Friday, March 14, 2014

Obituary: Rudolf Frank (1971)

Obituary from the March 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our old comrade, Rudolf Frank of Vienna, passed away peacefully in his sleep on the 21 January. He was 88 years old and had been a fervent advocate of Socialism for over sixty years.

Rudolf Frank came to England before 1914. He attended economic classes at our Head Office and joined the Party. When the 1914 war broke out he was interned in Alexandra Palace as an "enemy alien". Whilst interned he ran classes on Socialism. On account of these activities he was deported to Germany when the war ended. He made several attempts to return to England without success. When the 1924 Labour government turned his application down he gave up and became reconciled to remaining in Austria, where he had moved from Germany.

Over the years he contributed regular articles to the Socialist Standard and the Western Socialist. He also tried to stir up interest in Socialism on the Continent, constantly writing letters of criticism to the Austrian national papers. At one time he made a tour of the continent in an effort to stimulate interest in Socialism. He made a reference to this in the following extract from an article he contributed to the fiftieth anniversary number of the Socialist Standard.
Upon returning to the Continent after World War I, efforts, however feeble, were not wanting to make the founding of a revolutionary Socialist Party in England known over here. Comrades of the writer started a group in Dortmund, Germany, which however seems to have eventually disintegrated after the death of the most active members. Before anything could be got under way here in Austria, even the Western pattern of democratic liberties was finally lost by the advent first of the Dolfuss-Schuschnigg dictatorship, then by Hitler and now by another occupation, so that for the last 20 years it has been virtually impossible to openly advocate the revolutionary socialist policy. I need hardly remind you of the fate awaiting anyone who exposes publicly in the Russian Zone the fraud and masquerade labelled communism.
In spite of the risks and the difficulties Comrade Frank found a way of getting over his ideas. He taught English to a class and used, as his examples of English, extracts from current copies of the Socialist Standard. Fortunately no member of his class ever gave him away.

Comrade Frank made a number of translations, including the translating of the following four pamphlets into German: "Socialism or Chaos" (Australia), "Russia 1917-1967" (S.P.G.B. London), "The Socialist Manifesto" (Canada), "History—Economics—Politics". He also wrote a sixteen page manifesto to the Austrian workers on the occasion of a General Election.

Until the formation of the Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten in Austria Comrade Frank had carried on his activities in isolation, though on rare occasions he had visits from English and American comrades in recent years. It is amazing that he could carry on alone with such enthusiasm during the years before the Austrian party was formed and without the assistance of anyone who shared his views. He also wrote a pamphlet explaining the socialist position which he spread widely. When he took a bus or train he would carry some with him and pass one over to anyone with whom he had got into conversation.

About ten years ago he attended our Easter Conference and addressed the delegates, giving them a description of the progress and the difficulties of pressing the socialist position on the continent.

Finally we must pay a tribute to the steadfastness of purpose with which our late comrade carried on his advocacy of the Socialist solution to the problems of capitalism. We are glad that he saw, before he died, the formation of a party in Austria, largely the result of his efforts, which will carry on the work he commenced. We would add that it was a great satisfaction to him when his son joined our Party — of which he has been an active member for over 30 years.

I would like to add a personal note. I first met Rudolf Frank in 1911 or 1912 when we both attended an economics class conducted by F. C. Watts in our old Head Office in Grays Inn Road. I kept in touch with him and had a great admiration for his solo efforts under difficulties over the years. I feel very sad that, like so many old friends, he has gone from us to the "tongueless silence of the dreamless dust".

Further Reading:
Socialist Standard November 1964 - Reminiscences of an old member
Socialist Standard December 1964 - Reminiscences of an old member (part 2)

Trotskyism (1984)

Book Review from the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Militant, Michael Crick (Faber & Faber, 1984)

Much of this book deals with the history of the Militant Tendency from its stumbling beginnings in the various Trotskyist organisations (whose remains have littered the fringes of the Labour movement for fifty years) to its present, influential role in Labour's left wing.

Entrism is discussed as a specifically Trotskyist tactic, but one interpreted in as many different ways as there are Trotskyist organisations. Militant have developed a peculiar brand called Deep Entrism, a modified version of the "waiting for Lefty" entrism whereby they join a party at a time of social and political upheaval in order to be at the forefront of the revolution when the right moment comes.

Michael Crick notes (page 25) that "it is particularly ironic that three of the main leaders of the recent campaign against Militant should have all incurred the wrath of party officials at one time or another: Denis Healey—the Communist infiltrator of the 1930s; Jim Mortimer—member of a proscribed organisation; and, above all, Michael Foot". He also finds it interesting that "rebels should so easily become leaders" (page 25), but it comes as no surprise to socialists or anyone else who sees the futility of workers placing their trust in leaders of any kind. The argument against leadership is eloquently (if unintentionally) stated throughout the book.

The chapters relating to the organisational manoeuvrings of the leadership, Militant and other groupings in the Labour Party will be regarded by some as a central and important feature of the book. In fact, it borders on the irrelevant. The book however is worth reading as an outline of the history and nature of Trotskyist organisations. The cult of leadership is demonstrated by looking at the various Trotskyist organisations, which seem to have been dominated by only three or four individuals over the past half century.

Allied to this question of leadership, the book examines the organisational form taken by all such parties, the form of democratic centralism. Nominally the leadership is elected by the members, but an outgoing leadership will propose to a conference the new leadership and central committee by means of a "slate" (or list) of candidates. Members do not vote for individuals but for such a slate and it is rare indeed for an alternative slate to be proposed. This explains the "remarkable continuity of the Militant leadership over the years" (page 105). It should also be noted that this process of a self-perpetuating leadership explains the enormous power and prestige such a leadership has relative to its own organisation.

The organisation of such groups as Militant and all other followers of Bolshevism is certainly centralised, but has little to do with any democratic process.

Crick's book is largely a patchwork of interviews with old acquaintances and colleagues of the Militant leadership, the author's own observations and prejudices and already well-known facts about Militant but there is virtually no new material on the organisation. Much of the information on Ted Grant appears to be intended to reduce argument to personalised ridicule, unfairly depicting Grant as a senile eccentric. It is indicative of the state of the Labour Party that while sections can hold enquiries  into entrist groups or whatever, and spend ". . . in the year leading up to June 1983 four of the Executive's monthly meetings . . .  devoted almost entirely to the issue" (page 200), they cannot find time to seriously examine the nature of capitalism or to reach any conclusion regarding the urgency of socialist revolution.

Militant may sloganise and print radical catchphrases on its front page headlines but is in fact just another reformist organisation which is well suited to the Labour Party. Whether Militant and the Labour Party retain their companionship or not is a matter of complete indifference to workers. The tragedy is that in the eyes of many workers, revolutionary socialism is confused with Trotskyism, Leninism and  Bolshevism. It is an urgent task to remedy this situation and expose the quack remedies not only of Militant, but all those on the political left who distort the meaning of socialism.
Steve England

Further Reading:
Socialist Standard September 2006 - 'Death of a tendency'