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Ian Birchall

Left Alive or left for dead?

The terminal crisis of the British Communist Party

(Autumn 1985)

From International Socialism Journal 2 : 30, Autumn 1985, pp. 67–89.
Transcribed by Marven Scott.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The split in The British Communist Party now seems irreversible. While the exact course of events remains to be seen, the Party apparatus and its erstwhile daily paper the Morning Star are now heading in quite different directions. The disintegration of what was, for half a century, the most significant organisation of the British left outside the Labour Party has necessarily provoked much discussion on the left. For some ‘the argument is crucial to the Inline of Left politics in Britain’ because ‘if the Eurocommunist-dominated Communist party wins control of the Morning Star we will have lost Britain’s only daily newspaper arguing orthodox Marxist politics and have gained a pink Guardian.’ [1] For others the ‘Eurocommunists’ can be assimilated to the emergent soft left backing Kinnock in the Labour Party, the so-called ‘new left’ or ‘new revisionism’. [2] Others again have seen the split as undesirable and unnecessary: ‘... as a Marxist outside the CPGB I share the feelings of many comrades who watch, horrified, the tragic deterioration of internal relations within the party and the crippling of its national political influence. Yet it seems to me to be essential that this polarisation within the CPGB be contained, rather than encouraged to spill out and engulf the left in general.’ [3]

It is therefore important to be quite clear as to what the debate is about, in particular to insist on certain principles in analysing the dispute:

  1. Contrary to the views of some protagonists and commentators, the issue at stake is not reform versus revolution. The CPGB has not been a revolutionary organisation since 1926. The available options no Stalinism or social democracy. It is therefore not particularly meaningful or useful to describe the split in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’.
  2. The split is not the product of accident, or of the mistakes or misjudgements of any of the protagonists; it is the inevitable culmination of a long process rooted in the very nature of Stalinism as a historical phenomenon.
  3. What needs to be understood is not programme but political practice; the various programmatic analyses put forward by the party from the British Road to Socialism onwards are simply rationalisations of a political practice rooted in the nature of the party as an organisation.

To demonstrate these points a historical sketch of the CPGB’s development may be useful. [4]

From Leninism to Stalinism

The Communist Party of Great Britain was founded at a Unity Convention held in London on 31 July 1920. The 159 delegates present unanimously passed a resolution establishing the CPGB on the basis of the Soviet system, the dictatorship of the proletariat and affiliation to the Third International. [5]

The party was the product of a revolutionary environment and a revolutionary tradition. The Russian Revolution threw all Europe into upheaval, and Britain was not left unscathed. Aneurin Bevan recalled that in South Wales, miners rushed ‘to meet one another in the streets with tears streaming down their cheeks, shaking hands and saying “At last it has happened”.’ [6] And the post-war economic crisis produced deep anger among British workers; Harry McShane recalls that as late as 1921 jobless ex-servicemen would carry hand grenades and guns on demonstrations. [7]

The gravity of the revolutionary moment brought together groupings previously divided by sharp political antagonisms. The main components of the new party were the British Socialist Party and a section of the Socialist Labour Party, plus some smaller groupings. The party thus combined the traditions of pre-1914 propagandist Marxism and of industrially oriented syndicalism, and though the mix was not perfect, it was potentially an effective one.

Yet the formation of the Communist Party from these relatively small groupings (the original membership was 4,000) left one problem that was to remain throughout the party’s history – its relation to the Labour Party. In many European countries – France, Germany, Italy, etc – Communist Parties had been formed from splits in the main working-class parties, but in Britain the Independent Labour Party had withdrawn from unity talks with the BSP and SLP, and the formation of the CPGB left the Labour Party more or less untouched. On Lenin’s advice the CPGB campaigned for affiliation to the Labour Party on an open revolutionary basis, but never succeeded in this aim, although until the mid-twenties many Communists were also individual members of the Labour Party. [8]

Despite its small size the youthful CP was an unambiguously revolutionary organisation. In 1924 it published an Appeal to Soldiers, urging them to ‘let it be known that neither in the class nor in a military war will you turn your guns on your fellow workers, but instead will line up with your fellow workers in an attack upon the exploiters and capitalists and will use your arms on the side of your class.’ [9] Trade union members, however lofty their office, were kept under firm discipline. On Black Friday (15 April 1921) the Transport Workers’ Federation withdrew strike notices previously issued in support of the miners’ struggle against wage cuts; Robert Williams, secretary of the Transport Workers’ Federation, was promptly expelled from membership of the CP. [10]

In numbers the early CP was comparable to the SWP today, but its industrial impact was immeasurably greater. This was shown by the establishment in 1924 of the Minority Movement, a body aiming to unite the militant rank and file within the unions around a fight for both economic demands and the overthrow of capitalism. The Third Conference of the Minority Movement in August 1926 was attended by 802 delegates representing 956,000 workers. [11]

There are other indications that the party had a real base in the working class. The Sunday Worker, launched in 1925 as a CP-controlled paper open to a range of opinions in the labour movement, achieved a circulation of 85,000 copies a week by early 1926. [12] Between 1921 and 1928 twenty-six CP members stood for parliament (some on a Communist label, some as Labour candidates). None got less than 2,000 votes and only four came below the 5,000 mark, while two, S. Saklatvala and J.T. Walton Newbold, were elected – the former on two occasions. [13]

The first five or six years of the CPGB, despite mistakes and limitations, provide a standard against which the later history of the party can be measured. But the revolutionary period was short-lived. The crucial turning-point was the General Strike of 1926. The dedication of the CP in this period cannot be doubted – its top leadership were jailed for sedition in October 1925, and during the General Strike itself about one quarter of its members were arrested, in many cases getting convictions that would make it impossible for them to get a job again. But under pressure from the Russian leaders the party adopted the dangerous call for All Power to the General Council of the TUC, and tailed uncritically behind the left union bureaucrats. [14] This was the first step on a very slippery slope towards a totally Stalinised party. Ten years later Harry Pollitt, the party’s General Secretary, was calling the Moscow Trials ‘a new triumph in the history of progress’. [15]

The first openly Stalinist phase of the party’s history came with the disastrous ‘Third Period’, during which the Labour Party was characterised as ‘Social Fascist’ [16], and experiments were made with breakaway unions. Membership slumped to around 2,500.

