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The most significant event in the life of England's adolescent Labour Party was unquestionably the Russian Revolution. Immediately, instinctively, Labour moved to protect the new socialist state from the danger of extinction by the capitalist entente. The party--especially the trade unionists which formed its core--fully appreciated the vast gulf which separated the British socialist parliamentarian from the Russian Marxist revolutionary, yet it never ceased its work to ensure that Russia was given the same rights as any other state. At the same time, with a ruthless vigour, it acted to destroy communism at home.
The paradox of this dual policy is the thread which binds the separate sections of Mr. Graubard's addition to the excellent series of Harvard Historical Monographs. Labour saw no inconsistency here. The British Communist Party regarded Labour as its arch-enemy, even after the "united-front" directives of the third congress of the Comintern and no tactics were too underhanded for the communists in their efforts to woo the working class. Further, the smear techniques of the Conservative and coalitionist opposition drove Labour to even greater lengths to keep from being linked with communism in the public mind. In every statement, Labour repudiated the very fundamentals of Lenin's Russia.
The Alliance of Necessity
These same pronouncements, despite sharply critical reports from Labourites who went to Moscow, continued to stress the need for normal relations with the Soviet state. As Mr. Graubard points out, Labour's initial position as a pariah in domestic politics resembled that of the Bolsheviks in the community of nations. Moreover, they faced a common enemy: "The forces which engineered Khaki elections, and published posters with slogans of 'red menace' attached to gory images, were now involved in creating and ostracizing a foreign 'foe.' The Labour Party's adversary was also Russia's enemy; how sensible, therefore, that the party should be Russia's friend."
Series of Sketches
Mr. Graubard's volume is more a series of sharply-drawn sketches than a coherent whole. Those dealing with domestic politics are uniformly good. From the minutes of countless conferences and the sprawling but pitiful left-wing press, the author has assembled what is by far the best existing picture of early Labour-Communist relations. His account of the collapse of Labour's brief 1924 Government, weighed down by its recognition of the Soviets, the blown-up Campbell case, and the Zinoviev letter, is masterful. The amount of information Mr. Graubard can squeeze from the 1924 election statistics alone, in his attempt to prove that the Zinoviev letter was not the political disaster it has been held to be, is as amazing as his analysis is entertaining.
Half a Picture
But British Labour and the Russian Revolution is disappointing because it does not fully live up to its title; in failing, it illustrates the real dangers of writing a history of one aspect of a total event. Mr. Graubard skillfully summarizes the influence of Russian events on the Labour Party and of Labour's protest on the Government. But just as important in the complex web of Anglo-Soviet relations was the positive role Labour at times played in the actual process of policy formation, and in turn, the effect this participation had on the party.
One of the turning points in these relations came in January, 1920, when British pressure caused the Supreme Council to end the Russian blockade and initiate trade through the Russian co-operative societies. The British co-operatives, with their close ties to the Labour movement, played a not-inconsiderable part in the formation of this policy, yet Mr. Graubard does not even mention these events. And when Lloyd George appointed James O'Grady, a Labour M.P. and trade union official, to carry on prolonged negotiations with Litvinov for an exchange of prisoners, what effect did O'Grady's participation have on Labour thinking towards Russia?
It is a pity that Mr. Graubard did not find time to consult the diplomatic record; another dimension would have been added to his admirable study, and its usefulness in illuminating a too-little-known part of Labour's history would have been considerably increased.
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