Loyal foot soldiers
The CPGB-ML siding with George Galloway over voting for the Brexit Party laid the ground for founding the Workers Party of Britain in December 2019. But Lawrence Parker expects the romance to prove fleeting
Through his long and interesting career, George Galloway has had plenty of criticism hurled at him from left and right. This is how one splendid formation responded to his record in 2004:
We now hear from [the New Communist Party] words of praise for Respect, the SWP-led anti-communist electoral alliance fronted by George Galloway - a man who had to be thrown out of the imperialist Labour Party kicking and screaming (although anyone with anti-imperialist principles would have walked out long ago) and who also supported forces dedicated to the violent break-up of Yugoslavia as a state.1
So Galloway, by virtue of his Labour Party membership, was deemed to be severely lacking in anti-imperialist principles.
These lines were penned by the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) in 2004. The CPGB-ML led by Harpal Brar was shortly to develop into a family dynasty (his offspring, Ranjeet and Joti, now play leading roles in the organisation). Of course, the CPGB-ML are loyal foot soldiers of Galloway in the Workers Party of Britain (WPB), so it would be interesting to know what the Brars now think of this 2004 characterisation of their new leader.
This relationship is not being squirrelled away. Joti Brar is deputy leader of the WPB and, according to its website,
The Communists [the new branding of the CPGB-ML] have a long history of working with George on various issues. In 2019, the Communists stood alone with George on many questions, not least the defence of the Brexit referendum result and opposition to Labour’s treachery on this question … The Workers Party wants communists to play an active role, and we’re appealing to British workers - whether they have formerly been in the Brexit Party, Ukip, the Labour Party, a socialist organisation or none - to get involved with and build this party.2
It is clear that the relationship between Galloway and the Brar dynasty began mellowing long ago. In fact, the CPGB-ML ended up by being heartened by events in Respect, as Galloway began to fall out with another fantabulous family dynasty in the form of the Socialist Workers Party’s John Rees and Lindsey German. After Galloway’s victory in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency in the 2005 general election, Harpal Brar could not quite contain his glee that Gorgeous George was giving the Trot SWP and its gormless leaders a hard time inside Respect.
Obviously channelling Weekly Worker reports (of which Harpal was an avid reader) of the time, he said:
Although it is the counterrevolutionary Trots of the SWP who provide the foot soldiers for Respect, it is Galloway who takes the important policy and programmatic decisions. Time after time, on a whole range of issues, the SWP have voted with Galloway in defiance of their professed principles.3
Brar added, truthfully enough: “Galloway can do without the SWP. The latter, on the other hand, are nothing without Galloway.”4 This is illuminating in the sense that during the Batley and Spen by-election we also had CPGB-ML members having to front a ‘law-and-order’ campaign for more bobbies on the beat, presumably in thrall to Galloway and in “defiance of their professed principles”. At least, the CPGB-ML has the consolation that communist parties campaigned for similar patriotic, rightwing politics during the popular front era overseen by Stalin. (The pop-front SWP had no such firm ideological fall-back with the Anti-Nazi League or Respect; not that this made any difference.)
However, despite hailing Galloway’s election victory, there was no way at this point that the CPGB-ML could become Galloway’s foot soldiers in the manner that the SWP had. It still evinced suspicions of Galloway’s loyalties to the Labour Party. Hard-baked into the CPGB-ML’s ideology is auto-anti-Labourism and it has been traditionally hostile to those elements of the left that engage with Labour. In 1995, Harpal Brar published a book entitled Social democracy: the enemy within, which set out the Labour Party’s counterrevolutionary betrayals in some detail.
Twinned with this is a notion of Stalin as the supreme revolutionary icon and opponent of social democracy, with the Brarites rejecting even the essentially conservative ‘official communist’ critique that Nikita Khrushchev made of his former leader in 1956. Unfortunately, this narrative is substantively nonsense: Stalin oversaw and approved the old ‘official’ CPGB’s own slide into social democracy in the form of the 1951 British road to socialism and the documentary materials proving this were widely shared in 2007.5 (Laughably, the CPGB-ML claims, off the record and in conversation, that these documents are forgeries peddled by myself, the Weekly Worker and other bandits of ‘counterrevolutionary Trotskyite imperialism’. In fact, the documents emanated from Indian comrades, who are supporters of Stalin’s political legacy. I only commented on them subsequently.)
