Staying Red

Why I remain a socialist. By Norman Harding

The Hungarian Uprising: the battle in Leeds

The Hungarian uprising, although one of the most important events In post-war Europe, was not an isolated event. Stalinism as a political force had never been free of crisis. Nonetheless, the period around 1956 was an important turning point.

Workers on the streets of Budapest in 1956.

Workers on the streets of Budapest in 1956.

The uprising followed hard on the heels of the rehabilitation of Tito and the shattering revelations of the crimes of Stalinism which Khrushchev sought to lay at the feet of one man in his speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

This process was reflected in a deep-going crisis within the Communist Party in Britain. In 1986, as part of a re-evaluation of the Hungarian events during their thirtieth anniversary, Workers Press  interviewed some of those who were active in both the Trotskyist movement and the Communist Party at the time. One of the interviews was with Norman Harding, which is reproduced in the attachment. In it he discusses his own early political development, how the Hungarian events appeared at that time to the small group of Trotskyists in Leeds and what they achieved. Their work helped change for good the relationship between Trotskyism and Stalinism.

Leeds and the Hungarian uprising

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Sad News

As one of Norman Harding’s comrades, I am sorry to inform his readership that he passed away a few hours ago (9 December 2013).

About 6 weeks ago he was admitted to St James’ Hospital in Leeds with a serious chest infection. Norman’s stay there became a nightmare as they were unable to control his pain properly. His underlying condition was pulmonary fibrosis that possibly resulted from his time working as a cutter in the Leeds clothing industry half a century ago. He went home 2 weeks back, but it soon became clear that he and his wife Pauline could not cope, despite some provision of home care and oxygen installed in their house. His admission to a rehabilitation unit still didn’t relieve his pain and lack of rest, so he was taken to St Gemma’s palliative care unit last Thursday. I spoke with him on Friday and he had managed to sleep and was lucid and free of pain, though very frail. Others have told me that he continued to be pain free over the weekend, but sedatives made it increasingly difficult for him to converse. At the end his family was with him.

Anyone who has visited Staying Red and has read any part of his book may soon have felt that they knew him despite never having met him: honest, humorous, generous, kindly and always principled. In life that is exactly how Norman was: someone who truly deserved to be called ‘comrade’

Norman had a wide circle of comrades and contacts, so please pass on the sad news as you see fit. Some may wish to write tributes and reminiscences, and one possibility is that they are collated here as well as being passed on to his family. Contributions could be posted as Comments on this post.

A great loss to our movement, and personally for many individuals.

Steve Drury

He who speaks with forked tongue

In June Miliband and Balls made a statement saying that the Labour Party would support the Lib/Tory government’s austerity policy.  They then went on to say that if Labour was elected to power at the next election they would continue to carry on with the Lib/Tory austerity plan.

Then on 20th Sept 13 Milliband said that he would rescind the Bedroom Tax. This is of course part of the austerity policy.  What he really means is that he will fiddle around with it.  This is just vote catching and ‘jam tomorrow’.

It is not simply a task of sending Miliband a letter asking him to please not do play fast and loose over the issue of austerity policy.  He has to be made aware that the movement that is developing against this cruel Bedroom Tax is very serious indeed.

The agency for change is quite definitely the working class. The transitional demand towards change in this situation is for those organisations administering the austerity measures, national or local, to be told loud and clear that we will not stand for any move to evict tenants who fall into debt because of the attacks on our very standard of life. Our means of living as human beings are not just a mark on a balance sheet.

We will have to be prepared to give support to those who find themselves under threat of eviction by taking action to stop such threats. This should be our answer to Miliband’s empty promises.

In the last couple of months we have had to read sometimes lengthy disagreements on who said what, when and why in the early 20th century. These were on a very important part of our history. But in my opinion, no-one has mentioned what the aim of that discussion was about. It did not mention the present situation, whose most disgusting feature is the Bedroom Tax. To give our discussions a ring for today they need to consider current developments and where they might lead.

Food for Thought: the Death of Maggie Thatcher

The layers in our society who are giving their full support to those who pray at the shrine of Maggie Thatcher are:

The Queen and Royal Family
The aristocracy
The House of Commons – including Labour
The House of Lords
Leaders of the financial system
The City of London
The Bank of England
Leaders of the Military
Leaders of the Police
The Media

This all adds up to the state machine that is there to defend capital in its drive for profit, no matter who or what it destroys in doing this.

Those who cannot bring themselves to oppose worship of Thatcherism trot out many lame excuses.

  • She rose from being a grocer’s daughter to the dizzy heights of becoming the PM.

