“even tom mann—the best of them—is rather fond of saying that he is dining with the Mayor”. Lenin’s caustic observation springs to mind when reading Arthur Horner’s Incorrigible Rebel. The fiery little Welsh miner, whose burning hatred of injustice led him from the Baptist Chapels into the Communist Party, gets a significant satisfaction from the congratulations of an Earl Attlee or the kudos of a National Coal Board. That he doesn’t attempt to conceal this is a measure of his honesty. Nevertheless, after fifty years activity in the British trade-union movement, his frankness is still constricted by fear of his own conclusions. A highly personal account of the struggles of the miners and their unions throughout that period, his story adds nothing of importance to the record. But the vivid descriptions of the conditions against which the miners were in constant revolt should enlighten those who wonder at our bitterness.
The former NUM General Secretary tends to overestimate the progress made by the miners under nationalisation; and yet he minimises the prospect of further advance within a capitalist economy. That there has not been a single official strike in the coalfields since nationalisation is described as “an outstanding record”. “Outstandingly bad” is the verdict of the men in the pits, who still work a longer shift underground than in 1920 and whose minimum weekly wage is £10 11s. (£9 11s. for surface workers). The acceptance of consultation; in place of the traditional demand for workers’ control of the industry, is excused on the grounds that it just has to be that way in a capitalist society. It is implied, however, that workers’ control would operate under Socialism; so King Street’s official rejection of this concept seems to have gone unnoticed. The famous Grimethorpe strike of 1947, when all the machinery of the State, the Unions, and the Political Parties (the CP well to the fore) was used against the men, is described without a mention of the fines that were imposed upon them. This—and much more in the same vein—from the pen that attacks Mondism and the compulsory arbitration proposals of the pre-war period!
The real value of the book lies in the light it sheds on some of the internal dissensions in the British Communist Party. On trade union tactics, “Hornerism” was at one time a recognised deviation at King Street; but the Welsh nonconformist has also found himself frequently at loggerheads with his more orthodox comrades on political matters. He supported Pollitt against Dutt in 1939 on the Party’s attitude to the war. We are not surprised, of course, to learn that Palme Dutt took the view that it was an Imperialist war, that the Russians were treating it in that light, and that we must also regard it in that way. As John Gollan once put it, “Who do you think is right—Comrade Pollitt or COMRADE DIMITROV?” Horner is a humane and kindly individual and it is a pity he missed the opportunity to apologise to those whom he and the late Harry Pollitt so scathingly denounced for saying what they both secretly believed to be true—that the fight against Fascism was paramount. He honestly confesses that he knew in the thirties that people were being jailed in the Soviet Union who, he was vonvinced, could not be traitors. He includes Radek and Trotsky among those in whose “treachery” he refused to believe. He resented the worship of Stalin. But his silence at the time is explained by the international threat to the Soviet Union. This argument he carries over to the post-war period, when he solemnly lectures Tito on the need to maintain the unity of “the Socialist countries”. But his tone is radically different from that of the Pharisaic Dutt, who, in March 1961, calls Tito a black-leg. Horner now believes that the fake trials in Eastern Europe were probably the work of Western Agents. If so, how could he defend the Communist victims of these agents by keeping silent? Justifying his late public protest against the Nagy execution he admits, in fact, that silence is a tragic error. But he fails to see that the Party to which he still clings will in practice make no such admission. Gollan takes his erroneous conception to its logical conclusion. Horner refuses to do so. His conscience cannot entirely reject the claims of the present for the promise of the future. Only his tremendous prestige as a miners’ leader has saved him from the Party’s disciplinarians. A Peter Fryer is expelled and vilified for daring to concede an interview on his return from Hungary, to “the capitalist press”, to convey a critical Communist report which the Daily Worker had refused to publish. But an Arthur Horner can speak out against the Nagy’s execution to the Daily Express and get away with it. There is no sign that either Horner or his editor—the politically hermaphroditic Gordon Schaffer—have reflected on this instructive example of “inner-Party democracy”. Naive idealism or ethical elasticity?—or a mixture of both? I suspect that Horner is not at all sure. In prison for refusing to be conscripted; in Ireland with Connolly’s Citizen Army; in the coalfields battling against exploitation and unemployment, the spirit that shines forth from these pages is the stuff of which martyrs are made. Despite the mellowness of later years the flame still burns brightly. It may yet lead Arthur to a clearer vision of his original goal.