Britain's Socialist Heritage

Amid renewed interest in the work of George Orwell, the Morning Star heads into the archives and reprints here how Harry Pollitt reviewed The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937

Harry Pollitt

'Mr Orwell will have to try again'

Poor old Wigan! What things have been done in your name! From bad music-hall jokes to literary gents trying to hang their pegs around your name. The great thing is that we who come from Lancashire long ago learned to laugh at it all, in a way those who try to raise the laughs would never understand.

Here is George Orwell, a disillusioned little middle-class boy who, seeing through imperialism, decided to discover what socialism has to offer.

What a tragedy that a man can give up a position that the best years of his life were spent trying to fit him for, and then at a crisis in his life not see the real way to go.

Fortunately, Orwell has the sense to admit his own ignorance.

He tells us: "But I knew nothing about working-class conditions…"

"When I thought of poverty, I thought of it in terms of brute starvation. Therefore my mind turned immediately towards the extreme cases, the social outcasts, tramps, beggars, criminals, prostitutes. These people were the 'lowest of the low,' and these were the people with whom I wanted to get in contact."

"But I knew nothing about working-class conditions…"

It is perhaps natural that a late imperialist policeman should only see "the lowest of the low," as the place from which to get his new understanding of social conditions and socialism. But, of course, it was completely wrong, and must be responsible for the terribly distorted view that the author seems to have of everything connected with the working-class movement.

I suspect he knows nothing about this at all.

What a pity to travel all the way from Mandalay to disguise yourself as a tramp who can get into a Limehouse lodging-house without betraying his middle-class accent.

If ever snobbery had its hallmark placed upon it, it is by Mr Orwell.

From the Morning Star

international brigade morning star sculpture

PAUL SHAW explains why RMT Glasgow shipping branch is asking for your donations to finish a monument to the blockade runners

SOME 15 years ago, Ronnie Moran, then RMT Glasgow shipping branch secretary, was approached by renowned sculptor Frank Casey looking to honour the seafarers who formed the blockade runners to Spain during the Spanish civil war.

The branch (including its then chair and former secretary Stuart Hyslop) and the RMT Scottish regional council then formulated a plan to construct a memorial incorporating the sculpture that Casey would build to create a lasting memory to the seafarers dispatched to Spain to overthrow Francisco Franco’s fascist regime.

Casey stresses the importance of a lasting memorial, saying: “The ships that were part of the struggle to preserve the democratically elected Spanish republic in the face of Francoist aggression has largely gone unremarked.”

The ships that were part of the struggle to preserve the democratically elected Spanish republic in the face of Francoist aggression has largely gone unremarked

These small ships not only had the threat from insurgent Spanish warships to deal with but also Franco’s well-armed German and Italian allies.

In total 27 British-registered vessels were lost between 1936 and 1939 and are recognised by a plaque placed on the memorial.

Willie Gallacher was Communist MP for West Fife for many years. Our speaker Jim Whyte was Scottish Secretary of the Young Communist League and helped in Gallacher's political campaigning. Jim is in a unique position to speak from his first hand knowledge of a great leader of Red Clydeside who had it out with Lenin in Russia, but who eventually came round to Lenin's way of thinking!

Willie Gallacher was a founding member of the British Communist Party (following Lenin's advice), and grew politically and in the admiration of those around him to become the Member of Parliament for the constituency of West Fife.

This meeting was held on the 80th anniversary of Gallacher becoming a Communist MP. Jim talks us though the titanic developments in Scottish and British leftwing politics from the early 1900's up to the Cold War.

The UCS Work In was a turning point in history at a British level. It was a heroic victory of the Scottish working class, led by shop stewards many of whom were Communists.

Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) was a British shipbuilding consortium created in 1968 as a result of the amalgamation of five major shipbuilders of the River Clyde in Scotland. It entered liquidation amidst much controversy in 1971, leading to a famous "work-in" campaign at the company's shipyards, led by a number of Communist shop stewards, incuding Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid.

