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Dear comrades of ‘Tierra y Libertad’,
In your issue of 25.10.44, you address an enquiry to the international militants. I trust that this reply will reach you in good time. We have been so isolated from our comrades abroad during the war that I think that what is generally the attitude of militants in this country will be of interest to you.
1. (a) So far as the British people as a whole are concerned, their attitude to the war has been largely conditioned by patriotism with some leavening of social-democracy. The latter evaporates as the war goes on since the Labour Party sheds its socialist demagogy which has largely contributed to it, in order to follow the Vansittartite line (anti-German, not anti-nazi) or the pure-and-simple Churchill line, only those out of office remaining demagogues. Hence no mass party represents any socialist line even insincerely.
[On] the other hand there is a distinct “leftward” swing in British thought. Especially amongst the Forces, where criticism is very deep, and a good deal of dissatisfaction expressed with inequalities and post-War prospects. It is vague and undefined and represents something that may find revolutionary expression after the war. A minority think along lines sympathetic to our ideas. With regard to the organised workers, there is more socialist influence but largely regimented into trade union, Labour Party or sometimes Communist influence. Nevertheless, so many unofficial mass strikes have taken place, against those people’s advice and sometimes directly against them themselves, that one can say there is a distinct cleavage growing between the masses of workers and their union leaders whom they themselves subsidise but who invariably without exception support the Government and the employers. A minority, particularly in some areas such as Glasgow, swing towards our ideas.
We do not think the end of the war will make a lot of difference to the convictions and beliefs of the people of this country, but the economic depression and unemployment will be precursors of wide dissatisfaction. The continuation of war-time regimentation will also intensify the libertarian trends as a reaction to authoritarianism.
Old-established Conservative traditions have been broken, at any rate amongst the workers, by the Conservative record of pro-fascism, and the left socialists make propaganda simply by reproducing Conservative pre-war speeches. The selling of arms to Germany and Japan up to the time of war is another thing that reacts badly on the Tory leaders and capitalist class. The Liberal Party is disappearing, being little more today than an electorial arrangement to get business-men into parliament. It has no influence. The Labour Party has a good deal of influence and may be the next Government, if it splits with Churchill’s Cabinet. It will not be “progressive”, but is pledged to continuance of much war-time restriction. It is losing a good deal of influence amongst revolutionary workers for its association with the Tories, but to the masses it appears a socialist solution. Labour Governments exist in New Zealand and Australia, and these continue capitalism with little difference, as will a British Labour Government, which will in addition be pledged to the maintenance of the British Empire (India and the colonies). The Communist Party cashes in on the sympathy for Russia. It has lost its old revolutionary support but is /
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but is dangerously strong, but recruits its members from the bourgeoisie, especially those in industry “for the duration”. The large Fascist party and dissident Fascist groups disappeared with their illegalisation in 1940. They still have supporters but are not strong at all: though they may revive under another name with right-wing Conservative support, when it is safe to do so. Many left socialist parties exist - the Independent Labour Party, once a major party, now is reduced to a very small fraction with dissident groups within it. The Trotskyists may become influential - they have had much publicity. The other Marxist parties are of no importance, except Common Wealth, a [Mi]ddle-class Socialist organisation which fights bye-elections in war-time but will fold up when Labour leaves the Coalition.
I deal with Anarchist propaganda later, but you will see from this survey what are the general beliefs here in war-time. One must not minimise the influence Churchill has built for himself, and he might well become the ‘Leader’ in peace as in war. The Coalition Government has much support, and politically is strong. Economically, there is a certain working-class opposition, which may crystallise. The end of the way may hasten this crystallisation, and produce a revolutionary movement.
(b) Economically there is a swing to our ideas. It is generally believed (and officially stated) that we shall have a totalitarian state after the war, though assurances of liberal politics (free speech, and etc.) are given. Few political parties oppose the idea. There will be peace-time military conscription (as on the Continent, but viewed with repugnance here). There will be Industrial conscription as now - workers not free to choose their jobs or homes, not being able to change their jobs, subject to imprisonment for being late or staying away from work or for not working properly, and strikes will be illegal. Against the combined forces of employers, State, trade union officials, political parties, Press and radio, there have been mass strikes in war-time, and this can only be accentuated in peace-time, when the bogey of production cannot be made. This leads us to believe there is a need for an anarcho-syndicalist movement which could be created out of the mass movements [which] spring up to fight the industrial battles against the total state.
