Papers of Jock Haston, including records of the revolutionary Communist Party and other Trotskyist groups
- Admin History:
- James Ritchie (always known as 'Jock') Haston was born in Edinburgh in 1913 and went to sea at the age of 15. He became a Communist, but his disillusionment with Russia grew when, as a merchant seaman, he saw Soviet ships breaking the public trade boycott of Nazi Germany. He left the Communist Party and became a Trotskyist. He was involved with various groups over the next few years, including the Revolutionary Socialist League and particularly the Workers' International League. When the WIL and the RSL merged in March 1944 to become the Revolutionary Communist Party, official organ of the Fourth International in Britain, Haston became its General Secretary. In April 1945 he was the first Trotskyist to contest a British parliamentary election, polling a respectable 1781 votes at Neath. Over the next few years however, the RCP failed to make progress. The prediction - central to Trotskyist thinking - of a major post-war slump, followed by violent international proletarian revolution led by themselves, remotely to materialise. A bitter and long dispute between those, like Haston, who favoured an open party and the vocal minority, led by Gerry Healy, who preferred 'entryism' into the Labour Party, eventually led to the demise of the RCP in 1949. Haston himself abandoned Trotskyism and joined the Labour Party, which he continued to support for the rest of his life. However he never ceased to be anti-Stalinist. He became a lecturer for the National Council of Labour Colleges and between 1964 and 1973 was head of the Electrical Trade Union's Training College at Esher. Finally between 1973 and 1976 he was national education officer of the General Municipal and Boilermakers Union. His wife Millie was one of the famous group of South African Trotskyists who came to Britain in 1938-39. He died in August 1986.
The Haston archive represents a major source for scholars of the modern British Left. It effectively catalogues the numerous fraticidal ideological and tactical disputes which were so characteristic of the movement during Haston's lifetime. Whilst the collection contains material from the 1920s to the 1960s, it is most important for the period from about 1935 to 1950, particularly with respect to the Workers' International League and the Revolutionary Communist Party. The material present includes: minutes, internal party bulletins circulated to members, conference documents, broadsheets, memoranda and correspondence. There is an important file containing accounts, minutes and correspondence of the Trotsky Defence Committee between 1936 and 1938. This includes letters from Bertrand Russell and HG Wells.
The fusion discussions between the Revolutionary Socialist League and the WIL of 1943-44 and the fusion conference of March 1944 are well documented. Another RCP file concerns proposals made between December 1945 and June 1946 that allegations made at the Moscow show trials of 1936-37 (about Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and other 'Old Bolsheviks') should be tested at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Correspondents on this subject include Clement Attlee, Arthur Koestler, George Orwell and Natalia Sedora-Trotsky, Trotsky's widow. Other British groups represented in the collection include: the Militant Group, the Militant Labour League, the Revolutionary Workers' League and the Marxist League. There are files on many overseas countries, including France, Germany, Greece, India and Ireland. Much of the overseas material concerns the United States of America - specifically the Minneapolis Sedition Trial of 1944. Apart from Haston, leading figures represented in the collection include: Ted Grant, Gerry Healy, Albert Goldman, Felix Morrow and Max Schachtman. Perhaps one of the most interesting documents in the whole collection is the original typescript of the only play ever written by the distinguished West Indian writer CLR James. James was born in Trinidad in 1901 and moved to England in 1932. He became a leading member of the Trotskyist movement. The inspiration for his play 'Toussaint L'Ouverture' was the revolt in 1800 led by the black slaves of French San Domingo (now Haiti). They were led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, who later died in a French prison. The play was first produced by the Stage Society in 1936 with James' friend Paul Robeson taking the lead. The Haston collection contains what appears to be the earliest typewritten draft of the play, comprising 109 leaves, with annotations