Foreign country?

Is the past really that different from the present? Asks Mark Fischer

This is shaping up to be a rather good Summer Offensive. This week, our annual fund drive saw a robust £2,163 added to the already pretty ruddy three-week total, taking us to £9,679, as we approach the halfway point in the campaign. A big chunk of this total has been accounted for by traditional ‘big hitters’ such as SK and MY. However, thanks are also due to the comrades who have contributed less, but in the form of new standing orders - a vital, regular and reliable source of income for the political work of what is, with all due modesty, a unique trend within the workers’ movement.

In last week’s column, I drew attention to the fact that the factional journal that preceded the Weekly Worker - The Leninist - has been given some prominence on the new Communist Party website. It’s gratifying that a number of comrades have subsequently written to agree that this is indeed a useful feature. In particular, in a posting on the CPGB’s Facebook page, comrade DT drew attention to the key reason why this mattered; something in my gushy enthusiasm I didn’t draw out properly.

I am minded that this is the second week that I have blathered on about this. Do I keep going on because I’m a dewy-eyed nostalgic for the politics of the 1980s/early 90s? Ye gods, no; far from it in fact. DT puts his finger on it when he writes that what struck him particularly was the contemporary relevance of much of what the TL team wrote over the life span of this edgy little journal.

He says: “Just started to read the online issues of The Leninist and was surprised how relevant they still remain. Of course, there will be mistakes and exaggerated hopes, it is easy to see in hindsight. The pity is that they weren’t listened to at the time. If they had been then maybe the left would be in a better position today.”

I agree, but then I would. I was an enthusiastic TL partisan in the factional battles that tore the CPGB apart in its death agonies. To be honest, I still am - and precisely for the reason that our comrade DT flags up: ie, that today’s left is still characterised by versions of the opportunist idiocies and treacherous politics that we fought then in the form of the Eurocommunists, the Stalinist centrists and the right opportunists of the CPGB of yesteryear. Only now these grotesques caper and mug about in the world in Legoland proportions, not the rather larger dimensions of the CPGB and the world movement to which it belonged back then.

Take the disastrous popular frontist lurches of the Socialist Workers Party, which have been well documented in these pages - its most farcical form having been the Respect debacle, of course. (The soft attitude of its co-thinking section in Egypt to a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood in the June elections second round is a manifestation of the same methodology, of course - farce followed by possible tragedy, perhaps? We sincerely hope not …)

Yet, oddly enough, you will still get SWPers who will call us Stalinists. Never mind turning in his grave, poor old Leon Trotsky must be spinning like a neurotic dervish. All of this does, however, underline comrade DT’s original point that - despite the many immature “mistakes” of the small group of young comrades around TL - there are some invaluable and highly relevant lessons to be gleaned from their struggle.

So, in relation to the battles we are facing today and as our ‘archival’ TLs and supplementary material we will put up online become available to a new audience, we could perhaps usefully tweak LP Hartley here. It may be true that “the past is a foreign country”; but it turns out that they (the opportunists) didn’t actually “do things differently there” at all.