Sunday, July 01, 2007

Monty Johnstone

The unexpected death of "Monty Johnstone, Political and Social Historian" and Eurocommunist was announced in the Death Notices in yesterday's Guardian.

In Francis Beckett's Enenmy Within, The Rise and Fall of The British Communist Party (1998) Beckett acknowledges the "tireless Monty Johnstone who has been generous with his deep knowledge" and says that Monty has "spent many years of his life making sure that the darkest secrets of international Communism are not swept under the carpet" (p viii).

Becket goes on to mention that
"Monty Johnstone, condemned in the higher reaches of the CP ever since 1956 as a revisionist, was staying in Prague at the time of the Soviet invasion. I'd gone to spend a holiday to see what was going on - I was attracted by the programme of democratisation. On the night of 20 August I was with a the director of Czech television, Jiri Pelikan, who was also a member of Parliament's foreign affairs commission. He thought the Soviet Union would invade. I said he was exaggerating - Brezhnev would not be so foolish. As we parted outside the television station at 10 pm he said, "Come and see me again, if I'm still here." I laughed. But he was never to enter that building again."
Later Johnstone was to draft a pamphlet, at the request of the YCL, called Czechoslovakia's Struggle for Socialist Democracy. (Becket p164 - 165). After almost a decade of exile from the top ranks of the CP Johnstone "was at last respectable again and in demand to address meetings" (Becket p165).

For a more critical piece try this essay from 1976 by Jim Higgins on Monty Johnstone.
YOU CANNOT help having a sneaking regard for Monty Johnstone. He is quite un-putdownable. Not only that, by a quirk of an unjust world, he seems to have discovered some spring of eternal youth.

Perhaps that is why his best writing is reserved for the pages of the Young Communist League magazine, Cogito. In the late 1960s he produced a lengthy critique of Trotsky and Trotskyism part 1.

Despite a promise, in part 1, of an early appearance of part 2, we have had to wait 7 years to get the full beauty of Monty’s thought on the question. But now it is with us and it would be surly to cavil at the delay.

Monty Johnstone has some credentials, that set him apart from his fellow CP authors on the subject, to write on Trotskyism; In his extreme youth he was a Trotskyist, a trauma which – if it did not last long – must have left lasting scars.

He has actually read the source material, which as I say puts him one up on such as John Mahon, Willie Gallagher, William Wainwright, Betty Reid, Marjorie Pollitt, J.R.Campbell and a host of others – who have vented their ignorant literary spleen on Trotsky.

Monty knows that Trotsky was not in the pay of the Mikado (the one in Japan, not the Labour MP), Adolf Hitler or anyone else and, refreshingly, he says so. He takes some pains to point out that on Germany, during the rise of Nazism, Trotsky was right and Stalin, and the Comintern, were wrong.

That, however, is as far as Monty will go. On every other question Trotsky was wrong, apparently. The “fallacy” in Trotsky’s thought is traced back to his theory of Permanent Revolution. This theory, placing as it does the working class as the central core of socialist strategy and action, blinded poor old Trotsky so it seems, to the great revolutionary potential of the middle classes, the peasantry and the “progressive” capitalists, as represented, for example, by the Kuo-Min-Tang.

Now, of course, this is a point of view, and one that has activated the minds of the Stalinist wing of communism for many years. It is not, nevertheless, the only view on the question.

It is for example the view of quite a number of people that the theory of permanent revolution is one that explains, in a Marxist way, the developments of the post-war period in Eastern Europe and China and several other “workers’ paradises”.
In part 1 of his work Monty Johnstone conceded, readily, that the Moscow trials were a frame-up: What he did not make clear, though, was the reason for the need of such a method of winning an argument.

The fact is that Stalin was neither right or wrong on the questions Monty Johnstone discusses. Zinoviev and Kamenev were right, or wrong. Bukharin was right, or wrong. But Stalin just won the arguments and in the end it was with a gun or a long distance ice-axe.

In the process the Communist International was transformed into an instrument of Russian policy. The Communist Parties became the extension of Russian diplomacy. And almost without exception the men who made the revolution were killed, disgraced or capitulated completely.

Now sophisticated CP apologists will argue, with the characteristic dialectical chop-logic of the breed, that whatever the crimes of Stalin, whatever the inadequacy of his theoretical grasp, it all came right in the end.

Well that too is a point of view. Even if it flies in the face of all the facts, and it ignores the divisions in the Communist movement, and the abject failure of the Western Communist parties to see any route to socialism except via a bourgeois parliament.

It is true that Trotsky had his failings but he never dreamed that working class power could be exercised through a capitalist institution. For Monty and his chums in the Italian CP this may smack of ultra-leftism; for others it sounds dangerously like marxism.

Our advice to Monty Johnstone is that, now he has completed his work on Trotsky, he should reexamine the Stalinist tradition and attempt to explain the phenomena of the late J.V.Stalin. It will be instructive, worthwhile for the YCL and will undoubtedly get him a highly paid post squaring circles.

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