Solidarity Forever? by J. Sullivan and T. Hillier
Reviewed by Chris Pallis
This reply to the pamphlet Solidarity Forever was written by the main leader of the Solidarity Group. We are grateful to Ted Crawford for scanning it and providing us with a copy of the text.
"Seven years with the wrong woman is more than any man can stand" runs the chorus of an old ditty which then went on to list the strains and stresses in many a "happy home". The same kind of tensions can develop in a small revolutionary group and result in a noisy chucking about of the political cutlery. But whereas matrimonial disputes can be settled in the civil courts, the tribunal for political differences is of necessity the wider movement itself.
Two members of Solidarity (John Sullivan and Tom Hillier) have recently made a noisy exit from the organisation. They have been welcomed into International Socialism (I.S.), with whom they had in fact been having a tepid liaison for at least a year. If their ideas are now the ideas of I.S., their action would be logical, and their departure require no further comment from us, except perhaps to stress the tremendous pull still exerted by traditional politics and traditional organisations even in this period of disintegration of the traditional left.
But in leaving Solidarity Sullivan and Hillier thought fit to produce and widely to circularise to Solidarity subscribers and others the pamphlet under review. The pamphlet is written as a kind of political obituary for Solidarity ("Why Solidarity failed", "What Solidarity will be remembered for" etc.). Unfortunately the "corpse" refuses to lie still. And it is precisely because the ideas we put forward are invoking an increasing echo (Vol.V No.10 reached the top circulation over 1900 copies) that we will depart from our usual practice of debating only real issues and deal with some of the puerile accusations made.
The aim of the Sullivan-Hillier pamphlet was not simply to clarify their own ideas badly though some might consider this to be needed. There was a wider objective. I.S., the organisation they have joined, is at present wracked by a fissiparous discussion on the "organisational question". One of the functions of the pamphlet is to sidetrack the wide discussion about libertarian socialist ideas including Solidarity ideas now taking place within I.S., by diverting attention from the main issues and seeking to focus it on the alleged incoherences and malpractices of a minute group, whose "threat" to I.S. resides solely in the ideas which it disseminates. About these ideas, however, the pamphlet remains discreetly silent.
It says nothing, for instance, about our analysis of modern capitalism and the nature of its crisis,1 nothing about our conceptions of manipulation in consumption and leisure,2 nothing about our emphasis on the need for a total critique of how capitalism affects people's lives,3 nothing about our conception of socialism4 as workers' self-management plus the rule of workers' councils (rather than nationalisation plus the rule of the Party), nothing about our description of the regimes in Eastern Europe as societies5 in which the working class never really held power in production (i.e. societies in which the basic class relations of production were never really overthrown), nothing about our attempts to re-establish the historical record,6 or to assess the role of Bolshevik ideology and practice in preventing the revolution from going on beyond a mere expropriation of the bourgeoisie, on to full workers' management of production7 nothing finally about our explanation of the degeneration of the traditional left seen by us today as one of the main repositories and disseminators of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois organisational conceptions.8
Instead we get a crude and rather pathetic misrepresentation of the practices of Solidarity, compounded of half truths, gutter gossip, malicious distortions and downright falsehoods. The pamphlet adopts the political method widespread among the traditional left of continually using labels as a substitute for discussing ideas, and of smearing individuals whose arguments they feel impotent to deal with politically. At this level we can recommend it to all our readers. It epitomises a method in politics.
Our record, we feel, speaks for itself. Comrades who were active in the direct action wing of the anti-bomb movement, in the tenants' movement, in industry or those in the universities who have heard our speakers will have their own ideas, based on their own experience, as to whether we are "pacifists", "anarchists", "syndicalists" or any of the other beasties unearthed by Sullivan and Hillier during their rummaging in the terminological garbage cans. What these comrades will lack however is inside knowledge with which to refute some of the wilder allegations made in the Sullivan-Hillier pamphlet. The purpose of this pamphlet is to deal with some of these allegations.