This ultra-left lurch was followed by a swing to the right. The ‘Popular Front’ was just as much a tactic ordered by Moscow as the ‘Third Period’. (Anyone who doubts this should simply observe the way that Communist Parties all round the world made the same turns at exactly the same time.) But the Popular Front offered much greater opportunities for political activity and organisational growth. The party was now committed to unity with individuals or political forces that could be described variously as ‘progressive’, ‘anti-fascist’ or ‘friendly to the Soviet Union’. The various grotesque manoeuvres and alliances of the period cannot be listed here [17], but it is important to note one crucial theme that emerged at this time. The CPGB now stressed in all its propaganda the ideas of ‘national interest’ and ‘national tradition’. Thus R. Page Arnot, after listing British poets, philosophers and scientists, declared that ‘The Communists have claimed their rightful place in the great tradition, the heritage which is theirs.’ [18] Such nationalism was to prove remarkably tenacious in the party’s subsequent evolution.

But if the CPGB had ceased to be a revolutionary party, it had not become reformist in the normal sense. Despite its Popular Frontist contortions, its most significant activity in the thirties was on terrain left untouched by other political forces. The National Unemployed Workers’ Movement organised a vigorous programme of activities on jobs, notably the famous Hunger Marches, which the Labour Party and TUC were unable to initiate because of their electoralist and bureaucratic politics. Communist Party members were central to the physical confrontations with Moseley’s Fascists in the East End of London, and many Communists fought and died heroically in Spain in the war against Franco. One can note reservations about these struggles (the CP’s embarrassed silence about the first volunteers in Spain, the foot-dragging over Cable Street) [19], but it was the party’s militancy on jobs and anti-fascism that enabled it to raise its membership from 2,555 in 1930 to 17,756 in 1939, and gave it a real legitimacy in the labour movement. That the party could attract women and men of the dedication and integrity of Harry McShane and Joe Jacobs [20] was its strength; that it employed them for such opportunist policies was its tragedy.

The patriot game

It was the Second World War that sowed the seeds of much that was to happen in the next forty years of the CPGB’s evolution. The war began unpropitiously; the Hitler-Stalin pact necessitated a sharp change of line, as a result of which Pollitt was removed from the General Secretaryship. Pollitt worked his way back with statements like: ‘... whenever Churchill speaks or acts, suffering and death are the result; exactly the same as when Hitler speaks or acts.’ [21] The party picked up on a certain level of working-class hostility to the war by launching the ‘People’s Convention’, which combined economic demands with a pro-Russian, anti-war policy. A meeting in January 1941 attracted 2,234 delegates, and was perceived as enough of a threat for the government to ban the Daily Worker the same month. The anti-war line also enabled the party to agitate around the very legitimate demand for better air-raid shelter provision in the East End. On one occasion Stepney workers invaded the luxury shelters in the Savoy Hotel and demanded tea at Lyons’ restaurant prices. [22]

But it was the German invasion of Russia, forcing Stalin into an alliance with Britain and the US, that gave the CPGB an unprecedented opportunity to increase its membership and influence. The Russian alliance was undoubtedly popular in many parts of the working class: ‘ ... in one factory where labour relations were unusually bad, a big order from the Soviet Union transformed them overnight; the job cards were stamped “GOODS FOR RUSSIA” and the trick was done. A railway works in Kent finished an order of a thousand freight wagons for Russia in less than ten weeks, in spite of seventy-six air raid warnings.’ [23] It was in this climate that the CP was able to grow rapidly; by December 1942 membership reached an all-time peak of 56,000. The base of the party’s post-war strength was laid at this time. In Glasgow, for example, membership rose from a few hundred to several thousand, and numerous factory branches were built. [24]

It is a curious paradox that the party’s period of maximum growth was one in which it had no electoral identity and opposed industrial militancy. The Communist Party accepted the wartime electoral truce, whereby the condition parties did not contest by-elections, but allowed the sitting party to retain the seat. On occasion this led to the CP supporting Conservative candidates against minority left parties like the Independent Labour Party or Common Wealth; thus in Cardiff East the CP issued leaflets supporting Tory Sir James Grigg (said to be ‘for friendship with the Soviet Union’) against Fenner Brockway of the ILP. [25]

In industry the CP line was that winning the war against Hitler was the overriding priority. The party therefore opposed strikes, and campaigned for the establishment of Joint Production Committees which would directly involve shop-floor representatives in the organisation of higher productivity. At the 1942 Conference of the CP, Pollitt singled out a scab for especial praise:

I salute our comrade, a docker from Hull, who was on a job unloading a ship with a cargo urgently wanted ... When the rest of the dockers struck work, he fought against it because he believed that the course of action he recommended would get what was wanted without a strike. What courage, what a sacred spirit of real class consciousness, to walk on the ship’s gangway and resume his job ... [26]

Of course the party was not simply a pro-management tool; if its line had been in no way different from that of the Conservative Party it could not have recruited. Party shop stewards picked up many grievances about old-fashioned and authoritarian management practices carried on from the thirties. For example, at the Standard Motor Company in Coventry, the firm doctor refused to treat a CP steward because he was wearing a hammer and sickle badge on his apron. Shop meetings were held and within hours management agreed to dismiss the doctor. [27] The CP attracted those who were strongly anti-fascist and pro-Russian, but who were discontented with the way the existing political establishment was prosecuting the war effort.

It is however crucial to understand that the period in which many of the now veteran members of the party were recruited and developed was one in which class struggle was quite explicitly relegated to a secondary status. At the same time the nationalist theme was consciously promoted. The party journal World News and Views carried a regular forum called Our National Traditions, in which one reader complained of the use of foreign words like ‘comrade’, and another saw the CP as the heir of ‘Queen Elizabeth and her pirates’. These attitudes were also adopted by CP members in the armed forces, as an eyewitness recalls: ‘I remember ... Laurie Jones. He joined up the very same day with me in my company, and he was always in trouble. Well then, of course – as I say – suddenly the directive came through that they should be good soldiers and I think that for the first time since he joined the army, Laurie Jones cleaned his boots, and cleaned his webbing, and all this kind of stuff. People couldn’t believe it was the same bloke!’ [28] The CP line also called for the mobilisation of the colonial populations in the anti-fascist struggle. As a party statement put it: ‘The 50 million negroes of the British Empire, in Africa and the West Indian islands represent a substantial force available for the fight for the complete destruction of Fascism and the ending of all manifestations of imperialist oppression.’ [29] While the statement went on to call for measures favourable to the colonial populations, it stopped short of a demand for unconditional independence. [30]

And when the leaders of Russia, Britain and the USA agreed at Yalta to carve up the world between them into ‘spheres of influence’, the CP enthusiastically joined in, advocating a ‘New National Government’ which ‘should include representatives of all parties supporting the decisions of the Crimea Conference.’ [31] A London District Committee pamphlet in April expanded on this: ‘The Labour Party should then form a new National Government and invite others, including Tories like Churchill and Eden, to participate.’ So, on the eve of the biggest Labour victory in British history, the CP was sufficiently out of touch with its base – or in touch with Moscow – to call for a continuation of the war-time coalition.

