Not unfair to Ridley

If Terry Liddle wants to maintain that FA Ridley was personally a good sort (see Solidarity 3/87), I’ll take his word for it. I never met him. I know him only for his writings, including his pamphlet on Spartacus, which, decades ago, I read and thought very good.

What Ridley might have been as a person is beside the point. He did, in black and white, in the Socialist Leader, back the Stalinists in their savage repression of Hungary in October-November 1956 — and on the bizarre grounds that the choice was between the “Red” (Stalinist!) International and the “Black” international, that is the Catholic church.

Others of course, for other reasons, supported the Stalinists. Isaac Deutscher, for example, from whose “good” posthumous reputation the memory of such things — he also backed the Stalinists in suppressing the East German Rising of 1953 — has been expunged. But that doesn’t make Ridley any better, or his reasoning (“Red” versus Black International) any less bizarre.

Ridley was an explicit anti-Trotskyist from 1934, or earlier. When he joined the ILP in 1938 he wrote an article in the ILP’s New Leader explaining why, in which he denounced the Trotskyists as “unrealistic” and diversionary.

I know nothing of the ins and outs of his subsequent relationship with the ILP, only that his column appeared regularly (with, I recall, one break while he was “writing a book”). He wrote a couple of articles for the New York Militant around 1930; and Trotsky wrote denouncing Ridley’s “Trotskyist” manifesto as malign metaphysics, not politics and moreover, as akin to Third Period Stalinism (it’s in Trotsky’s “Writings”). I know of no reason to think that Ridley influenced any of the early Trotskyists — except perhaps negatively.

Terry Liddle quotes Al Richardson’s comment on Ridley. But Terry, Ridley was a “party man”, and moreover an active supporter of the ILP’s sorry Parliamentary leadership around James Maxton. (People who did idiotic things like praising Prime Minister Chamberlain for capitulating to Hitler at Munich in 1938.) Poor Al Richardson was, I think, projecting his image of himself onto Ridley. Al, when he was a Trotskyist — he had ceased to be by the end — was a heavily Stalinised Trotskyist. He supported the Russian colonial war in Afghanistan, for example. If he didn’t share Ridley’s position on Hungary — as far as I know he didn’t — that was because in his brief peregrination on the fringe of various small Trotskyists groups (and the Healyite youth movement) in the last half of the 60s he absorbed support for the Hungarian revolution as an article of basic faith.

Al Richardson’s statement (which Terry Liddle quoted) that the ILP leadership-man F A Ridley was too much of an individualist to belong to any party, shows how little Al’s judgement (in this case factual accuracy) can be trusted. He was the doyen of a school of subjective almost depoliticised “historians” most of whose work — look at the “editorial matter” in the files of Revolutionary History, if you want examples — seem to me to be part of the political decay of recent “Trotskyism”. But that is a very big subject in itself.

I am concerned with Ridley’s politics. There I did not misrepresent.

Mordecai Ryan