24 August 2003


Alister Black (for whom click here) writes:

It is not accurate to describe Rifondazione Comunista as the moving force of the European Anti-Capitalist Left. The EACL was founded by four parties - the Scottish Socialist Party, the LCR in France, the Left Bloc of Portugal and the Red-Green Alliance of Denmark. RC got involved relatively recently, an involvement which is of course very welcome.

Paul Anderson writes:

Point taken on the origins of the EACL, but the importance of Rifondazione - and the reason it's the moving force - is that it's got rather a lot of money and can (just about, or at least so it says) subsidise European Parliament campaigns across the continent for its comrades. In the UK, the SSP is gagging for a share of the cash; and the Socialist Workers' Party is also keen to cosy up to get RC support for the Socialist Alliance in England (click here), in which it plays a dominant (and sectarian) role. It's true that the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain (the Morning Star party) has rejected the SWP's advances for an electoral alliance (click here) despite the enthusiasm of its brightest spark, Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, for a deal. But the Rifondazione shilling (lira? euro?) seems to be something to play for.

23 August 2003


Paul Anderson, review of Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68 by John Callaghan (Lawrence and Wishart, £14.99), Tribune August 22 2003

The historian John Callaghan, professor of politics at the University of Wolverhampton, is extraordinarily prolific. In the past 20 years, he has authored no fewer than five hefty tomes, including an impressive historical overview of the British left, a magisterial biography of the Stalinist ideologue Rajani Palme Dutt and a comprehensive history of European social democracy since the 1970s.

I have long been an admirer of his work, but his latest book, a history of the Communist Party of Great Britain from 1951 to 1968, just published by Lawrence and Wishart, is his best yet.

At first sight, his subject is not particularly attractive. The CP in the 1950s and 1960s was tiny in comparison with the Labour Party - the CP claimed fewer than 40,000 members in 1950 (when Labour’s official individual membership was more than 900,000) and it dipped below 25,000 in 1958, recovering to around 35,000 during the mid-1960s. It was a marginal force in electoral politics. It had lost the two parliamentary seats it won in 1945 in 1950, was humiliated in every subsequent general election and never got more than a toehold in local government.

Moreover, the CP was anything but a font of creative thinking on the left. The advocacy of an anti-fascist Popular Front that had sustained it in the late 1930s and then again in the 1940s (after an embarrassing gap during the period of the Nazi-Soviet pact) had stopped making sense with the defeat of fascism and the onset of the cold war. Although the party certainly had its share of talented intellectuals in the early 1950s — the historians Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and Edward Thompson and the critic John Berger are probably the best known today — its political culture was stifling, monolithic and intellectually stale. Its defining feature was its unswerving loyalty to the Soviet Union, on which it was financially reliant - and that unswerving loyalty led most of its best minds to leave in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

Most of the party's leaders were old and undynamic, unremittingly hostile to the emerging consumer society and to the corrupting influence of rock and roll. CP publications, most of them written in a notoriously wooden style, consistently predicted an imminent catastrophic crisis of capitalism - despite all the evidence to the contrary - that would inevitably lead to the establishment of socialism.

Yet, as Callaghan makes clear, it would be foolish to underestimate the significance of the CP or simply to dismiss it as dour and deluded. Its membership was certainly small by comparison with Labour’s - and smaller than it had been in the 1940s, when the CP had basked in the reflected glory of the Red Army's heroic efforts on the Eastern Front.

But it was still much bigger than that of any far-left party either before 1941 or since 1968. And the CP punched above its weight. It sustained almost as many paid party workers as Labour (except at election time), ran dozens of campaigns and was adept at getting its people into key positions, especially in the trade unions. By the late 1960s, co-operating with other left-wingers in various union "Broad Lefts" and riding on the back of a surge of workplace militancy over wages, the CP had serious leverage in the unions both at national leadership level and among shop stewards.

The CP was also much more influential in the realm of ideas than it ought to have been. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to dismiss its encomiums to Soviet achievements and predictions of capitalist collapse. But at the time its attitudes were widely shared on the Labour left. As Callaghan demonstrates, quoting amply from Tribune, although the Bevanite left took the side of Tito against Stalin in the early 1950s and was highly critical of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution, it repeatedly let itself be lulled into wishful thinking about the trajectory of Soviet socialism, exaggerating both the prospects of de-Stalinisation and the extent of Soviet economic and technological success.

The events and the political culture Callaghan describes were a long time ago. He leaves his story with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which divided the CP into pro- and anti-Soviet factions — a division that over the next 15 years turned schismatic and destroyed the party. But the mindset of the old CP is still a factor in British left politics. The Communist Party of Britain, which controls the Morning Star, groups together most of the CP’s pro-Soviet faction and behaves just as the old CP used to – right down to sucking up to dictatorships overseas, although in recent years it has had to settle for Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.

