Jimmy Reid: “It cannae be Lenin — he’s deid” November 2010

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11/12/2017 by socialistfight

Socialist Fight Issue No. 5 Winter 2010-11, Obituary by Tony Fox

ReidClyde1Jimmy Reid (front left) and Jimmy Airlie (right), both stalwarts of the Communist party, address the press in 1971 at the height of the shipyard dispute.

When Jimmy Reid died on 11 August the outpouring of sycophantic praise for this rank class traitor was positively nauseating. He is the type of working-class leader we needed today we are told by Gregor Gall, professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire and frequent speaker on the left circuit in The Guardian and Martin Kettle also in The Guardian, by The Telegraph, The Mail, etc. From the liberal reactionary press to the outright Tory all have recommended him to us. Back in 1972, The New York Times printed in full his speech accepting the Rectorship of Glasgow University and The Independent here did the same two days after he died.

On the ‘far left’ things were no better. They all either ignored or positively welcomed this ‘advice’ to us from our direct class enemies. Their class consciousness is indeed at an historically low ebb if they cannot even speculate as to why these would recommend this man and his methods to us as our ideal type of workers’ leader. Is it not surely the case that they know capitalism is safe in the hands of such people with a talent for hiding their treachery behind left-sounding demagogy?

The modern equivalent, one reviewer told us, is Tommy Sheridan and we identified him as a political fraud many years ago at an anti-poll tax rally. Although in fairness Tommy has campaigned tirelessly for his beliefs and has gone to jail for them. His miseducation is entirely down to the Ted Grant leadership of Militant who deliberately cultivated such an approach in him, in Derek Hatton and others with a talent for motivating the masses, just as Reid was groomed by the CPGB. And he really does not deserve to be imprisoned by the evidence of the Bertie Smalls amongst his former comrades in the SSP; where is the class consciousness of these people from the city of the Red Clydesiders who turn state evidence on behalf of the News of the World?

The rise of Scottish nationalism (where Reid eventually wound up) too can be dated to this work-in; an appeal to the ‘we Scots are all in this together’ was a vital component of Reid’s approach, which he used to undermine the feelings of class solidarity with the contemporary miners’ strike and many other industrial disputes south of the border and with the movement against internment in the north of Ireland.

Every bourgeois journalist’s obituary identified what it was about Reid they admired so much:

“We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in strike. Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission. And there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us, and it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves with responsibility, and with dignity, and with maturity” said Reid.

We will be responsible non-strikers who will not threaten to expropriate because the right to private property is the question every occupation of a factory raises and we are not going down that road.

Workers Liberty’s Dale Street tells us why in his obituary (of which more later):

“There was never anything radical about Reid’s politics. As McTernan (Blair’s Political Secretary) wrote: “Not for Jimmy Reid the revolutionary impossibilism of the hard left … Reid stood for an austere working-class morality.” McTernan was right. In an interview conducted in 1975, for example, Reid described “any other road” to socialism apart from “the democratic and electoral road” as “lunacy”. Asked in the same interview for his opinion of the International Marxist Group (today: “Socialist Resistance”), the Workers Revolutionary Party (today defunct) and the International Socialists (today: the SWP), Reid bluntly replied: “I reject them. My main criticism is that they are really elitist in a sense.”

Of the 52 comments on the Socialist Unity obituary blog ours was the only dissenting post:

“Comrades, Lenin and Trotsky and many other revolutionaries made speeches far better that Lincoln’s Gettysburg address but the New York Times, or any other major capitalist media organ, never praised them and printed them in full …”Gee, that guy Lenin really hit the nail in the head there with his April Theses, we have to publish it in full in the next edition” we can hear them exclaiming in excitement and admiration. Old William Morris used to get really worried when he got the praise of his enemies saying he knew then he was doing something seriously wrong. And, of course, Reid led a work-in, not an occupation, a popular front measure to defuse the class struggle against the government, which it did. Jimmy Reid was a class traitor back then before he ever wrote for The Sun.” Comment by Gerry Downing — 30 August, 2010.

Jim McLean thought otherwise:

“Surely the definition of “Class Traitor” is one who works directly against the interests of the proletariat, in the instance of the Work In, this was to the direct benefit of the employees and their families in both social and economic terms. It could be stated that it was a short term solution outwit the class struggle but a betrayal of the working class, I think not.” Comment by Jim McLean — 30 August, 2010 @ 10:33 am.