Stalinism in crisis

In the late forties and early fifties, The British Communist Party was still firmly a Stalinist party. [32] The Moscow line – whether that of the war-time alliance of of the Cold War – was obeyed swiftly and unquestioningly; no internal dissent was permitted. Intellectual life was held in the dulling grip of orthodoxy; when Stalin published his monumentally banal Concerning Marxism in Linguistics, the party’s main intellectual journal published a note to the effect that ‘Modern Quarterly Groups or other organisations requiring speakers on Stalin’s article or other aspects of linguistics should write to Linguistics Speakers, c/o The Editor, Modern Quarterly.’ [33]

But below the surface, the dynamic of change was already well-established. By about 1950 it was possible to identify three long-term factors which were to undermine the whole edifice of British – and international – Stalinism.

  1. The establishment of a nuclear balance of terror between East and West meant a radical change in the international role of the world’s Communist Parties. In 1945 Stalin’s ability to instruct French and Italian Communists to refuse any bid for power was an important bargaining counter in his deals with the West. But the development of Russian nuclear rocketry made the CPs far less important in terms of the Russian bureaucracy’s global strategy. It is unlikely that Mr Gorbachev is now spending sleepless nights over the crisis in the British CP (although some minor bureaucrat with a budget in the Russian equivalent of the British Council is probably nursing the problem).
  2. Major developments were taking place inside the so-called ‘socialist bloc’. For a Communist in the thirties the world had a stark simplicity – Russia versus the rest. The establishment of a whole set of new ‘People’s Democracies’ in the post-1945 period was initially a boost to morale; but political and economic competition soon reasserted itself. The Russian break with Yugoslavia was followed, some fifteen years later, by the more far-reaching split between Russia and China. Fragmentation advanced apace, leading to the fratricidal struggles between the Communists of Cambodia, Vietnam and China in the late seventies. Revelations of the reality of life in Communist society – from the Kruschev ‘secret speech’ of 1956 to the exodus of the Vietnamese ‘boat-people’ – made the task of identifying with the ‘socialist camp’ an increasingly thankless one.
  3. Moreover, it must be understood that Stalinism was the product of an epoch of defeat. Stalinism was established on the defeats of the British General Strike and the Chinese Revolution, and gained its original base in the era of mass unemployment and the rise of fascism. When workers felt powerless the attraction of a socialist paradise over the seas was enormous.

The long post-war boom, generated by the arms economy, changed all that. Full employment meant that workers were able to win real improvements in their conditions by localised militancy; but this very strength meant that they were less and less interested in political generalisation. The CP had no analysis of the long boom, being tied to a rag-bag of economic cliches from an earlier epoch, but it suffered from its effects. Communists were indeed often elected to represent their fellow-workers on the shop-floor; but they were increasingly unable to convey their general political outlook to those they worked with.

This situation left two options for a Communist Party. One was to continue along the Stalinist road, to become in effect a public relations annex of the Russian Embassy. This path had a certain charm; you might be isolated in your own workplace, but you had two hundred million Russians on your side. It even had a material base of sorts; politics of this sort led to cheap foreign holidays in Eastern Europe, where you would be welcomed as a representative of the British masses.

The alternative was to develop a tendency already present since the days of the Popular Front and the Second World War, to stress the national nature of the Communist Party, and to try to reintegrate the CP into the framework of national political life – in other words, to make the CP into an openly reformist party.

But the second option raised in an acute form a problem that had been with the party since its birth – its relation to the Labour Party. For if Britain had one reformist party already, why should it need another? Why eat margarine from a very small dish when there was a much bigger one full of butter? Already in the forties and early fifties the CP’s strategy was geared to the Labour Party. Its declared aim was not to split or destroy the Labour Party, but to influence it in a leftward direction. CP influence in the unions – notably the Electrical Trades Union – was used in order to put Communist inspired resolutions on the agenda of the Labour Party Conference Increasingly, simple souls were led to enquire whether, if the main aim was to assist the left-wing trend in the Labour Party, this might not be done more effectively by simply joining the Labour Party.

As usual, reality came first and programme followed. The CP Congress in 1952 adopted the text of a programmatic statement called The British Road to Socialism. This made quite explicit the party’s reformism, containing among much else the clear statement:

The enemies of Communism accuse the Communist Party of aiming to introduce Soviet power in Britain and abolish Parliament. This is a slanderous misrepresentation of our policy ... British Communists declare that the people of Britain can transform capitalist democracy into a real People’s Democracy, transforming Parliament, the product of Britain’s historical struggle for democracy, into the democratic instrument of the will of the vast majority of her people.

The British Road has subsequently been through various rewritings, each more openly reformist than the last. But in each case it merely reflected a movement already in process. The original British Road (published in Stalin’s lifetime, and printed in full in Pravda with his approval) was not only already reformist, but simply took up and made explicit trends already present in CP policy during the Popular Front and the Second World War.

The 1956 explosion

In 1953 Stalin, mourned effusively by the British CP, died. In February 1956 his successor, Kruschev, made his so-called ‘secret speech’ – a very unsecret affair, soon to be published in full in The Observer. As an explanation of Stalinism the speech was limited indeed, revealing – selectively – atrocities known to Trotskyists and others for decades, and putting most of the blame on Stalin’s personal psychology. But monoliths are of their nature brittle, and the shock of Kruschev’s speech caused a deep crack in the British party. And in the autumn of the same year came a second, and deeper, shock – the Russian intervention in Hungary to crush a workers’ rising. The party leadership fully backed the Russian action, declaring that ‘the choice was the defence of Socialism or the restoration of capitalism and fascism.’ [34] This produced turmoil in the party. [35] Many members resigned; others stayed to try and fight, but came up against the machine and were disciplined for writing to the bourgeois press or for launching the oppositional bulletin The Reasoner. A special Congress was held in 1957 at which the leadership held the line, but between February 1956 and February 1958 membership slumped from 33,095 to 24,670. Some of those who left, and who often achieved most publicity, were intellectuals. While bourgeois commentators naturally noticed these first, it also suited the party bureaucracy to try and draw lines between workers and intellectuals, blaming the latter for everything. Brian Behan (a building worker and the only member of the Executive to leave over Hungary) attacked this notion early in 1957 in a letter to World News: ‘The myth of a rock-like working class and the wobbly intellectuals should be thrown out once and for all. Many industrial comrades are worried about Hungary. Some very good ones have left.’ When the dust settled it became clear that the party’s industrial base had indeed been seriously damaged by the events.