(c). The Government is a coalition of Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals. In the post-war period the Labour left, Common Wealth, and etc., urge a split with the coalition and for Labour to fight an independent election. But as the chief members of the Government are in the present Coalition (Bevin, Morrison, Attlee) and are responsible for it, there will be little difference. At the next Election we shall be the only movement opposing parliamentary activity; hence the only working-class movement not splitting the vote and urging left unity!
2. There ought to be no difficulty in propagating Anarchism after the war. I am of course only speaking from experience in this country, and conditions may be different elsewhere, but it seems on the contrary that our propaganda if made vigorously and clearing is welcomed. Even during the war, in spite of all sorts of restrictions and disabilities one could go into at length, we have not found any difficulty from the point of view of people’s reception to our ideas. Despite everything[:] paper rationing that limits our scope, the burning of our bookshop and store of pamphlets in the Blitz, the imprisonment of many comrades, the absence of many in the Forces, and all the various tribulations of past years, we have gone right ahead and increased our influence many times. For many years the Anarchist movement here was very much behind any other country. Since the war the position has altered very much.
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Our fortnightly paper “War Commentary” has a wide influence, and could come out much more frequently than fortnightly were it not for the paper rationing. We are optimistic enough to think in terms of a daily paper when paper rationing is ended, should that time ever come! Our books and pamphlets are sold out in a very short time after appearing, and Freedom Press has probably published a wider range of classical and new literature on Anarchism than any other Anarchist pre[ss], during the war. Freedom Press also distributed the literary review “Now”. Amongst the most important books it has published is the Centenary Selection of Kropotkin’s writings, being extracts from all his books on Anarchism, an impressive book of 150 pages, with an introduction by Herbert Read, one of the leading English art critics and poets, who has also written several books on Anarchism.
Thus you will see that if our influence can be extended in this manner during the war, there seems no difficulty in doing so afterwards. It is true that free speech has been possible up to the present in England, but the recent news from our Italian comrades in keeping alive the movement during the fascist terror and re-creating it anew sh[o]ws surely that our movement is virile enough to survive anything.
The only drawback we have ever found - and here one must speak frankly - has been the inexplicable attitude of certain militants to the issues of the present day. It was extraordinary to read in some papers from America, the defence of Allied Imperialism by Rudolf Rocker, or the stand of others on the war issue. One ‘Left’ paper [The Word, (handwritten annotation)] here indeed specialises in attacking our movement solely because of the position such people have taken, and we ourselves frankly feel it a disgrace. We detest Nazism and will fight against any dictatorship, but not in alliance with the oppressors of the colonial peoples and our own jailers. We consider ourselves wholly divorced from those who forsook the movement in the present crisis. We do not want unity with them, at the expense of principle. Fortunately, such people are absent from our own groups: those few who exist we do not associate with and do not publicise. We are glad that generally speaking the Anarchist movement internationally is with us on this issue.
3.(a) The workers’ movement generally varies from country to country, and it may be that in Latin countries there is more of a tendency to decentralisation. In this country it is wholly centralist, wholly reformist, and since the war wholly pro-Government. Ever since the General Strike of 1926 all strikes have been “unofficial” (not recognised by the unions) and today are usually “illegal” (not recognised by the Government). The unions are not only centralised, they associate with the State machinery, and most officials sit on all sorts of Government tribunals. Ernest Bevin, who as Minister of Labour is responsible for anti-labour legislation, is a trade union chief of standing. The unions are becoming institutions divorced from the workers, who have been often on strike not only against the employers but also against the union leaders. Hence we, with reason, can oppose the organised workers’ movement and stand for a new movement. In the places of work there has been a healthy decentralist movement in the “shop stewards’ movement” (similar to the council or soviet system of organisation), but since the war this has been dominated by Stalinists. We oppose them in the factories and endeavour to remove C.P. stewards from office. Their stewards associate with the bosses on joint-production committees. We stand for independent committees not associated with the bosses. One must mention also that [t]here have been breakaway tendencies in the labour movement, but these have become reformist usually. One split however, amongst the Scottish dockers, has been revolutionary and on syndicalist lines. Our programme
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in industry is in opposition to the trade unions, and the creation of anarcho-syndicalist unions, based not on decrees from the top, but from the spontaneous creation of committees on the job, without paid officials and without party control. We do not think anarchism should be absorbed by syndicalism but believe that the workers will be prepared to create a revolutionary syndicalist movement, based on the organs of struggle they are gradually creating, and in which we can function as anarchists.
