I once bought a tape of songs from the 1984-5 miners’ strike, and what did I find in amongst the songs by miners and about miners? A song about the 1982 British-Argentine war over the Falkland Islands which took it for granted that the right socialist approach was to back Argentina — the Argentina of the butchering military junta under Galtieri.
That had been the line of a sizeable part of the left, though not, as it happened, of the SWP, nor of Solidarity’s predecessor Socialist Organiser. In the tape about the miners, it was there as, so to speak, part of the “furniture” of the conventional left. It would enter into the consciousness of newcomers who had little knowledge of the issues raised for socialists by the Argentine seizure of the British-populated islands 400 miles from Argentina’s shores.
An episode of the TV series Foyle’s Law on 14 November reminded me of the tendency for pious myths to get substituted for history in the left.
Set in the Hastings area in June 1941, Foyle’s Law showed the police being instructed to watch a visiting leftist. Two profiteering capitalists were the villains of the story. An upright, candid, admirable shop steward was sympathetically shown trying to set up a works committee.
What the the influx of women into industry to replace men gone to the army meant to the employers — getting the same work for about half the pay — was spelled out. The senior police man, an Assistant Chief Constable, who wanted to frame the visiting leftist and lock him up without charge or trial, was shown to be pitiable as well as nasty. His estranged daughters is set to marry the agitator.
In general, the whole episode presented an honest picture of social realities, with a left and pro-labour-movement slant.
But that was not all it did. Who is the visiting agitator, politically? He is a supporter of the “People’s Convention”. He gets to explain to the decent cop hero what they stand for: working-class rights, “freedom for the colonies”, and so on.
Nothing is said by anyone to indicate that the People’s Convention was a Communist Party front during the Stalin-Hitler pact (August 1939 to 22 June 1941). Its central purpose was to make “peace” propaganda on behalf of Stalin’s ally Hitler -- peace on Hitler's terms.. De facto it was a pro-Nazi "left wing" organisation.
Its opposition to the British ruling class and the British Empire was accompanied by painting up Stalin’s ally Hitler as a victim of British and French imperialism, and someone who only wanted peace.
Lots of honest dupes were taken in by the People’s Convention’s “leftist” agitation against British capitalism and British imperialism, but it was the Stalinist cynics, not the dupes, who determined what the People’s Convention was. The TV story presented it as a bona fide left-wing organisation.
At the end of the episode the news comes in that Hitler has invaded Russia, and the agitator says to the good cop: “We’re on the same side now”. In fact the CP turned from making pro-Hitler to making pro-British-imperialist propaganda — and to strikebreaking in aid of the war effort.
I thought at first it was accidental irony that had the bad Assistant Chief Constable played by Corin Redgrave, brother of Vanessa, whose father Michael Redgrave was a luminary in the People’s Convention, one of the CP’s “useful idiots”, until a press outcry induced him to withdraw. Michael Redgrave was banned by the BBC for a while as a result.
But it may not be unlikely that Corin Redgrave had a hand in shaping the “leftist” but history-falsifying storyline. Does it matter? Yes, it does.
If the labour movement and the left does not know its own real history, then it will be unable to learn to avoid repeating its mistakes.