The 1956–57 debate centred not only on the events in the ‘socialist’ countries, but on the internal working of the party. In order to contain internal criticism a Commission on Inner-Party Democracy was established in July 1956. This consisted of ten full-time officials, plus three teachers (Joe Cheek, Christopher Hill, Peter Cadogan), a Daily Worker journalist (Malcolm MacEwen) and one industrial worker (Kevin Halpin). The result was a shambles. The majority report was signed by the ten full-timers, while Cheek and Halpin endorsed it with significant reservations. Hill, Cadogan and MacEwen – all of whom left the party – produced a minority report. [36] The wider debate – which for some months prior to the Congress raged in the columns of the party discussion journal World News – was highly confused. The leadership defended, in the name of ‘democratic centralism’, an authoritarian structure in which the right to dissent was minimised. Their opponents responded, for the most part, in terms of liberal categories – the right to argument for its own sake, and the rejection of the necessity to accept majority decisions. Only a very few contributions to the debate attempted to defend a Leninist model of democratic centralism while rejecting the Stalinist version of it. [37]

The membership loss was actually made up over the next few years – the 1964 figure (34,281) was higher than that for 1955. But the new members – many of them picked up from activity in CND in the early sixties – were on a different style from the old guard schooled by years of Stalinism. Slowly but irresistibly the pressures of the crisis were changing the nature of the party.

One symptom of this was the increasing importance given to electoral activity. The party had always contested elections (and had had two MPs in 1945), but now elections were to become more and more important in its perspective. A characteristic sign was the decision in 1964 that the National Congresses of the Party, which since the early fifties had been held at Easter, should henceforth be held in the autumn so as not to interfere with work in the municipal elections. At times the electoral perspective produced a quite unrealistic triumphalism. During the 1964 General Election the Daily Worker reported: ‘Nothing has hit West Perthshire like Hugh MacDiarmid’s campaign has done since the forays of Rob Roy ... People who sneered at the idea of a Communist campaign in this “safe” Tory seat and even those who considered it a brave but useless gesture are amazed at the growing support and the crowded lively meetings.’ [38] MacDiarmid, however, got just 127 votes.

The deindustrialisation of the CPGB

Until the 1960s the main significance of The British Communist Party was as an organisation of industrial militants. The basic unit of organisation was, where possible, the factory branch, and priority was given to industrial and trade union activity. Over the period 1944 to 1963 on average 43 per cent of all Congress delegates were workers in engineering, building, mining and transport and railways. The very fact that the party was marginal in electoral terms and was excluded from the mainstream of national political life led it to see industrial activity as its chosen terrain. Hundreds of thousands of workers who would never have voted Communist or read the Daily Worker willingly accepted the leadership of Communist shop stewards and union officials.

But the party’s industrial base was not immune from the contradictions that were sapping its very existence. The increasingly overt reformism of the party’s politics was translated into trade union electoralism; increasingly what counted was not mobilising workers on the shop-floor, but getting the right people elected to the right positions. And despite the party’s professions of democratic centralism, it was increasingly unable to discipline leading members who occupied high-ranking union positions. [39] Two examples will help to illustrate this. In 1968 Will Paynter, a long-standing member of the CP Executive, retired as General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. Throughout his period of office there had not been a single official miners’ strike; shortly after retirement he resigned from the CP and joined the government’s Commission on Industrial Relations for £6,500 a year. [40] In 1972 Eddy Marsden, CP Executive member and General Secretary of the Constructional Section of the AUEW signed a letter, jointly with the construction manager of Simon Litwin Ltd, stating that Simon Litwin’s Llandarcy site was ‘now open for recruitment for AUEW construction section riggers and erectors’, while 57 construction workers were locked out by management. [41]

Even more fraught with danger was the party strategy of giving great importance to the election of non-party left-wingers to senior union positions. The party attached a great part of its credibility to strengthening left trends in the trade union movement, notably by supporting such figures as Hugh Scanlon of the AUEW and Jack Jones of the TGWU. Yet Scanlon and Jones, despite their ‘leftism’ on a range of abstract or non-immediate issues, both ended up supporting the ‘Social Contract’ (wage restraint) of the Wilson- Callaghan Labour government. Lower down in the union machine CP militants were increasingly caught up in the process whereby convenors and senior stewards came to occupy full-time positions, ever more remote from the experience of the shop-floor workers they were supposed to represent. Growing entanglement in the union machine accounted for the party’s highly ambiguous attitude towards productivity dealing in the 1960s. While productivity deals were a long-term weapon to weaken shop-floor organisation, many union officials saw them as a short-term means of winning wage rises without a fight; being unable to alienate itself from such officials, the CP was unable to offer any concrete strategy to fight the productivity offensive.

A few landmarks may serve to chart the inexorable decline of the CPGB as a focus of industrial militancy.

In 1961 came the witchhunt in the Electrical Trades Union. The CP had effectively controlled the ETU since the end of the war, but after Hungary two ex-CPers, Les Cannon and Frank Chapple, aligned themselves with the right wing in the union. The CP had not used their period of control to democratise the union, and as their influence began to wane, certain prominent CPers indulged in ballot-rigging to preserve their power. This led to a notorious High Court case as a result of which the CP were ousted and the right took over. The ex-Communists now turned the union apparatus against their erstwhile comrades. In 1964 the Executive moved to ban CP members from holding office in the union. When this was implemented, the CP decided that its full-time officials should resign and return to the rank and file. In fact all but one resigned from the CP and held on to their full-time posts.

