Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How the Trotskyist Organizations in the UK helped to bring down the CPGB

Trotskyite organizations of the 1970s were critical of both factions within the CPGB. They disagreed vehemently with the Eurocommunist ideas, which were seen to be unfairly critical of the Soviet Union, despite their own views, and the abandonment of Marxism-Leninism and the class struggle. They picked up some new members from the CPGB as the Eurocommunists undermined it. However, they were barely more successful than the communists, taking some dissident members but doing little to promote Marxism in Britain.

The most significant of them was the SWP (formerly the International Socialists or IS), supposedly 4,500 strong in the late 1970s. Like the CPGB then, it focused on workers in industry, and on trade unionists. It had attacked the CPGB for the abandonment of class conflict by the Eurocommunists, and because they identified the traditional CP’s attempts to influence trade unions as representative of the trade union values it abhorred. The SWP claimed a lot of workers would overthrow capitalism but for the bureaucraric trade union leaders whom the CPGB supported. The party’s newspaper, the Socialist Worker, spent most of its time attacking the CPGB in the late 1970s. The SWP tried instead to set up ’rank-and-file organizations’ within each union, and had then about fifteen ’rank-and-file’ newspapers in various, mainly white collar, trades—the Hospital Worker, Journalists’ Charter, Rank and File Teacher and, in the civil servants’ union, Redder Tape. These also relentlessly attacked the alleged secret deals and corruption of putatively reformist CPGB trade union officials, “wild allegations made without any real evidence”, Professor Keith Laybourn says. The SWP influence faded, and only six ’rank-and-file’ newspapers remained by 1982.

The International Marxist Group also had some success in rhe 1970s but then dropped Tariq Ali from its leadership in 1972, and made a call for a general strike which hardly anyone heard.

The Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP formerly the Socialist Labour League, run by Gerry Healy) had made little progress because of the dissension Healy provoked.

The Militant Tendency, founded in Liverpool in the 1950s by Ted Grant as the Revolutionary Socialist League, added to the damage of the CPGB around 1980 while the Labour Party was claiming to be most hurt by them. It challenged the very fundamental policy of the CPGB, stating in its constitution: “unlike the reformists, centrists and Stalinists, the Marxists decisively reject the theory of the Parliamentary road to socialism”... Its policy of entryism into the Labour Party is well known but, like the Communist Party, it played little part in the Labour leadership crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the Bennites within the Labour Party promoted the idea of an electoral college selecting the Labour Party leader.

The SWP and the Militant Tendency inflicted some damage on the Eurocommunist-rent CPGB, challenging both its trade union orthodoxy and its lack of commitment to the class struggle, yet set against its decline after the defeat of the Heath Government in 1974 and the rise of Eurocommunism, the Trotskyite impact was minimal.

Adapted from K Laybourn, Marxism in Britain: Dissent, Decline and Re-emergence 1945-c2000

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