Academic journal article Capital & Class

Will the Real Richard Hyman Please Stand Up?

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Will the Real Richard Hyman Please Stand Up?

Article excerpt

But I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now.

Bob Dylan, 'My Back Pages'


I am a little surprised that Capital & Class should devote a special issue to my writings, and am grateful to the editors both for their efforts and for the opportunity to respond to the contributions, almost all of which are measured and comradely in their criticism: indeed, in some cases remarkably uncritical. I will start with the four papers that focus on my work in the 1970s, before turning to the three that address my more recent writing on European trade unionism.

John McIlroy has outlined the industrial and academic context of my early published work. The broader background was also important. A key feature was the rise of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), perhaps the first mass 'new social movement' in Britain in the postwar era. It was opposed by the leadership of the Labour Party and, initially, by the Communist Party. The main support, apart from religious groups, came from the 'New Left' that had emerged after 1956, with the active participation of the tiny Trotskyist sects. But CND also captured the involvement of many young people with no tradition of political activism. My first Aldermaston March was in 1959, when I was 16, and as for many others this was a route into left-wing politics.

By the time I went to university, I considered myself a Marxist, and was quickly attracted to the International Socialists (IS). Roger Protz, for five years editor of Socialist Worker, wrote of that period (Protz, 1997):

   When I joined IS ... I was impressed and enthused by the
   wide-ranging, open debates, the lack of tin-pot dictators, the
   intellectual rigour of International Socialism, good humour and
   good beer after meetings and, above "all, a decent humility about
   the potential of a group with just a few hundred members. What a
   difference from the later IS that drew the conclusion that its lack
   of success demanded not retrenchment and self-criticism but the
   absurd leap into the crassly named 'mini mass party' of the SWP,
   with the expulsion of those who objected to the very type of
   'substitutionism' that the early IS had always ridiculed.

Though IS emerged from the fragmented Trotsykist movement, what was striking--in addition to those points stressed by Protz--was the absence of attention to Trotsky's writings. I am not sure whether I read any of his works until 1970, when I was researching in preparation for Marxism and the Sociology of Trade Unionism--and to be frank, did not then feel that I had missed much. Far more important was Rosa Luxemburg; as McIlroy notes, a double issue of the International Socialism journal was devoted to Cliff's study of her life and work, three or four years before I joined IS (and long before his Leninist turn), and I read her writings extensively. One of Luxemburg's slogans was 'Socialism or Barbarism'. The threat of nuclear war, starkly reinforced during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, was a form of barbarism she could not have anticipated. The cause of socialism acquired an apocalyptic urgency, and at the same time inspired a genuine sense of possibility.

The 1964-70 Wilson government disillusioned many of those with illusions in social democracy: Wilson seemed to be acting out the script analysed a few years earlier by Ralph Miliband (1961); his record was ruthlessly dissected from an IS perspective by Paul Foot (1968). Wilson's abject subordination to US foreign policy was countered by the Viemam Solidarity Campaign, formed in 1966, which organised two mass demonstrations in 1968, the year of the 'student revolt'. France in May 1968 was notable not only for the student insurgency but also for the mass strike action, which came close to overturning the Gaullist regime. The following year, the autunno caldo in Italy was less directly aimed at state power but achieved longer-lasting results, with the upsurge of factory committees which challenged managerial control as radically as those analysed, and inspired, by Gramsci half a century earlier. …

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