Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
For the record
In the preface to War and the International we drew readers’ attention to the errors of fact that had crept into the text of our previous book, and promised to set them right at the earliest opportunity. The new magazine seems to be the ideal occasion for it, and also to bring to public notice some in War and the International as well. For the information we are greatly obliged to Harry Wicks, John Archer, Julian Harber, Charlie Van Gelderen, Keith Hassell and Millie Lee. This note does not intend to deal with printer’s errors, of which the second book had rather more than its fair share, but to confine itself to straightforward factual inaccuracies, where they have been pointed out to us. Assertions of wider mistakes that remain unsubstantiated cannot be taken Up, any more than the objections to the points of view expressed. Comment and opinion are free, and both writers and readers are entitled to their own.
In keeping with the times we live in, when for many the sex war has replaced the class war, it is amusing that our first mistake was to make Trotsky’s most enthusiastic supporter, Millicent Shooter, into a man! This mistake is all the more crass as over ten years ago Harry Wicks had pointed out that she was female, but we had assumed from the use of the male pronoun in the Sunday Worker that Shooter was male. We should have been on our guard not to prefer written to oral sources, as they are not invariably inferior. Anyone who wishes to verify the facts of the case is referred to John Archer’s thesis, to which we are greatly indebted.
From Harry Wicks comes the information that George Weston would not have been able to argue Trotsky’s case in Red Square at the time, and that some mistake must have crept in here. Julian Harber brings to our attention the fact that D.D. Harber could not have recruited anyone in Eastbourne during the period indicated, as he did not move down there until the outbreak of war. From Charles Van Gelderen come the information that we have consistently misspelt Sid Frost’s real name as Bosch instead of the true version, Basch. In this case no one is truly to blame, as Comrade Frost died shortly after our last meeting with him, and was unable to correct the final transcript of his interview.
War and the International seems to have fewer slips than its predecessor, but they are no less serious, Charles Van Gelderen has shown that Rousset should have been described as “a Gaullist deputy” instead of “almost a deputy”, and that the name of the revolutionary group in Bari should have been given as the “Partito Operaio Comunista” instead of “Potere Operaia”. From Keith Hassell we were put right on the name of the leader of this group, Mangano (not Mangama) Millie Lee pointed out that Jock Haston’s relationship with the bureaucrats of the ETU was by no means as cordial as we have stated them in his later life, as he left on such poor terms that he did not get his full pension.
Rather more serious is the statement that the RSL refused to publish the Transitional Programme without any further qualification. This may be true of that time, but on some subsequent occasion they did so, as a copy has since come into our hands with an advertisement for The Militant on the back giving as its publisher the “Pioneer Publishing Association” at 65 Burnside Street, Glasgow, the imprint under which the RSL also published Trotsky's Stalinism and Bolshevism.
By the nature of the case much rich oral material has come our way since from Arthur Shute, Alex Acheson, Harry Ratner, Sid Bidwell and Bill Hunter, which serves to put flesh on the dry bones of our narrative in a number of fascinating contexts, but to do full justice to it a new edition of both books would be required. But in fairness to ourselves as well as our readers we should point out that we only set out to write a history, not the history, with the hope that others would follow with more and better tools at their disposal than we ever had.
However, we would be sadly lacking in our duty if we did not take the opportunity here afforded us to bring to light an important and completely neglected chapter in the history of Trotskyism during the thirties, that of the Leninist League. When we dealt with the launching of the Communist League’s paper, The Red Flag, we noted that almost immediately an outlet was obtained for it in Glasgow, and those acquainted with the columns of the theoretical journal of the International movement, the New International, will recall high sales of that magazine in the same city. At the time of our basic research we assumed that this was the work of those in the ILP there who were later to join the Marxist Group, Tom Mercer and others.
This assumption in effect buried the true history of how Trotskyism first broke out of its South London confines and took root in the rest of the country, which, as we first learned it from Comrade Rogers, is best summarised in his own words:
Comrade Rogers’ papers also contain fascinating information on such subject as his discussions with the Marxist Group, the winding up of the Socialist League, and his contacts with famous revolutionaries in Paris fresh from the Spanish Civil War, all of which would provide splendid data for this journal for the future.
1. War and the International, p.xiv. Even here there is a misprint: it should read (line 10) “if an improved edition does not appear”.
2. E.g. Charles Van Gelderen, Bornstein and Richardson Enmeshed in a Time-Warp, in Workers Press, 3 January 1987 (“many errors of substance”).
3. Against the Stream, p.33, lines 14-23.
4. Op. cit., p.63, lines 5-8, and p.90, n3.
5. i.e., 1935-6; Against the Stream, p.240, line 31.
6. War and the International, p.24, line 8. Unfortunately Comrade Van Gelderen never corrected the transcript of the interview he gave us.
7. Op. cit., p.31, line 35.
8. Op. cit., p.31.
9. Op. cit., p.237, n93.
10. Op. cit., p.95, n150.
11. Against the Stream, p.108, line 6.
12. Presumably the Open Letter to All Revolutionary Proletarian Organisations and Groupings, July 1935, in Documents of the Fourth International: The Formative Years, 1933-40, New York, 1973, pp.66-75.
13. Cf. Against the Stream, p.118 and p.125, n103.
14. Ernest Rogers, Interview with Al Richardson, 1 April 1986.
Updated by ETOL: 28.6.2003