Conrad’s ‘Thatcher in history’ (April 18) is an excellent
overview and general analysis of the period, but, astonishingly and
disappointingly for a publication like the Weekly Worker, is
partially spoiled by that oft-repeated and old reactionary trope,
“Scargill refused to ballot the members”.
simply isn’t true at all, as there was no requirement to have a
national ballot. In effect, there never really was a national strike.
Under Rule 41 each locale conducted its own democratic vote and asked
the executive for permission to strike. Area by area voted to strike,
was given permission by the NEC, and then came out across the country
in support. It was actually a series of rolling regional strikes;
they were balloted and implemented not only in accordance with
internal NUM policy, but also entirely in accordance with the law, as
it stood at that time, and also by the honourable and
long-established tactic of picketing men out.
the white-hot and furious debates that raged all over the coalfields,
with thousands of rank-and-file miners packing out welfares and clubs
to discuss the way forward, was substantive, living, breathing
democracy in action. Of course, the bosses love secret ballots:
atomised, isolated workers, gleaning only such information as is
provided by the capitalist media, and voting on their own, away from
debate and exchange and exposure to other ideas from their comrades.
We should have no business in playing into that narrative. From my
personal experience at the time, as a young, 17-year-old activist,
and from all my research since, one thing has remained unchanged; the
national ballot was a complete red herring and one with which
workers’ organisations should have had no truck, once the dye had
been cast and the miners had voted with their feet.
for Scargill, the national executive committee were obliged to vote
‘yes’ or ‘no’ to officially endorse the strike and, on the
day of the special delegate conference (at which Arthur didn’t even
vote because he was chairing the meeting), not only was the vote in
favour of declaring the strike official, but the NUM’s Sheffield HQ
was surrounded by about 4,000 miners already on strike and just
itching to lynch the leadership if they’d voted ‘no’. The
chants of “Shove your ballot up your arse” left no-one in any
doubt that the rank and file were calling the shots and, at that
time, there was a widespread (although clearly mistaken) suspicion
that the leadership were preparing a sell-out.
from the Tory lies, which painted miners as clueless dupes of evil
Arthur, he was only ever the reflection, embodiment and manifestation
of what the overwhelming majority of the rank and file wanted. Far
from Arthur screwing them out of a vote, they’d already voted -
with their feet! They’d have ousted Scargill in no time if he’d
refused to back his striking members.
somewhat ironic that the article takes to task the ‘great man (or
woman)’ theory of history and yet here we have Scargill, one man,
being blamed, yet again, for the loss of the strike. Yes, there were
tactical errors and, certainly, as a tactic, some argued it might
well have been politic to arrange a national ballot, but the majority
of the rank and file felt they’d already had plenty of votes and
had a mandate and a half for their course of action. Apart from that,
there was also the widespread belief that such a device was merely a
‘scab’s charter’ and would only gift the Nottinghamshire
traitors an excuse to vote their fellow NUM members out of their
sure your regular contributor, Dave Douglass, can provide a much more
accurate and informative response on this question than me, but I’m
sure Dave would be the first to agree that the miners were easily the
most militant and class-conscious set of workers anywhere in the
country and they were no-one’s fools. While Scargill, at that time,
was an outstanding working class leader who stood head and shoulders
above his peers, almost without exception all accounts of the period
totally underestimate how influential and how much the direction,
nature and flavour of the struggle was decided and led by the rank
question and other mistakenly held views of the strike are all
addressed in my forthcoming book on the strike in Nottingham, Look
back in anger: the miners’ strike In Nottingham 30 years on,
which comes out via Five Leaves Publishing in March next year.
the end of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, I must have given eight
hour-long lectures at CPGB events. Indeed the CPGB recorded and
posted online an almost two-hour session at the Communist University,
including the questions and discussions. I have sold dozens of copies
of my book Ghost dancers, which is a comprehensive history of
the last generation of the miners and goes into microscopic detail of
the features of the Great Strike and explodes great myths and general
academic misinformation. Mark Fischer even presided over the purchase
of copies of my book for the CPGB bookstall. So to say that I was
grossly disappointed by Jack Conrad’s exposition in last week’s
paper would be an understatement, as he clearly didn’t listen,
didn’t watch or didn’t read any of this, as he ploughed on
repeating a number of the key myths.
did not “refuse to ballot the members”. That decision was not
Scargill’s; it was the national conference’s of April 19 1984, at
which every branch of the union and virtually every member of those
branches voted and mandated areas. There were seven resolutions
debated, seven resolutions proposed and seconded. Scargill did not
speak in support or against any of them because he was in the chair.