In 1966 came the first major industrial confrontation with the Wilson government, a national seamen’s strike. Wilson sought to embarrass and demoralise the strikers by alleging manipulation by the CPGB, which he called ‘this tightly knit group of politically motivated men’. Wilson’s attempts to prove his charges fell miserably flat. While it was true that the CP’s industrial organiser, Bert Ramelson, kept in close touch with strike leaders such as Jack Coward, who were CP members, it was the case, as Paul Foot reported, that ‘when Ramelson visited Coward’s flat, he surprised his hosts by advocating an immediate return to work’. [42] Jack Dash, CP dockers’ leader, made it clear that ‘there is no question of our striking’ in support of the seamen [43]; and when the Executive finally called the strike off, CP militants found themselves pleading with the rank and file to return to work. [44]

In 1971, in a context of rising unemployment, came the decision to close Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. Shop stewards, many of them CP members (including one Jimmy Reid) initiated a ‘work-in’ which won massive popular support. But the CP leaders backed off from the confrontation involved in an all-out occupation, and the Morning Star actually boasted of the high level of labour discipline achieved during the ‘work-in’:

All UCS workers are determined to do the best for THEIR yard. Now it really is teamwork. The feeling ‘you are letting the side down’ is one experienced by the very few latecomers – yes, even timekeeping has clocked new records of precision. It is summed up by the fact that the traditional lunchtime pint is downed minutes before the horn goes and the time-clock bell rings every second. [45]

By June 1972 only fourteen per cent of redundant workers were still ‘working-in’, and the UCS stewards were placing their hopes, not in rank-and-file struggle, but in an American take-over of the yards.

In 1979 came the sacking of Derek Robinson, convenor at British Leyland’s Longbridge plant, and long-standing CP member. Robinson might well have felt his dismissal was unjust, for his record in the company had scarcely been that of an ‘extremist’. As one Leyland worker describes it:

Robinson more than any other man was responsible for hammering participation home. When it came to individuals, he bears more responsibility than even Lord Ryder probably.

... Considering he was supposed to be a Red Revolutionary, his arguments were really pretty pathetic. Usually when we heard them they were just bucket loads of patriotism – ‘the absolute necessity to maintain a British motor producing firm as against the foreign multinationals’. [46]

Robinson described his own strategy in the following terms:

It’s a political battle ... If we are able to make Leyland successful as a publicly owned company, then it is self-evident that that will be a major political victory. It will prove to working people, millions of them, that ordinary working people have got a contribution to make, that they’ve got sufficient intelligence, determination and level of understanding to do whatever is necessary. [47]

The fact that management could sack a man like Robinson – and get away with it – was an indication of the deep downturn in working-class struggle; but it also revealed the bankruptcy and ineffectiveness of the CP’s industrial strategy.

Since the 1960s the main form of CP intervention in industry has been the creation of ‘Broad Lefts’, that is, alliances with Labour lefts (but generally not with revolutionary socialists) to build left currents within the trade unions. But while the Broad Lefts had some electoral successes, the general picture has been one of decline. The ETU witchhunt had pushed the CP away from open campaigning into more secretive and manipulative politics, and in line with its parliamentarism, the main activity became organising resolutions and trade union elections, rather than orienting to struggle. Furthermore the declining level of activism and discipline in the CP led to many sections of the Broad Lefts becoming moribund, and where the national leadership was in the hands of the Broad Left, the CP was unwilling to organise any independent rank-and-file activity. The logic of the development was well summed up by a member of AUEW-TASS: ‘... the Broad Left has become broader and at the same time less left – the Communist Party preferring the company of Labour Party not-so-lefts who can be relied on to defend the unity of the “progressive movement” – at any price.’ [48]

The same logic affected the CP’s attempt to build a cross-industrial rank-and-file organisation, the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions. The LCDTU was formed in 1966 to oppose the Wilson government’s incomes policy and plans for anti-union laws. Under Wilson and Heath it succeeded in organising some large demonstrations and one-day stoppages, culminating on 8 December 1970, when 600,000 struck despite TUC opposition. But the LCDTU faced a problem. It had the potential to grow into a mass rank-and-file organisation with local action committees during the big industrial struggles against the Heath government. But to do so would have meant coming into conflict with the left trade union leaders whose friendship the CP was desperately anxious to cultivate.

The crunch came in 1972. On 10 June the LCDTU held a conference attended by twelve hundred delegates which called for industrial action against the Tory union laws. But when five dockers were imprisoned for ‘illegal picketing’ the following month, the LCDTU took no action. As four dock shop stewards wrote to Socialist Worker: ‘If the average docker who took part in this struggle was asked what the LCDTU did, they would not even know who they were.’ [49] Thereafter the LCDTU was little more than a rump. It could still call sizeable conferences of the party faithful, but these were no more than rallies, tightly chaired and manipulated by the LCDTU’s self-appointed leadership, and not leading to any action.

The challenge to the party from the left

For thirty years and more after its foundation the CPGB monopolised the left flank of British politics. Despite its frequently rightist politics it was able to marginalise any grouping to its left. The small groups of Trotskyists or anarchists that did emerge were never able to have more than a purely local influence.

After 1956 this began to change. Campaigns and movements began to emerge on the left that were independent of, and more radical than, the CP. The first of these was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, launched in the late fifties by some old-time pacifists, ex-CP members who had quit over Hungary and above all by members of a new generation of leftists who had not known the defeats of the thirties and forties. The CP had made ‘peace’ a major campaigning issue in the fifties, but had never raised the demand for unilateral disarmament. Its initial comment on CND was that ‘the most disastrous aspect of the present situation is not that there is no campaign by Labour for unilateral renunciation of the Bomb but that there is no campaign for Summit talks’. [50] The following year John Gollan told the CP Congress that ‘Experience has shown that unilateralism only divides the movement, and diverts attention from the real issue, namely, international agreement to ban nuclear weapons. This is the only way to banish the menace of nuclear war and also the issue on which the greatest number of people agree.’ [51]

As pressure mounted for unilateralist policies in the Labour Party, trade union block votes under CP influence continued to line up with the right-wing call for multilateral disarmament. But at Easter 1960 the CND March from Aldermaston mobilised some hundred thousand people (far more than the call for Summit Conferences had ever put on the streets) and the CP was obliged to change its line. It moved into CND and as the campaign declined succeeded not only in winning a degree of influence but in recruiting members.

A similar story marked the rise of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, founded in 1966 by the International Socialists, the International Marxist Group and others. The CP opposed the VSC’s slogans of ‘Victory to the NLF’ and even ‘US Troops Out Now’, preferring the bland call for a negotiated peace. But although CP stewards on occasion tried to physically remove from demonstrations those who advocated an NLF victory, the VSC grew much faster than the CP’s front, the British Council for Peace in Vietnam. The VSC even survived being lectured by Betty Reid about the need for unity:

We believe that what is required is a movement of hundreds of thousands that will make a real political impact in Britain. It is here that the attitude and activities of the VSC are obstacles to the building of such a movement, since they express continuous hostility to all whom they consider have not passed their test of full commitment, and constantly endeavour to narrow down, and indeed attack, genuine efforts for the broadest unity around realisable immediate demands such as we have already outlined. [52]

In October 1968 the VSC succeeded in mobilising a hundred thousand people against the war, and again the CP were forced to join in. But this time round they had missed the boat; they recruited virtually no-one from the radicalised generation of 1968, while the International Socialists and other ‘ultra-left’ groups grew rapidly.