But an ex-Trotskyist, STP, did better two weeks earlier in squaring his circle:

“The tendency of the CP to also capitulate to the union bureaucracy, as they do in Unison, also traditionally kept them with influence. If you are, instead, a principled Trot you know that the union leadership will hunt you down and expel you e.g. Yunus Bakhsh (SWP) & Glenn Kelly (Socialist Party) I can’t immediately think of any witch-hunting of CP members by the leaderships since the 60s or 70s (maybe EEPTU later?) and that says something.

But I’d welcome a rapprochement. I often read the ‘Morning Star’ and it is a lot better than say the LRC’s statements. I’d like the ‘Morning Star really to be the ‘paper of the left’, under the control of all traditions and in a united Left party in which we would all genuinely work together and let our experiences guide us forward – and in which doubtless we would make changes to our views.” Comment by STP — 14 August, 2010 @ 1:48 am

The Socialist Worker did an Obituary; Reid led a fightback, by Dave Sherry

“Under Reid’s direction, the stewards opted for a work-in rather than a sit-in, which meant cooperating with the official receiver to finish the ships under construction. Concerned primarily with winning public opinion, the work-in was conceived and conducted as a Scottish popular front and not as a confrontation with government.”

Nevertheless, there was something to be said for this kind of popular frontism, in comrade Sherry’s opinion:

“Despite these limitations, it raised the hopes of thousands of militants and became a symbol for all those who wanted rid of the Tories. It won massive support and inspired hundreds of other workplace occupations across Britain. This rising struggle and the miners’ strike of 1972 shattered Tory morale.”

Now we turn to Workers Liberty. Jim Denham wrote a paean of praise from him on 19 August 2010 and posted his famous ‘rat-race’ speech in full, following the NYT and the Indy:

“Whatever his faults — and they were many — Jimmy Reid embodied the truth that workers, when united, can force serious concessions out of capitalism.”

As with supporting Len McCluskey against Jerry Hicks in the Unite General Secretary election comrade Denham does not look behind the mask lest he see the reflection of his own face. His comrade Dale Street had a few more criticisms on 6 September:

“In August of 1971, when the first wave of redundancies had taken place, 69% of those declared redundant took part in the work-in. By December of the same year, after further waves of redundancies, 27% of redundant workers were involved in the work-in. By June of the following year only 14% of redundant workers were ‘working-in’, amounting to 2.6% of the retained (i.e. non-redundant) workforce.”


“Despite the limitations inherent in the idea of a ‘work-in’, the earliest days of the work-in were inspirational. It sent out the message that job losses and redundancies were not inevitable. It demonstrated that the Tories’ policies of withdrawing support from what they termed ‘lame ducks’ could be defied. It showed that working-class solidarity was not just a slogan but a real social and political force.”

There you have it. It is almost as if our self-declared revolutionaries had two mutually exclusive compartments in their political brains, one full of trenchant criticism and justifiable class outrage at the attacks of the capitalists and the perfidy of Reid and the other full of class compromise and capitulation to the masters of life and their servants within the workers’ movement.

The Stalinists are bagmen for the trade union bureaucracy, but let’s all join with them anyway, STP reasons. Why could we not seek to build a party composed of militants like Yunus Bakhsh and Glenn Kelly and not capitulate to these bagmen? Jim Mclean thinks that “short term solution (which) outwits the class struggle… (are not) a betrayal of the working class”. The SWP’s Dave thinks it was popular frontism but cannot see what is wrong with a bit of that, the AWL’s Denham thinks Reid was just great but his comrade Dale has a few problems with his counterrevolutionary outlook. Nevertheless that particular compromise produced good results, he thinks, so we have to go with it. All this stuff is a repudiation of revolutionary politics, it is just dirty opportunist politics in our view.