He didn’t vote on any of them. So when there was an exhaustive vote
- ie, you could vote in turn on all the options, so had seven
votes on seven resolutions, one after the other - the decision was
taken not to have a ballot. The reasons for this decision are
explored in great depth in my book.
the cheap shot about George Bolton and exemptions for Scottish coal
going to Scottish steel is just such a distortion of the truth, I
simply say, read my book, Jack. It wasn’t just Scotland, but all
steel works granted enough coke to keep the furnace walls warm and
intact. The quid quo pro was they agreed not to produce steel.
That agreement held and the steel industry was tied down with a small
concession to the survival of the plants and our own coal markets.
Scargill, in a monumentally short-sighted decision, wrested control
for these exemptions from the planning committees in the areas and
stopped the exemptions. This led directly to the scab operation at
Orgreave, us losing focus on the scab areas and wharfs, and the
collapse of solidarity action by steel workers and sections of the
I recommend to Jack and other comrades in the CPGB, in order that
their analysis doesn’t continue to suffer from such gross
misunderstanding and misrepresentations, that they buy a copy of my
for £8, including the postage, or off your own bookstall if you
still have any, or watch your own education school online.
feel I must also comment on the fatal predeterminism in Jack’s
prediction that, without Thatcher, the miners (and presumably our
militant working class allies) could have defeated the state
offensive to break the NUM as the central stump of working class
resistance. But, had we won, they would have come back with even more
grim determination. It is not necessarily the case that that
particular brand of neocon free-market Toryism could have been broken
here and set a trend for worldwide workers’ offensives against it.
That society could have started to march in the opposite direction to
it is the sheer negativity of such a proposition that gets me.
Imagine our Jack at a branch meeting, convincing workers: ‘We can
take on the employers’ offensive, we can fight, die, bleed, starve
and be jailed and watch our children and communities take the full
force of the state’s wrath, and we can win … for now. But then
they will come back even harder and more determined next time. All
those in favour of strike action?’ I think that sort of prediction
would have workers flinging their caps on the gaffer’s table and
taking what they could, while others would quietly cut their wrists
in the corner. Perhaps the CPGB should adopt the old Tiswas
‘Bucket of water song’ as an anthem.
we can fight, aye, but we will always lose until the working class
worldwide synchronises their watches and launches a simultaneous,
worldwide revolution, which will have to be led by the Communist
Party (our particular brand of Communist Party, with our analysis),
or we’re all doomed. Doomed, I tell ye!
Conrad’s article on Thatcher suffers from both bad logic and bad
history. He writes: “It [welfarism and Keynesianism] was a
combination of the post-World War II boom, the
power of the working class and the existence of the USSR as an
ideological rival to capitalism.” But also: “The USSR had run out
of workers ... There was no surplus labour to tap into … Nor was
there any possibility of constantly revolutionising the means of
production. Under those circumstances it could be predicted with
certainty that the Soviet Union had to collapse.”
which of these incorrect arguments does Jack want us to accept,
because he can’t logically ask us to accept both at the same time?
Mike Macnair has also put forward a similar argument in the past, but
either welfarism was, at least in part, due to workers looking to a
USSR that provided them with an attractive view of an alternative
society, to such an extent that capital was so scared that it had to
buy them off, or else the USSR was a bankrupt dead end that could
offer no attractive alternative for western workers to look to, and
so no reason why capital should make any such concessions to them;
especially the kind of concessions that for all intents and purposes
looked like the bankrupt system of the USSR - ie, top-down,
bureaucratic and inefficient, statised industry, and widespread
welfarism as an alternative to workers having decent jobs.
the history is bad too, on several counts. Firstly, welfarism cannot
be argued to have been a means of buying off workers, for whatever
reason, because it has existed in all developed countries, including
the United States, for much longer than either the USSR or any
ability of workers to force capital to introduce it as some form of
concession, even if that were possible, which, according to Marx, it
isn’t. The 19th century proponents of free education in the US and
the creators of the German national insurance scheme, at the same
time, did not do so out of fear of the USSR or because they were
forced to do so by powerful trades unions, but because such measures
were an efficient means of reproducing the labour-power they needed.
It was the same motivation that led the representatives of capital,
like Neville Chamberlain, to propose similar welfarist methods in
Britain, in the 1920s, as well as the Liberals to propose them at the
beginning of that century.