Professor John Foster who co wrote the seminal book on the Work - In, and is also a Communist, addressed a public meeting of Clydebank Trades Union Council in October 2011 to celebrate 40 years of the world famous Work In, and to draw out the lessons which we can learn from it today in our fight against another Tory government and their cuts agenda.
The full videos of that meeting are online on the Clydebank TUC website http://clydebanktuc.org/

 

One of Britain's leading communists, Kevin Halpin has been a fighter all his life.
As a child in Preston, he fought the poverty that saw his grandmother die in the workhouse. After the death of his mother, seven-year-old Kevin fought an increasingly harsh father. At school, he fought the teachers who dished out six of the best for questioning religion, and in the streets, he was a champion scrapper.
Later he fought the Nazis in the Mediterranean before going on to become one of the noted leaders of engineering and other workers in a lifetime of struggle for justice and a better world.

Through it all his wry sense of humour has kept him cheerful while sustaining those around him. A love of cooking and a keen enthusiasm for invention has also marked the career of this remarkable man.
His sharp observation of the world around him from early childhood onwards helps to make his account of a life lived to the full both readable and inspiring, with many a chuckle at the ironies of human nature.

Kevin has divided his account of life through the 20th century and beyond into 15 chapters.
They cover his early years in Preston; his wartime service in minesweepers; joining the Communist Party and the start of his main working life back in Britain, together with his growing Marxist education.
There's a detailed examination of the impact of the historic 20th Soviet Communist Party congress and its impact on political thinking in Britain. Accounts of political activity, historic strikes, blacklisting and the crises within the communist movement spring to life as Kevin weaves through them the pithy and humorous observations of a man who was there, saw it all and understood what was happening.

This is a book which casts new light on the development of left politics in Britain and beyond throughout the past 70 years. It is an unassuming account by a remarkable man, whose contribution to political and industrial life offers lessons for today.

Edited by Ken Keable (CPB) with an introduction by Ronnie Kasrils (SACP) and a foreword by Pallo Jordan (ANC).

http://www.merlinpress.co.uk/acatalog/LONDON_RECRUITS.html
All Royalties from this book will go to The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

The history of the Anti-Apartheid movement brings up images of boycotts and public campaigns in the UK. But another story went on behind the scenes, in secret, one that has been never told before.

This is the story of the foreign recruits and their activities in South Africa, how they acted in defiance of the Apartheid government and its police on the instructions of the African National Congress. It tells of:
" ANC Banners that unfurled
" ANC speeches that sounded through public places
" Buckets that exploded and showered ANC leaflets
" Transportation of weapons, communications, logistics
" Helping ANC fighters to enter South Africa,
" and more.....

Many recruits were Young Communists, others were Trotskyists or independent socialists; from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the USA, and they all took amazing risks.
Some paid a heavy price for their support. This is their untold story.

Ken Keable adds, re the video:
"Ronnie Kasrils has corrected me on one point that I made in the video: "All The costs were met by the Soviet Union." He says that the ANC also had many other sources of funding besides the Soviet Union. He says, "Other countries in Africa, India, Scandinavia, Cuba etc. and NGOs such as International Defence & Aid contributed enormously as did individual supporters." I am happy to acknowledge this. When I went on my two missions to South Africa, I was under the impression that my own costs had been met by a Soviet source (which they may well have been) and that was part of the basis for my remark."

ISBN:
    9780850366556
364 pages
Format:
    Paperback
Product Code:
    820104
Publisher:
    Merlin Press Ltd
Published:
    Feb 2012

Young men from across Britain, many who were Communists or sympathetic to their cause, left relative safety at home to go and fight for the Republican Government of Spain who were being attacked by Franco's Fascist forces.
They formed International Brigades (Brigadas Internacionales) and fought heroically, aided by material support by the Soviet Union, who stepped in once it was clear that Fascist Germany and Italy were arming and enabling Franco.

But today there are those who wish to distort this memory and muddy the waters. Now that all the International Brigaders have passed on, today many people's first encounter with tales of the Civil War could be via Ken Loach's very controversal film "Land and Freedom" or through anti-Communist George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia".

We hope this small video can go some way to readdressing the historical balance & understanding that we have through the International Brigaders.