History,  Trots

From the Vaults: Guardian, January 22, 1977

On January 21, 1977, Mrs Shirley Williams, the Secretary of State for Education and Science in James Callaghan’s government, delivered a major speech in Derbyshire. This speech was published the following day in the Guardian and I have obtained a copy from the vaults. Below I copy a part of that speech:

Trotskyism and Democracy

Shirley Williams

Guardian, January 22, 1977, p6.

…. We hear a lot about “Trotskyism.” But what is it?….

Leon Trotsky, himself, cared nothing for individual liberty; he cared nothing for parliamentary democracy. His actions in the 1920s as one of the leaders of the Soviet state – for example his part in the crushing of the Kronstadt rising – make this clear. So do his voluminous writings.

Trotsky is not amusing to read. He is verbose and dogmatic; his writings are full of personal vilification of the most unpleasant kind. But some of us recently have felt forced to go back and have a look at them…. What they reveal makes one deeply uneasy about Trotskyism – and, I regret to say, about people who call themselves, or permit themselves to be called, Trotskyists.

I could recite quotation after quotation making clear Leon Trotsky’s profound and total disdain for individual liberty and the processes of parliamentary democracy….

And as anyone can discover who reads Trotsky’s writings from the 1930s, his views hardly changed, even in his years in exile. As late as 1940, not long before his death, he rounded on a group in the American Socialist Workers’ Party, who demanded the right to appeal to the masses over the head of the party. Trotsky dismissed the right to appeal to the masses as a “monstrous pretension.” I do not regard it as a monstrous pretension. I agree with Tawney in regarding the appeal to the masses – in other words, democracy – as an essential condition of the socialist commonwealth.

Nor is there any reason to suppose that Trotskyists ideas have changed recently. A year or so ago, a book was published called The Labour Party and the struggle for socialism. It was by a member of the Trotskyist “International Socialists,” David Coates. In his book, Coates, in language worthy of Trotsky, abuses the Labour Party for being over concerned with the national interest, for being wedded to the parliamentary system. Coates complains that the Labour Party has seen parliamentary democracy as a goal in itself instead of regarding it as only one means – and not necessarily the most desirable – of achieving socialism. According to Coates, we in the Labour Party have been dogmatic about the parliamentary system.

If that is the Trotskyist charge I, for one, plead guilty to it. What is the alternative? Coates in his book does not really spell it out; but here are some of the phrases he uses: “revolutionary upheaval;” “armed seizure of state power;” “revolutionary and violent road to socialism;” “violence of class to class;” “open (and doubtless bitter and bloody) class war.” In other words, modern Trotskyism, like the Trotskyism of Trotsky himself, holds liberty and democracy in total contempt….

Freedom and democracy must never be taken for granted. In a world where they are being challenged and sometimes destroyed, it is for us in the Labour Party to defend them.

I should add one further quotation from Shirley Williams. In her speech she quoted from a former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Aneurin Bevan, in a speech that he had given to the Labour Party conference in November, 1959.  Below I copy a short but pointed extract from that quotation:

I believe that it is possible for a modern intelligent community to organise its economic life rationally, with decent orders of priority, and it is not necessary to resort to dictatorship in order to do it. I believe that it is possible. That is why I am a socialist. If I did not believe that, I would be a Communist: I would not be a capitalist!

It is amazing what one can find in the vaults!