Adolf Hitler rose from being a mere corporal in the German army of 1914-18 to lead the Nazi movement. Hitler too had thousands of supporters in Britain amongst the disillusioned working class, but mainly amongst the newspaper moguls, aristocracy and sections of the monarchy, including Edward VIII.

  • She won three consecutive elections

So too did Harold Wilson and Tony Blair

  • She introduced the right for tenants to buy council houses at give away prices

Yet this soon led to many young couples falling behind with mortgage payments as interest rates rocketed to end up losing their homes. Like a flock of vultures, property speculators were quick to take possession of the homes and then rent them out in the same way as the notorious Peter Rachman of the 1950s and 60s. Many thousands of former council homes have been  lost to the grubby housing racketeers. Because the properties were never replaced by affordable rental housing led to the present housing crisis in which landlords can drive up rents at will. Oh yes, this was a case of Thatcher the Snatcher, first schoolkids’ free milk then affordable housing

  • The miners’ strike of 1984 –85

Thatcher put members of the armed forces into police uniforms to bolster up the police who early on were made up of local police who probably met and even sympathised with miners in the local pubs before the strike. This weakness was soon spotted and police were bussed in from other counties and paid overtime rates for their thuggery.

At the Battle of Orgreave the police horseback charge consisted of non-local police plus the army in police uniform. The BBC were instructed to fiddle the police film coverage of the charge so that the News showed the miners charging the state forces followed by the horseback police charge – the reverse of the actual events. No prizes for anyone who says it was Thatcher who gave the instruction for doctoring that film

She had a paranoid hatred of the working class, especially when they started to stand up for their rights. And that paranoia and hatred was not only aimed at the miners it was for anyone who opposed her policies. She set out to destroy the organised working class and leave individuals to take on the State and big business alone.

Her fascination with US President Reagan can only be described as a depraved ideological love affair. She supported his arming what became Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and allowed British air bases to be used in the US bombing of Libyan civilians.

Among the most revealing of her political activities was to befriend Pinochet the ex-dictator of Chile, inviting him to Britain as “a guest of the government and the British people” when he was driven from power in 1990. Here he lived in luxury, although under house arrest, during his appeal against extradition to Chile where he was wanted for the massacre of thousands of political opponents. Even the children of those he slaughtered were hounded any who took them in would be immediately arrested or worse, except for those unfortunate enough to have been given to childless members of the Pinochet fascist state.

After she herself had been driven from power by Tory grandees Thatcher continued parading around with a fascist, a supporter of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler.

Then there are those who mistakenly thought she would fight for women’s rights who were quickly surprised to find that she was a very militant anti-feminist.

With the monarchy’s support for and attendance at Thatcher’s state funeral, the idea that monarchy is independent of politics and has no political allegiance has now been blown out of the water along with its cover as an integral part of the state.

There will be those out there who support the monarchy and at the same time support people like the miners and others in struggle. This outbreak of state-sponsored Thatcher worship will hopefully start to encourage people to think and read, and for preconceived ideas to start to change.

The fact that the monarchist slip is showing, points to their need to line-up with Thatcherite thinkers to defend their fortunes and way of life, and the capitalist system on which they depend.

Open Letter to Socialists and Communists: Events in the WRP in 1984-86

Alex Mitchell, a former member of the Political Committee of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and Editor of its daily newspaper Newsline, recently published his memoirs (Mitchell, A. 2012. Come the Revolution: A Memoir. NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, Australia. ISBN-13: 978-1742233079). The book appears 27 years after Mitchell ‘walked out of the party leadership and the editorship of the paper’ without any explanation to the membership, only to return in March 1985 for ‘re-integration’ once the 1984-85 miners’ strike was over. It remains a mystery as to why Mitchell delayed his political testament for so long, but the fact is he was back ‘in harness’ in time for events that explosively emerged in the WRP after 1 July 1985.

The last half of the book covers Mitchell’s time in the WRP when he became the principal confidante of the late Gerry Healy. Anyone active on the ‘Left’ of British and indeed international politics in the 1980s will know that the WRP atomized in late 1985 following its expulsion of Healy on 19 October 1985 for anti-communist activities, including psychological, physical and sexual abuse. In his book Mitchell repeats the lie, first widely circulated in 1985-86 by Ken Livingston and Vanessa Redgrave, that the split was the work of MI5 agents and claims that Healy was the victim of a frame-up based on fabricated evidence.

