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Ian Birchall

The worm that was turned

(October 1981)

From Socialist Review, 17 October-14 November 1981: 9, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The SDP is indeed fortunate in its ability to attract persons of vision and integrity. It now numbers in its ranks not only Michael O’Halloran but one Roger Rosewell.

Rosewell, who describes himself as an ‘industrial relations consultant’, was recently elected as an SDP district councillor for Aston, Bampton and Standlake in West Oxford. But his wisdom is not being confined to his rustic constituents. On September 25th he addressed a conference, organised by the right-wing Aims group, on Managers and Marxism, about the role of extremists in industry.

‘I have seen extremists at work from the inside and they are worse than anyone else’, he told the New Standard. (23.9.81)

Some of the older extremists who read Socialist Review may remember Rosewell, for he was at one time the industrial organiser of the International Socialists (the predecessor organisation of the SWP).

However, people should not worry too much that Rosewell will betray the innermost secrets of the party to the class enemy. For it is clear that Rosewell is suffering from a severe attack of amnesia.

When asked how long he had been an IS member, Rosewell told Labour Weekly (14.4.81):

‘I can’t really remember. It’s difficult to be sure because it only really started in 1968, so I would say about five years.’

In fact Rosewell was a member for eleven years, from 1963 to 1974. Throughout that period he wrote regularly for the publications of the organisation, and for a good part of it he served on various leading committees. As for the claim that IS began in 1968, Rosewell wrote, in 1973, a pamphlet called The Struggle for Workers Power, in which he gave a perfectly accurate account of the founding of the organisation in 1950. It is tragic that a decade of activity and writing can be so blotted out of a man’s mind.

If Rosewell intends to carry on with his career as a lecturer on the role of Marxists in the unions, he may find some of his own early writings useful. He might well benefit from a rereading of the pamphlet On Industrial Work which he wrote in 1969 under the bizarre pseudonym of R. Warszawski.

In this he discussed the necessity of building revolutionary fractions and rank and file groups in the trade unions. He also stressed (page 6) the necessity for IS members to be open and clear about their political ideas in dealing with any contacts they make.

He might follow this with a reading of his article The Seamen’s Struggle (International Socialism 54 & 55, 1973). Here he showed clearly that the right-wing grip in the NUS was based on the passivity and inactivity of the rank and file, and that the Broad Left in the union failed to win leadership because:

’Instead of leading a fight against the policies of the right wing and attempting to mobilise the rank and file behind them, they remained silent, hardly ever producing any propaganda and accepting productivity deals. Instead of fighting for more union democracy and exposing the methods of the right wing they accepted full-time appointments.’

Rosewell would clearly be most helpful to his new friends if he told them the truth he once clearly understood, that revolutionary activity in the unions is about political honesty and mass involvement, rather than regaling them with stories of conspiracy.

Rosewell might also tell the assembled managers something of his first hand experience of ‘infiltrating’ the trade union movement. In 1974 Rosewell, still being paid as an IS full-timer, applied for a position as an appointed official of the National Union of Journalists, without consulting his comrades in IS, and told the interviewing panel he had left IS. Since IS policy had always been opposed to the appointment of union officials, the IS National Committee suspended him for two months. Shortly afterwards he slipped out of the organisation.

This account (which can be documented) is somewhat at variance with Rosewell’s statement to the New Standard (23.9.81) that:

‘I quit the SWP 10 years ago when I realised that, come the revolution it would not just be bloated plutocrats who were put up against the wall – there would be lots of other people as well.’

After leaving IS Rosewell retired to academic seclusion to write a history of the Electricians Union. Somewhere along the line he seems to have been struck by the fact that if so many ex-Stalinists could get to the top of the EETPU, then maybe there was a future for an ex-Trotskyist. In the SDP Rosewell has indeed found the colleagues he deserves.

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Last updated: 15 May 2010