The document below, taken from the Ukrainian Solidarity Campaign website, demonstrates just how absurd and misleading the recent slurs on Jeremy Corbyn presenting him as a supporter of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe have been, writes Andy Kilmister. As the document shows, Labour left-wingers were the most determined critics of Stalinism in the House of Commons in the run-up to 1989. Support for democratic rights and for independent workers organisations in the so-called communist countries gathered momentum following the suppression of the uprising in Hungary in 1956, and the associated events in Poland, that year and became a central feature of the New Left which emerged around CND in the late 1950s. Key figures in this were the left Labour MP for Liverpool Walton Eric Heffer and the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, Lawrence Daly. This movement was intensified in the 1960s, especially following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and provided the basis for left support for groups such as Charter 77 in that country in the late 1970s and for Solidarnosc in Poland in 1980-81. Parallel to this, many peace activists in Britain through the 1980s built up networks of support for opposition groups in Eastern Europe, especially through European Nuclear Disarmament (END).
This activity led to the formation of left-wing support groups for East European oppositionists such as the Eastern Europe Solidarity Campaign in 1978 and to journals like Labour Focus on Eastern Europe which started in 1977. Supporters of the Fourth International in Britain were active in these and worked together with Labour Party and trade union activists as well as members of other revolutionary groups – in many ways these campaigns were some of the most collaborative and least marred by sectarian arguments of all those mounted by the left during those years. It was this political background and milieu that shaped Jeremy Corbyn’s attitudes towards the crisis of Stalinism and Corbyn was a staunch supporter of the campaigns described here.
One of the central links between activists in Britain and oppositionists in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s was Jan Kavan, the founder of Palach Press who later became foreign minister in the Czech Republic. The Guardian of February 20th reports that Kavan regards Corbyn as a friend, and the two spoke at length when the Labour leader visited Prague in December 2016 to address European socialists. Kavan said of the allegations: “You have to take it not just with a pinch of salt, but a wagonload of salt.” He added: “It is a classic smear campaign. It is clearly designed to weaken Jeremy Corbyn’s position.”
As the document shows, the Labour left has much to be proud of in its record of support for democratic rights in Eastern Europe and no reason to apologise in the face of Tory smears.
IN DEFENCE THE LABOUR LEFT AND EAST EUROPEAN SOLIDARITY
Following a series of press lies against British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn linking him to Czechoslovakian communist intelligence, the International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox engaged in a wider smear against the entire Labour left. Speaking on the Andrew Marr show he said:
“I certainly think that the Labour left were the Soviet Union’s useful idiots during that period.”
“I certainly believe and I think it is true that Jeremy Corbyn and others were very useful to the Soviet Union during the Cold War because they undermined the arguments of the West.”
This is historical lies . The Labour left, including leading figures such as Eric Heffer MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP were opponents of the East European regimes and actively campaigned against the suppression of democratic rights in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
In contrast the hypocritical Tories were prepared to collude with the Stalinist regimes when it suited them, such as with the Polish junta of General Jaruzelski to obtain cheap coal to break the British miners strike. C coal mined in conditions of absolute repression whilst leaders of the independent trade union Solidarnosc rotted in prisons.
We publish below a series of statements which highlight the positions taken by the Labour left including leading MP’s such as Jeremy Corbyn. When revolution swept East Europe and the USSR in 1989 Jeremy Corbyn signed the following Early Day Motion in the House of Commons:
Corbyn supports the Democratic Revolutions in East Europe
Early Day Motion signed by one Jeremy Corbyn in 1989:
“That this House welcomes the magnificent movements in Eastern Europe for full democratic control over what happens in society and recognises that this outburst of discontent and opposition in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, in particular, reflects deep anger against the corruption and mismanagement of the Stalinist bureaucracy; sees the movement leading in the direction of genuine socialism, not a return to capitalism; congratulates the workers of the Soviet Union, particularly the striking miners of Vorkuta, in the Arctic Circle, who are leading the struggle for better pay and conditions and for an end to one-party dictatorship; notes that their fight has been in the face of vicious anti-strike laws of a type that even Her Majesty’s Government drew back from; believes that these mighty working class struggles deserve the full support of the British and international labour and trade union movement; and considers that the only way forward for the peoples of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is on the basis of a return to the principles of genuine workers’ democracy and socialism which formed the basis and inspiration for the October revolution.”
Above Jeremy Corbyn MP speaking alongside Marko Bojcun leading Ukrainian socialist and supporter of the popular movement Rukh.
When the East European Solidarity Campaign was set up in 1978 leading supporters were Eric Heffer and Philip Whitehead both Labour MP’s. Published below is the Foreword to the pamphlet The British Labour Movement and Oppression in Eastern Europe by Eric Heffer MP a leader of the Labour Left.