1. "Ideological fuzziness"
This is perhaps the most absurd of all the charges. Relative to its size and resources, Solidarity has probably produced more serious theoretical material than any other group on the left today. Our ideas may be different from those of I.S. or from those of other groups. They may be right or they may be wrong. But they are certainly not "fuzzy". Texts like Socialism or Barbarism are an explicit formulation of a coherent world outlook. We have attempted to analyse Modern Capitalism and to give some idea of what, for us, is The Meaning of Socialism. There is an intimate connection between these texts which only the politically presbyopic will fail to perceive.
Our historical material is also intimately related to this total analysis. And so is our industrial material. If we focus attention on certain forgotten areas of history or on certain aspects of modern industrial disputes it is because they are related to a certain vision of socialism: workers' management of production and the rule of the workers' councils.
The charge of "ideological fuzziness" comes rather oddly from members of an organisation that comprises both Labour Party members and very orthodox Trotskyists, that changed the name of its journal from Labour Worker to Socialist Worker without any real analysis of fifteen years of "entrist" experience, that can oscillate from a position where in 1964 it called on people to vote Labour and later proclaimed that its "support for the Labour Government was not conditional on its having socialist policies" to a position where it's anybody's guess what they will do next time, that can denounce Russia as State Capitalist and yet advocate measures over here which lead straight to State Capitalism, that can talk (in one and the same leaflet) of "defending the trade unions" and of "workers' power", etc., etc. People who live in ideological swamps can only throw mud.
2. The Committee of 100 It is true that between 1961 and 1963 comrades around Solidarity played an active part on the Industrial Sub-committee of the Committee of 100. But it is quite wrong to identify this with "immersion" in an unspecified "peace milieu" as the Sullivan-Hillier pamphlet does. The work carried out by Solidarity during this period included systematic work on the docks and in relation to a number of factories; our Appeal to Trade Unionists, distributed in tens of thousands of copies, stands up to critical examination seven years later; the famous Against All Bombs leaflet was distributed in July 1962, in the streets of Moscow;9 to say nothing of various other activities which cannot yet be "declassified".
During our association with the Committee of 100, our refusal to endorse "non-violence" as a principle stood out like a sore thumb in everything we said or did. Our editorials "From Civil Disobedience to Social Revolution" (Vol.I No.8), "Civil Disobedience and the Working Class" (Vol.I No.9) and "Civil Disobedience and the State" (Vol.I No.10) made our position crystal clear. We in fact specifically denounced bourgeois pacifism in an article (Vol.I No.10) entitled "Down with the Army: Down with the pacifism of leaders and bosses!" During the period we published such pamphlets as The Standard-Triumph Strike, The B.L.S.P. Dispute, and The Meaning of Socialism hardly "understressing the ideas of class division". As for "making concessions to pacifism", this is best rebutted by a text written by Sullivan himself, in December 1968, as a draft letter to those seeking more information about Solidarity. His words are reproduced on the opposite page. [Note]
Now he can't have it both ways. Either the passage quoted opposite is true in which case the charge of "concessions to pacifism" falls. Or the charge of "pacifism" is true in which case this passage is dishonest bunk. Whichever one chooses! Sullivan seems to have created a credibility gap for himself. But readers' doubts, if any, should be resolved by a glance at our Death of CND as performed by the Grosvenor Square demonstrators under the direction of themselves alone.10 If this is "pacifist" then Enoch Powell is a leading spokesman for Black Power. To return to the charge of pacifism after our publication of such a pamphlet is worse than flogging a dead horse it is an act of positive political necrophilia.
The Sullivan-Hillier pamphlet claims that "Solidarity never attempted to work out an industrial strategy". It acknowledges the seriousness of our industrial reportage but goes on to make the amazing statement that an accurate description of things as they were contained the likelihood (sic!) of leaving them unchanged, and that for Solidarity "the system itself remained inviolate because it was not understood". One might be dreaming! To any sane person it might appear more likely that not describing things as they were contained a far greater likelihood of leaving them unchanged. To seek to influence an imaginary world is no mean task (although admittedly many on the traditional left are engaged in just such a practice).
For us only the truth is revolutionary. And to understand the truth one must begin by seeing things as they are (and not as one would like them to be or as they were when described by Marx, towards the end of the last century). The validity of our industrial coverage (which Sullivan and Hillier understand) stems directly from this conscious attempt at demystification (which Sullivan and Hillier do not understand).
