P. Mardsen

Trade Union Blacklegs

The Brodsky-Murphy Controversy

Source: The Communist, September 23, 1922.
Publisher: 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.


AS an ex-member and propagandist of the C.P. may I too join in the Brodsky-Murphy controversy?

Briefly, to me, Brodsky’s position is this:

(1) The miners are starving, unemployment and short time among them is rife; to a certain extent, the same applies to the dockers: therefore to ask them to strike, and for a principle, is to ask an almost impossibility.

(2) Since the C.P. believes the T.U. leaders are traitors and hopeless, the C.P. is being illogical in asking these leaders to do anything when the C.P. knows in advance these leaders will do nothing.

(3) Although the leaders appear to control the T.U.s, they do so with the consent of the rank-and-file. Therefore, the rank-and-file is ignorant, needs teaching. Hence, the C.P. should get among them and give them an alternative policy to their present one. The leaders do not count.

(4) Brodsky wants to know how the C.P. is going to educate the rank-and-file of the working-class, and how to get them to acquire the solidarity whose lack is so often deplored.

I associate myself with these four points of Brodsky.

J. T. Murphy’s reply is as follows:

(1) “Do strikes arise because of the affluence of the workers or because of their difficulties?”

In my estimation that is not a reply to Brodsky’s point. (1) Brodsky asks: How do you expect starving men to strike for a principle? When workers strike, they do so for a material, tangible, immediate demand, when they can see directly that it is starve or strike. And in this case, beaten before by starvation when they had funds, now without funds and already starving, they would be annihilated.

Brodsky’s is not a “defeatist” position, but only a plain, sane recognition of the facts.

(2) So long as they are the bona fide leaders of the masses organised in the unions . . . 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?”

I might again emphasise Brodsky’s point No. (2): Since the leaders are branded by the C.P. as hopeless traitors what is the use of appealing to them? Since the C.P. is already convinced of the hopelessness of such appeal, why make it?

(3) “It is not a question of what we (the C.P.). expect from the leaders, but a question of what ought to be done and who is in a position to do it.”

The whole question is: Who do the things? The leaders, or the rank-and-file? The “directive ability” or the masses? It is the rank-and-file. And here it would be well to quote from Marx, “18th Brumaire,” (p. 18., Kerr’s Edition):—

“It is not enough to say that their nation was taken by surprise. A nation, no more than a woman, is excused for the unguarded hour when the first adventurer who comes along can do violence to her. The riddle is not solved by such shifts, it is only formulated in other words. There remains to be explained how a nation of 36,000,000 (here the 1,000,000 miners, and millions of T.U. rank-and-file) can be surprised by three swindlers (the handful of T.U. leaders), and taken to prison.”

Marx and Engels explained it by the fact that the nation, especially the proletarians in 1848, did not know quite what they wanted or how to get it.

Therefore, though the leaders are not immune from criticism, even though they were thorough Communists, unless the rank-and-file follow them, they can do nothing. If the rank-and-file only want a lead and agree with the Communist policy, why do the T.U. masses elect J. H. Thomas and Co.?—The fact is Thomas and Co. represent the views of the rank-and-file in the T.U.s. Hence, the C.P. must address itself to the masses, and expect nothing from the leaders. And the only policy the C.P. has seems to be: “Change your leaders!”

(4) “To talk of organisation for ‘revolution,’ ‘class-conscious unions,’ 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.”

This replies to Brodsky’s point (1), and his appeal to organise for revolution instead of indulging in revolutionary phrase-mongering.

Once, again, the sympathetic strike, although it may ultimately benefit the British workers, is not for an immediate tangible object. And the starving workers are not being made desperate by the shipment of coal to the U.S.A. And mankind is driven to do those tasks lying nearest to hand, and which immediate necessity forces on them.

Although it is almost hopeless to expect the sympathetic strike, the same workers can organise for revolution. Starving or not, the workers are in their unions and political parties. Just as an army can organise without (and before) going into the firing-line, so the workers. The material conditions almost (if not quite) preclude a strike: the same conditions do not prevent class-conscious organisation of the workers. It is a question of “grub,” to strike: and the miners have no “grub.”

We, who at least have three sound meals a day, can strike like Hell. But the miners?—

(5) “The immediate practical measure relating to the American Coal Strike. . . .”

Brodsky was not asking, about the “practical” measures “relating to the American Coal Strike.” he (and I also) wants to know: What is the practical policy of the Communist on the industrial field? What is the plan and method of getting the workers to think and act intelligently? How is the working-class going to achieve solidarity? How is the Communist party organising for the revolution? What are its methods?

The last points have not been answered. As I left the C.P. because I could find no trace of a method of organising for revolution, and as every Communist has a plan of his own, I should like to know what the C.P. method is.

Yours fraternally,

[This letter has been “crowded out” for several weeks in succession. This week we have no room for Murphy’s reply to the above, which, therefore, we must hold over till next week. In the meantime, there have come to hand a reply to Brodsky from our Comrade Jack Carney, Editor of the (American), Voice of Labour. This also we will give next week.—Ed.]