nowadays most people recognise that Stalin’s rule in Russia was a perversion of the very name of socialism. But for many years those on the left who spoke out against Stalin were few in number and often persecuted.
Those pioneers should be remembered—without them our movement today would not exist.
Harry Wicks was born in Battersea, south London, in 1905. He was deeply affected by the high level of political discussion and activity in this working class community.
Though he left school at 14 to work on the railways, he read widely and became a genuine working class intellectual.
At the end of the First World War there was widespread discontent, and also great enthusiasm for the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Harry attended a mass meeting at the Albert Hall to hear some of the first visitors to the new workers’ state, and shortly afterwards was a founder member of the Communist Party.
Harry helped produce a rank and file paper for rail workers, the Victoria Signal, and was highly active in the 1926 General Strike.
As a young militant with the ability to be a workers’ leader of the future, he was sent in 1927 to the Lenin School in Moscow.
The Lenin School trained revolutionaries. The students followed lectures on Marxist philosophy—but they were also taught horse riding and how to use guns.
His three years in Russia enabled Harry to see what survived of the revolution. Much in Russian society he found good, but he also saw how the original ideas of equality were being undermined.
Leading party figures had smart clothes while ordinary workers lived in poverty. The rule that imposed a ceiling on how much party members could earn was abolished.
Above all, it was the time when Stalin succeeded in finally defeating Trotsky, and imposing the theory of “socialism in one country”. From now on the world Communist movement would serve the interests of Russia’s rulers.
On his return to Britain Harry saw the decline in the Communist Party. Once he took part in a large demonstration of unemployed people in Battersea. The rest of the local Communist Party branch watched through the windows of the swimming baths—they were having a meeting on Leninism.
The key question was Germany. Here the Communists pushed the absurd line that the Social Democrats (the equivalent of the Labour Party) were “social fascists”.
Trotsky predicted that such disunity would enable Hitler to take power. Harry and his friends argued against the Communist position, and were eventually expelled.
A tiny group of about 40 members launched a monthly paper, Red Flag, selling 500 copies.
In 1932 Harry travelled to Copenhagen where he met Trotsky. He was now committed to building a Trotskyist movement which could pick up the best traditions of the early Communist Party.
In 1936 Stalin launched the Moscow trials. Many of those who had made the Russian Revolution were accused of various crimes and condemned to death.
Not only Communists, but many in the Labour Party, and magazines like the New Statesman, supported the rigged trials. Harry played a leading part in exposing the fraud.
He attended packed meetings of Communist Party supporters and demanded the right to speak in face of opposition.
When the Second World War approached, Harry became involved in the Socialist Anti-War Front.
They argued that while Nazism was thoroughly evil the populations of Britain’s colonies suffered just as badly as Hitler’s victims.
For British workers the main enemy was at home.
During the war Harry joined the Independent Labour Party, which opposed the government coalition of Labour, Tories and Liberals.
For a while he helped produce a magazine called Free Expression. The Communist Party issued a pamphlet telling its supporters to treat Trotskyists “as you would treat an open Nazi”.
After the war Harry was inactive for a while, but in the late 1960s he joined the International Socialists (forerunner of the SWP). He helped inspire many of the new generation.
Sadly in 1975 there was a bitter argument about tactics, and he was part of a group which was excluded.
But in the 1980s he resumed contact with the SWP.
In 1986, three years before his death, he addressed a packed rally at Marxism on the fiftieth anniversary of the Moscow trials and received a standing ovation.