A class traitor is someone who betrays the long-term interests of the whole class, and that class is globally constituted with national sections, a few temporary concessions to a local workforce to ‘outwit the class struggle’ in no way excuses this treachery. Anti-EEC/EU economic nationalism was central to Reid’s politics and campaigns as was a bogus anti-monopoly defence of small capitalist enterprises, the ‘small man’ so beloved of US red-necked reaction. Clearly, capitalism as a whole was greatly assisted by this work-in which removed some of the most militant workers from the political confrontation with Heath. But there must be some forthright opponents of Reid out there. We found just two:

The first was Mick Hume in his blog ‘Spiked’. Older comrades will remember Mick with affection as the Revolutionary Communist Party’s editor of Living Marxism (and LM until it collapsed in 2000 as a result of a libel suit). His piece is called, Tory David Cameron’s debt to Red Jimmy Reid and is subtitled,  How the 1971 UCS ‘work-in’, led by the recently deceased firebrand, helped to pave the way for today’s all-in-it-together response to the crisis. He makes this case very well in his article and we were almost be tempted to contact him for political collaboration until we encounter a very strange phrase halfway down the article which brought all those bad old memories flooding back:

“During the historic miners’ strike of 1984-1985, Jimmy Reid launched a famous (and not unjustified) attack on NUM president Arthur Scargill for his ‘kamikaze’ leadership of the dispute.”

This is followed by a very good point that Scargill’s Plan for Coal was analogous to Reid’s defence of capitalism on the Clyde. But who on earth, apart from the RCP and open capitalist reaction itself, could justify Reid’s appalling scab-heading attacks on those heroic miners by his vilification of Scargill in the pages of Rupert Murdock’s Sun? We remember that the RCP distinguished themselves, and delighted their yuppy followers (weren’t they so well dressed compared to the rest of the ragged left?), by demanding that Scargill call off the strike for a ‘democratic’ national ballot. They got dubbed Ray Chadburn’s Party (the leader of the scabbing Nottingham miners) and some Yorkshire miners dumped a few RCPers in a canal because of this. The blog’s blurb explains it all: “Spiked is endorsed by free-thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx, and hated by the narrow-minded such as Torquemada (a leader of the Spanish Inquisition to save your googling) and Stalin.” Now anyone who says they can meld the libertarian bourgeois philosophy of Mill (the right to scab!) with the revolutionary socialism of Marx and boast of a consistent line is lying, the two are antipodes, mutually exclusive, socially hostile doctrines.

The other comes from the WSWS website, which is produced by David North’s US-based Socialist Equality party. Like Spiked it is a pleasure to read in its attacks on class compromisers and it also correctly identifies the politics of Reid. Until we realise from what political direction that the attack is coming. Caledonian University Institutional Archive lists scores of articles and some pamphlet by the Socialist Labour League and Workers Press on the UCS work-in, far more than other left groups, correctly opposing the class collaboration of Reid. Gerry Healy’s problem in the SLL and WRP was that he was organically incapable of relating to and incorporating workers into his organisation.

Twice he won a substantial working-class base, from the CPGB around Brian Behan after Khrushchev’s 1956 denunciation of Stalin; a rank-and-file conference drew 500 shop stewards in 1958 and again in the early 70s around Alan Thornett and the Cowley car factory in Oxford. He quickly got rid of these when they challenged the bureaucratic centralist regime he had constructed. Bob Pitt makes the following assessment of the party Healy built at this time in his excellent (mostly) pamphlet, The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy:

“Healy’s ‘orthodoxy’ (which was in fact characterised by ignorance of, and contempt for, the political positions of Leninism and Trotskyism) offered no revolutionary alternative to those he dismissed as ‘revisionists’. Healy could attack the IS’s intervention in industry for its syndicalism and economism, but the SLL made no attempt to organise a real opposition to the bureaucracy inside the unions. And while Healy could deride Militant’s aim of transforming the Labour Party, the SLL failed to carry out even the most minimal fraction work in the party which still held the political allegiance of mass of the working class. As for the IMG, its uncritical attitude to the IRA and its turn away from the labour movement in search of ‘new vanguards’ were lambasted by the SLL. However, Healy’s response to the Irish liberation struggle was to denounce ‘the reactionary, indiscriminate violence of the Provisionals’ (while engaging in a short flirtation with the leadership of Official Sinn Féin) and to hold the occasional SLL public meeting when Ireland hit the headlines. No serious activity was carried out by the YS among students, and the SLL’s position on the women’s movement was distinguished by downright political backwardness.”