Despite the journalistic ease with which Mitchell had conducted previous investigations, for instance providing reams of ‘evidence’ concerning the murder of Leon Trotsky (How the GPU Murdered Trotsky: Security and the Fourth International, International Committee of the Fourth International, London, 1976), he has never backed up his accusations concerning the exposure of Healy with a shred of  fact. Since publication of his book, Mitchell has been challenged repeatedly to name names and cite his evidence but has so far refused to respond. What has happened in the last 27 years to his investigative talents regarding a matter that to him is obviously on a par with the assassination of Trotsky?

I wrote a less well-publicized account of life within the WRP, covering a considerably longer period (from 1954) than Mitchell’s book (Norman Harding, Staying Red: Why I remain a socialist Index Books, London (2005). ISBN-10: 1-871518-25-3).  I am a lifelong socialist, a delegate from the garment workers union to Leeds Trades Union Council and lifelong activist in the Leeds West and South Yorkshire tenants’ movements. I was active in CND took part in the first Aldermaston march and many more.

I not only witnessed at first hand the degeneration of the WRP under Healy but played a leading role from 1984-86 in the removal from the party of the man and his anti-communist politics and his sectarian and opportunist theoretical position that he bullied members to accept.

Simply because I told the truth, Staying Red anticipated Mitchell’s sensationalist re-opening of an attack on the comrades who organized the expulsion. It was clear to many comrades that the WRP was degenerating in many ways.  In practice it was for his sectarianism and opportunism that we threw out Healy and his cohorts

Mitchell’s book, especially Chapters 24-26, contains gross lies against those who fought on principle to rid the communist movement of Healyism. He chooses to focus on the matter of Healy’s sexual activities, seeking to establish that it was the result of a state-orchestrated frame-up. He also re-opens groundless accusations that the ‘frame-up’ was coordinated with a similarly inspired conspiracy to bankrupt the WRP and Newsline. The facts are very different.

Healy was not expelled just because he abused comrades but because of his degenerate political and theoretical position that was essentially anti-communist, indeed Stalinist in all respects.

What was insisted on at the time was that it was essential to understand the political reasons for Healy’s expulsion. When we accused Healy and his supporters of the sectarianism and opportunism that we threw out of the party along with him, it was not about ‘flesh and bone with bad habits’ but that he was anti-communist, and that it was committed communists who threw him out.

Why resurrect events of 27 years ago? It is not the case, as some have idly suggested, that the memory of 1984-86 will fade away with Healy and that his former supporters will slip down into a bog of collective forgetfulness. It is also much more than ‘setting the record straight’.

Opposing the break from communism and Marxism within the WRP’s leadership was historically necessary.  This political act should be firmly planted as part of the development of the historical struggle of the working class for the freeing of humanity from the barbarism of international capital. Without that act it could have become impossible for comrades to have made the major developments that they have achieved since 1985-86. They could have become part of the degeneration, suffered breakdowns, or abandoned politics and theoretical work completely. Because the deed was done, it ultimately strengthened a movement that was verging on being crippled in every sense.

Yes, Healy was barbaric and inhuman in his attitude to party members. But it is vital that today we recognize that it is the anti-communism of Healy and of his bagmen (and bag-women) like Mitchell that we are aiming at.

Better than any expensive court case, Chapter 16 (Uncovering and overcoming the horror: 1984 to 1986) of my book Staying Red not only refutes Mitchell’s lies but describes an object lesson in political degeneration and how to fight it. In it is the full report of the Control Commission to the Special Conference of the WRP held in late October 1985.

I invite all socialist and communist comrades to download Chapter 16 from https://stayingred.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/16.pdf and learn the lessons that I and many others did. By downloading the whole book at https://stayingred.wordpress.com/staying-red-pdfs/ you will probably understand still more!

Fraternal greetings

Norman Harding

THE BATTLE FOR SOCIALISM CONTINUES BUT NOT IN THE LABOUR PARTY

Norman Harding: December 2006

A hundred years ago hundreds of thousands of workers joined and campaigned for the Labour Party.  But when “their party” came to power it let them down.  It let them down in 1926 when it betrayed the General Strike.  When the workers came back from the war in 1945-6-7 the Labour Party once again let them down. This is a very important period to study to get an understanding of what the Labour Party represents.

In 1945 the workers in uniform came back to Britain and joined hands with the growing militancy of the working class. This unity brought about demands for change – ‘No return to the hungry thirties!’ The politicians recognised this development and decided that some concessions were necessary in order to put a brake on this growing demand for change.

The employing class needed changes to be made in order to develop their industries and the Labour Party needed to get the working class off their backs.  This led to the nationalisation of the coal mines and the railways.

Both sides recognised the importance of making the coal mines and transportation more efficient and safety conscious.  Private enterprise by its very nature could not do this.  So it was agreed, behind closed doors of course, that public money had to be used and that using public money for private profit would not be tolerated.

