On 21 January 1941 the British government banned the Daily Worker. Eighty years later that paper’s successor, theMorning Star, commemorated the ban with lengthy articles by editor Ben Chacko and Communist Party of Britain head of communications Phil Katz.
Katz describes the ban as the culmination of “a decade-long struggle with censors, libel suits [and] grizzly judges.” The paper, says Katz, “was not banned for anything in particular that it said ... [but] in order to disrupt the labour movement.”
Chacko, on the other hand, quotes (before dismissing) the then-home secretary Herbert Morrison’s claim that the paper was “undermining the war effort” and informs readers that the paper’s editorial stance was “that the second world war at that stage was an inter-imperialist conflict.”
Neither Katz nor Chacko can bring themselves to spell out the fact that the ban was a direct result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact signed on 23 August 1939. Chacko mentions it, but emphasises that “the about-turn in Moscow’s policy was far from universally supported by British communists at the time...” Katz claims that “if the ban had just been about the war, then the paper would have reappeared very soon after the Soviet Union was invaded [June 1941] and the Communist Party came all out in favour of the war effort.”
Neither of these writers properly describe the reality of the Pact or its effect on the policy of the Comintern [Stalin’s international] and of Communist Parties everywhere. It meant not just “neutrality” or describing the war an “inter-imperialist conflict”: it meant making pro-Hitler propaganda, embellishing the German regime and its supposed “desire for peace” which British imperialism was frustrating. George Orwell (who opposed the Daily Worker ban, as Trotskyists at the time of course also did) wrote that the Pact “brought the Stalinists and the near Stalinists into the pro-Hitler position.”
TheDaily Worker accused the British government of seeking to “impose British imperialist peace on Germany” as a prelude to attacking the Soviet Union.
TheManchester Guardian accurately described how the Daily Worker reflected the Comintern’s line: “it changed its tune when it found that Stalin wanted to be friends with Hitler. Day after day since it has vilified the British Government and its leaders to the exclusion of any condemnation of Hitler.”
As well as failing to properly describe the Pact and its effect upon the official “Communist” movement (and “fronts” like the Daily Worker), the two Morning Star articles are full of other lies, omissions and half-truths. Chacko, for instance, claims that “Britain devoted more resources to aiding Finland, a Nazi ally ... than it did to fighting Germany before the fall of France” — failing to mention that Finland was invaded by Russia in November 1939 (the “Winter War”) when Russia was the “Nazi ally”!
Chacko even gets his facts wrong when it comes to the London Blitz, claiming that the Daily Worker had championed “the need for deep shelters to protect people from the Blitz and the Communist Party’s fight to allow people to take shelter in Tube stations... and this above all was the reason for the ban.” Leaving aside the preposterous idea that the campaign to open up tube stations as air-raid shelters was the main reason for the ban, it is a matter of record that the campaign was not organised or led by the Communist Party, but by the Trotskyists of the Workers International League (with the support of some individual CP members like the young Alfie Bass).
At least the Morning Star can claim to be continuing in the tradition of the Daily Worker: lying in big matters and small, as a matter of course.
• JD acknowledges using information from The Devils’ Alliance by Roger Moorhouse (2014) and The Evolution of the Mythical British Fifth Column by Richard Thurlow (Twentieth Century British History, 1999).