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:

The way we got together was that a group of us bought The Militant (American), and there was Hugh Esson (or rather Hugh Morrison was the name he used). He was a founder member of the Communist Party, and had been with Henry Sara in the ‘Hands off China’ Committee. He was also an officer on Tottenham Trades Council defending the General Strike together with Sara, and he smelt a rat when he was on the ‘Hands off China’ Committee with the Stalinist position on China. He arrived up in Glasgow and brought The Militant, and we got together on the street corner …

Anyway, The Militants were arriving, and I remember Hugh Esson was in touch with the people in London, and they said that they were going to stop sending The Militant to Guy Aldred, because he obviously didn’t pay for them, so we took over the job. There were about half a dozen of us, and we formed a group …

That was 1932 or 1933 …

We sold about a hundred every week at 2½d each, which was the price of a loaf of bread, which was a lot of money. Eventually, when the New International came out we sold a hundred a month … When they posted any American mail on American ships, they were very slow ships, but even then we had a hundred appreciative people waiting for them. We sold to people like Mercer and Nan McLean, who eventually became Trotskyists, and we sold a few to the Stalinists …

When we had arguments with the Stalinists which always went on (we were quite friendly there was always that sense of solidarity in Glasgow), they would say Trotsky is a splitter.

We would always reply: ‘You are wrong, Trotsky is not a splitter but a conciliator. If he had not been a conciliator he would have split from the party long ago. Trotsky didn't split, he was thrown out.’ This took the Stalinists aback, because we were adopting an independent position … The group was called the Leninist League of Glasgow …

What happened was that we were supporting the Trotskyist position and selling The Militant and the New International, but of course, then there was the Open Letter. We received the Open Letter for the Fourth International and as you know LT had been denouncing the position of the German SAP. Suddenly we received an article in which LT said ‘Events have liquidated our differences’. I used to say that LT’s literary ability militated against his political effectiveness. We all knew that he had been denouncing the German groups like hell, and suddenly there was going to be a United Front with the SAP, with a signature on the Open Letter.

So we analysed that (I wonder whether we could get a copy of that analysis?). We criticised it and censured it, and said we couldn’t agree with it, because their was no reference to, or perspective for, the building of the revolutionary party. It wasn’t a question of whether the party should depend upon amalgams with other parties, but upon such sympathies in the ranks of the working class. There was rather the question of independence, which was included in the Statutes of the Left Opposition. This principle seemed to us to have been dropped.

So, that was our position, in 1934. We weren’t prepared to go into any of the groups. We found them supporting this Open Letter. We got dozens of The Red Flags up, and our communication, were through Hugh Esson, who was secretary at the time. He used to send the money down, but he never got receipts for the money he sent down, even though there were several dozens that were circulated. But we didn't care very much for the stuff we did have. We got leaflets on the entry into the Labour Party. Have you seen it? It was a green leaflet, and we didn’t like the tone of it. It didn’t seem to us at all independent …

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.

Sam Bornstein

Al Richardson

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