J. T. Murphy

A Reply to Comrade Brodsky

Source: The Communist, August 23, 1922
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

COMRADE BRODSKY is not Labour leader, but he has evidently got their disease very bad.

No one will deny that the miners are suffering and that there are difficulties to be overcome in any attempt to enforce an embargo on the export of coal to America. We know these difficulties, but the facts remain. Coal from Britain is going to smash the American strike. Orders are being placed for at least 2,000,000 tons per month to go from Britain; the Dockers’ Union know the ships that are charted. (Brodsky admits that.)

If the Dockers know this, the other unions know or can know. Concerted action on the part of the unions involved, viz., the Dockers’ the N.U.R., the A.S.L.E & F., and the Miners, could make it a really live issue in British Unionism that an embargo should be enforced. It depends initially upon the will of the leaders of these unions whether assistance will be rendered. No one knows better than they that the defeat of the American miners will have a tremendous repercussion on the Coal industry of Britain and Europe.

To plead that nothing can be done because poverty here compels us to ask the question: Do strikes arise because of the affluence of the workers or because of their difficulties? To put off action until the workers are well enough off to afford a strike is to postpone strikes until some happy Utopian era—an obvious absurdity and worthy only of a McDonald or Henderson.

Mr. Bevin has admitted that the unions are blacklegging. Does Comrade Brodsky approve of blacklegging because the workers are poor? If so, at what particular stage do we get solidarity? After education and the production of class-consciousness through affluence?

The task which we at least are trying to accomplish is this—to rouse the workers to action because of their poverty and misery, because only by united action can they get out of their poverty. That is why we appealed to the union leaders to get together, and devise with us ways and means of overcoming the difficulties enumerated and by a deed of international solidarity pave the way to real international organisation and policy.

But Comrade Brodsky follows his fit of defeatism with a bout of “leftism”! We have criticised the leaders; how, then, can we expect them to act and how dare we ask them act?

We reply: So long as they are the bona fide leaders of the masses organised in the unions having authority to use the union apparatus we must perforce appeal to them to do what we think they ought to in the interests of the working class.

Does that mean they are immune from criticism? We must point out what ought to be done on all occasions or from whence comes the basis of criticism, and how can we make it clear to the masses that they are being misled?

It is not a question of what we expect from the leaders, but a question of what ought to be done and who is in a position to do it. To talk of organisation for “revolution,” “class-conscious unions,” etc., etc., sounds a little ridiculous when the same writer talks of the impossibility of a sympathetic act which is at one and the same time an act of self-interest in terms of ordinary trade unionism. It is not we who are “up in the clouds," but Comrade Brodsky himself, when he sets before us the great goal of one big union, prior to doing anything in the ordinary everyday affairs of union life.

The immediate practical measure relating to the American coal strike is to bring the unions we have named together so that they may place an embargo on coal for America. This becomes increasingly important in view of the failure of the Frankfurt Miners’ Conference.

If Comrade Brodsky can suggest anything better we shall be right glad to consider it.

As to our criticism of the Daily Herald, we have no apology to make even for that. From no part of the Labour movement has the Daily Herald received greater sacrificial efforts than from the revolutionary sections.

Our criticism stands good.