Response to Birchall on Ramelson by Tom Sibley
Ian Birchall's sour and sometimes snide review (London Socialist Historian's Group Newsletter, 2012) fails to engage with the book’s central arguments dealing inter alia with revolutionary strategy, the relevance of Leninism to British conditions in the 1960s and 1970s, the role of the rank and file in this period and so many other questions which Ramelson addressed, analysed and offered leadership on.
Birchall implies that we deliberately mislead readers about the content of Ramelson’s report on the 1958 Labour Party Conference, (World News, October 1958) in order to, in his words, “gloss over the fact that the Campaign for Nuclear disarmament was opposed by the Communist Party for the first two years of its existence”. This alleged fact is a fabrication and a total misrepresentation of the Communist Party’s position. If Birchall had bothered to look at CP documents and reports in the two years referred to, including extensive coverage in the Daily Worker, he would have seen that the Party gave full support to the activities of CND from its formation in early 1958 (See World News, March 1958 pp163-5). This is confirmed in the official history of CND (CND - The Story of a Peace Movement by Kate Hudson). To quote the relevant passage “An important mobilising group for the march was the communist-influenced British Peace Committee, which continued with a high level of activity during these years. In early 1958 it passed a resolution welcoming the formation of CND and urged its local groups to give support to the new organisation. According to John Cox, Chairman of CND from 1971-1977, this backing was one of the reasons that the turnout for the initial CND demonstrations was so much higher than organisers expected.” (pp 56-7)
Birchall accuses us of deliberately misunderstanding the World News article referred to above. But what we wanted to stress from the article was Ramelson’s analysis of the weaknesses of the Parliamentary left, particularly on economic strategy, and the failure of the trade union left to address the need to confront Capitalism. It was necessary, argued Ramelson, to target the trade unions and win them for a Socialist approach. It remains our view that this was the most important section of the article particularly since, as the book shows, Ramelson’s main work in the peace movement was in 1950’s Yorkshire where he did so much work with the miners in developing pit-based peace organisations (See Revolutionary Communist at Work pp53-7). We could, and perhaps should, have dealt with the Party’s peace work in greater detail. If we had we would have had no difficulty in showing what an important part the Party played in helping to build and sustain the peace movement over many years. This is contra to Birchall’s snide conclusions which, without evidence and relying on misrepresentation, attempt to deny the Party’s leading contribution to a broad range of progressive movements and campaigns.