While the NUM waged war ...

Mark Fischer introduces another Leninist reprint, this time on the fight against liquidationist tendencies in the CPGB

The Leninist was essential reading for all serious leftwing commentators - and for many a bourgeois journalist looking to parade themselves as ‘experts’ on the politics of the left in the 1980s and 90s. Our forensic examination of the crisis of the Communist Party had a dual purpose. First, to provide the theoretical weapons for a revolution in the CPGB itself: “We were not engaged in a polite debate with the likes of Gordon McLennan and Nina Temple ... Open revolt and sweeping away the old regime - organisationally and politically - that was our slogan.”1

Second, as was clear to our comrades by the early 1980s, there simply was not the human material still available in the party to launch a successful revolt against the opportunists. Open struggle, we hoped, “would also have the most important effect of drawing new forces into the party from the working class, for the ideological struggle in the party is not the preserve of intellectuals, but the vital concern of the working class itself.”2

As we are seeing in this series, the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85 was to provide some tantalising visions of how that perspective could be realised in practice. But, while we fought for the revolutionary renaissance of the party, the rotten apparatus of the ‘official’ CPGB responded to this strategic class battle either with - at best - dull routinism, or - in the case of the Eurocommunist trend - outright betrayal. If anything, it accelerated the ongoing putrefaction.

Almost instinctively, some of the better elements in the party found their way to The Leninist. (Personally, I broke from a brief, youthful dalliance with ‘left’ Eurocommunism). This article by Roger Freeman, published in August 1984, was based on a report that was made publicly available via official party publications. More, far juicier, stuff was to follow.

Mark Fischer

Myopic liquidationism

As the stakes in the class war were raised by dockers joining the miners in strike action and as Thatcher’s government considered the use of troops in the docks, the Euro/McLennan-dominated executive committee3 illustrated yet again its bankruptcy, and inability to break from tired routine. The class struggle clearly points its finger towards a decisive confronta­tion with the Tories and the capitalist state, but comrade George Bolton4 in his lacklustre report on the political situation managed only to point to the finger itself.

Bolton’s report

Comrade Bolton’s commitment to reformist parliamentarianism en­shrined in the British road to socialism5 means that for him victory in the unfolding struggle of the working class - fronted above all by his own members - would merely “help create conditions for defeat­ing the Tory government at a general election well before 1988”. And what should replace the Tory government? Well, yes, of course, a Labour one. Oh yes, comrade Bolton says that it must carry out the “left politics of the labour movement”, but then the opportunists demanded the same from the Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan governments and that did not stop them being anti-Soviet, strikebreaking, and thoroughly imper­ialist. Tenacity is one thing, but, comrade Bolton, you display nothing more than dogged and myopic opportunism.

And for those who think that short-sightedness is confined to those factions that dominate the EC - let us allow ourselves a little detour. Let us have a look at comrade Andrew Murray’s regular feature in the Star6and see what this self-proclaimed supporter of the ‘hard left’ in the party (who incidentally has dissociated himself in writing from the alternative list circulated at the 38th Congress - unlike the majority of Straight Leftists7, who have refused) has to say about the likely results of today’s battles: “The greater likelihood,” he writes, is “that a victory for the miners will bring about a sweeping reapprais­al of the government’s approach,possibly culminating [sic]in Mrs Thatcher’s replacement.”8

Perhaps we could suggest to comrade Murray that one day he plucks up the courage to scrape some of the encrusted muck of bourgeois tradition from his ‘Westminster window’.9 If he did he might catch a glimpse of the class struggle which rages outside the ever so refined but corrupting walls of parliament. It might then dawn on our comrade that the working class has no interest in simply changing the Tories’ “app­roach”, or even electing in some dull general election a Labour government to replace it. In fact, comrade Murray, the working class has every interest in sweeping aside the Labour Party and the hallowed institution of parliament that is clearly so dear to your reformist heart.

But, for all his ‘hard left’ pretensions, comrade Murray is no different from the other opportunists in our party. Yes, they all want to see a victory for the miners. But the energies this releases must be kept within the safe banks of parliamentarianism and directed to changing Tory ‘policy’, and, come a general election, into supporting the narrow ambitions of that hater of working class militancy, Neil (‘I condemn picket line violence’) Kinnock.

