offered him a technical job, either on the paper or on the rank and file papers. Roger refused the offer so long as it did not include the reinstatement of Jim Higgins.

There are you will see some significant differences between the facts and the tendentious account of Dave Peers’ circular. But quite apart from the need for honest accounting, there is a crucially important political principle at stake. The point is democratic centralism, this demands full and free discussion followed by a decision which all the participants carry out loyally whatever their previous disagreements. It is the task of the political leadership to uphold this principle, whatever the subjective attitude of the SWEB. It was in our view, the duty of the EC to patiently and sensitively point this out to those who had forgotten or never knew the principles of democratic centralism. The EC has behaved like a faction under siege rather than a responsible leadership. Comrades, who on the EC’s own admission have some record of service to IS are removed without any attempt to test their willingness and capacity as disciplined revolutionaries.

That is the situation to date, we have little doubt that this simple recounting of the facts will illuminate for many our Internal Bulletin article. The way that change is effected in IS is more and more the prerogative of the select few at the Centre. Dissent comes to equal disloyalty. The members are effectively excluded from decision making. These are serious matters for serious people. The tendency in the group for abrupt and capricious changes accompanied by the sacrifice of comrades has got to stop. Only the membership can bring about the necessary changes in leadership style, it is high time that members were heard and their views seriously considered. We urge branches to write to the EC protesting at their highhanded behaviour.

We ask you to pass resolutions demanding the reinstatement of Roger Protz and Jim Higgins. We ask you to demand full information on both sides in the current dispute. The signatories to this letter are prepared to speak to branches on the issues raised in the Internal Bulletin document. We will be preparing other material for circulation in the near future. Please keep us informed of any action you or your branch may take – just write to the address at the head of this letter.

Yours fraternally
Duncan Hallas, John Palmer, Granville Williams, Rob Clay, Wally Preston, Jim Higgins, Hugh Kerr, Ken Appleby, Ron Murphy, Tony Barrow, Roger Protz

Extracts from A Funny Way to Go
by Roger Protz

... Dave Peers came to see me [in March 1974 – JH] ... and asked me what I thought I should do if I lost the vote on the NC on the future of the paper. I said that because I thought the differences were wide that if I lost – and I did not assume that I would – then I thought I would probably have to stand down as editor in favour of a comrade who agreed with the new line. Dave then asked me what my job prospects were like in journalism. I answered, prophetically, nil. He then said would I consider continuing to work on the paper as a reporter under a new editor, either permanently or until I found another job. I said I would be happy to do so. [emphasis in original]

At the EC that week, the day before the March NC, I argued vigorously for the issue of the paper to be decided the following day because I felt the comrades on the paper would like a quick decision rather than drag on for another month. The EC majority said it would be wrong to rush the decision. There should be more discussion and time for both sides to write documents. The documents duly appeared and were discussed at the April NC. When the voting on the paper was concluded I expected the EC would raise the question of the editorship. Nothing was said. Instead a special EC was held immediately following the NC (I was not told of this meeting) which, apparently, decided to send a delegation to see me. NC members will no doubt ask why the issue was not raised and settled at the NC.

The next morning Dave Peers and Jim Nichol came to see me ... They said they thought I should leave the paper immediately. They ruled out the possibility of my staying on the paper in a different capacity on the grounds that it would be impossible for them to effect the changes if I were present ... Later that day I had a long conversation with Paul Foot. His opinion was that I should definitely leave the paper ... He thought time was needed to heal the wounds on the paper and that could be done only if Jim Higgins and I were absent. (At this stage the EC had officially taken no decision concerning Jim Higgins.) ...

... Throughout the debate on the paper, EC spokesmen have suggested that Jim Higgins has “poisoned the atmosphere” on the paper, has turned a once happy office into a faction racked nest of vipers and has turned me from a happy craftsman into a conservative reactionary. This is utter rubbish. As editor I would not have tolerated one member of the staff acting in this way. But if the EC believed this grotesque distortion of the truth is it not curious that it took immediate steps to remove me from the paper and not Jim ... A printshop meeting was told that I had agreed to leave the paper. A scapegoat was found in Jim. That evening the EC declared that it was not prepared to work with him any longer. The following evening the EC did a collective Pontius Pilate and sacked him. If any comrades are still unconvinced that this was a set up job, then perhaps they will ask themselves why after asking me to go and then sacking Jim Higgins, the EC then wrote to me, said it had reconsidered my position and would like me to take a month’s holiday and then come back on the paper or other publications of the group. I was seen clearly by the EC as a pawn in their manoeuvring to get rid of Jim Higgins. Accordingly I told Dave Peers that I was not prepared to work on the paper without Jim ...

Roger Protz

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Last updated on 31.1.2003