We’ve all sent off money for subscriptions and then had to endure a long wait. Pity those who, having sent 4 one-penny stamps for a subscription to the Voice Of Labour, journal of the Left Fraction, are still waiting over 70 years later…
It was at the beginning of October 1948 that a group (or individual) styling itself the Young Communist Action Group sent out a “Draft Programme for Workers Control” to branches of the National Union Of Teachers.
The document reads like a satire or an ultra-left parody and at least two were returned to the given address- one with WHAT TRIPE! scrawled across it in red teachers’ crayon from Shoreditch School and another with sarcastic comments pencilled on the reverse.
Very quickly (8th October) Harry Pollitt, secretary of the Communist Party, penned a short letter or press release (probably in the Daily Worker) saying the YCAG had nothing to do with the CP or YCL.
A few days later the Daily Mail declared that teachers all over the country were protesting against a “Communist propaganda circular”. Communist sympathisers in the NUT were blamed for obtaining an out-of-date list of NUT secretaries.
The Mail apparently spoke to one of the two people named on the leaflet as distributors reporting, “Mr Selby, a 35 year old hairdresser, said last night: I know nothing of this leaflet and neither does my colleague Mr Mercer.”
However, many recipients took it seriously enough to respond to the request to send stamps to Messrs Mercer and Selby, 424, St Georges Road, Glasgow in the hope of receiving copies of Voice of Labour and / or further information about the probably fictitious YCAG.
We have over 30 such letters, some with stamps still attached, many on school or NUT official stationery. It would seem there really was a thirst for a militant programme of action within the NUT rank and file and branch officials at the time and this fake one struck a chord!
We also have one terse letter asking for no further communication and three strongly worded repudiations of the document and communism or socialism in general. Two of these, from London RC schools are handwritten but use identical forms of words…
One letter from an NUT member sought clarification as to whether it was a joke having astutely noted his copy came from an East London address whereas the VOL address was Glasgow. (NB the returned copy from Shoreditch also bore an E1 postcode)
Another letter from Lancaster Young Conservatives requested copies for their library if it was not a ‘leg-pull’.
But of course it WAS a leg-pull and upon learning of the hoax the comrades of the Left Fraction went into hyper-drive.
Tom Mercer wrote to all respondents repudiating the ‘Draft programme’. He pointed out that Voice Of Labour was sold exclusively to Labour party members and asked correspondents to clarify their membership with him.
At the same time letters were sent to the NUT and its journal The Schoolmaster denying all knowledge of the YCAG.
The NUT duly responded by letter on 19th October and the 21st October 1948 issue of the Schoolmaster carried a front page article on the YCAG affair and a ‘firm reply’ from the NUT Executive.
However, despite LF / VOL protestations the Schoolmaster article says it has no way of knowing if the document is a forgery as the VOL had already “set out a draft programme very similar to that set out in the document”
The paper then continued with detailed minutes of the NUT Executive meeting and reproduced the YCAG circular in its entirety- again with Mercer and Selby’s address.
In the same issue of that journal another letter from Harry Pollitt re-stated his denial that this was anything to do with the CP.
And there the matter might have ended were it not for the fact that few weeks later, on 11th November a letter to the Schoolmaster by one A. Cox of 498, Fulham Road, London again publicised “Voice Of Labour”. We do not have a copy of this letter or the issue of Schoolmaster (can anyone help with this).
This prompted another letter (probably from Tom Mercer) setting the record straight and investigations by the Left Fraction comrades which demonstrated that there was no Mr Cox residing at the given address…
A month later Mercer was moved to send yet another letter complaining they were still being plagued by enquiries from (non-LP) NUT members.
So, what do we actually have here? A practical joke? A plot to discredit CP backed candidates and officers in the NUT? A plan by the Voice Of Labour to publicise itself and build up a stock of postage stamps?
We can certainly discount the latter as they then went to great effort to deny subscriptions to any but proven LP members!
But why then would an anti-communist plot to undermine the relatively significant ‘threat’ of the CP also attempt to draw in or implicate such an obscure and secretive grouping as the LF?
We would welcome readers thoughts in the comments below.
LEFT FRACTION file noU2 Correspondence arising out of the circular of the young Communist Action group to members of the NUT
Further googling of “Young Communist Action Group” throws up some tantalising snippets.
There is a brief mention in Hansard and a reference in the Catholic Herald to another, different, leaflet a few months later calling for support for specific Communist candidates in the NUT.
The CP believed it to be a hoax- the work of people out to discredit the CP, as evidenced by the subsequent failure of CP candidates in the NUT elections- and called for an official NUT enquiry.
The Australian magazine The Social Creditor also discussed the issue adding a few additional references (back page)…
Personally I am tempted to refer back to the letter from Lancaster Young Conservatives. Were they in the know? Who ‘placed before them’ the YCAG leaflet and why otherwise might they have sought copies of VOL and contact with the Left Fraction?