Letter: ‘A Nail in the Coffin’
A nail in the coffin
I was born in 1900 and am four years older than the party. I became a socialist after hearing Alec Shaw destroy Peter Kerrigan [of the Communist Party] at an outdoor debate in Clydebank in 1928. Since then I have voted by writing Socialism across my ballot paper, although in recent years through old age I have not bothered. But recently I was able to vote for a socialist for the first time in my life. Although I had to be taken in a wheelchair and the effort may well have killed me, I feel as if I have finally hammered a nail into the coffin of Capitalism. I feel as if the ice age is over and the next century will be ours.
By voting and reading a comment in the Standard by Steve Coleman “we are a movement not a monument” I feel rejuvenated. Some time ago I was given a book called The Monument which claims to be a history of the SPGB. The author says this is not an official history as he did not have access to the party’s records. The book is therefore anecdotal and relies heavily on the writer’s memory (or imagination). An example of the dubious nature of this information is the tale of Glasgow branch voting to expel John Higgins for bringing a gas mask to a branch meeting during the war.
This statement caricatures the men and women who were stalwarts in the struggle for socialism in those days. There is no other comment in the book about Glasgow comrades which leads me to think that Mr Barltrop has never been there.
Jimmy Brodie was a joiner, like myself, and he used to give history and economics classes during the lunch hour on whichever boat we were working on. The steel bulkhead was the blackboard (the location was changed daily to avoid the gestapo) and the socialist message remained on the walls for weeks. These classes were attended by hundreds of workers and the debates engendered carried on into work time much to the consternation of foremen and managers. Not to speak of the Commie second fronters.
It took a lot of guts to advocate the socialist case in the emotional climate of the 1940s. Tommy Mulheron was prominent in the dock strike. Alec Shaw in Howdens. Joe Richmond an apprentice where I worked organised a strike in 1943 which brought the firm to its knees. In spite of Union opposition the apprentices won.
My branch of the union had lots of socialists, Willie Travers, Joe Richmond, Jimmy Craig, Eddie Hughes, John Fitton, Jimmy McGowan, Willie Henderson, so that it became known as the Socialist Sixth. These men were indefatigable exponents of the Socialist case, some of them were speakers for the party, but all of them were influential in the Union. The Socialist Party has never had leaders, it has no need of them. But it has had its heroes and been all the stronger and richer for them. This book, The Monument, diminishes these men whose worth is greater than all the Maxtons, Bevans, Pollitts and Gallachers, whose names are still revered by many workers today.
The present Socialist Party stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before and should give credit to the breadth and depth of those shoulders. Surely, approaching its centenary, the party can write an official history, not only of the party but the whole world wide Socialist movement.
Do not leave it to the Barltrops of this world. Do not let our heroes die without trace if left to word of mouth they will become as myth and legend, more fantasy than fact, and spawn books like The Monument which does the Movement a disservice.
I am now 94 years old and must be one of the last of my generation. I grieve that my old comrades have died unsung although they were heroes all.
Yours for the Revolution,
Paddy Small, Glasgow
Thanks for your comments. And thanks also to all the other Socialists – supporters and sympathisers as well as Socialist Party members – who contributed the money (£22,286, to be precise) that enabled us to put up a Socialist candidate in Glasgow and three other seats in last year’s Euro-elections and to get a socialist leaflet distributed to one million households.