Above: Campaign to clear the names of victims of Stalinist show trials. Supporters include Jeremy Corbyn MP.
THE BRITISH LABOUR MOVEMENT AND OPPRESSION IN EASTERN EUROPE
FOREWORD — BY ERIC HEFFER MP
It is impossible to create a socialist society without freedom. Socialism and freedom are indivisible. Socialism means the flowering of the human spirit, not its destruction. Yet in part of the world, and in particular in the Soviet Union and the East European Communist-controlled countries, oppressive measures and administrative actions are taken against critics, in the name of socialism. Such oppressive measures have to be opposed, especially by socialists.
The truth is that such actions are a blot on the name of socialism, and hold back the struggle for socialism in Western Europe by decades.
Western trade unionists and workers, who over the years have gained hard won democratic rights and continue to advance and protect these rights, look at what happens in the so-called ‘Socialist Countries’ with horror, and often say, “If that is socialism, we want no part of it.”
There are, however, some British workers — a tiny minority — who continue to live in the past. They defend every action of the Soviet leaders, believing that in doing so they are protecting the Soviet Union from capitalist forces internally and from hostile capitalist elements outside. The fact that such workers exist, and that some of them write to write to the Soviet Embassy, is taken by the Soviet leaders as ‘proof that British workers are supporting them in their action against dissidents. The Soviet authorities therefore get a false impression. The overwhelming mass of the British working class are bitterly opposed to oppression in the Soviet Union, in other East European countries and elsewhere. And their opposition has to be mobilised to help those in the East European countries who wish to build a genuinely democratic socialist society.
This pamphlet by the Eastern Europe Solidarity Campaign is part of that mobilisation of the British labour and trade union movement, in support of those socialists, communists and trade unionists in the Communist-controlled countries who are seeking to change these societies into genuinely socialist societies. These comrades need our support. In Czechoslovakia there are those who signed Charter 77. They are being persecuted, imprisoned or made unemployed because of their action. In the Soviet Union, there are the workers, socialists and intellectuals who are imprisoned, sacked or placed in mental institutions because they dare to criticise, write books or poems, or seek to live abroad. Many of them are no longer socialists, equating the Soviet system with socialism, and recoiling from it. On the other hand there are others who retain their socialism, are strengthened in their resolve to obtain it precisely by their understanding of Marxism, and their practical experiences in the Eastern European states.
In Poland there have been the workers’ struggles, with the creation of the Workers’ Defence Committee and the trade union committees, and in the Soviet Union we have seen the attempt by groups of workers to form trade unions independent of the state, similar to those that exist in Britain, France, Italy, the USA etc.
In East Germany we have seen the imprisonment of Rudolf Bahro, an avowed Marxist, member of the CP, imprisoned for 8 years because he dared to write a book, The Alternative, outlining alternative Marxist concepts to those of the official leaders.
All these individuals and groups deserve our support, even if we do not always fully or even partly agree with their political ideas. To give such support does not mean that one is siding with those hostile reactionary forces who wish to create confrontation and possible war with the countries in which they live. Unfortunately the Soviet and other East European Communist leaders are helping the reactionary forces by their actions against the dissidents, the workers, the socialists and communists who are critical of the regimes.
The Soviet leaders make the struggle for socialism in the Western world much more difficult. Perhaps they don’t care, because if they did, they would desist from their oppressive actions. They are, of course, protecting their own privileged positions. If free and open debate took place in these societies, the people would demand change, as they did during the Polish Spring, the Hungarian Revolution and the Czechoslovak Spring.
The attempt by Dubcek and his colleagues to create “Socialism with a Human Face” had to be suppressed by the Soviet leaders because, if it had been successful, the peoples of the Soviet Union and the other East European countries would also have wished to establish similar types of societies, and that would have meant the end of the privileged position of the Soviet and other bureaucrats.
What is interesting is that the Socialist and Communist movements throughout Western Europe in particular are undergoing serious changes. The Communist Parties such as the Italian, Spanish, and to a lesser extent, the French have clearly distanced themselves from Soviet policy, especially towards the dissidents. This gives great hope for the future, and it must affect the situation in the East European states.
The time has therefore come when all of those who believe in socialist democracy, irrespective of other differences, should stand together in solidarity with those in the Eastern European states. Our struggle for socialism must be genuinely international. It means the defence of those who are oppressed in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Iran, and other East European countries. Socialists cannot have double standards. It is essential to oppose oppressive actions everywhere, especially in our own country.
