From Star wars to library wars

Lawrence Parker reports on what looks like a new factional war in the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain over the Marx Memorial Library

Libraries are traditionally viewed as havens of peace and tranquillity. Maybe the Marx Memorial Library was once such an oasis. Not these days.

On April 18 the Morning Star published a seemingly innocuous letter from Mike Squires (a respected labour movement historian who recently became a member of the Star's Communist Party of Britain), urging trade unionists to join the MML. Presumably, the comrade thought he would be helping Mike Hicks, who was appointed to the new post of trade union liaison officer at the library's annual general meeting in April.

Mike Squires takes up this depressing tale in the Morning Star of April 22: "The next day [after his initial letter was published], I received a recorded delivery letter from Marx Memorial Library chairwoman Mary Rosser, telling me that I was to be expelled from the library for writing such a letter." Comrade Squires appealed against this decision and he had a hearing on May 11. There has been no news yet as to the verdict.

From what we can gather, the rather bizarre idea that comrade Squires could be persecuted for urging people to join the library (in the context of a recent drop in subscribers) has fallen away in favour of accusations about a 'Mike Squires group' holding meetings in order to discuss the future direction of the library. No evidence has been produced by the clique around Mary Rosser as to the existence of this group or as to how such meetings would break the library's rules.

There are clearly two blocs at work in the politics of the library and this was revealed in this year's elections to the general management committee. Duly elected were Tish Collins (67 votes), Mary Rosser (67), Muriel Hevey (66), Janet Perham (66), Tom Wipperman (66) and Tony Newbery (65). The votes for the so-called 'Squires group' (all unelected) were: Mike Squires (17), Anita Wright (17), Dave Esbester (16), Emily Mann (16) and Gary Morton (16). The similarity of the spans of these votes shows how capable the group around chair Mary Rosser has been in mobilising its votes against what are, in reality, the CPB's preferred candidates.

In 1998 the CPB was split into two rival factions and the main battleground was the Morning Star. Things came to a head when the management committee of the People's Press Printing Society, which owns the Star, attempted to sack John Haylett as editor. The PPPS was led by Rosser and former CPB general secretary Mike Hicks. This led to a strike of Morning Star journalists and eventually it was Rosser and Hicks who were forced out (Rosser is today a Labour Party member). The battleground has now shifted to the MML, where Rosser is clearly extracting a measure of revenge through her faction's continued control.

The Hicks-Rosser group claim that an alliance of the CPB's current leadership around part-time general secretary Rob Griffiths and comrades from the old Straight Left 'official' communist faction has moved the CPB in the direction of 'sectarianism' (Weekly Worker October 12 2000). By this they mean that the current leadership has allegedly diluted the pro-Labourism of the British road to socialism, the CPB gradualist programme, in favour of cosying up to the extra-Labour left, including Trotskyists, who by definition are 'sectarian'. No doubt this group views the likes of CPBer Andrew Murray 'going native' with the Socialist Workers Party in the Stop the War Coalition as ample confirmation of its analysis.

Following the Star strike of 1998, Mary Rosser failed to get re-elected to the PPPS management committee (by one vote) following a determined effort by the CPB and its allies. The boot is now on the other foot and it is clear that the CPB had difficulty in mobilising its membership for the library's AGM (if votes of 16 and 17 are anything to go by). The CPB is currently deeply debilitated by its internal divisions as to the desirability of gravitating toward Respect.

It seems the Rosser-Hicks faction feels confident enough to begin a more concerted assault on the CPB and its allies, although striking out at people arguing for more recruits is not that savvy (one could see though how an influx of 'trade unionists' could benefit the CPB and threaten the stability of the Rosser group).

The committee of the MML gave us this statement: "As a charity organisation answerable to no political body, we have a duty to preserve our charity status for the benefit of all our members. Interference by a political party could seriously affect this position and this is the matter being considered by the committee in the case of Mr Squires.

"At no time has anyone requiring to use the facilities of the library been denied access to materials for research purposes. Mr Squires has not been removed from membership. The matter is still under consideration and until the committee takes a decision, we cannot discuss a matter which is sub judice."

Such rumblings of "interference by a political party" (the CPB) conveniently mask the fact that the library's position is being dictated by the Rosser-Hicks political faction.

We would urge readers, particularly those who are members of the library, to write in to the management committee in support of Mike Squires and against any restriction of his involvement in promoting or assisting the work of the library. If his appeal is not successful we would suggest that comrade Squires' case be heard by a labour movement inquiry. This decision should not be the property of the Rosser-Hicks faction.

Similarly, the Marx Memorial Library itself should not be the property of any one political faction, the CPB included. If the CPB comrades are serious about democratising the library then they should convene an open meeting of the left, to which all tendencies and groupings could be invited. Such an infusion of political energy should be more than enough to see off the Rosser-Hicks faction.