But let us get back to the EC and comrade Bolton: for, while what he says about the aims of the miners’ strike says everything about his myopic parliamentary cretinism, what he says about the miners’ strike and the role of our CPGB says everything about his myopic liquidationism. He rightly declares the “full solidarity” of the party for the miners, but the role of a Communist Party is not only to provide solidarity, but tactical and strategic leadership. It was in order to provide this vanguard role that our party was brought into existence in 1920. And it is on this role that comrade Bolton and co fall flat on their faces. The decisions from the EC resulting from comrade Bolton’s report are at best tailist and at worst actually hamper the healthy growing politicisation and refreshing willingness of workers to use violence to advance their cause.

Low aims

By setting his aims at a “broad democratic alliance” which will force the Tory government “to change policy” comrade Bolton can propose the safest, most conservative tactics in support of the miners. He certainly has no intention of orientat­ing today’s struggles in a revolution­ary direction. Because of this he timorously asks: “Could the tele­com workers switch off for a couple of hours on a given day, was a national half-day health service strike possible, or a miners’ version of the People’s March?” He even suggests that “other initiatives might be considered”. Taking up the lead from the fighting militant miners? No, you must be kidding. What comrade Bolton has in mind is local authorities “withdrawing finance from the police” - well, at least this does not suffer from doing anything Labourites haven’t already tried. But our comrade isn’t deterred: he goes on.

It “might be worthwhile consider­ing” having some “progressive QC holding a tribunal” on police action against the miners, and even arranging “discussions” with white-collar unions about the miners’ strike and its consequences and, to cap it all, let’s have “concerts in aid of the miners”.

Let the bourgeoisie tremble, for the spectre of a tribunal hangs over them! Workers, unite ... and have “discus­sions”!

This is miserable. What the working class needs now is a clear, revolution­ary lead. Condemnation of police action is all very well, but what about workers’ defence corps? Solidarity with the miners is vital, but what about spreading the strikes, forcing the TUC to call a general strike in support of them and against all anti-trade union laws? And with the deep involvement of party members in the miners support committees, what about a perspective of transforming them into councils of action, as seen in 1926?

On these questions silence remains the rule. To proceed along these revolutionary lines is impossible for the right-opportunist functionaries and unthinkable for the dilettante petty bourgeois Euros. Opposed to the firm fighting line required of a vanguard party and proposed by the Leninists of the CPGB, they offer limp, routine solidarity and the parliament­ary road, which has the appearance of leadership, but none of its burdens.

Thus, when it comes to the question of why the steelworkers refused to support their Triple Alliance allies, why the majority of miners in Notts are still working, comrade Bolton has little but trade union politics to offer. Doesn’t he understand that at the root of their lack of solidarity lies the very defence of one’s ‘own’ industry that he himself so determinedly champions? And by identifying workers’ interests with those of ‘their’ industry and ‘their’ country lies not only disunity, but ultimately from the egg of social patriotism hatches the killing of worker by worker in imperialist war.10 Only a decisive revolutionary position can win workers of all industries, of all countries, to see their interests as a unity. That is why we say to hell with the viability of capitalist industry, to hell with the interests of the capitalist nation. We say: begin with what the working class needs, not what the system can afford.

Morning Star

Buoyed up by their two candidates scraping home at June’s People’s Press Printing Society AGM,11 and claiming with some justification that if Glasgow had not been disenfranchised they would have got all their slate home - even if only by a nose - the EC decided to fight for a special meeting of the PPPS.

The fact that only six members of the EC voted against this, fully aware that there is a limit to the use of gerrymander, comrade Chater looks increasingly under siege in a Farring­don Road fortress.12 A fortress from which perceived fifth columnists (no pun intended) must be ejected. As a result comrades Matthews and Wainwright have been relieved of their lucrative little journalistic sidelines on the Star.

