Waking the dead
Lawrence Parker looks at Morning Star/CPB's faction's attempts to engage with CPGB polemics
This paper has always put some effort into exposing the self-serving dream world inhabited by members of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and deflating its absurd claims that it somehow represents the continuation of the Communist Party of Great Britain. While we would not wish to see its tiny cadre merely cast adrift into bourgeois society, in our eyes the CPB is an outfit that really does not deserve to exist.
For those unfamiliar with the workings of the CPB it can be best be characterised as a largely inert organisation. Day to day, its small number of activists work as foot soldiers for this or that labour movement structure or as the promoters of the bland Morning Star, which in turn is a vehicle for those parts of the broader labour movement that the CPB feels an affinity to. These activists rarely approach such tasks as part of a larger communist discipline; rather their CPB membership tends to get buried as a rather remote symbol of personal identity: it is not any sort of guide to action. This modus operandi sets the dozy tempo for the whole organisation (full-timers included) and has tended to inoculate CPB members from any kind of leftwing critique.
Recently, however, the CPB has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into some kind of concerted engagement with the Weekly Worker, albeit in the most clumsy and destructive fashion possible. This represents a sort of progress and we are delighted that our sustained polemic has begun to hurt this motley crew (after all, comrades, if it wasn’t hurting, you wouldn’t be responding, would you?).
What leads us to this conclusion?
- A clumsy and failed attempt by the CPB’s semi-dormant ‘Communist Students’ front to hack into the Wikipedia entry of the established Communist Students group.1
- Anonymous (usually) and frankly predictable attempts on various discussion websites to smear the Weekly Worker as an “MI5 front” (yawn) and to ‘out’ the ‘real’ identities of CPGB supporters perceived to be using pseudonyms.
- A lengthy pro-Stalin apologetic from Kenny Coyle, the CPB’s former international secretary, written in opposition to Jack Conrad’s assessment of the Soviet purges.2
- In a defence of the No2EU electoral front, Robert Griffiths, CPB general secretary, writes in the Morning Star: “The usual ultra-left sectarian groups have, on the other hand, attacked this initiative and its platform for being ‘anti-socialist’, ‘British nationalist’, ‘popular frontist’ and the like.”3 Given that the Weekly Worker is the only left paper thus far to offer anything resembling a sustained critique of this rotten nationalist bloc, it is not hard to see who Griffiths has in mind here.
This is not an isolated part of what is partly a polemic against us. He says that: “… the People’s Charter movement has so far been shunned by elements of the far left, which prefer radical rhetoric to mass engagement with the working class around a radical agenda. Some ultra-leftists even accuse the Communist Party [of Britain] of using its position in the movement to bury the objective of replacing capitalism with socialism.” Griffiths boasts: “The self-exclusion of sectarian elements will not harm the People’s Charter campaign.” And ends with a flourish: “But both apologetics for new Labour, on the one side, and ultra-left posturing and impatience, on the other, will have to be resisted.”
All fairly pathetic, taken as a whole, but on another level these desperate and miserable attempts to head off our critique vividly illustrate the pain that we have been causing the CPB. Specifically, we understand that a few issues around our coverage in particular have wound up Griffiths and company.
- A leakage of ‘sensitive’ information such as internal bulletins and more general outlines of the struggle between Griffiths and the multi-millionaire Anita Halpin.
- Our detailing of Griffiths’ pro-Stalin sympathies, deemed to be problematic, now that some sections of the CPB are intent on cosying up to Trotskyists on various fronts.4
- Some CPB members were extremely unhappy about our coverage of the Morning Star strike, in particular our comparison of the present day with the culture of the paper under the likes of Harry Pollitt and John Gollan (ie, those leaders of the ‘official’ CPGB that the CPB lionises).
- A longstanding frustration that the title of Communist Party is continually being contested. In other words, the CPGB and its Provisional Central Committee refuses to go away (although the CPGB-PCC does not indulge itself in the hubris of presenting itself as ‘the party’).
Of course, John Haylett, CPB member and Morning Star political editor, has a more standardised put-down: “If I was to correct every inaccurate rumour about the Morning Star spread by the Weekly Worker, I would have no time for anything else.”5 In other words, when Haylett is put under any kind of pressure, the veracity or otherwise of this paper is instantly called into question. A familiar story on the British left.
“Inaccurate” rumours put about by this paper about the Star’s CPB include: a wild tale about Robert Griffiths being a Stalin fan. This is the same Robert Griffiths who told the CPB’s 2008 congress that there was no “embarrassment” for his organisation that Stalin proposed some of the contents of the original British road to socialism programme;6 a scandalous piece of gossip that Unity for Peace and Socialism, a CPB-inspired electoral front, scored a derisory 6,394 votes (0.26%) in 2008 list elections for the London assembly (comrade Haylett did not see fit to print this “inaccurate” result when he was editor of the Star);7 and some vile rumours, culled from an internal Congress discussion bulletin, where CPB members happily ‘gossiped’ about the ramshackle nature of their own organisation.8
Putting mirth aside for one moment, the CPB’s objections to us publicising this sort of material means that it perceives there is a more general problem with having its thoughts and the results of its activity (most of which is culled from open, public sources, despite the ‘MI5’ smears chucked at us from some CPB members) reported on. Here we have an organisation that is so compromised it would rather sit in the shadows. Any ‘party’ with a degree of self-confidence (and there are not many of these on the British left, so the CPB is hardly unique in being shy) would be actively promoting its thoughts and debates, and critically deconstructing the results of its activities.
