The road to oblivion

CPB in crisis

As this paper has graphically il­lustrated, the so-called Commu­nist Party of Britain is spinning into profound crisis. More than that, the latest downward spiral could quite well turn out to be its last. Nobody should be surprised. As we said in The Leninist - the forerunner of the Weekly Worker - of the Communist Campaign Group a year before it be­came the CPB, it is on a “road to ob­livion” (The Leninist April 11 1987).

Of course, what we are witnessing in the CPB is fundamentally a crisis of programme, not of individual egos, personality failures, psychological foibles and bureaucratic crassness - though there is all this and more. Let us not beat about the bush. With the ‘pro-Haylett’ strike at the Morning Star we are seeing the bitter fruits of JV Stalin and the British road to socialism which he approved.

In some respects it is not easy to associate the boozy, ‘all mates to­gether’ trade unionist mentality of CPB members with the murderous la­bour dictator. The CPB is most defi­nitely not “dizzy with success”, or on the way to state power. However, the CPB’s ‘spiritual’ mentor is, without doubt, the late and unlamented Joseph Vissarionovich. No Stalin, no national socialism, no British road to socialism ... and no CPB. The “old crap” perpetuated by Stalin and his cohorts ultimately led to the dull grey Morning Star, no matter how much the ‘true’ Stalinites may protest to the contrary.

Even an elementary study of the world communist movement shows that the rot started early. From the mid-1920s onwards it moved steadily to the right. This was articulated in Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism (second edition, 1925), where, in true CPB style, he disconnected Russia from the rest of the world and imag­ined - fantasised - that socialism could be constructed within its national borders. All the other communist par­ties had to subordinate themselves to the Soviet bureaucracy’s national socialist trajectory. Inevitably, in the mid-l930s, this out-and-out revision of Marxism and proletarian interna­tionalism led to open class collaboration with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie and the nationalisation of every local Communist Party.

The supposed ideological unity of the ‘world communist movement’ ended long before the end of organi­sational (ie, bureaucratic) unity, with the formal closing clown of the Third International in 1943. It was a slow and painful death.

The British road to socialism - the programme so beloved of ‘official communists’ of all hues - arose out of this right-moving ideological de­cay. The BRS was the successor to the centrist and instantly outdated For Soviet Britain of 1935 - with its detailed scheme for ‘post-revolution­ary’ fishing quotas and irrelevances such as how many unemployed work­ers fit in the Albert Hall. Crucially For Soviet Britain, with its blend of par­liamentarianism and revolutionism, did not conform to the theses of the 7th Congress of Comintern and its popular front turn. It had to be and was ditched.

Owing to the outbreak of World War II, the CPGB’s Draft programme was not submitted until the 16th Con­gress in 1943. The rightist drift of For Soviet Britain became more system­atic and codified. Echoing the 7th Congress, for it the key to ‘socialism’ was a “labour movement majority” in parliament. The BRS was first issued in finished form by the CPGB execu­tive committee in 1951, with an amended form adopted at the 22nd Congress in 1952. It solemnly in­formed us that “no two countries are alike” and committed the CPGB to a strictly Labourite parliamentary re­formist road to ‘socialism’. Parliament was to be “transformed”. You can guess how it goes - just look at the Militant Tendency’s Militant: what we stand for (1981, 1986 or 1990 edi­tion) if you cannot remember.

The rest is just icing on the reform­ist cake. The 1958 version of the BRS outlined a vision of the CPGB affiliat­ing to the Labour Party and eventually merging with it into a “single working class party”. The 1968 spin on the BRS discovered that there had been a decisive shift in the world bal­ance of forces towards socialism, a claim used to bolster the notion of achieving socialism using peaceful and parliamentary means. The 1978 edition continued the CPGB’s legal­istic and reformist cretinism even fur­ther - and promptly became a museum piece with the election of the Thatcher government one year later.