I am certainly no defender of state socialism, and even less so of
Stalinism, I think Jack’s account is not sustainable. The USSR and
other such states most certainly had not run out of workers. In fact,
these societies suffered from chronic underemployment, as one means
of hiding large-scale unemployment! That, together with the fact that
they had huge welfarist systems that the productive capacity of the
economy could not sustain, is one reason they collapsed. In the
Stalinist states those policies were implemented because it was the
means by which the bureaucracy did buy off the workers, a
means of resolving the contradiction that those workers were the
‘ruling class’, and yet control was in the hands of the
Jack’s account of the Soviet economy is also unsustainable. For an
economy that could not revolutionise the means of production, they
seemed to do a pretty good job of it. In 1905, Russia was heavily
defeated by Japan. In 1914, the Russian military could not even
supply its forces with enough rifles and ammunition. By 1941, the
USSR had seen off the Japanese in the largest tank battle ever, to
such an extent that Japan decided it was easier to attack the US
rather than USSR. That freed up the USSR eastern flank, enabling them
to send troops and equipment to the western front. After 1939,
Germany, as the world’s most advanced military-economic power, had
rolled over western Europe and defeated Britain in every encounter.
Britain was penned up, and probably only survived because Hitler held
out hopes of a peace deal with Halifax. The USSR essentially stood
alone. The defeat of the Germans outside Moscow in December 1941 was
the turning point of the war. From then on, the USSR essentially kept
pushing Germany back, despite German temporary advances, such as that
which led to the Battle of Stalingrad.
USSR overall had better technology in respect of its tanks and other
military equipment, including aircraft. That is despite the criminal
mistakes of Stalin that led to the USSR initially losing 25% of its
agricultural and industrial production.
World War II, the USSR lost 30 million people, mostly of working age,
and suffered incredible damage to its economy and productive
capacity. By contrast, the US lost just 300,000 people and suffered
no attacks on its territory. Instead it was able to use the war to
build up its industrial capacity. Yet despite that, by the 1950s, the
USSR had gone, in the space of 25 years, from essentially a peasant
economy to the world’s second superpower. By the 1950s, it led in
space, and western economies genuinely did fear that they would be
overtaken economically. That could not have been done under those
conditions without revolutionising the means of production at a
that process hit limits, but those limits were limits associated with
a system of detailed planning, in relation to a modern, complex
economy, and the needs of consumer, as opposed to producer, goods
production - limits that cannot be resolved simply by replacing
bureaucratic by ‘democratic’ planning. In fact, China has
retained large-scale state ownership and control, but combined it
with the kind of policy of NEP and foreign investment that Lenin
proposed, and avoided many of those problems. It has created other
problems as a result.
Conrad’s article on the ‘Grantham market mama’ and her place in
history was full of useful insights, but I have a couple of questions
concerning points where a bit more information would have helped.
exactly was the poll tax “designed to ensure that, if a left Labour
administration were elected, local voters would be penalised
that it was the issue of the European Union that caused the lady’s
exit from the premiership, why was her stance of agreeing to the
Maastricht treaty, whilst opposing further centralisation and
demanding a UK contribution refund, not ultimately acceptable to the
Tories, seeing that it appeared to straddle the gulf between the
zealots and the sceptics in their ranks?
Parker’s article, ‘Explicable politics of extremism’ (April
11), on the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager of Sunderland FC
hit a dangerously complacent note.
is true that we do not want the state to have any powers over which
ideas are legitimate, which is why communists should oppose the law
banning British National Party members from certain professions. But
Parker, perhaps bending the stick against the left’s shrill
moralism, ends up patronising both football supporters and Di Canio
himself. It is “actually positive” that some supporters have
expressed outrage at the appointment - no doubt those working class
football fans who object to their new ‘sieg-heiling’ manager are
glad to have his approval.
they are wrong to protest, apparently, and should stop taking things
so darn seriously. Di Canio’s justification for such salutes - that
it created a sense of belonging between him and Lazio fans - is
accepted uncritically. Di Canio is a ‘sensible chap’ for denying
fascist ideas now and, though he has admitted them before, he also
said that he was not a racist. So that’s OK then. The reason why
such a salute has resonance with sections of the club’s supporters,
and what it represents, is unimportant.
quotes Di Canio to try and prove that his behaviour is simply a
matter of connecting with the fans. Whilst it is true that the
Sunderland manager is clearly no fascist theoretician, Parker cannot
see the wood for the trees in this very quote. The “true values of
civility” against “the standardisation of society” is precisely
the sort of appealing but empty rhetoric employed by the far right
when attacking the alienation and hypocrisy inherent in ‘liberal’
capitalism. Of course, fascism has always pushed itself as
representing the interests of the workers, and the last hope of human
solidarity in the face of a crisis-ridden society.
bitter over the failure of the British left to implant itself in the
class, Parker fawns over any display of working class collectivity
and belonging, and the politics cease to matter. In so doing he
actually ends up buttressing the false notion that ‘politics and
football don’t mix’ and that stadiums ‘can offer a set of magic
resolutions that are set apart from society’.
