9 August 2010

About Cyril Smith

About Cyril Smith

Louis Godena wrote today, on the YCLSA Discussion Forum: “I had never heard of Cyril Smith before today.  What's his claim to fame?  I know he was British, but did he lead any party, or work in any revolution?”

So I wrote to Andy Blunden, of the Marxists Internet Archive. Andy lives in Australia, but spent many years in Britain until around 1985. Andy wrote back at once. I quote his responses (in bold) below. They are quite moving and revealing. Perhaps a few words of introduction from me may help.

In Britain there used to be several conspicuous Trotskyist parties. One of them was the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), founded and led for most of its existence by Gerry Healy, who turned out to be quite a monster in the end. The disintegration of the WRP in 1985 was accompanied by scandalous revelations about Healy.

The sordid Healy scandals are not the most politically instructive parts of the WRP or Trotskyist story. There were genuine scholars and philosophers among these particular “Trots”. After the pain of it, they were set free by the collapse, and then to a further extent set free by the collapse of the Soviet Union that occurred a few years later. One of these scholars was Cyril Smith.

When I got Louis’ message I wrote to Andy Blunden as follows: For myself, I always thought I knew enough about Cyril Smith from his writings, but who knows, maybe this comrade has a point and there is something to be learned from the late Cyril's story.

Andy wrote back:

“Unfortunately, Dom, the comrade who promised me a copy of Cyril's obituary never delivered and Cyril never talked about his past, so it is hard for me. The more so as I only renewed my acquaintance with Cyril 16 years after I left the UK, in about 2001, and then from the other side of the world. I believe he had been originally a miner and joined the Labour Party at a very young age and very soon after became a Trotskyist and joined Gerry Healy's group in the Labour Party.

“He got an education and became a lecturer in Economics at LSE and functioned as a kind of ‘party intellectual’ in the Workers Revolutionary Party. He was (like a lot of people) treated very harshly and came close to losing his sanity before Healy was expelled.

“During and after the expulsion of Healy he played a very stabilising role because of his long history in communism, amongst others who really knew very little.

“Later he developed differences with every one of his former comrades and was one of the first to take up the banner of ‘Back to the Real Marx,’ a cause which he pursued relentlessly and uncompromisingly. I count him as one of my teachers.”

Before I saw the above reply of Andy’s, I had sent a reply to Louis Godena on the group, saying what I thought about Cyril Smith from his work as published on the Marxists Internet Archive, and had copied it to Andy Blunden. Andy replied as follows:

“You are spot on Dominic. Supplementing what I said in the other mail I should say that Cyril was ruthlessly, uncompromisingly, brutally honest, to the point of being a ‘difficult person.’ He never spared himself or anyone, even though he always expressed his respect for Lenin and Trotsky, he did not spare them from criticism any more than he spared himself.”

Finally, I wrote again to Andy, asking for his permission to use his replies and to mention him by name. He replied:

“I would be delighted. I owe Cyril a lot and it would please me a great deal to be able to share what I remember of him with people in South Africa.”

If I find more about Cyril Smith I will collect it and perhaps pass it on at some stage. In the mean time, the Cyril Smith Archive on MIA remains an accessible, lucid critique that will benefit any Marx scholar, whether or not one agrees with Smith. - VC


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