ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, February 1977


Peter Bain

Reflections of a Clyde-Built Man


From International Socialism (1st series), No.95, February 1977, pp.27-28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Reflections of a Clyde-Built Man
Jimmy Reid

JIMMY Reid was probably the best-known member in the history of the British Communist Party.

As the spokesman for the shop stewards at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders during the struggle to defend jobs in 1971. he earned the respect of many thousands of workers, and he also became a familiar face on television. Yet in the 1974 general elections, standing for the CP in a constituency based on Clydebank where he was also a councillor, Reid came a poor third, and in October barely saved his deposit.

In February 1976 Reid resigned from the Communist Party. This book, a collection of essays, speeches and an ‘autobiographical sketch’, was compiled after his resignation. What is absolutely clear from its contents is the fact that Reid has few political differences with the CP.

What is also clear is that Reid has a deep admiration for himself. In the first chapter Autobiographical Sketch we are told (on page 8) how at the age of 15 his stockbroker employer tried to dissuade him from leaving and hinted at a future partnership.

On page 16, the right-wing President of the AUEW, who Reid at the age of 19 has just given a political hammering, tries to bribe him by offering him a union or parliamentary career. By page 28, while doing his national service, Reid is told by the camp commanding officer, ‘you are highly respected by both officers and men’. Later he implies that he was responsible for forcing the Tories to increase the old-age pension (page 32).

Further on, after a meeting. Reid reports that an old lady told him, ‘My son. you are divinely inspired’. For a horrible moment I thought that our hero was going to agree, but, thankfully, he doesn’t (I think).

After such accolades, it was only right and proper that, at the age of 26. Reid should be appointed national organiser of the Young Communist League. There he was on familiar terms with what he describes as the Stalinist ‘old guard’ of the CP, people like Willie Gallacher, Peter Kerrigan. J.R. Campbell. R. Palme Dutt and Harry Pollitt. None of these people, Reid asserts, knew anything of Stalin’s crimes, or of the ballot-rigging activities of leading CP members in the Electricians’ Union. No arguments are advanced to justify this claim, except that ‘whatever cynics may say’. Reid is certain that this is the case!

Reid also pays tribute to these old Stalinists, as ‘mass leaders in their own right’, and by implication has a swipe at the present bunch of bureaucrats and apparatchiks at the head of the CP.

However, Reid still stands firmly in the tradition and politics of the Communist Party. For example, he reprints his speech on The British Road to Socialism at the Party’s 30th Congress in 1967. He quotes approvingly from the pamphlet.

‘The crucial battle must be the battle for state power: and in that battle, the winning of a majority in Parliament, the supreme organ of representative power, is an essential step’.

He continues,

‘Such a socialist majority and Cabinet would restore full authority and power to the House of Commons. The socialist revolution will thus carry forward and develop all that is best in the democratic traditions of the British parliamentary system’ (page 69).

When interviewed on TV by Lord Chalfont in 1975 Reid takes the same line. Chalfont asks him ‘Suppose the right wing still controlled the army and police, what would you do then?’ Reid replies:

‘Quite frankly, you would appeal to the armed forces as a government – to remain loyal to the country, to the nation and to its people. The tradition in Britain has been that the Army – and Army leaders are secondary – are loyal to the democratically elected leaders of the people’ (page 144).

And this was in 1975, two years after Chile!

Reid is a product of a certain period in the development of the Clydeside working-class movement. The way in which he joined the CP – becoming political as a youth and finding that the leading political militants in the factory were CPers – was an experience shared by many on Clydeside. This is no longer the case. Increasingly, our own organisation presents an alternative inside the factories to those who want to fight.

Reid’s departure from the CP is not a move to the right. Nor is it a move to the left. What his resignation represents is the logic of the CP’s policies – an orientation towards the Labour Party, which clearly poses the question of why bother organising a separate party at all. And this is precisely the position at which Reid eventually arrives.

In the final chapter, in which he discusses his break from the CP after 29 years’ membership (11 of them as a fulltimer), Reid’s criticisms of the Party’s policies are exceptionally imprecise. I believe they are imprecise not because Reid cannot express himself clearly he’s proved that he can but because in essence there are no great political differences.

The logic of The British Road to Socialism is to disband the Communist Party, and concentrate on electing a ‘left’ Labour government. Reid has found through bitter experience that despite his elevation to the position of mass leader, of folk-hero, when it came down to it, his high opinion of himself and desire for personal recognition (advancement would be too strong a description) ran up against the brick wall of his membership of the Communist Party. The personal solution meshed with the political orientation.

It would be pointless to speculate what the future holds for Reid – probably, a full-time union or political job way from the shop floor.

But that is not the importance of this book. That lies, contrary to the author’s intentions, in revealing the impasse of the politics he advocated so eloquently for so long.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 8.2.2008