Wasted labour

Eddie Ford reviews 'The Communist Party of Great Britain: a historical analysis to 1941' by Andrew Murray (Communist Liaison, 1995, pp106)

In the preface to this book, Andrew Murray correctly observes: “There remains a place for a Marxist political assessment of the history of the CPGB.” Unfortunately, this is not it - not even close.

This is rather curious in many ways. After all, Murray started work on this book nearly 14 years ago, “as a contribution to helping save the CPGB from death by a thousand revisionist cuts” (p5). A very laudable aim, which no communist could disagree with. However, Murray’s historical analysis ends up doing exactly the opposite: its history is dubious, its methodology is sloppy and the research is abysmal. So much for Murray’s desire to challenge ‘official’ historians like James Klugmann and Noreen Branson.

We should not be surprised. Communist Liaison, the ‘sponsor’ of this booklet, originated from the Straight Left faction within the ‘official’ CPGB. Straight Left was characterised by its unmovable centrism, the main component of which was its (semi-secretive) love affair with JV Stalin and the bureaucracies in Eastern Europe.

Murray, consequently, can see no wrong in the policies and actions of the Soviet bureaucracy - it is always correct, even when it is palpably wrong. Thus, the disastrous sectarian Third Period line of ‘class against class’ - when left social democrats/reformists were simply labelled “social fascists” - is casually excused on the grounds that “the Comintern ... was doing nothing worse than trying to come to grips with a changing world” (p49).

Alternatively, the ultra-opportunist Popular Frontism espoused by the Comintern from July/August 1935 onwards - which obscenely saw communists transforming themselves into patriotic defenders of ‘democratic’ imperialism -  is neutrally described by Murray as “merely a reformulation of the long-standing communist struggle for a united working class front” (p67).

Along the way, Murray merrily resurrects every old ‘official’ communist myth imaginable. Thus, the Trotskyite POUM militia in Spain took up “arms to stab the republican forces in the back by launching an insurrection in Barcelona” (p70). The Labour Party is unscientifically labelled “the mass party of the workers” (p33).

For all Murray’s attempts to play the heretic, this is a classic apologist hack job in the 1930s mould - unofficial ‘official’ communism, in essence. Palme Dutt is quoted as saying, “The duty of a communist is not to disagree but accept.” (p93)

Eddie Ford