This is an accurate characterisation of Healy’s SLL at the time of the sit-in, of which Pitt makes no mention in his pamphlet understandably because the intervention was totally of a literary nature and so no threat whatsoever to Reid, who controlled the forces on the ground. North has taken this method to its extremes. He has erected an ideological justification for never fighting in the mass bourgeois-workers Labour and Social Democratic parties internationally, which still retain the political allegiances of millions of workers in the most advanced countries, because they are simply capitalist parties now he says, never fighting the trade union bureaucracies because he says they are no longer workers’ organisations, simply organs of capitalist control and so new unions must be build, of course led by himself.

Similarly he has abandoned the fight for the self-determination of oppressed nations, these leaderships are just capitalists like the capitalist in the imperialist heartlands, there are no longer oppressed and oppressor nations and as for women’s oppression he has not advanced one iota beyond Healy’s backwardness, today supporting Roman Polanski and dubbing the raped thirteen-year-old child ‘a teenage model’ on the make. Without an understanding of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme and the method that produced it revolutionaries cannot successfully intervene in struggles of the working class. We tackle this question in the letter pages of this journal.

ReidClyde3And the lone objector on the Socialist Unity blog on 13 August:“Such typical tosh from the Morning Star… Am I really expected to believe that Reid was such a sound chap when he was a member of the CP, but in later years….. well, one par?! A disgrace, and no wonder their journos threaten strike every year. No wonder the left is in such dire straits!” Comment by Ann Douglas — 13 August, 2010.And the reply from maestro Andy himself: “I wonder what her real motivations are?”naiveté? I suspect.” Comment by Andy Newman — 13 August, 2010. What naiveté to condemn the MS for lying to the working class on behalf of the trade union bureaucracy and the capitalist establishment about the kind of leaders we need in this major crisis! We must absolutely trust all these, they have our best interests at heart, you silly woman!

Now let us look at Reid’s “rat-race” speech itself. The first two sentences, “Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society”. This is the totally incorrect basis for the rest of the fraudulent article. Alienation is not the major social problem; it is a symptom of the social problem. The problem is private capitalist ownership of the means of production. Wealth is privately owned and socially produced. So people do not just “feel alienated by society” they are materially alienated from the product of their labour by the objective fact that they must sell their labour power to the capitalist in order to live and perforce enter into a subordinate and humiliating social relation with that capitalist in order to do so. It is useful here to list the four forms of alienation Marx outlined, as extracted from Wikipedia, Marx’s theory of alienation:

      1. Alienation of the worker from the work he produces, from the product of his labor.

  1. Alienation of the worker from working, from the act of producing itself. Capitalism removes the worker’s feeling of control over the use and exchange of his labor power.

  2. Alienation of the worker from himself as a producer, from his or her “species being” or “essence as a species”.

  3. Alienation of the worker from other workers or producers. Capitalism reduces labour  to a commercial commodity to be traded on the market, rather than a social relationship between people involved in a common effort for survival or betterment.”

Reid degrades this profound theory into a mere question of bad attitudes; if only we treated each other better, learned to take decisions together for the good of everyone things would work out fine. This is how Karl Marx see the elimination of alienation and all capitalist oppression in The German Ideology:

“Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”

Reid even quotes Jesus Christ “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” His message to the Presbyterian students of Glasgow Caledonian University, worried by a radicalising working class, was the rat-race can be overcome by cleansing our souls of greed and evil and he will then guarantee their privileges against the threat of socialist revolution. This is why Reid’s moral humbuggery went down so well with the capitalist establishment and its defenders. It had its origins in the crashing banalities of Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, delivered (or later invented to gut the message of the messianic  Essenes, Christ’s sect, of all oppositional, egalitarian content) to protect the Roman Empire against the impending Great Jewish Revolt led by the revolutionary Zealots (66-70 AD). Its function was to ward off threats of revolution articulated in the main in those days, if not seriously practiced, by the Trotskyist zealots of Gerry Healy’s SLL.

Lastly we will sum up by examining the remark of the ship yard worker who misheard John Lennon’s name when it was announced that he had given a £5,000 cheque to the work-in and said “It cannae be Lenin — he’s deid”.

That worker clearly knew who Lenin was, he knew his spirit would be on his side in the class struggle and he had discussed Lenin with fellow workers, no doubt as a result of attending or taking to those who had attended CPGB meetings. Lenin was indeed ‘deid’ for the CPGB even if they still used his name, with a history of some forty years of class betrayal behind them by then and he is clearly ‘deid’ for those leaders without enough class consciousness to recognise what was wrong with what Jimmy Reid did and said back in 1971-2. But we are confident there are enough who still understand the revolutionary heritage of Lenin and Trotsky to forge a genuine Leninist-Trotskyist revolutionary party by learning those lessons today.