By the time of the Anti Nazi League in 1978 the CP had effectively been pushed to the margins. Individual CP members undoubtedly played a positive role in the ANL, but the party as a whole shifted from suspicious hostility [53] to a rather passive support.

It was not only broad movements that outflanked the CPGB. From the early sixties the CP began to find that it had rivals to its left. Maoism was never a serious force in Britain; the Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Community Unity, led by old Etonian Michael McCreery, never had more than thirty members, and the Communist Party of Britain Marxist-Leninist, which for a time had a base among London AUEW members, switched its loyalties from China through Albania back to Russia. Trotskyism was a different matter. The growth of the Socialist Labour League in the early sixties, and then of the International Socialists later in the decade made it impossible for the CP to continue dismissing Trotskyists as ‘Hitler’s Agents’. [54] In 1968 the Young Communist League journal Cogito published a special issue on Trotsky which, while highly critical, did maintain some standards of historical honesty and recognised that the Moscow Trials had been less than a model of judicial propriety. As the revolutionary groups grew after 1968, and then, in the 1970s, as many Trotskyists and ex-Trotskyists entered the Labour Party, the CP was to find increasingly that a pro-Russian stance was a barrier to work with many sections of the labour movement.

The rise of Eurocommunism

It was 1968, too, which saw the beginning of the deep split that was to emerge in the CPGB. When Russian troops invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the CP’s Executive Committee issued a statement to the effect that it ‘deeply deplores the military intervention’. [55] For the first time in its history the CPGB had openly and sharply criticised the Russian leaders. Many members did not like this, and veteran leader Palme Dutt wrote an article in Labour Monthly [56], which, while cautious and verbose in its formulations, clearly dissociated itself from the CP Executive and warned against the dangers of a ‘grandiose anti-Soviet offensive’.

Over the following decade the CP leadership gradually distanced itself further from its Russian mentors. In 1976 former General Secretary John Gollan published an article entitled Socialist Democracy: Some Problems [57], which rather gingerly attempted to develop a critique of Stalinism; and two years later Comment [58] provoked outrage among party stalwarts with a cover cartoon showing Stalin swallowing human bodies. The party condemned the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and Jaruzelski’s coup in Poland, but in both cases a significant minority of the party sharply and publicly dissented.

In some ways this evolution away from dependence on Russia can be compared to the so-called ‘Eurocommunism’ which developed in the Communist Parties of Spain, Italy and France in the 1970s. (The term is imprecise, and embraces a variety of positions; it is a label rather than an explanation.) [59] And the evolution involved far more than a shifting attitude to Russia; it also reflected a change in the whole nature of the party. While the CP was failing to renew its traditional and now declining industrial base, it was recruiting from among those radicalised by the student struggles of the sixties (often from the more moderate elements who rejected the militancy of the revolutionary left).

As a result intellectuals – particularly professional intellectuals, notably teachers in higher education – came to have an increasing weight in the party. Now, of course, intellectuals have a crucial role in any socialist organisation, providing that role is conceived in the context of working-class struggle and the perspective of working-class power. [60] In a CP where organisational discipline and political coherence were in decline, the intellectuals began to tilt the party in the direction of their own preoccupations – ‘ideological struggle’ and theory for its own sake.

Of course in any party members – whether intellectuals or trade unionists – will be subject to heavy pressures drawing them to the right. In a revolutionary party this means some members will break with the organisation; in the case of the CPGB the rightward-moving members took the party with them. One notable manifestation of this move was the attack on ‘economism’ (often in the form of prosperous intellectuals lecturing workers on the inadequacies of struggles to defend wages and jobs). Thus Eric Hobsbawm sought to belittle the struggles of the early seventies by arguing that ‘... economist trade union consciousness may at times actually set workers against each other rather than establish wider patterns of solidarity.’ [61]

Dave Purdy went so far as to argue that the CP should not oppose incomes policies in principle:

The issue for socialists is not whether, but how and on what terms to enter the process of debate and negotiation surrounding policies for pay ... The current tendency to climb aboard the bandwagon of disillusionment with the social contract, and to identify progress with every fresh pay dispute, is sadly mistaken. It is leading away from a coherent socialist strategy for Britain. The main reason for this assertion is that the key to contemporary socialist strategy lies in the unification of diverse areas of struggle and the creation of a broad social and political alliance around consensus over at least the main directions of social and economic policy. [62]

‘Anti-economism’ did produce certain tangible rewards for the CP. Marxism Today, for many years an unreadably dreary theoretical organ, was transformed into a lively discussion magazine open to a range of contributors from the left and not-so-left. In the late seventies the Communist University of London (a week-long educational and cultural event) [63] attracted widespread support. The CUL was axed in the early eighties, as was the post of National Student Organiser, but Marxism Today survived and saw its prestige and circulation rise. However, the link to the Communist Party is now little more than an embarrassment to Marxism Today in its aim to become the journal of Kinnock’s intellectual fan club. The CP needs Marxism Today – its only success story – much more than Marxism Today needs the party.

Another product of ‘anti-economism’ within the CP has been the growing influence of feminism. In the late sixties the CP was perhaps even less prepared than other sections of the left to encounter the new wave of feminism. [64] But feminists within the party, first around the unofficial journal Red Rag, then the official party journal Link, rapidly established themselves as an important component of the party. Feminist arguments – the importance of struggle away from the workplace, the need for an alliance of different oppressed groups, the importance of ideology – became central to the armoury of the Eurocommunist wing of the party.

Of course the new ideas were not adopted in all quarters of the party. The 1970s saw a collapse of the CP’s former monolithic centralism; the party now became a loose federation of currents in which diverse and often contradictory ideas flourished. Discipline was virtually non-existent in the seventies; it is only recently that a hardening factionalism has brought expulsions back into fashion. For discipline is not a product of rules and constitutions; it derives from the position of the party in the real world. In the classic Stalinist period discipline could be imposed because comrades saw the party – in Arthur Koestler’s words – as ‘the incarnation of the will of History itself. [65] Whatever the CPGB of today incarnates, it is not the will of History.

So the recent history of the CPGB has been a history of splits and divisions. In 1977 some – but far from all – of the pro-Russians split to form the New Communist Party. And in the late seventies a major strategic division emerged within the party; as Steve Jeffreys described it:

The strategy of the CPGB has traditionally centred on the notion of an ‘anti-monopoly alliance’ uniting the working class with all those social strata (including sections of the capitalist class) exploited by the big monopolies.