(b) Experience has taught us that we cannot associate with thos[e] who will stab us in the back. Hence, unity with Stalinists is impossible. We have come to much the same conclusion regarding the Trotskyists. Although we defended the four Trotskyists recently imprisoned by the Government on an alleged breach of the labour laws, this was solely on a question of free speech, and we are not prepared to associate with them otherwise. Since they believe in dictatorship, no question of co-operation can be possible. We cannot of course co-operate with the imperialists and it means there is only the socialists who do not support dictatorship. Omitting the pure and simple careerists, there are so few left, that it is hardly worth worrying about unity with them. At the same time, this is not to be meant as a defence of sectari[an]ism. There are some sincere people with whom we can collaborate. There are some socialists who are revolutionary and libertarian, and can be considered as comrades. But one doesn’t need to make a principle of left unity. If we press forward with ou[r] own aims such people are usually prepared to co-operate on some issues. But I do not think we should compromise our principles as an endeavour to persuade them to, since if they are sincere they would prefer us to be honest. Our experience confirms this. Our aims and ideas need to be clear-cut. If we hide under the name of libertarian socialist which means nothing we shall mean nothing.
(c) Capitalis[m] cannot offer socialist solutions though it may offer socialist phrases. Perhaps the popular chorus of praise for the Beveridge Plan here reached you. It is a system of social insurance which is just a question of paying in benefit in the event of sickness or unemployment (for a certain time) out of money one is compelled to contribute when working. It is not socialism but a swindle. The other plan offered involves State direction of labour. That is not socialism but slavery. British capitalism offers as a safety valve not more or less socialist solutions but more or less socialist politicians! They still administer capitalism.
(d) surely our experiences of the last few years confirm the Anarchist position? One feels suspicious that those who want to alter them merely want to cover up their own treachery to the principles of Anarchism. What do we need to revise? Our opposition to dictatorship? Alas, this has been borne out a thousandfold. Our opposition to Imperialism? It can oppress but cannot lift India from famine. Our opposition to war? After the untold tragedy of over five years one feels more determinedly anti-militarist than ever. Our belief that government breeds dictatorship and imperialism? Facts answer us. Our belief that a workers’ movement ought not to serve politicians? The British workers have built the largest political machine and they are coming to see through it. Our opposition to political parties? We have been betrayed often enough by them - why await a fresh disillusionment? Our belief in revolutionary syndicalism? Reformist syndicalism and bourgeois isolation have been alike ineffectual. Our belief in free communism? The results of unfree communism and decadent capitalism are alike only too plain to see. Our belief in revolution? Nothing else will shake the power-mad from their grisly
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Hitlerism, Stalinism, Fascism, imperialism, Amgotism, are evils that show the need for Freedom. If we were to abandon Anarchism at this moment, others would come to revive it. Anarchism is a necessity. Even if for the time being we are not in the position to overthrow capitalism and establish a free society, only our resistance to capitalism is going to prevent it consolidating itself as the Total State. Only a revolutionary movement can defend even the liberal, principles of free speech and popular assembly. And we believe that the time will not be far off when again the Anarchist movement will be in a position to prove what was partially proved in Catalonia in July 1936.
Your questionnaire is timely, dear comrades of ‘Tierra y Libertad’[.] It is vitally necessary to define the aims and principals of our movement. The time will soon come when we shall perhaps be able to meet in conference and discuss these questions. Meantime let me assure you that comrades here stand firmly behind the principles of Anarchism, and we shall continue to push forward our common ideals.
With sincere and fraternal greetings,
[Transcript from Home Office files
The National Archives Ref: HO45 / 25553 [118-122]]
[Uploaded as supporting material for ‘Slaughter or slander? Notes on the Albert Meltzer-George Woodcock conflict’ in KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No.107-108, December 2022: https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/cjt075 ]