Trotsky & British Trotskyists...

Joined: March 7th, 2015, 8:29 pm

October 19th, 2015, 3:30 pm #1

How much discussion did either merit in your days in the CP? What sort of views did people have of them?
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Kim Philby
Kim Philby

October 19th, 2015, 4:44 pm #2

Well in the early 1970s the answer was very little as far as I was concerned.

In my branch the "57 varieties" as they were called in those days, were only mentioned when they interfaced with local CPGB campaigns (and to be fair this wasn't very often because the Trots were few and far between in the localities outside the student movement at the time). Remember, in those days the old party towered far above all the Trot groups put together with a membership (on paper at least) of around 30,000. The other reason is that few, if any of the Militant or SWP leaders or activists had come from the CP tradition. The one exception was the WRP, perhaps the most sectarian of the lot, which was led a number of former communists (like former Daily Worker correspondent Peter Fryer)who were dismissed as "renegades" or "turn-coats" by one or two comrades who had actually met them.

In those days the bourgeois media promoted Trotsky in a way which would be unthinkable now. As the Cold War hotted up again in the 1970s Trotsky's life was dramatised on British TV. Sympathetic features on Trotsky would appear in the colour supplements of the Sunday papers (as their magazines were called then) -- all to provide further ammunition to the barrage of anti-Soviet propaganda that was the daily staple of all the mainstream media of the 1970s.

The CPGB's lead was given by a King St pamphlet on "ultra-leftism in Britain" (which included the Maoists) by Betty Reid which focused (if my memory serves me well) on their sectarian and disruptive positions which, universally, were all hostile to the CPGB. At the same time the CPGB promoted a number of Soviet anti-Trotskyist and anti-Maoist pamhlets through the national lit network. The general line was that they were all "splitters" and "factionalists" drawn mainly from the petty bourgeois strata whose idealistic programme couldn't possibly unite the class to advance to socialism. Certainly their view that socialism could not be built in one state, which they claimed was the kernel of Trotsky's thinking, was clearly utopian. Their inability to agree with each other. their refusal to accept agreed decisions in broad movements they participated in (under their supposed right to factionalise), their dismissal of the the peace movement and the national liberation movements as irrelevant to struggle and their endless attacks on the Soviet Union and the people's democracies meant that they were, indeed, seen, as the "enemy".

The growth of the Militant movement within the Labour Party and within a number of white-collar unions together with the rise of the SWP through the "Rank-and File" movement and the rise of the Anti-Nazi League in the mid-1970s led to some discussion about their programmes -- if only to prepare answers to their arguments.

Amongst the anti-revisionist trends that revolved around the Surrey District and what later became "Straight Left" (particularly within the YCL) there was a more serious approach -- though this was largely in the context of defending Stalin and obliquely attacking both the 20th Congress and the BRS.

But Trotsky himself was rarely, if ever, discussed in any depth at a national level. Largely, I believe, because it would have meant re-opening debate on Stalin (and as far as the CPGB was concerned Krushchov and the 20th Congress had said the final word on Stalin and what they called the "cult of the personality"). Stalin and Trotsky's works were unobtainable from the party bookshops and even reading the Trotskyist press was frowned on in my branch.

This meant that comrades (like myself) who were active in unions with a strong Trotskyist presence, or working with the ANL in the anti-fascist struggle, had to scour other left-wing bookshops and hunt through the second-hand books at Star bazaars to find material to combat the arguments from the Trot camp.

Whether this was typical of the old party as a whole I cannot say. I wasn't in the London or Scottish districts (the two biggest in the CPGB) and perhaps other regular "formers" can shed some light on their experiences to answer your questions.

pip,pip,


H A R Philby
(Col.ret'd)







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Joined: March 7th, 2015, 8:29 pm

October 19th, 2015, 4:59 pm #3

Thank you very much. There's loads there I want to follow up on.
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Francis King
Francis King

October 19th, 2015, 9:54 pm #4

There was a CPGB Trotskyism Study Group for a while in the late 70s/early 80s, which published a critique by "Loizos Michail" of the theory of permanent revolution. The YCL in 1969 and 1976 published 2 special issues of Cogito written by Monty Johnstone which looked at Trotsky and Trotsky and the Popular Front. I think there was a critique of the SWP/IS by David Purdy "The Soviet Union: State Capitalist or Socialist" in 1974(?) if memory serves. And in the 1980s there was a little informal group of us with an interest in the ultra left who used to go along to meetings sometimes and argue the toss.
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Gabriel Peri
Gabriel Peri