The broad democratic alliance, by contrast, is less a class alliance than an attempt to bring together a variety of different struggles – those of trade unionists, of ‘the various movements against oppression, women, youth, black peoples, etc. ’ The objective of this strategy is to ‘transform the political understanding of the majority of people in Britain’, winning their support for a ‘left government’ that will ‘democratise’ British society. [66]

Both the Anti-Monopoly Alliance and the Broad Democratic Alliance stood in the tradition of the Popular Front; yet the divergence between the different wings of the party got ever sharper. For a time in the early eighties the party lined up into three currents – on the one hand the ‘Eurocommunists’ who were well on their way to writing off the working class altogether, on the other the ‘tankies’ who combined Mother Russia with an industrial strategy based more on nostalgia than reality – and in between a centre committed more to preserving the apparatus than to any set of coherent policies. Eventually the centre split and all was ready for the current terminal faction fight.

Nowhere to run

The CPGB’s crisis is now inevitable and inescapable. No amount of effort, no degree of willingness to conciliate, no brilliant new strategy spun from an intellectual’s head can save it. The party’s membership has fallen remorselessly – from 29,900 in 1973 to 15,691 in 1983, to about 12,000 in 1985. And only a minority of those members are active in any meaningful sense: as long ago as 1973 the party set itself the – apparently hopeless – task of ‘seeing that every member is a reader [of the Morning Star]’. [67] Despite the party’s continuing commitment to electoral politics, its electoral performance has declined from the dismal to the abject. In 1945 the CP had 21 General Election candidates with an average vote of 4,894 (and two MPs); in 1964 36 candidates with an average of 1,237 votes; in 1983 35 candidates averaged 331 votes each.

A declining party is frantically seeking allies – and since it cannot and will not unite with the revolutionary left it can look only to its right. Some CP members want alliances with the SDP and even ‘progressive’ Tories (nothing new, of course – that idea was around in 1945). A couple of years back Marxism Today carried an article called Powell the Unilateralist, which described the disgusting old racist as ‘a patriot rather than a nationalist’. [68] At the time of the People’s March for Jobs there was actually criticism of the ‘tendency by some Labour Party speakers to interpret the march as an anti-Tory affair’. [69]

The split is not in any sense a right-left division (though of course individuals or small groups within the increasingly fragmentary CP may develop a left critique of both sides). Both factions are united in their parliamentarism [70], their support for the left trade union bureaucracy, their claiming of the heritage of the Popular Front. Neither side has any way forward to offer. The Russian model has little charm for anyone under the age of seventy [71], if you want to push the Labour Party leftwards the logical place to do so is in the Labour Party; while the most appropriate fulcrum for an alliance with ‘progressive’ Tories is probably the SDP.

At the end of the day the left will acquire two more small groups, two more sets of paper-sellers on the demonstration circuit. In itself the demise of the CPGB will bring no profit to the revolutionary left; but at least a confusing diversion has been removed from the political scene. At the end of Balzac’s novel Old Goriot the ambitious young Rastignac gazes down at the vast city of Paris and pledges: ‘It’s between the two of us now!’ With the CP out of the way, the SWP can address the Labour Party in similar terms.

* * *


I should like to thank Peter Goodwin for a number of helpful comments.

1..Charles Lomas in Tribune, 17 May 1985.

2..Cf. P. Seyd, Bennism without Benn, New Socialist, May 1985; R. Miliband, The New Revisionism in Britain, New Left Review 150.

3. Michele Barratt, Weir and Wilson on Feminist Politics, New Left Review, 150.

4. Both sides in the argument have recognised the need to try to appropriate the party’s history for their factional standpoint. Thus the Morning Star has published a series entitled Our Marxist Heritage, containing such items as an extract from Willie Gallacher, denouncing ‘glib-tongued tricksters’ and ‘lackeys of capitalism’ who dared to criticise the Russian regime. (Morning Star, 24 June 1985.)

A much more serious contribution is Noreen Branson’s History of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1927–1941 (London 1985). Branson’s book contains much interesting material (for instance Chapter Five on Conspiracy and Incitement to Mutiny) and is largely free from the dogmatic and sectarian tone of much Communist historiography. In many ways Branson’s reading of party history can be seen to support the Eurocommunist case. She clearly labels the ‘Third Period’ as a ‘disaster’ (p. 17), and says that, by 1943, ‘there had been two major occasions when the Comintern had overturned policies decided on by its British section. One was in 1928 when the politics of Class-against-Class had been introduced with devastating results. The other was in 1939, when the initial line of a ‘war on two fronts’ was changed on the insistence of the Comintern to one which characterised the war as ‘imperialist’ ... At last, in 1943, the Communist Party of Great Britain was no longer to function as a section of a world party ... it was finally to emerge as an independent political party, responsible to itself alone for its decisions, its policies, its strategy and tactics in the battles that lay ahead.’ (p. 336)

Yet Branson not only fails to offer any real explanation for these disastrous policies but devotes much time to showing why they were considered justified at the time.

The whole question of Stalinism is fudged. Stalin, we are told, did not initiate the Third Period (p. 29) and ‘was persuaded only with very great difficulty’ of the need for the Popular Front (p. 241). Just who was responsible for the zigzags is not explained. Likewise Branson judges that ‘it was hardly surprising that the POUM should be regarded as traitors, and that the behaviour of the ILP in supporting the POUM should be looked on with disgust’ (p. 238). And she gives no less than six reasons why Communists swallowed the falsifications of the Moscow Trials, concluding that ‘they could not accept the idea that a socialist system could be so deeply flawed. Some twenty years later, in 1956, they were to be forced to reconsider. But that day was still a long way ahead.’ (p 248) We all make mistakes; but a party that takes twenty years to recognise its mistake cannot expect to have much trust placed in it.

5. L.J. MacFarlane, The British Communist Party, London 1966, p. 56.

6. Speech to 1951 Labour Party Conference.

7. H. McShane, No Mean Fighter, London 1978, p. 128.

8. ‘At the end of 1926, out of the Communist Party’s membership of 7,900, as many as 1,544 still belonged to the Labour Party as individuals, and another 242 were trade union delegates to Labour organisations.’ (Branson, op. cit., p. 5).

9. Workers’ Weekly, 25 July 1924, cited MacFarlane, op. cit., p. 106.

10. Ibid., p. 118.

11. Ibid., p. 171. The figure is undoubtedly exaggerated, as many workers would be counted twice – say as branch members and as trades council affiliates. None the less it was a striking achievement for a party of 6,000 members.

