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Stewart Purkis

Ferment in the British Party

Open Letter from Comrade Stewart Purkis to Harry Pollitt

(July 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 33 (Whole No. 129), 13 August 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Dear Comrade Pollitt,

You have asked a straight question: you have a straight answer. You have asked me how far I go with The Communist – the bulletin which contained comrade Trotsky’s article Germany: the Key to the International Situation, and other material by the British Group of the Left Opposition. My answer to you and to my comrades in the British party is: “I go with it all the way.” Not only does this answer inevitably incur expulsion: it also entails misunderstanding, disappointment and condemnation amongst valued comrades. It is my duty to them and to the Party that I state clearly why I take any stand with the British Group of the Left Opposition.

Stand – One of Policy

First I wish to say that my reasons are political, not personal. During my five years of Party membership, I have experienced – with few and trifling exceptions – nothing but good will and comradeship in my Party life: the rank and file of the Party are, as a whole, splendid comrades and fellow workers. The leadership of our Party has in it men of outstanding gifts: a writer as acute as R.P. Dutt; an organizer as skilled as Emile Burns; a speaker, tactician and mass leader as able as Harry Pollitt. Such is the character of the rank and file: such is the quality of the leadership.

This is my estimate of our Party and its leadership. I state it that it may be clear that it is not because of unsatisfactory personal relationships with the rank and file, not because I underestimate the ability and gifts of its leadership that I line up with the Left Opposition. I support the Left Opposition because I believe that the policy of the British party and of the Communist International is at fault on those very root issues for which comrades Trotsky, Rakovsky and the many comrades of the Left Opposition have fought and have been expelled.

Reviewing Past of Party

The very facts I have indicated – the gifted leadership of the British party, the comradely and industrious rank and file, the developed objective conditions – all these contrast so vividly with the Party’s failure to win the leadership of the British working class, that every Communist has it as his plain duty to ask himself whether the Party is on the correct line. The position in Britain today, after ten years of hard struggle is:

  1. Parliamentary: 70,000 votes for the defence of the U.S.S.R.;
  2. Industrial: no roots in factories or trade unions;
  3. Political: complete failure to make the revolutionary way out plain to the workers.

This position repeats itself in the Communist parties throughout the world. These facts have moved me to accept the Left Opposition criticism of the strategy of the Communist International.

At the time of the Left Opposition struggle and the expulsion of comrade Trotsky, I was a new member of the Party. Even then it was difficult for me not to oppose the contention that Trotsky, who had shared the leadership with Lenin, who – in the words of Stalin – “had the immediate direction of the practical organization of the uprising” and to whom “the Party was first and foremost indebted for the garrison’s prompt going over to the Soviet” could be the “counter-revolutionary” into which Party calumny slowly pictured him. Literature was sparse. The Party’s little great men the Arnots, the Ernie Browns, the Murphys, they said their say. One remained unconvinced but ill-equipped and so refrained from voting. With others I worked on in the Party and continued to study the issues raised by the Left Opposition.

The literature has come slowly to hand. On the past issues – Poland, China, Russian industrial and agricultural development, the Anglo-Russian Committee, all the evidence I have secured justifies the Left Opposition and condemns the line of the Communist International. But though the Left Opposition has been correct, it seemed inadvisable to risk expulsion from the Party, even to take part in a fight to win the re-admission to the Communist International of comrades whose past line had been the correct one. Past issues were past. One turned to the work which clamoured to be done at every depot gate and street corner.

The Crucial Issue of Germany

Then hard on the heels of the disturbing attitude of the Communist International towards the Spanish Revolution, came the crucial issue of Germany. Party comrades “in the know” whispered that the Fascists were to take power unchallenged. German industry is so important to the success of the Five Year Plan, that nothing must disturb the relations between German Capitalism and Russian Socialism. The Five Year Plans were to be completed with the help of German industry: whatever the government!

But comrade Trotsky’s writing on the German issue, especially Germany: the Key to the International Situation, the Letter to a German Comrade and What Next? have vividly shown the position in Europe. They have made it clear that “Who wins in Germany wins in Europe”. They have presented the danger of war on the U.S.S.R., not as an annual August shibboleth, but as a living reality.

In 1930 Trotsky warned the Party that their forecasts of the early collapse of Fascism were not justified. Twelve months ago, Trotsky pointed to the United Front of the Communist and social democratic organizations as the only policy which could ensure the defeat of Fascism, the break-up of social democracy, and successes in the struggle for proletarian power. Today events tardily compel the Party towards Trotsky’s line. But time in this struggle is the life and death factor. The line which Trotsky pointed out two years ago, the Party begins to shuffle towards to-day. These delays and weaknesses of both the Communist International and the German leadership threaten disaster to the U.S.S.R. and to the whole working class movement. In the present situation it is to me a clear duty to put comrade Trotsky’s writings in the hands of the Party membership, that his leadership may be available to the working class in this hour of need. That is why I support the work of the Left Opposition in issuing the bulletin for circulating in the Party and to militant workers.

When I was expelled from the Railway Clerks Association, the R.C.A. leadership saw and condemned my action as a “breach of rule”. Many of my fellow members and my comrades in the Party saw and supported my action as the course which loyalty to the working class demanded.

I know that I may now be condemned by you and by many valued comrades for breaking rules by circulating this material on Germany. But we who do this hold that loyalty to the Party’s cause is more important than keeping rules which ban vital discussion in the Party.

In this short letter I cannot set out the Left Opposition case on the major political issue: the case for the policy of International Revolution against National Socialism (even when it wears the guise of “Socialism in one country!”), and all the tactical issues which follow from it. I ask every comrade who sees the importance of mastering these issues to write to me for details of the publications of the Left Opposition.

I write this letter to make it clear that my course of action is dictated by political and not personal motives: and that if my acceptance of the Left Opposition position and support for its works entails my expulsion, I shall from without the Party do my utmost – together with my Left Opposition comrades within the Party – to strengthen the Party for its real task: the organization of the working class for the world struggle for world socialism.

4 Hogarth Hill, London N.W. 11
July 27th, 1932

With Communist greetings,
Stewart Purkis

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