October 20th, 2015, 1:33 am #5

As a YCLer I came across the Trots often and found Monty J's Cogito pamphlet especially helpful. The odd thing being of course, Monty was considered a "heretic" by the pro-Soviet camp but he was superb in that he had actually read Trotsky and understood his arguments and so was able to skewer him where it hurt. I understand that Monty had briefly sympathised with or perhaps even been a member of the wartime/postwar Trotskyist RCP which may have helped.
There were also the various Novosti pamphlets Kim has mentioned although they were often of dubious help. I remember one denouncing one wing of the Fourth International led by "Dennis Healey" for example and they often quoted Posadas although even most Trots regarded him as a loony.
I've often wondered about "Loizos Michail", which initially I took to have been a Cypriot name but I was unsure why this person had written absolutely nothing else, the quote marks suggest a pseudonym. Can Francis shed light on this?
Aside from the Cogito pamphlets (only the second was still in circulation by the time I became active which was on Trotsky and the World Revolution).
Monty also wrote a brilliant critique of Trotsky and the Popular Front for Marxism Today which was reprinted in Lawrence and Wishart volume edited by Jim Fyrth, I think, Britain Fascism and the Popular Front. The whole book is well worth getting a hold of if you can't find the MT articles.
Monty also got involved in a rather bad-tempered debate with the IMG in their magazine International in the 1970s although the exact details elude me at the moment.
Finally to add to Francis' list, there were a couple of other articles on the International Socialists and International Marxist Group by Geoff Roberts in Marxism Today in the late 70s, well worth digging out if you can find them.
Roberts has gone on to become an internationally renowned historian of the Stalin era, his book on Stalingrad is wonderful, and his other books would be of interest to formers, if you haven't got them already.
I assume Roberts must have been part of the Trotskyism study group that Francis mentioned.
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Joined: October 20th, 2015, 9:04 pm

October 20th, 2015, 9:29 pm #6

Yes, I was a member of the Trotskyism Study Group in the 1970s, together with Monty Johnstone, Betty Reid, Liozos Michail - his real name but we called him Mike - and John Callaghan (now a Professor at Salford University). Monty's Cogito pamphlet on Trotsky was one the first things I read when I joined the YCL/party in the late 1960s. Monty's second Cogito article on Trotsky - Trotsky and World Revolution - was based on a lecture he gave at the LSE in the mid-1970s. I still have the tape! As well as the MTD articles I took part in various debates with the Trots, including in their own journals, as did Monty and others. I don 't recall Monty ever getting into bad-tempered debates with the Trots. Maybe that was me! But I think we did a good job in defending the party from attacks from the left.
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Gabriel Peri
Gabriel Peri

October 21st, 2015, 12:53 pm #7

Many thanks for that Geoff! I thought Callaghan had been in the IMG didn't know he had been in the party.
I think the spat was with Monty and Patrick Camiller, around the same time as an exchange between you and Robin Blackburn. Whoever the IMG spokesperson was there were some fairly inflammatory/libelous accusations against MJ and their editorial board apologized.
I also have his debate with Mandel somewhere published by the IMG. Any chance you can digitize the LSe tape you have and share on YouTube or elsewhere? I was thinking maybe the Marxist Internet Archive should get a copy too.
loved the Zhukov book too by the way and halfway through your Unholy Alliance.

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Joined: October 20th, 2015, 9:04 pm

October 21st, 2015, 8:24 pm #8

John was ex-Trot but I'm not sure he was ever a party member, although he did write a very fine history of the CPGB in the 1950s and 1960s.

Good idea about the Monty tape.

Somewhere in my archives I have a filed marked "TSG".

Followers of this forum may be interested in some recent work of mine on the postwar communist peace movement (international/Soviet not British). Drop me a line and I will send you a copy: g.roberts@ucc.ie.

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Evan
Evan

October 22nd, 2015, 9:16 am #9

Here is the text of Geoff Roberts debate with the SWP on the 1977 BRS in the first series of ISJ:
https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/n ... oberts.htm

In Comment in 1979, there was a series of article which asked the editors of rival journals/newspapers to write about the state of the British left. I think it featured Tariq Ali and Tony Cliff, as well as someone from Militant, the Leveller and possibly the WRP.
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the west is red
the west is red

November 15th, 2016, 12:25 pm #10

An old booklet from this group has turndd up at

https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2016/ ... tain-1977/
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