More savvy political operators such as Griffiths and Haylett know that indulging themselves in public protestations about their opponents working for MI5 quickly marks out their organisation as belonging to the lunatic fringe. Also, to start feeding such an appetite (which undoubtedly exists among those CPB loyalists angered by Weekly Worker critiques) quickly breeds its own self-destructive paranoia in secretive bureaucratic centralist regimes. However, it seems as if some CPB organisers are biting their tongues very hard.
Taimur Rahman is a central committee member of the Communist Workers and Peasants Party of Pakistan, an organisation that has fraternal links to the CPB. Rahman is currently resident in London as a PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies and recently picked up a copy of the Weekly Worker from a member of Communist Students. On a CPB e-list he appears to be less than happy with what he read: “They were trying very hard to put down the Morning Star regarding some recent controversy about salaries [!] etc. Whatever the issue is or was, the language in that paper was just so appallingly full of poison and venom that I was truly taken aback. Phrases like ‘Stalinist warts of the CPGB’ (referring to the old party) and just spewing nothing but empty rhetoric and stupid, baseless accusations against the CPB. The typical kind of stuff one gets to read in Reader’s Digest and other publications supported by agencies like the CIA and MI5, or is it MI6? (I can’t remember which one is for Ireland and which one is for Britain).”
Readers will quickly appreciate the quality of this stunning analysis: nasty unfounded phrases such as “Stalinist warts of the CPGB” are poison and venom, while implying we are CIA agents is apparently politeness itself. The “stupid, baseless accusations” Rahman is referring to is an article9 by myself that considered the manner in which the ‘official’ CPGB ran the Daily Worker/Morning Star in comparison to the decidedly non-communist culture that currently animates the Star. The truth hurts, obviously.
One might expect that more prominent figures in the CPB would steer clear of such bilge. However, Steve Johnson, London district secretary, is clearly one of those biting his tongue. He replied: “The ‘CPGB/Weekly Worker’ are a very poisonous group who have no other purpose than to cause disruption and confusion amongst the left. Whilst most of their attacks are aimed at us, they will also spread false rumour and speculation about other groups, including the SWP. Bizarrely, given their present position on the Soviet Union and the history of the world communist movement, they originate from a split in the New Communist Party around 1982 [sic], but their whole history is about trying to cause splits and fragmentation and they will shift their ideological positions accordingly. There is a question to be asked about who is really behind them but their publications really do belong in the waste bin, along with their members.”
It is utterly delusional to think that “most” of the polemics in this paper are aimed at the CPB, of course, but we are really very intrigued by comrade Johnson’s statement that there “is a question to be asked about who is really behind” the CPGB. Would he care to elaborate by writing in? Although one would suspect that Johnson is another member of the CPGB=MI5/CIA school of thought.
Of course, comrade Johnson would not be particularly keen on the Weekly Worker because it accurately reported him speaking at a Socialist Resistance event in July 2008 in support of his comrade, Ivan Beavis, who had just dished up the line of the CPB’s Labourite faction and thus ignored any new ‘mass party of Labour’ perspective (ie, the one that appeals to the wing of the CPB around general secretary Griffiths).10 As we reported at the time, “Steve Johnson seemingly added his support to the ‘traditionalist’ line of his comrade, stating Britain’s unitary labour movement was unique and it might not be feasible to duplicate some of the alliances taking place in other European countries.”11
For the likes of Johnson, such reportage is to be despised, as it accurately illustrates the political divisions in the CPB. Again, we are back to the situation in which CPB members would rather remain in obscurity than have their fraught existence merely reported on.
So, to finish, we would encourage any CPB members who are disgruntled at what we publish to write in to the letters page or even have a go at writing an article on, say, why the CPB is the historical continuation of the CPGB and why its strategy is correct. Why not tap out a little piece with your organisation’s analysis of China and whether it is capitalist or socialist? If comrade Coyle can manage it, I am sure the rest of you can up with something much better now that the ice has been broken.
On the other hand, you could carry on frothing at the mouth, hacking into websites, accusing communists of being state agents and generally making yourselves look foolish.
1. See Weekly Worker Letters, April 9.
2. ‘Third period idiocies’, November 20 2008.
3. Morning Star April 8.
4. See ‘Dead Russians and a Welshman’ Weekly Worker November 13 2008.
7. See ‘CPB poll “gains” lies’ Weekly Worker May 8 2008.
8. ‘Flushing out the Labourites’ Weekly Worker May 29 2008.
9. ‘Militant workers strike against party bosses’ Weekly Worker February 10 2009.
10. ‘Ivan the terrible’ Weekly Worker July 3 2008.