1975: Last Brush with Kidron
By 1975 Michael Kidron was distancing himself from the International Socialists, the organisation he had done so much to build. His final political break came with the article “Two Insights Don’t Make a Theory” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/kidron/works/1977/07/insights.htm ). But before that he was involved, as was I, in a dispute which divided the International Socialists – just as it has divided political forces at all points on the political spectrum – namely Europe, or as we called it in those days, the Common Market.
From the early sixties the IS position had been to reject both support for, and opposition to, the Common Market. Kidron himself had played a major role in developing this position – for example his “The Left and the Common Market” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/kidron/works/1962/sr/01-commarket.html ). But in 1971 the IS leadership shifted its position, urging a “No” vote when trade-union bodies debated the question. I was in a minority on the question, continuing to urge an abstentionist position; see my “Rejoinder to Harman on the Common Market” (http://grimanddim.org/political-writings/1971-rejoinder-to-harman-on-the-common-market/ )
In 1975 Harold Wilson announced a referendum on British membership of the Common Market. The IS leadership called for a “No” vote. This time, seeing the referendum as a prelude to an attack on wages (the so-called Social Contract) I went along with the leadership line. Kidron did not. In February he wrote a letter to Socialist Worker. It should be noted that at this time, despite “democratic centralism”, it was normal for leading comrades to debate political questions in the public press. (If I recall aright, Kidron was no longer a member of the National Committee, but had been so until recently.) [For background see my biography of Tony Cliff, pp. 327, 377.]
An ‘independent’ Britain cannot avoid being a junior partner of US capitalism. A Common Market Britain will be a small-to-medium-size partner in a European capitalism.
There’s no reason for us to favour one configuration of capital as against the other. There’s no reason for us to accept responsibility for one or the other. Nobody’s forcing us to vote in the coming referendum. I can’t understand how Chris Harman’s analysis leads to his conclusion to vote ‘No’. (1 February).
Don’t vote. Boycott the referendum.
(Socialist Worker, 22 February 1975)
This provoked discussion on the Letters page of Socialist Worker. I wrote in defence of the leadership line:
Vote Yes – if you want a wage freeze
When Michael Kidron writes (22 February) that the choice for British capitalism is to be a partner for European capitalism or a junior partner for US capitalism, he is right in the long run.
In the short run the majority faction in British capitalism wants to stay in Europe. A massive ‘No’ vote will be a serious setback, though not a deathblow to them. A ‘no’ vote will also be a setback for the rightward moving Labour government. As The Economist put it last week: ‘In every discussion under Labour ministers these days it becomes more apparent that the referendum is the watershed that all of them are waiting for.
‘Only after then can the moderate men who back Mr Wilson in cabinet expect to assert their authority.’ In plain English, a ‘Yes’ vote would make it that much easier to push through a wage-freeze.
If in trade union branches, trades councils, students unions etc the International Socialists argue against participation in the ‘No’ campaign, then we disqualify ourselves from demanding that any meetings that are held are on a class basis, not a nationalist basis.
The ranks of the ‘No’ campaign contain many scoundrels and nationalists; they also contain many militants we must talk and argue with. To abstain is to stay at home and not vote along with the dead, the drunk, the drugged and the demoralised.
(Socialist Worker, 1 March 1975)
Kidron responded with typical brevity to me and other critics:
The NO brigade in IS are taking off into fantasy. Vote Yes, they say, if you want a wage freeze (1 March) as if there won’t be a wage freeze if you vote No … Don’t vote. Boycott the referendum.
(Socialist Worker, 19 April 1975)
I met Kidron twice later – at Cliff’s seventieth birthday party and at Cliff’s funeral. We exchanged polite greetings but little more. The above was my last political exchange with the comrade from whom I had learned so much over the preceding thirteen years.