But describing things as they are has never been the be all and end all of our approach to industry. It has always been our hope that understanding would be the prelude to action. Accurate descriptions highlight areas of managerial weakness; they focus attention on the nature of the union bureaucracies; they suggest meaningful methods of intervention; they bring to workers techniques of struggle improvised by other workers; and they seek to develop self confidence and self reliance.
In our article "For a socialist industrial strategy" (Vol.IV, No.10) we start by reiterating and documenting what should by now be known to all socialists, namely that the unions cannot be reformed, captured, or even made systematically or seriously to defend the elementary interests of their members. We expose the false solutions of "industrial unionism", of "changing the union leadership", or of creating "break away" or "revolutionary" unions. We stress the need to concentrate on job organisation, on building up links between militants (within various unions if possible, but outside them if necessary). We urge the use of new methods of struggle (for instance, those that can be used within the factory), methods which are cheap and effective for the men and damaging to the employers. We stress the type of issue that involves job control, that challenges managerial prerogatives, and that therefore has an implicitly socialist content. In many other publications dealing with industrial topics we have stressed that how a demand is won is just as important as what is won. We have never contributed to the sowing of illusions concerning the union bureaucracy, which we have described unambiguously as a social stratum with interests of its own, different from those of the working class. We have stressed that the struggle for "workers' control" starts here and now, with control over their own organisations and over their own disputes.
To describe this painstaking and difficult work as "mindless militancy" or as just "glimmerings of an industrial strategy" is only a comment on the factional bad faith of the authors of the pamphlet. It comes strangely from members of an organisation which over the years has continuously equivocated on all these issues, never really understanding the social basis of the trade union bureaucracy, being mealy-mouthed about the union officials, welcoming some as better than others, failing to grasp the real implications of "unofficial action", sowing illusions in the unions as such, tail-ending the Communist Party as often as not, and always "intervening" in industrial dispute with a main eye to recruiting, rather than to helping men in struggle to win.
Over a quarter of the Sullivan-Hillier pamphlet is devoted to discussing Solidarity's attitude to the Colonels coup and to the occupation of the Greek Embassy in London, on April 28th, 1967.11 Two years later one ought to be able to assume that they considered this attitude worthy of a serious political critique. If they have such a critique, we are as unaware of it as ever. In fact falsification and smearing reach their height in this section of the pamphlet. They write "the anarcho-pacifist wing of Solidarity were at one with the readers of the Times in feeling outrage at the murder of Greek democracy. Out of this feeling came the break-in at the Greek Embassy".
It will be difficult for present supporters of Solidarity to appreciate the dishonesty of this allegation. The links between Solidarity and sections of the Greek left go back long before the Colonels' coup. And they were scarcely of a kind that readers of the Times would approve of!
During Easter 1963 an anti-bomb march in Athens had been smashed by the police. 2,000 people had been arrested. Some British Committee of 100 participants including people who had worked closely with Solidarity had been beaten up and deported. In June 1963 the "Save Greece Now Committee", on which several of our supporters were represented, decided to call a big demonstration in the streets of London during the proposed Greek Royal Visit. The Communist Party and other sections of the traditional left, fearing "adventurist" civil disobedience, opted out. But the "Save Greece Now Committee" was determined to show real solidarity with their Greek comrades who were then in no position to demonstrate. This determination provoked a political crisis in Greece, The Greek Premier resigned when his advice to the Greek royals to defer their visit to London was disregarded. On July 9th the Greek King and Queen arrived in London to a "police state welcome" (Evening Standard, July 9th 1963). On July 10th the Greek and British royal families went to the Aldwych theatre and were loudly booed and hissed as they entered. The Home Secretary did his nut. So did the police. The Challenor brick planting episode followed. The police image took the biggest knock it had for decades. The Establishment hit back. In December 1963 our comrade Terry Chandler was sentenced to nine months prison for his role in organising the demonstration. Neither Sullivan or Hillier were closely associated with Solidarity at the time, but their deeply ingrained ignorance about these matters does not excuse their smearing.