Interestingly, some 40 years after the original BRS was inflicted on the CPGB, George Matthews, its former deputy general secretary, came clean and spilled the beans. Matthews said it was Stalin himself who was the au­thor of the “sharp and pungent for­mulations” which gave the BRS its “distinctive character”. Uncle Joe was particularly keen that the CPGB adopt a “long-term programme”, so as to stress that the CPGB did not want to “impose the Soviet system”. In the opinion of Matthews: “It is clear to me [that] without the intervention of Stalin nothing like the original Brit­ish road to socialism would have been produced, and it is doubtful whether there would have been a long-term programme at all” ( Changes September 14 1991).

Out of this ideological swamp the CPB eventually arose. As the Com­munist Campaign Group, formed in 1986, our proto-CPBers fought for an unquestioning BRS perspective in­side the ‘Eurocommunist’ (ie, explic­itly anti-communist) dominated CPGB. In a rare moment of political honesty, Tony Chater, the then edi­tor of the Morning Star and leading CCGer, declared that the Star was the “daily living embodiment” of the Brit­ish road to socialism. An unarguable statement. But Chater had come to regard the Morning Star as his own private property.

In 1987 our organisation - then the Leninist wing of the CPGB – mass-­leafleted Morning Star readers’ meet­ings, explaining that:

“Chater rebelled not from principle but because the executive committee of our CPGB threatened to take what he had come to regard as his paper away from his control. His sudden conversion to ‘pro-Sovietism’ carries no conviction. It was a ploy to maintain financial support and get certain oppositionist leaders to back him.

“What resulted was a heterogene­ous grouping, later to proclaim itself the Communist Campaign Group, which like a Judas goat is leading its rank and file towards a split. The CCG says it wants to re-establish the CPGB. Yes, Eurocommunism must be de­feated. Yes, the CPGB must be re­forged. This cannot be clone by a grouping which stands on a reformist programme like the British road to socialism. You cannot defeat this year’s revisionism with last year’s re­visionism. All that a CCG ‘party’ will achieve is the reproduction of all the contradictions of our CPGB in the mid-1970s, but on a lower level” (my emphasis, The Leninist October 8 1987).

This is surely what happened. When the CCG transformed itself into the CPB, based around Chater’s Morning Star, thus splitting from the CPGB, its fate was sealed. Crises, hid­den faction fighting, splits, liquidationism, etc - were in its DNA. Ridiculously, but predictably, the CPB was formed (in April 1998) on the ba­sis of defending all versions of the BRS - up to and including the fifth, 1978 edition - against the attempts of the Eurocommunists to ‘update’ it. Wisely the Euros quickly gave up on the project. The CPB did not. At the CPB’s 2nd Congress of November 1989, they even produced a so-called finalised version of the BRS ... “for the 1990s”, as they brashly put it. Naturally, the CPB’s version became a joke almost the day it was printed, with its Gorbachevite belief that “the world socialist system continues to exert an important, and sometimes decisive influence on world affairs”.

However as Jack Conrad empha­sised, the “CPBers’ BRS has ... a pe­culiarly blinkered national vision of socialism, peculiarly blinkered and na­tional even by the blinkered and national standards of ‘official communism’” (Which road? London 1991, p144). Hence in response to the fall of Gorbachev and the collapse of the USSR Mike Hicks - part time CPB general secretary till January 1998- could complacently brush it aside with the fatuous statement that:

“Brit­ain was the first country to write its own road to socialism ... Since 1951 we’ve had our own model - the Brit­ish road to socialism. We have writ­ten our programme in line with the traditions of our country, the tradi­tions of our working class and organi­sations. That’s what we base it on and not a model of somewhere else” (interview The Guardian September 7 1991).

This sorry story shows once again the urgent need for an open fight for a Marxist programme, if we are to reforge a real Communist Party. Who can doubt the correctness of Jack Con­rad’s early judgement on the infant CPB?

He wrote: “Underneath the surface the CPB is deeply divided ... Of this there can be no doubt. Indeed once things settle down the political cul­ture of the CPB will turn out to be just as unhealthy, just as bureaucratic centralist as the CPGB’s of the 1970s ... Even now, if you take a group of CPB members and name an issue you will get any number of different views. This is a portent for the future. The CPB will split and split again” (The Leninist May 23 1988). Yes, the CPB is now just a smaller, more pathetic, sadder version of the Eurocommun­ist CPGB - what a fate.

Eddie Ford