Open Letter to Jimmy Reid, Communist shop steward, Upper Clyde Shipbuilders

Dear Brother,


Some weeks ago I saw you on Television addressing the students at Essex University. In the short extract screened, you were talking about a united working-class and saying (quite correctly) how immensely powerful the working class could be, if only it was united.


“If we all spat we could drown them” you said, with typical working-class directness and humour. Quite true, of course, probably in no other country (including Russia) is the working class in such overwhelming preponderance. The question therefore, is why isn’t the working class united? What is it that blinds workers to their class interests, and divides them? A moment’s thought should supply the answer. It is political ignorance.


Many workers do not think they are workers, at all. Many carry on a pathetic struggle to appear “middle- class”, grumbling the while about the “unjust” prosperity of car workers or dockers.


In fact, even to talk about “Unity” at all pre-supposes unity for something—some aim, some goal. Unity in the abstract, for the sake of unity is meaningless.


Apart from the large number of workers who still think that the boss is their best friend and that they too can become capitalists, there is also a very large number who see the necessity of uniting in trade unions to improve their lot.


These workers are at the threshold of class consciousness—but only the threshold, the first baby step. Lenin called it “mere trade union consciousness”. They have an awful long way to go.


A minority of workers have realised that the problem is not just a question of keeping wages up, but that capitalism is their trouble and its abolition would be emancipation from social problems for everybody, especially the workers, who are on the receiving end. These workers have acquired real class-consciousness, for them it is no longer a question of dockers, or miners, or teachers, but the abolition of the wages system. They are revolutionary Socialists because it is absurd to propose the abolition of capitalism without a superior alternative. When the anti-Socialist says “Yes, but what would you put in it’s place?” the answer is Socialism.


This presupposes the overthrow of capitalism, and we can all agree that the last thing capitalists want is to be abolished (by the way, this does not mean physical extermination; we are talking about social relations). Theoretically, it should be possible to abolish the capitalist class without harming one hair of one capitalist’s head.


Over the years, various people have put forward various ideas for the abolition of capitalism. This has brought disunity, even among those who wanted to abolish capitalism. In other words, even the minority who did oppose capitalism could not agree on the methods to overthrow it. Among the various groups holding opposing ideas was one which came together from a number of splinter groups to form a Communist Party in 1920.


Some of these groups left it again, as soon as they realised more about it. Sylvia Pankhurst and the Workers Socialist Federation refused to follow Moscow and backed out. Some prominent Scottish Workers Committee Movement stalwarts, Tommy Clarke, of the AEU, John Maclean, the first Bolshevik Consul in Britain, did likewise.


Under Russian domination, and blindly following their paymasters, McManus, Gallagher, Bell and Co. they started their wearisome howl for “The United Front” which is where you, my dear Brother, get your Unity slogan from.


The idea was to bore within the Labour Party and turn it into a Communist or “Leftist” party. They would have had more luck boring within the Bookmakers Protection Society to transform it into the Anti-Betting League.


To the end of their days neither Lenin nor Trotsky really understood the British set-up and hoped that the economic crises of the twenties would impel British workers to change the Labour Party into a party of “heavy civil war” (Moscow Theses).


Until 1929 the British C.P. screamed for the United Front when for the election of that year Moscow ordered a turnabout and “Class against Class”; they ran thirty-three candidates and lost thirty-three deposits.


Now after years of utterly futile agitation for minority armed insurrection and “heavy civil war” Mr. Gollan and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain have decided that “Socialism in Great Britain can be established by the parliamentary road”.


This destroys the reason for the existence of the Communist Party, whose claim to fame was that it was in favour of violent drastic measures.


There is just one other point, however, concerning what Socialism is. When Mr. Gollan informs the British electorate in a television interview that the British C.P. is concerned only with the British people the British C.P. has lost its last vestige of any semblance of a workers’ party.


This is where we come in. The overthrow of capitalism must be a political act. It must be the united conscious act of a revolutionary working class by some form of election.


Under the stress of difficult and hazardous circumstances, Lenin and his followers had to bend Marx’s writing to suit C.P. tactics. Nowhere, at any time could Marx have envisaged Socialism (or the end of capitalism) without a majority of the workers. The few occasions when he used the phrase “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” meant only this.


Incidentally, in the address of the Working Men’s International Association which he wrote, he had this to say about numbers:


The element of success they possess—numbers; but numbers weigh only in the balance, if united by combination and led by knowledge

So before the workers start spitting to drown the capitalist class, it would be well to realise that Socialism is the abolition, not the reform of capitalism, and that to establish Socialism, the workers must vote for it, because there is no other way of knowing whether they are united for it or not.


Yours truly,