13 August 2003


The appearance in the Guardian on Monday of a piece by the leader of Rindazione Comunista in Italy, Fausto Bertinotti (click here) has provoked some lively debate. Harry from Harry's Place has posted a comprehensive and convincing riposte to Bertinotti's central thesis that globalisation renders obsolete any sort of left reformism (click here); and Andrew Stevens from Blairista! (click here) makes the point that Rifondazione's fans on the British far left have rather a long way to go before they can claim to be in the same league.

I've not much to add here, except to point out the electoral context of Bertinotti's appeal for a new united European anti-capitalist left organisation - next year's elections to the European Parliament. Rifondazione is the moving force behind an umbrella group known as the European Anti-Capitalist Left, which draws together a disparate bunch of far-left parties including the Scottish Socialist Party and the French LCR and is hoping to draw up a joint programme for the Euro-elections (click here). The SSP, fresh from its success in the elections to the Scottish Parliament, is convinced that this initiative will help it win a seat at least in the European Parliament. In England, the Socialist Workers' Party and the Communist Party of Britian have seriously discussed the possibility of a joint electoral effort under the same banner, but so far at least it appears that they haven't been able to agree on it.

11 August 2003


Mike Marqusee writes in response to the German/Murray diatribe in the Morning Star (see below):

“A few facts:

“1. I did not write an “attack on the coalition” – the piece is a critique of the SWP’s methods, and deals as well with wider issues facing the left. Of its 2,500 words, 175 deal in any way with the Stop the War Coalition. Most importantly, it was clearly written from within the anti-war movement and in the service of that movement; it is absurd to imply that it is part of a wider “campaign” that somehow includes the New Statesman.

“2. I did not accuse the coalition of “keeping quiet” about anything . . . I do believe that the SWP’s priorities in recent months have not included mass campaigning on the missing WMD and the injustices of the occupation, and that reality has hampered the STWC in getting to grips with these issues.

“3. While it is true that I ceased being active in the STWC at a national level in early October, I have remained active in the anti-war movement both at home and abroad . . .

“4. I replied to and repudiated Nick Cohen’s attack on the anti-war movement in the New Statesman.”


The row over the role of the Socialist Workers’ Party and other Leninist revolutionary defeatists in the Stop the War Coalition (not quite started here) rumbles on. In the wake of Mike Marqusee’s critical piece on the SWP for Signs of the Times (excerpted on this weblog below and run in full here), Nick Cohen ran a – typically robust – rant in the New Statesman appropriating Marqusee as a friend of the pro-war left, which (understandably) got up Marqusee’s nose.

Now the Stop the War crew has piled in. In an article in today’s Morning Star, the chair of the Stop the War Coalition, Communist Party of Britain ideologue Andrew Murray, and its convenor, SWP appartchik Lindsey German, take issue with Cohen and Marqusee:

“The anti-war movement, centred on the Stop the War Coalition… has helped awaken the broadest sections of the country not only to a determination to secure a world peace but also to a deeper sense of social justice and the limitations of democracy as it is presently practised here. But there are some of the left who just cannot stand it. They include those like Nick Cohen, John Lloyd and David Aaronovitch who supported this war… and a few of those who opposed the war, but appear personally embittered by one thing or another. The latter seems to be the inspiration of Mike Marqusee’s return to the political arena with a widely circulated attack on the Coalition after nearly a year during which he has played no part in the anti-war movement’s work. They are a marginal minority on the left, amplified, however, by the willingness of the New Statesman, in particular, to give ample space for their campaign to be prosecuted . . .

“On August 30 [the STWC] is convening a representative People’s Assembly to address the weapons of mass destruction controversy and the defects in our democracy it exposes – an initiative agreed some time ago, which makes nonsense of Marqusee’s silly allegation that the Coalition is “keeping quiet” about the issue…”

Am I alone in detecting a note of desperation and paranoia here? Marqusee’s critique of the SWP (and by extension of Leninist manipulation of the anti-war movement) is dismissed as “silly”, but he speaks for a large swathe of anti-war opinion in his antipathy to the SWP’s typical modus operandi – and German and Murray do not address his substantive arguments. Moreover, the fact that the New Statesman has run two pieces on the same theme (before Cohen, the comedian Mark Thomas got in on the act not very effectively) indicates nothing more than that there is a real argument going on about what the left did about the war and what it should do now. (For god’s sake, the real problem is that the NS has been inflicting John Pilger and John Kampfner on us ad nauseam in recent months.)

The “marginal minority” dismissed by German and Murray isn’t marginal and isn’t a minority. The chances of the “People’s Assembly” (for which click here) – modelled on the notorious People’s Convention staged by the CP in 1941 to rally support for Stalin’s alliance with Hitler at a critical stage of the second world war (see below) – being “representative” are close to zero: it will almost certainly be packed by SWP and CPB hacks representing only themselves. It is absolutely certain that it will not ask the critical question that confronts the left today: why did we let the Leninists screw it up yet again?