Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Stalinism, John Lewis and Ipswich.

with 8 comments

John Lewis: Stalinist. 

In the latest Revolutionary History (which cannot be too highly commended) there is a text in the section, “Christian Stalinism and Trotskyism.”

I shall later do a proper review of this bumper issue,  Trotsky and his Critics, but there is one thing which deserves immediate signalling.

The second of these two articles, which the editors rightly describe as something truly extraordinary (hate filled drivel) is an attack on Trotsky by somebody the identity (from internal textual evidence) can be called John Lewis, a “Unitarian Minister of Ipswich”.

The text in question, informed by the deep knowledge of international affairs available to an Ipswich Minister of an obscure Christian sect, is a defence of the Moscow Trials.

On authority, no doubt impeccable, it informs us that Trotsky’s agents had gone directly to the Japanese and German Embassies, to offer their services.

There is more, a lot more, in the same vein.

Lewis went on to become a leading figure in the Communist Party of Great Britain, a leading light in the Left Book Club and editor of The Modern Quarterly (one of the CPGB’s fronts)  from 1946-1953.

The Editors of Revolutionary History do not however inform us that John Lewis was the subject of a famous essay by Louis Althusser,  Réponse à John Lewis (1973).

Lewis had reinvented himself as a ‘Humanist’ Marxist.

Althusser, correctly, attacked this stand – no doubt informed by the knowledge that Lewis’s mate in France, Roger Garaudy, who took the same ‘Christian-Marxist’ line, was another Stalinist liar.

Anyway Ipswich people will be interested in Lewis’s career in our town (Wikipedia),

By 1929, his left wing views were too strong for the church he was in and he moved to Ipswich as a Unitarian minister. Here, his leftist political sermons attracted a large youth following, but upset a group of older, more conservative members. Their complaints led Lewis to offer his resignation, to be put to a vote of the membership. In a packed and charged meeting, he received the support of the majority of church members.

Lewis participated in anti-war political activity starting in 1916. On one occasion, he had to be rescued from an angry crowd. He also became involved in work to support the unemployed, and served on the local Trades Union Council. On one occasion, at Christmas, he led a group of unemployed men who marched to the Town Hall, where the Mayor was holding his formal Christmas dinner. They walked in and sat down, demanding to join the feast.

He also was involved with the Boy Scout movement, running a Scout troop, and authoring training booklets. He acted as a guide for outdoor holidays organised by the Holiday Fellowship. He often went to Switzerland, and took parties up the Matterhorn.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm

8 Responses

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  1. My pal Ron Heisler — an expert at finding esoteric documents — gave me copies of these two articles when I was doing my PhD research, and the one on the Moscow Trials completely amazed me, it was easily the most bizarre thing I’d ever read on the topic: a justification of the Trials on the basis of Christian theology. The documents were anonymous, but Ron suspected that Lewis was the author, and I did some textual comparison that gave us pretty good reason to think he was. The Garaudy connection is fascinating, not least because of his final incarnation as a frummer Muslim and Holocaust-denier to boot.

    Dr Paul

    December 29, 2013 at 12:53 pm

  2. I think you are likely to be right Paul. I picked up some Lewis texts at the Burston Rally a couple of years ago and this textual evidence (his syntax) is the same.

    I used to feel a bit of a rotter about Lewis, because E.P.Thompson said (the Poverty of Theory) he was an elderly gent and was being used by Althusser to attack his real enemy: Garaudy.

    Now, well, as you say, this stuff shines a different light on the whole thing.

    I wonder about the Wikipedia entry.

    I know the Ipswich left and our history pretty well.

    (Arthur) Leslie Morton, author of A People’s History Of England (1938), is probably the best known CPGBer to have a connection with the town.

    I have never heard anybody talk about Lewis.

    Andrew Coates

    December 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm

  3. I was taught GCE Geography at the Civic College by his “politically inarticulate” (his words) son, Martin. Seems you have little to worry about re Lewis’ influence.

    tractorfactorsteve

    December 29, 2013 at 1:27 pm

  4. Fascinating.

    Have been trying to sell a radio series idea to a BBC producer friend on red clergymen of this era and John Lewis looks like an excellent addition to the list.

    R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy)

    December 30, 2013 at 3:10 pm

  5. A must I would have thought!

    But I have been asking people around Ipswich about him and have so far drawn a complete and utter blank – and believe me I know loads of people here.

    Andrew Coates

    December 30, 2013 at 3:41 pm

  6. While emptying my father’s house of books that had accumulated over the last hundred years (many came from my Grandfather, my mother’s father), we found a book by ‘Bad Bishop’ William Montgomery Brown of Ohio, ‘Socialism and Christianism’. My brother-in-law siezed it with great glee and has taken a great interest in radical clergymen. Bishop Brown was the first Anglican clergy man to be tried for heresy since the Reformation, a charge he sidestepped by becoming a prelate of the Old Catholic Church. He tried to meld Marxism and Christianity and the last part of his life he spent preaching to the workingclass in America. Is he one of the clergymen you were thinking of Roger? (You’re not my brother -in -law in disguise are you?)

    Sue R

    December 30, 2013 at 9:04 pm

  7. So John Lewis, a radical Christian with a strong interest in philosophy, became a communist some time in the 1920s or 1930s. As a communist, he naturally believed the Moscow show trials of the mid-1930s to be genuine, and wrote some strange pieces defending them to his Christian colleagues. And by 1973, like very many communist veterans, he had mellowed quite a lot. Apart from the Presbyterian/Unitarian background, this seems a rather unremarkable story.

    Francis

    January 1, 2014 at 12:40 am

  8. I assume Francis you have read the text in question.

    I am familiar with Communist literature of the period, indeed I have a copy (amongst many other documents of the period) of the Socialist Sixth of the World by Hewlett Johnson.

    As my mother was a Communist fellow-traveller and many of the family’s friends were Communists (as in CPGB) I am also extremely aware of what people’s attitudes were.

    Believe me this a truly remarkable and vile piece.

    John Lewis, as E.P. Thompson pointed out, remained capable of this kind of filth right up till Stalin’s death.

    Andrew Coates

    January 1, 2014 at 2:18 pm


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