It was clearly the fact that Galloway was not let back into the Labour Party under Corbyn (he did not even get close) and gave up on any such ambition that meant the CPGB-ML could conceive of itself as playing a similar role to that of the SWP in Respect. The CPGB-ML has worked with Galloway for a number of years now and he was speaking on its platforms in 2009 during its ‘Hands off China’ campaign. (The CPGB-ML also has excellent links with the Chinese embassy in London, whose personnel have appeared on platforms with Galloway and party members, much to the annoyance of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain.)
This is not the first time that the Brars have played the role of courtiers to movers and shakers in the labour movement. What became the core leadership group in the CPGB-ML (then working factionally through organisations such as the Indian Workers Association, the Association of Communist Workers and the journal Lalkar), essentially took control of the London area of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) in the late 1990s, with Harpal Brar becoming the group’s London president and, for a time, Scargill’s hatchet man.
Brar came to relative prominence inside the SLP in 1997, opportunistically reversing an earlier critique of Scargill’s social democratic proclivities, although recognising, quite correctly, the significance of his leader’s defection from the Labour Party. Brar’s ascension to the SLP national executive and the rise of his supporters to the status of trusted courtiers of king Arthur coincided with the removal or departure of all other factions except those of Scargill himself. Predictably, Scargill fell out with Brar’s faction in 2001-02, partly over Scargill’s refusal to support the 9/11 suicide bombers and to back the North Korean regime in a sycophantic ‘Marxist-Leninist’ manner. Brar’s supporters pointed, with some justification (although they never once complained when Scargill was axing ‘Trotskyites’), to Scargill’s undemocratic and underhand methods. Scargill once again reverted to the status of an ‘old Labour’ bogeyman in the Brarite runes.
It is likely that the CPGB-ML’s relationship with Galloway will run the same course, given that these sudden reversals from extreme opportunism to extreme sectarianism and denunciation are hard-wired into ‘Leninist’ sects such as the CPGB-ML, the SWP and the rest.
This charming man
Whatever one makes of his bizarre ideas, Harpal Brar was an effective enough player in the little sectarian world of the British left and someone who knew how to manoeuvre and conduct himself in a generally charming and personable manner. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he read the Weekly Worker regularly and would go out of his way on demonstrations to greet CPGB members he knew and to ask them questions about this or that happening. This was usually followed by some ribbing on his part. He once told the CPGB national organiser that he looked rather pale and, as his ‘Leninist’ doctor, recommended that he give up the “revisionist counterrevolutionary Trotskyism” that ailed him. He got similar ‘medicine’ back in turn and took it with good humour. Quite a contrast to some of the snarling specimens we encountered on the Trotskyist left, who would generally flounce off at the first sign of criticism or ribbing.
I make these points to underline, what attentive readers have hopefully picked up: that the CPGB-ML, if it has inherited anything from its patriarch, should not be dismissed as a mere nothing. Even though the formation of another pure Stalinist sect in 2004 was of no significance to the strategic woes of the revolutionary left, it was reasonably astute to form the CPGB-ML in 2004 in order to mop up what remained of the old ‘anti-revisionist’ communist milieu in the face of the terminal decline of older organisations such as the New Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
Also, the Morning Star’s CPB had started to become more agnostic, at least in public, on issues such as Stalin’s legacy, which annoyed some of its members. By contrast, the CPGB-ML is defiantly unambiguous in praising Stalin’s Soviet Union, in a manner that echoes the personality cults of the 1930s and 1940s. Allied to this, the CPGB-ML is clearly a well-disciplined, well-financed, ‘cadre’ organisation that punches beyond its weight in terms of the money and commitment it gets from its members. It has obviously recruited younger members in some numbers, although there has recently been some internal controversy around the issues of identity politics and transsexual rights that I am not qualified to comment on.
In the context of a Labour left that is an advanced state of collapse after the Corbyn debacle, a revolutionary left in the throes of a deep existential crisis, and a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition that puts a whole new spin on the word ‘useless’, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the WPB will at least establish itself as the most significant force in terms of Labour’s electoral opponents on the left, even though that might amount to pitiful numbers in terms of real forces and votes.
But, if history is any guide, Galloway and the CPGB-ML will not put up with each other for awfully long.
This article originally appeared on Lawrence Parker’s blog6
‘In the middle of the road’ Weekly Worker March 6 2008: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/711/in-the-middle-of-the-road.↩︎