12. Ibid., p. 143.

13. Ibid., pp. 294-7.

14. Cf. D. Hallas, The Communist Party and the General Strike, International Socialism (first series) 88.

15. Cited in D. Hallas, Communism and Stalinism, International Socialism (first series) 87.

16. Resolutions of Eleventh Congress, November–December 1929.

17. Cf. H. Dewar, Communist Politics in Britain, London 1976, chapters 8–10.

18. R. Page Arnot, The English Tradition, Labour Monthly, November 1936.

19. Cf. J. Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, London 1978, pp. 220, 232, 238–43.

20. I name these two because their autobiographies (No Mean Fighter and Out of the Ghetto) are remarkable testimonies to the contradictions of British Stalinism in the thirties. They may serve as representatives of hundreds of others who never had the opportunity to leave a record.

21. Labour Monthly, December 1940.

22. P. Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red, London 1948, pp. 73–74.

23. A. Calder, The People’s War, London 1971, pp. 302–3.

24. McShane, op. cit., p. 235.

25. S. Bornstein & A. Richardson, Two Steps Back, Ilford 1982, p. 66; the one exception was the West Derbyshire by-election in February 1944; cf. Calder, op. cit., p. 639.

26. Bornstein & Richardson, op. cit., p. 89.

27. R. Croucher, Engineers at War, London 1982, p. 214.

28. Bornstein & Richardson, op. cit., p. 78.

29. World News and Views, 27 February 1943.

30. In at least one ‘colony’, the native CP echoed this line; in 1945 the Congress of the Communist Party of Northern Ireland called for ‘a prosperous Ulster allied and united with a prosperous Britain.’

31. World News and Views, 24 March 1945.

32. It is a sign of the disintegration of classic Stalinism that many on the left do not know what the term means. The post-1968 libertarian left often identify Stalinism with any kind of discipline, even firm chairing. I recall at Marxism ’83 being told by a bright-eyed youth after one meeting that the chairperson had behaved in a ‘Stalinist’ fashion because she allowed only three RCP speakers to intervene.

33. Modern Quarterly, Summer 1952.

34. Daily Worker, 5 November 1956.

35. For accounts by three participants with varying standpoints (John Saville, Malcolm MacEwen, Margot Heinemann) see R. Miliband & J. Saville (eds.). The Socialist Register 1976, London 1976.

36. Cf. article of MacEwen in The Socialist Register 1976.

37. Cf. pieces in World News by Eric Hobsbawm and Cliff Slaughter.

38. Daily Worker, 3 October 1964.

39. At the 1974 TUC the first communist for some years was elected to the General Council – Ken Gill of TASS. Within hours of being elected he had withdrawn his union’s resolution against the Social Contract ‘in the interests of the broadest unity’. While the Morning Star criticised him for this the party did not attempt to discipline him. That Gill should now be expelled for internal factionalism after escaping unscathed on the occasion of a far more serious concession is an indication of the party’s priorities.

40. J. Townsend, Communist Party in Decline, International Socialism (first series) 62.

41. Socialist Worker, 25 March 1972.

42. P. Foot, The Seamen’s Struggle, in R. Blackburn & A. Cockburn (eds.). The Incompatibles, Harmondsworth 1967, p. 192.

43. Daily Telegraph. 16 May 1966.

44. Foot, art. cit., p. 193.

45. Morning Star, 3 September 1971.

46. Socialist Review, January 1980.

47. Comment, August 1978. The politics of a bureaucrat like Robinson were aptly summed up by Eric Hobsbawm many years ago: ‘The point about an aristocracy of labour is that it believes its prospects of improvement to stand or fall with the prosperity of its employers, individually or as a class.’ (The Taming of Parliamentary Democracy in Britain, Modern Quarterly, Autumn 1951)

48. B. Parkin, The Broad Left in TASS, International Socialism 74.

49. Socialist Worker, 14 April 1973.

50. World News, 15 March 1958.

51. Marxism Today, May 1959.

52. Comment, 17 February 1968.

53. I recall early in 1978 moving a motion for affiliation to the ANL at a meeting of the Greater London Association of Trades Councils (effectively controlled by the ‘tankie’ wing of the CP) and getting precisely three votes in favour.

54. In 1942 the CP published a pamphlet on Trotskyism by one William Wainwright under the title Clear Out Hitler’s Agents.

55. Marxism Today, October 1968.

56. October 1968.

57. Marxism Today, January 1976.

58. 25 November 1978.

59. Thus the British CP has produced no adequate explanation of the disastrous decline and collapse of the once admired Eurocommunist Spanish CP.

60. Cf. Gramsci: ‘Who do you think is more qualified to be classed as an intellectual: a lecturer, or even a professor, who has stored up a certain number of more or less disconnected notions and ideas, who knows nothing except his own job; or a worker, even not a very cultured worker, but one who has a clear idea of what the progress and future of the world should be and who coherently organises and co-ordinates those modest and elementary notions he has been able to acquire around this idea?’ (Reminiscence of F. Platone, quoted by L. Marks in his introduction to The Modern Prince, London 1957.)

61. M. Jacques & F. Mulhem, The Forward March of Labour Halted? London 1981, p. 18.

62. The Leveller, February 1979

63. The SWP’s annual Marxism was shamelessly copied from the CUL. The copy has now outlived and outshone the original.

64. Thus the January 1968 issue of the YCL magazine Challenge carried a debate – against and for miniskirts. The latter contribution concluded: ‘But, as I said before boys, don’t lose that masculine charm – if you’ve got any – by wearing pansy clothes ... And girls – keep those skirts up!’

65. In R. Crossman (ed.). The God that Failed, London 1965, p. 58.

66. Socialist Review 14. Jeffery’s two-part article The Communist Party in 1979 (Socialist Review 13 & 14) is in general perceptive and well-informed and is worth reading. It is marred only by the fact that the author views the CP’s crisis in terms of his own refusal to recognise the ‘downturn’ in class struggle.

67. John Gollan’s report to the Executive, Comment, 27 June 1981.

68. Marxism Today, January 1983.

69. Martin Jacques in Comment, 27 June 1981.

70. Thus a prominent pro-Russian, John Tarver, writes: ‘Qualitatively new functions must be acquired by the House of Commons, such as controlling foreign trade and banking.’ Comment, 15 May 1977.

71. I recently heard a radio broadcast in which a member of the US security forces lamented the fact that while in the thirties spies betrayed their country for ideological reasons, now they simply do it for the money.

Last updated: 18 May 2020