Nationalisation had to be the answer. What has to be understood and explained is that the Labour Government was only able to nationalise the coal mines and the railways with the agreement of the ruling class and their representatives in parliament. The deal was done by promising huge compensation payments to the old owners which they continued to receive for decades.

The National Health Service was also introduced as a sop to the workers and not because the Labour Party had any desire to do this in the name of socialism.  Once the pride of the working class the NHS is now being smashed before the altar of private profit by Blair and Brown’s ‘New’ Labour Government with its  relationship between  the capitalist state, and the Labour Government.

As the crisis of capitalism becomes deeper and hits the world’s governments, even the ‘crumbs from the rich man’s table’ aren’t there any more for the Labour Party to dispense to the workers.  The Labour Party is still fully committed to defend and support world capitalism and its continual need for greater profits and world domination.

The Labour Government is doing nothing different from what a Tory government would do.  For capitalism it is now necessary for them to claw back from the people all the reforms won in the past. So now it has to attack the working class, handing over to private enterprise our care, health, homes, and education along with all community institutions that are the requirements for everyday living. The defence of these community institutions and drawing them into a united whole is essential to the aim of building a genuine socialist welfare state.

Anyone in the Labour Party with an ounce of socialist principle in them, and there are many, has to fight Blair, Brown or whoever takes over in defence of the realm and world capital.

It is now a serious case of ‘stand up and be counted, speak up and fight for socialism’.  I know that there are socialist rank-and-file members in the Labour Party who will join the fight back.  This will mean openly taking on the Labour Government so that the public can see you and hear you.  This applies also to those who are in some position of leadership in the Labour Party: councillors, MPs, local party officers etc.

This will of course bring down the wrath of all parties on those daring and principled enough to take them on.  Expulsion can be the result but that will open the opportunity to take part in the struggle for socialism WITH the working class, free from the shackles of the anti-socialist Labour Party.

Those who are leaving the Conservative Party to join the Labour Party are doing so because they believe that their conservative principles are better represented by the Labour Party: on this point they are absolutely right. Such Tories are welcomed by New Labour and can be ‘parachuted’ into constituencies where a ready-made career may be waiting for them.  If such a Blairite is nominated in any area and is opposed by the local members the constituency concerned can be closed down or threatened with closure, as when Liz Davies was witch-hunted in North-East Leeds. This resulted in closure and expulsions.

No longer in any sense socialist, the Labour Party has ceased to be a party of the working class.  The role of the Labour Party now is to take over from the Conservative Party as the party of capital and private enterprise.  And all that it does is done within this context.

I have been told there are genuine socialists in the Labour Party.  Where was the opposition to Blair when on behalf of the Tories he quite happily pulled Clause 4 out of the constitution of the Labour Party.? It is worth reminding ourselves of what Clause 4 stated:

“To secure for all the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry of service.”

For those self-appointed ‘socialists’ in New Labour it is now well past the sell-by date. Let us have a demand to re-introduce Clause 4 around which the Labour Party was founded.  And then when you are expelled do not cry into your beer, come out and work amongst the working class and work in the community’s defending the attacks that are being made on all fronts of our welfare.

And leave the rest to rot with their anti-socialist alliance in the house of money lenders, rogues and vagabonds that is owned by the banks, big business, stock exchange, and above all serves the needs of  international  finance, capitalism and the capitalists who have the built-in need for profit. Such hidden alliances can be associated with the problems that we are witnessing all over the world.

Postscript, June 2012

Since this short piece was written, apart from the global debt crisis that unfolded in 2007-8 and is in the process of ripping apart the capitalist European Union and its currency, politically nothing has changed in Britain. Instead of a New Labour Government there is a Coalition of Tories and Lib-Dems, and many people find it hard to tell the difference except in a few nuances of dialogue yelled across the Commons: certainly not in policies. The 1997-2010 New Labour Government set the agenda that the ‘Boys’ Campbell, Osborne and Clegg are now following through seamlessly. Defeat for New Labour in 2010 inevitably meant a change in its leadership, fought through between the Brothers Miliband and Ed Balls. New Labour’s Opposition Front Bench is now apparently led on the basis that ‘two Eds are better than one’, with not a shred of real socialist policy, despite Ed Miliband’s having been touted as ‘the choice of the Left and the Unions’.

For socialists still in the Labour Party it is clearly time for a shake-up, even if it leads to their being shaken out. Those who show real principle and commitment will find a warm welcome in the growing community organisations needed to defend the gains of the past and fight for those of the future.

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