Faced with an EC full of confidence, the pro-Chater/Costello13 grouping is faced with a conundrum. Given the same balance of forces at the special meeting of the PPPS as at June’s AGM, not only will four members of the management committee who support Chater go, but so will comrade Chater himself. And if this happens how could the Euros be prevented from delivering their coup de grâce at the 1985 AGM? So what to do? Do a deal with the Straight Leftists? This would risk alienating many and driving them into the arms of the Euros. Split? This would end even more farcically than the NCP14 (we will be reviewing a Straight Leftist ‘samizdat’, For communist unity, which touches on this question, in our next edition).

Having no clear strategy, having no independent politics, having a leader­ship which described the CPGB as an “outside body”, it is no wonder that there is confusion and division in the besieged camp. Fortunately a few have come to realise that the only principled way out is by breaking from the pro­-Chater/Costello grouping.

Marxism Today

The offensive by the EC against Farringdon Road, the continued haemorrhaging of party membership, above all the liquidationist politics of all opportunist tendencies, means that a large question mark looms ominous­ly over both the Star and the party. Because of this comrade Martin Jacques is determined to take measures that will, he hopes, ensure that if all else is lost then his Marxism Today will survive. Of course, he doesn’t want to save his journal from the liquidationist flood in order to keep alive the flame of Marxism-Leninism. No, what he has his eye on is making sure that his neo-Fabian ‘think tank of the left’ has a future even if the Communist Party does not.

In order to force through his proposals comrade Jacques played the threat of resignation card - few members of the EC were prepared to call his bluff. As a result Farleigh Press15 will now have to print his journal at vastly cheaper rates (in order to survive itself, Farleigh has turned to printing fruit labels).And Central Books16 (that hotbed of censors) has found the profitable job of doing Marxism Today’s steadily increasing subscriptions taken away and given to the distributors of Punch.This blow against Central Books was despite the written submission of comrade Reuben Falber, who declared that “its existence is called into question” by such measures. Comrade Jacques won the day 25 votes to 10. With this and the moves towards greater financial autonomy agreed at the prev­ious EC, comrade Jacques now has a Eurocommunist life raft in case the struggle to transform the CPGB into a ‘pure’ Euro party leads to the ship itself going down.

What the growing party crisis shows is that we have been absolutely right in characterising all the opportunists as liquidationist. The miners’ strike, the battle over the Morning Star,the moves around Marxism Today,the tailism of Straight Left all prove it. Now genuine pro-party comrades should think long and hard, question past loyalties and ask themselves what our party and class need today. We think you will come to the conclusions of Leninism.


1. ‘Mapping our tradition’ Weekly Worker August 24 2000.

2. ‘Founding statement of The Leninist’The Leninist No1.

3. The Eurocommunists were in alliance with the right-opportunist general secretary, Gordon McLennan.

4. George Bolton (born 1934) was vice-president of the Scottish area of the National Union of Mineworkers. He succeeded Mick McGahey as president in 1987. He was a Eurocommunist and, after his faction had destroyed the party, he remained active in its successor, Democratic Left.

5. The ‘official’ CPGB’s opportunist programme, now renamed Britain’s road to socialism by the Communist Party of Britain.

6. A disappointingly sanitised version of Andrew Murray’s CV - once a prominent Stalinist in the CPGB - can be viewed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Murray_(campaigner_and_journalist).

7. Straight Left was the journal of hard-line pro-USSR fans in the CPGB.

8. Our emphasis Morning Star July 16 1984.

9. The title of his Morning Star column.

10. See The Leninist July 1984 - reproduced in Weekly Worker April 1 2014.

11. The People’s Press Printing Society (PPPS) is the cooperative which owns the Morning Star, set up in 1945 by the CPGB. But those around editor Tony Chater rebelled from a right-opportunist position against the Euro line, referring to the CPGB as an “outside body”.

12. At that time the Morning Star was produced and printed at its headquarters at Farringdon Road, London EC1.

13. Mick Costello was the Star’s industrial correspondent.

14. The pro-Moscow New Communist Party split from the CPGB in July 1977.

15. Farleigh Press was the CPGB-owned publishing company.

16. At that time Central Books was the CPGB’s publishing distribution company.