Appendix 1:

The Independent:

Jimmy Reid: Inspirational trade unionist who led the work-in at Upper Clyde which reversed government policy on the docks
Wednesday 11 August 2010

In a devastating critique that confirmed the total political break with his former comrade, published some weeks before the end of the miners’ strike, Reid wrote:

“I reject the notion that Scargill is leading some crusade against Thatcherite Toryism. Beneath the rhetoric, Scargillism and Thatcherism are political allies. I would put it this way: the political spectrum is not linear but circular. In my experience, the extreme left always ends up rubbing shoulders with the extreme right. They are philosophically blood brothers.”

Things might have been different, Reid believed. He said,

“If only the manipulative Joe Gormley, president of the NUM, had allowed himself to be succeeded by Mick McGahey and not the hot-headed Arthur Scargill, the miners would have had more success and the British coal industry would have been saved. Whatever you think of the old communusts, they understood discipline, and what was possible and what would end in failure.”

Appendix 2:

He could have been a contender

DEC 2017 Monday 11TH posted by Morning Star in Arts

Jimmy Reid’s rightwards trajectory from charismatic communist to member of the SNP is the story of a ‘working-class hero’ thwarted by social and political circumstance, says JOHN GREEN

Jimmy Reid: A Scottish Political Journey, by Kenny MacAskill (Biteback Publishing, £20)

AS THE author notes in his foreword to this biography of Jimmy Reid, “there has never been a biography of the man, which is quite surprising given his high profile and longstanding prominence.”

It has taken leading SNP politician Kenny MacAskill to redress that. While his perspective on Reid is that of a convinced member of the nationalist party, he doesn’t let that cloud his judgement or compromise his deep sympathy with his subject and his politics, from his early years in the Communist Party to his later allegiance to the SNP.

Apart from Harry Pollitt and Willie Gallacher, Reid is arguably the most prominent, respected and well-loved communist Britain has produced.

From a boyhood in Glasgow’s slums, he left school at 14 and became an engineering apprentice, cutting his trade-union teeth during the 1952 Glasgow apprentices’ strike.

Soon after completing his apprenticeship, already a communist, he went on to become full-time national secretary of the Young Communist League in 1958. But it was only after returning to work in the shipyards on Clydebank in 1969 and his leading role in the 1971-72 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) work-in that he came to national prominence.

His speeches and appearances up and down the country in support of the occupation brought out big, admiring crowds.

He gave expression to the anger, yearnings and frustrations of so many disillusioned with the political establishment. His demands for a constitutional right to work and his dictum that “the rat race is for rats” struck a deep chord.

He remained true to his socialist principles to the end of his life, even if he changed political allegiance.

In the wake of his huge popularity as leader of the UCS occupation, he stood as Communist Party parliamentary candidate for Central Dumbartonshire in the 1974 general election. But, in the face of virulent opposition from the right wing of the Labour Party and opposition from the Catholic church and Church of Scotland, he won only 14.6 per cent of the vote. It was a great disappointment to all his comrades but for him above all.

Undoubtedly, the media circus that grew around the UCS occupation and its charismatic leader did have its impact on him. He felt he could perhaps achieve more outside the Communist Party and it was time to move on, but his short period in the Labour Party and as a media commentator were not wholly the success that he had hoped for.

There were too many Labour Party careerists and pundits who were not keen to have this charismatic individual eclipse them. And even his union, the AEU, were not keen to employ this “firebrand.”

Reid, a largely self-educated working-class intellectual, read voraciously, played a musical instrument and could debate on almost any subject.

Though universally liked and respected, his life was a tragic one in many ways. He was a man with enormous potential which he could never fully realise because of the prevalent social and political circumstances.

MacAskill is to be congratulated for writing this very sympathetic, honest and informative portrayal of a true working-class hero and he also provides useful thumbnail sketches of a whole number of communist and left-wing figures and of the political and historical events during Reid’s life.

If there is a little too much of “Jimmy this” and Jimmy that” in the book and a rather dry style, it nevertheless deserves its place in the canon of good working-class biographies.



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