This pamphlet clearly outlines the basic views of the EESC. Naturally everyone in support of the Campaign does not agree with every formulation in the pamphlet, but they do agree with its basic message.
I ask you, if you do agree with it, to join the Campaign; to get your Labour Party and Trade Union and Trades Council to also give their support; to get resolutions supporting the ideas of the campaign carried and forwarded to the National bodies, and to get them to support the Campaign also. In doing so you will be making a serious contribution to socialism, not only in Britain but also in Eastern Europe.
SOLIDARNOSC BACKS THE MINERS – JARUZELSKI AIDS THE TORIES
During the Miners Great Strike of 1984-85 the Tories shipped coal from the Stalinist regime in Poland to break the strike. An appeal condemning the conduct of the regime and the suppression of the independent trade union movement was issued by leading figures of the labour movement including left Labour MP’s, Denis Canavan MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Eric Heffer MP and others. The Stalinist Morning Star ran by the Communist Party refused to publish it. It is copied below.
THIS ADVERTISEMENT WAS PAID FOR AND SUPPORTED BY THE SIGNATORIES AND THE YORKSHIRE MINERS. IT WAS OFFERED TO THE MORNING STAR BUT HE EDITOR REFUSED TO PUBLISH IT – INSERTED BY THE INSTITUTE FOR WORKERS CONTROL LED BY KEN COATES. THE TEXT IS PUBLISHED BELOW
Appeal to General Jaruzelski
All over Europe trade unionists are responding to the British miners’ strike, since it is widely understood that any defeat of the miners in Britain will weaken all other trade unions in the country and be a setback for labour everywhere. But one of the most important countries in the continent provides the only significant exception to this rule In Poland the suppression of the independent trade union Solidarnosc, means that its voice has been muted, and may now only be monitored on illegal broadcasts, such as that which was recorded from Silesia, supporting the British miners. Meantime, Polish Government commitment to the continued supply of coal to strike-bound Britain continues uninterrupted.
In May a Polish trade mission visited Dublin to discuss coal supplies to Ireland, and there met number of British importers, including British Steel. Reporting this mission The Financial Times claimed:
“UK imports of Polish house coal have been running at almost double their usual rate since the beginning of the year. If the strike had not taken place about 130,000 tonnes of Polish house coal would have been imported this year. But traders say that so tar 100,000 tomes have been landed, and the final total for the year to likely to be 200.000 tonnes. Cawoods, part of the Redland Group, based at Cheltenham, confirmed yesterday that it had placed an order for 30,000 tonnes of domestic coal. It had purchased individual cargoes of Polish coal previously but this is its first long term contract.” (17th May 1984)
Some Polish coal is shipped through the port of Rotterdam, whilst it appears that other coal comes direct from the Polish Baltic ports. 6000 tonnes were delivered at Flixborough, near Scunthorpe, on the 28th May. But often it comes in smaller consignments which are discharged in the lesser ports of Trent and Humber, all of which are unregistered. Scunthorpe steelworkers are quite sure that they can identify all this as Polish coal.
The Financial Times (on the 22nd June 1984) has reported the arrival of supplies on “German, French and English registered vessels”. These were directed to the British Steel Corporation’s Scunthorpe works, and an “elaborate police operation kept most pickets away wharves on the nearby River Trent”. In addition to these consignments, the Financial Times reported on 6th June that two large bulk-carriers were on the River Trent, unloading 6,000 further tonnes.
At the end of June, four Doncaster pickets visited the Polish Embassy in order to request a cessation of these exports. The Polish Authorities would not budge, however, saying that they were enforcing contracts which had been negotiated as long ago as 1981.
But if the independent trade union movement, which might have been expected to black [boycott] exports, is no longer permitted to operate, a double burden falls on the Polish Government which claims to have installed itself (in a military putsch) the better to defend “socialism”.
Surely the least thing that can be expected of this military Government, if it were to be recognised as anything different from other military regimes in different parts of the world would be that it would declare a moratorium on coal exports during the present sufferings of the British miners? We the undersigned British trade unionists and socialists call on General Jaruzelski to take appropriate action forthwith.
Jeremy Corbyn MP Dennis Skinner MP
Denis Canavan MP Eddie Loyden MP
Eric Heffer MP Norman Buchan MP
Stuart Holland MP Robert Wareing MP
Frank Cook MP Derek Fatchett MP
Harry Cohen MP Ken Cameron
Bill Mitchie MP Geoff Hodgson
Martin Flannery MP Ron Taylor
Renee Short MP Ken Coates
Ray Ellis MP Ken Fleet
Vladimir Fisera Stan Newans MEP
John Malos Audrey Wise
Walter Kendall Valerie Wise