by Eric Trevett
Shaking the chains: by Fred Westacott , foreword by Tony Benn, 400pp, Pbk. £12.00, 2002.
CLASS CONSCIOUS from an early age, Fred Westacott was an engineer by trade, an active trade unionist, peace campaigner and communist. He set high standards and was well respected in the labour movement. For a number of years he was district secretary of the East Midlands District of the CPGB. He played a leading role in the prevalent revisionist trend in the CPGB that eventually led to the dissolution of that Party.
Fred Westacott would probably not have thanked anybody who described him as working class intellectual. But he was that and his grasps of revolutionary theory helped in his work to mobilise working people to participate in their own struggles.
His biography is of great value to the working class and labour movement.
It is written in the context of the struggles of the time. His writing brings to life past struggles and more than that, he strived to enrich the movement by drawing out the lessons of those events. He also gained inspiration from the role and achievements of the Soviet Union. Probably the most stressful period of his life was the years he was at odds with his Partys revisionist leadership. With vicious attacks and in an unprincipled way, he was targeted.
For communists interested in the recent history of the movement, his chapters dealing with the 20th Congress of the CPSU and the adoption of the British Road to Socialism (the CPGBs programme) and the general struggle against revisionism are of great interest. Whilst not agreeing with the totality of his analysis regarding the British Road it has to be remembered that his opinion was formed after deep thought and very much discussion with his comrades.
It is clear that Rajani Palme Dutt was one of the few comrades in the leadership of the party who had endeavoured to counter Khrushchevs negative and destructive attack on Stalin.
Fred Westacott may have had sympathies for Palme Dutts position, and was heartened by his Notes of the Month on Czecho-Slovakia in 1968 in Labour Monthly.
And like all those fighting revisionism, Fred Westacotts principles were not to be laid aside for lure of a comfortable career. Whilst operating the Partys policy, he made no apology for his opinion on matters of contention.
In spite of having the overwhelming support of his district he was removed from office by the Executive Committee and in the ensuing period strenuous efforts were made to discredit him.
On the British Road to Socialism Fred Westacott justified abandoning the Marxist position of smashing the capitalist state machine in favour of transforming the existing state machine in light of the developments in eastern Europe with the emergence of peoples democracies.
He instances communists and anti-fascists acting together and the positive relationship between communists and social-democrats when forming governments. But what also should be taken into account was the presence of the Soviet Union which also had the effect of determining socialist orientation of these countries in contrast to what happened in western Europe.
The question that has to be asked and cant be dodged is which ideology triumphed the ideology of social-democracy or the ideology of Marxism-Leninism.
Before the Second World War the communist movement in most of eastern Europe was weak. After the war and the general swing to the left, those communist parties grew very rapidly.
But as capitalism was consolidated in western Europe and social-democratic governments were weakened or replaced by more conservative elements the revolutionary fervour of parties in the east were also affected. Especially by the apparent rapid rise in living standards and lack of sharp economic crises.
Other factors which suggested that social-democracy was gaining the ascendancy in the international arena was the inability of the communists to hold regular international conferences and the lack of a consistent fight against Euro-communism which had deviated from Marxism-Leninism and had its roots in social-democracy.
The huge size of the communist parties in Eastern Europe gave the impression of strength but in many cases the ratio of cadres to members was small.
Here in Britain we tended to fight the battle against revisionism on a national basis. To some extent we were all guilty of not recognising the global picture.
Fred was victimised by the EC for his struggle against revisionism. But this book also relates the determined way his comrades on the district fought to get him restored to office and they succeeded in doing this. In the struggle against revisionism the main centres of resistance were to found in the smaller districts. Namely the East Midlands, Sussex and of course Surrey which in 1977 realised that the time had come to make a decisive break with revisionism altogether and with individuals from other districts, formed the New Communist Party.
Fred Westacott and the East Midlands district chose a different path. In our opinion, it was a mistake to remain loyal to the road which led to the CPGBs inevitable dissolution. But they made an even greater mistake to form the CPB on the basis of the revisionist programme of the British Road, which as well being weakened by further revisions was in fact flawed from its inception.
Nevertheless this is an important book. His insight into the class struggle over the decades is worthy of careful consideration. It was written by a man who dedicated his life to the struggle for the advancement of the working class.
He shook the chains of bondage. Others will take up his banner of communism and break those chains the chains of capitalism, exploitation, and war.
The book can be ordered by post. Cheques for £12 plus £2.50 p&p to : Westacott Memoirs, c/o Chesterfield Unemployed Workers Centre, 54 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 IJR.