Bill Hunter’s Archives: Bill Hunter is 92 years of age, for 73 years he fought for Trotskysm and still does. In this is lively account Bill tells how Trotskyism developed when Khrushchev (partially) revealed the role of Stalin and Stalinism in destroying the heritage of Leninism. Taken from the Workers Press 4 October 1986. The first part appeared in Socialist Voice September 2012.
Communist Party members awoke to the shock of revealing ‘mass repression’ and ‘barbaric tortures’. They had to read of ‘indignation in the hall’ as the Twentieth Congress was told of the 17th Party Congress which took place in 1934.
Of the 139 members and candidates of the party’s Central Committee who were elected at the 17th Congress, 98 people (70 per cent) were arrested and shot, mostly in 1937/38.
Of 1,966 delegates with either voting or advisory rights, no less than 1,108 were later arrested on charges of antirevolutionary crimes — an overwhelming majority.
Communist Party members were reeling in anger and dismay, their whole world turned upside down.
Ten feet tall, we knocked on their doors, with Revolution Betrayed in one hand, a leaflet with the pictures of Lenin’s Central Committee in the other hand, all but a handful of whom were destroyed by Stalin.
We were determined they should hear about the Left Opposition and Trotsky and the roots of the Stalinist crisis.
‘Treat a Trotskyist as you would a Nazi: Clear out Hitler’s Agents’ (1942). ‘The despicable agent provocateur, the tool of the enemy who worms his way into progressive movements in order to create disunity and incite illegal acts.’ (1944.)
The Communist Party in Britain had tried to mount a witch-hunting pogrom against the Trotskyists.
Now we went in with confidence everywhere, keeping a close watch on the Daily Worker, following through all critical letters, all the names we heard of people who spoke up.
We distributed leaflets at all meetings, internal and public.
In the attempt to make a breakthrough we would interrupt the Communist Party leaders trying to excuse away Stalin and the repression in the Soviet Union. We interrupted Gollan from the gallery of the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, as he lost his vigorous style of speaking and droned on. “Where were you, Gollan? Tell them what you knew Gollan.
“What about Rose Cohen, Gollan?” Rose Cohen was a relative of Gollan who disappeared in the Soviet Union when her husband — who had worked with Pollit and CP leaders in Britain — was framed up and executed.
Our very first recruit was a long-time member of the CP, Frank Parkinson. We had distributed leaflets at a Merseyside aggregate of the Communist Party — I believe, at that time, the CP claimed a membership of 750 on Merseyside.
This old man — he was just over 60 and seemed old to me at the time — came stumping down the stairs of the Walton Cooperative Hall and said to me: “I’m finished with that shower; where do you live, I’ll call and see you.”
He became a staunch member of ours; about ten years later he collapsed while distributing the Newsletter to old age pensioners who had allotments near his, and died soon after.
The opposition which developed in the Communist Party and was highly critical of the leadership’s attempts to explain away the repression and anti-socialist crimes in the Soviet Union, divided broadly into two tendencies.
There were those who were moving to social democracy and beyond, who generally accepted the right opportunist, ‘people’s front’ aspects of Stalinist policy, and the parliamentary and British road to socialism. They put forward ideas, later described as Euro Communism, which essentially accepted bourgeois ideology on democracy and the state.
This tendency coalesced mainly around the New Reasoner and later, University and Left Review.
The other stream strove to understand the degeneration and corruption they now had to face in terms of communist struggle, in terms of the Marxist teaching they had sought in the Communist Party.
Of course, it would be very wrong to put rigid boundaries on these definitions.
Both tendencies had a genuine thirst for the truth behind Khrushchev’s revelations, as can for example be seen from some of the work of those around the New Reasoner group as well as those who moved to Trotskyism.
Our aim was always to encourage the movement of the discussion to fundamentals.
We were convinced that only those would really understand the Soviet Union and its degeneration who built on the struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition.
In a sense, all the oppositions to Stalinism can only make a real step forward if they make that struggle their own.
Is it necessary to say that does not mean accepting it as correct in every detail?
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx described Communists as representing the future in the present and we saw this as our task in relation to the opposition to Stalinism.
Here was represented the stirrings of political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy. We brought out the fundamental questions this revolution must solve.
In the words of James P. Cannon speaking on the death of the Stalin cult on March 9. 1956, “The goal of this revolution is the unconditional repudiation of the Stalinist theory of ‘socialism in one country’ which was the motivation of all the crimes and betrayals, and the re-affirmation of the Lenin-Trotsky programme of proletarian internationalism; the overthrow of the Stalinist police-state in the Soviet Union and the restoration of Soviet democracy; the abolition of the privileged caste: a complete review of the frame-up trials and purges and a vindication of their victims.
These are the demands and the programme of the political revolution in the Soviet Union.”
As soon as we possibly could — by February, 1957 — we reprinted this speech of Cannon together with Khrushchev’s speech to the Twentieth Congress.
Also, in this little book, The 20th Congress and World Trotskyism: A documented analysis, we published 18 documents circulated privately at the Twentieth Congress.
These included Lenin’s letters on the national question — one asking Trotsky to take up the case of Georgia against Stalin and zerzhinsky, in March 1923.
Here also was Lenin’s ‘Testament’.
All these documents had been denounced viciously by Stalinists in the past as part of the Trotskyist arsenal of fabrications and slanderous lies spread by anti-Soviet elements.
In Liverpool we won the active members of the YCL. Two young miners in the Trotskyist group were working at Cronton pit on the outskirts of Liverpool.
They were discussing with a member of the YCL, John Connor, a plumber who had opted to become a miner when he was called up for his ‘national service’. Through him we made contact with other members of the YCL in Liverpool.
Copies of Revolution Betrayed and Trotsky’s In Defence of Marxism circulated around until they were falling to pieces. These YCLers wanted to discuss everything — the history of the Left Opposition, socialism in one country, Communist Party history, the Internationals, the trade unions, the Labour Party.
The entire active membership of the Granby branch of the YCL quickly became Trotskyists. as well as others throughout Liverpool and the Thompson brothers in Wigan, one of whom was a member of the National Committee of the YCL. We won a group of CP building workers as well.
After the revelations of Khrushchev came the Hungarian Revolution. The YCL Congress was in the middle of it. There was already an opposition to YCL policies. particularly its line of ‘cut the call up’.
The opposition demanded an outright campaign against conscription. Hungary exposed the complete insincerity of the party leadership’s condemnation of Stalin’s crimes.
First came the slanders of workers and students, the smearing by these leaders and the Daily Worker of the spontaneous eruption as a counter-revolution instigated by fascists.
Then, when Soviet troops began to withdraw it became according to them an uprising with genuine grievances.
Finally, after a few short days. When Kadar treacherously announced his ‘Workers and Peasants Government’ with no support and Soviet troops moved back to crush the revolution. there came the sophisticated arguments.
Yes, there had been very grave crimes against the Hungarian people. Yes, there were very genuine grievances. Yes, perhaps. the first Soviet intervention had been a blunder and had encouraged nationalism.
But now there were sinister elements able to exploit the situation. The Soviet Union now had no alternative but to send in its troops otherwise all the socialist gains could be lost. It was an educative time.
French and British imperialism launched the invasion of Egypt.
It was clear that there was agreement between the Soviet bureaucracy and these imperialist governments to look the other way while each other’s invasion forces advanced.
There was a big feeling against the Suez War in the Liverpool Labour movement and, together with youth from the YCL, we sold enormous amounts of the Trotskyist pamphlet on the Suez crisis, particularly around Labour clubs.
That activity itself spurred forward the discussions on Trotskyism and Stalinism.