main thoughts, in terms of Mike Macnair’s arguments against
‘secrecy’, is that they rely heavily on a comparison between a
judicial system and left organisation hearings (‘Bureaucratic
“justice” and dealing with sex assault cases’, April 18).
the arguments put forward in Hannah Sell’s statement make
comparisons - more relevant in my view - to employer disciplinary
processes (and, I would suggest, in hearings organised by the main
political parties and trade unions). These, of course, are secret and
often even the exact outcome is not reported.
think the issue of witnesses is also relevant in this argument - as
in a judicial process witnesses can be required to attend. In the
case of left organisations such a requirement is not possible, and it
is seldom a requirement in employer cases - even when the witness is
another employee. Or I should say it is seldom a requirement in terms
of defence witnesses. When an allegation relates to a conduct issue
involving a child, the child would never be called (although an
interview might be held and reported to the hearing).
can also envisage that some people would be less than comfortable
arguing the detail of what did or didn’t happen in a sexual assault
case, in an open hearing. Thus I am not sure that the secrecy issue
(probably the main point of argument) has quite the weight the
article puts forward.
Man to man
Who knew the letters page of the Weekly Worker would be such a
great place to find a real man? Both Tony Clark and Dave Douglass
advertise themselves as alpha-males (April 11). But I’m sure what
all readers are now wondering is, who’s more alpha? Maybe the left
should arrange a no-holds-barred mixed martial arts tournament on a
remote island to select the right leadership who can take us forward
together. Perhaps, as Dave appears to suggest in his bizarre baboon
tale, some sort of IQ test would be more appropriate.
- I don’t know, it’s just an idea - we could encourage all to be
leaders and start taking responsibility for the tasks ahead, instead
of divesting our will onto some fantasy leadership and using the
behaviour of lower orders of animals to excuse it.
inclined to believe there is (and always has been - even among
Marxist revolutionaries) considerable disparity between what is said
(and believed) by both male and female comrades, in theory, and
their practice, in everyday life and within their political
organisations, when it comes to the aspired basic equality between
men and women.
Socialist Workers Party’s ‘comrade Delta’ issue, currently a
regular discussion topic in the Weekly Worker, is surely just
the latest manifestation of what has always been the situation in
self-styled ‘revolutionary’ groupings; lots of speeches endorsing
gender equalities, even an occasional female representing the members
at higher levels, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty aspects of
party work, leadership in theory and practice, it’s the males who
tend to take on the ‘alpha’ roles. Certainly that was the case in
the 1950s: I never attended a weekly meeting, held in homes of
numerous party members, where tea and cakes weren’t prepared
and delivered by the hostess! I’d like to think that
application of this ‘rule of thumb’ measurement no longer applies
at CPGB meetings.
Henry Mitchell propagates mythology when he assumes feminism was
“well understood ... in the days of Marx and Engels” (Letters,
April 18). Other readers who subscribe to myths of this kind should
look at the two paragraphs Marx wrote to Paul Lafargue - aspiring
suitor to Marx’s daughter, Laura - in August 1866: “If you wish
to continue your relations with my daughter, you will have to give up
your present manner of ‘courting’ … The practice of excessive
intimacy is especially inappropriate … To my mind, true love
expresses itself in reticence, modesty and even the shyness of the
lover towards his object of veneration …”
letter demonstrates the extent to which even he conformed (even
accepted?) gender convention. I bet he would have happily
participated in today’s discussion.
news in the fight against the victimisation of longstanding trade
union activist Lee Rock: 62% of PCS members in the Sheffield contact
centre voted to go on strike against his unfair dismissal. At 45%,
turnout was slightly better than expected.
am very pleased with the result,” says Lee. “It’s difficult to
get people to make the connection between the dismissal of one man
and the fact that this was an attack not on me as an individual
worker, but as a trade union activist. Why else could there have been
reference to my trade union work in my referral to dismissal? Why
else would my case have been handled so differently to other, similar
his PCS branch in Sheffield writes, “This is excellent news and
shows that the members here are not swallowing the spin Sheffield
contact centre management are trying to feed us about this being
‘just like any other managing attendance case’. It is not: it is
an attack on union members as a whole and rest assured that, if we
lose this fight, it will be much easier to attack union members and
reps with the most spurious of excuses in future.”
members’ meeting later in the week will now discuss on what date
the strike will take place. “Judging by the experience of similar
actions, we expect about 90% of PCS members to follow our call for
strike action on the day,” says Lee.
is available on the branch website:
you for your message of support (‘Message to ISN’, April 18). As
I am sure you will appreciate, we are still establishing ourselves as
an organisation, and are not yet in a position to respond in detail
to such requests. We will be raising your request at our next
steering committee meeting, and will hopefully get back to you after
International Socialist Network