Why I Joined The S.P.G.B.
In the stormy period of the economic crisis of 1928-33 I was a member of the Communist Party. I joined in 1928, the year of the commencement of the first Russian Five-Year Plan. This plan inspired me, and as I thought that they were building Socialism — I wanted to support it. I was enthusiastic and arrogant, and walked into a Communist Party meeting and said that I wanted to join. No questions were asked me, except for my name and address, and I believe a few pence for a membership card, and I was in.
In 1931 at the time of the hunger marches, many party members believed that the revolution was just ‘around the corner’: and that we could expect that the country would soon be involved in some sort of civil war as a transition to Socialism. I found this idea extremely hard to swallow, and made myself unpopular by saying so.
During my membership of the CP there were the mysterious Moscow trials when many of the “old guard” of the Bolshevik Party confessed that they were wreckers, saboteurs, spies and fascists, and many heaped abuse upon themselves. They were mostly shot on their own evidence, just as happened in the Middle Ages to witches who confessed to causing storms at sea and spreading plagues. Stalin murdered about twenty of the twenty-eight old Bolsheviks who sat round the table with himself and Lenin at the meeting of the Third International in 1919. Men like Radek, Zinovief, Kamenef, and Bukharin. I was unable to accept that Stalin alone was right and that he had been surrounded by wreckers.
When I tried to discuss this point in the party I was accused of Trotskyism. I then knew my days in the party were numbered. Had I been living in Russia, these lines would never have been penned — it would have been Siberia or a bullet.
I made many visits to Germany during my Communist Party days, both before and after the Nazis came to power. I watched the Nazis and Communists fighting each other, and could not figure out how Socialism could come from such methods. The Nazis called themselves National Socialists and the Communists also claimed to be Socialists.
I noted that the Nazis after they took power ruled with the aid of the Gestapo and the concentration camps — plus of course the support of millions of thoughtless workers who had voted for them. Russia also had its Gestapo, the KGB (or NKVD as it was then) and their concentration camps. Both systems were headed by a ruthless dictator who showed the world that they were prepared to stop at nothing to hold the reins of office. Both regimes were totalitarian, and held fake elections in which Hitler and Stalin polled 99% of the votes. Both countries marched into Poland and both into Czechoslovakia with the pretence of going to the aid of the Czechs.
Lenin’s books (I’ve read the complete works) are little more than a verbal attack on Kautsky and Bernstein, and of course any Russian who ever opposed him. Hitler’s Mein Kampf is also a tirade of abuse against the Jews and Communists. Both Russia and Germany had trade unions — not to protect the workers’ wages or hours of work, but to make them work harder and not to grumble. Both Stalin and Hitler persecuted intellectuals. The Russian trade unions and the persecution of dissidents still continue.
While still a member of the CP I went to a meeting of the SPGB on Russia. After the lecture there was the usual allotted time for questions, and I lost no time in seizing this opportunity.
The answers to my questions did not satisfy me, and I said so. Then came a period of discussion and I was invited to take the platform for five minutes and put my case. Without hesitation, and full of cock-sureness I mounted the rostrum and let off my steam. Then came the answers of the SPGB. This did not convince me — but it shook me, for I never imagined that anybody else but CP-ers knew anything about Russia, Marxism or Socialism.
At a meeting of the Communist Party a few days later a critic asked a few questions in a perfectly orderly manner, and he was pounced upon and silenced and called a fascist. As for taking the platform in opposition — that was quite unthinkable. This showed who was democratic, and it did much to convince me which party had a sound case.
When I decided to join the SPGB I was surprised to learn that there no “sign your name and you’re in”. I was carefully questioned on my ideas about Russia, and my understanding of Socialism.
This procedure keeps the party small, but if we admitted all and sundry, we may have a larger membership, but we would soon cease to be a Socialist Party.