The occupation of the Greek Embassy in April 1967 is described as a "brilliantly executed but politically ambiguous venture" (Solidarity Forever? p.12). It was certainly a venture of a new kind. While the traditional left passed its customary resolutions "denouncing the coup", some people had tried to show practical solidarity with the muzzled people of Greece. A number of Solidarity supporters (and some rank and file members of I.S.) participated in this "venture". But this had nothing to do with support for Greek bourgeois democracy. To associate those who occupied the Embassy with "those who wrote indignant letters to the Times" because they saw Greece as the "cradle of Western civilisation and the birthplace of democracy" is at one level a vicious amalgam. At another level it is utterly ridiculous. The Times had had its own comments to make about those who had organised the Queen Fred "riots" in July 1963.
Following the occupation of the Embassy differences of opinion arose in relation to the trial. We do not propose to argue here the pros and cons of the different tactics considered. A pamphlet written by a Solidarity member 12 and published by him on behalf of a number of the defendants deals with this matter and provides an interesting description of the collusion between Prosecution and "Defence" counsels in manipulating defendants "in the interests of the court". Sullivan and Hillier refer to this pamphlet as "one of the most shameful episodes in the history of any left group". If they had been referring to the behaviour of certain I.S. members who were involved in the case (as described in the pamphlet) the accusation might have been comprehensible. But it was precisely the exposure of this behaviour which so upset Sullivan and Hillier. They were no less annoyed when Solidarity (Vol.IV No.10) quoted part of a statement which had appeared in the "shameful" pamphlet. The statement had been made in court by counsel for the I.S. members, C.L. Hawser, Q.C., and Solidarity reported it as follows:
"My Lord, of the six I represent, my instructions are that none were either leaders or organisers of the demonstration they were not responsible, not any of these six, for bringing the implements, the wedges and so forth for the demonstration."
Was Mr. Hawser really instructed to say this? If not, when will his clients publicly repudiate him? Revolutionary leadership?
Sullivan and Hillier referred to this as "hatchet work" and "comment of a scurrilous nature". What term would they use for "comrades" who in court have their counsel say that they were not ringleaders or organisers (implying that their co-defendants were)? We are still waiting for an explanation. Pending its arrival we will continue to call it "ratting".
As for the "thoroughly dishonest" collection sheet entitled "Save Greece Now", it was not produced by the "pacifist wing" of Solidarity (as unidentified, in the Sullivan-Hillier pamphlet, as the "anarcho-pacifist wing") but by members of the resurrected "Save Greece Now Committee", which had organised the July 1963 demonstrations. There was nothing "dishonest" about the sheet. It is moreover quite untrue that "most of the resources of Solidarity were being devoted to the aftermath of the Embassy affair". On this issue the bad faith of the authors is only equalled by their ignorance.
"The founding of Solidarity coincided with the peak of the anti-war movement. We were active within this movement, particularly around the Committee of 100. The Group was never pacifist, we did not originate from the Peace Movement. We participated in it because it was the only place where methods of direct action were being carried out. The titles of some of our pamphlets show our interests at that time. We combined activity around the peace movement with industrial activity and argued that both were facets of the same struggle." (Passage written by Sullivan quoted in the text.) [Back to text]
1. See Modern Capitalism and Revolution, a Solidarity book
2. See "Mommy in Toyland", Vol.III No.8.
3. See Socialism or Barbarism, pamphlet No.11, and The Crisis of Modern Society, pamphlet No.23.
4. See The Meaning of Socialism, pamphlet No.6.
5. See Hungary '56, a Solidarity book.
6. See The Workers' Opposition, pamphlet No.7; "Kronstadt 1921", by Victor Serge, Vol.I No.7, available as a reprint, or The Kronstadt Commune, by Ida Mett, pamphlet No.27.
7. See From Bolshevism to the Bureaucracy, pamphlet No.24.
8. See "Working Class Consciousness", Vol.II, Nos.2 and 3, and "The Fate of Marxism", Vol.III No.7.
9. "The most direct challenge to official Soviet policies and ideas to have been presented to the Soviet man in the street since freedom of speech died under Stalin." The Guardian July 12, 1962.
10. Pamphlet No.28.
11. For background information see "Bobby Idar", Vol.III No.2, and "Police mob seize Embassy", Vol.IV No.8.
12. Inside the Greek Embassy Case, by Andy Anderson