Behind the Communist Party Crisis
Reporting the Thirty Eighth Congress of the
Communist Party of Great Britain
(News Line 12 November 1983)
The 38th Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain, (CPGB), which opens in London today, has been the subject of much comment in recent days in the capitalist press.
One thing which all the scribblers have in common is a total ignorance of the historical background of the crisis which has now reached the proportions of a split. This dilemma is expressed clearest of all in the current New Statesman in an article by Sarah Benton, who has the advantage of a close relationship with leading Party members.
“Until recently”, she writes, “there was not a political hair to be split between Gordon McLennan, party general secretary, and Tony Chator, editor of the Morning Star.” [The daily paper of the CPGB – Ed.] Both were middle aged, middle-of-the-road men, slightly over whelmed by their jobs and cautious about proposals for change. Now they represent the two sides of the most serious difference within the party for over a quarter of a century – serious not because of the political gulf between the two men, but because on them hangs the future of significant organisational and material resources.”
The opinion of a liberal impressionist is worthless in drawing political conclusions about the causes of the split itself. These are not centred upon the political similarity of Chater and McLennon in the past; both men are products of a deep-rooted Stalinist training. They are real Stalinist apparatus men in every sense of the word and to describe their present conflict as one that is about the future disposal of significant organisational and material resources is a gross over-simplification of the present crisis of world Stalinism.
The Role of the Stalinist Bureaucracy
Since Krushchev’s famous speech at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in the spring of 1956, there has been a sustained break-up within the world Stalinist Parties. That is why it is taking such a sharp form today inside the Communist Party of Great Britain, [CPGB].
Although the Italian and French Stalinist parties appear to have achieved some local and national electoral successes from time to time since 1956, their policies have steadily swung rightwards, coming closer and closer to those of traditional reformist social democracy. Today they are almost indistinguishable from reformist parties. Their ties with the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow are confined – especially in the case of the French Communist Party – to economic dependency.
But even these ties, which were a powerful weapon in Stalin’s day for disciplining the Communist Parties, are no longer able to halt the rightward swing, which is more and more tending to drag them into the administrative clutched of the capitalist state. This can be seen most clearly in the growth of Euro-Communism, even in Britain. The Euro-communists collaborate with the capitalist state and move further and further away even from left reformism.
They support the Tory Youth Training Schemes for supplying sources of cheap, non-union labour to undermine the militant role of trade unionism. The support the extremely right-wing and pro-imperialist bureaucracy of the Trade Union congress, with both Chater and McLennon gladly assuming the role “no-politics” policemen of the TUC during the “Peoples March for Jobs” earlier this year.
In the split which is developing, Chater stands more and more openly with the trade union bureaucracy, whereas McLennon relies almost entirely on the Euro-communists of Marxism Today, who are advocating a Popular Front alliance with the Liberals and the SDP, virtually ruling out any possibility of a Labour Government.
Martine Jaques, the leader of the Euro-communists, wants to break all ties with the Stalinist bureaucracy and move towards the full acceptance of the capitalist state. He secretly admires Thatcher’s monetarist style and the pages of Marxism Today are always open to Liberals, SDP and Tories.
McLennon and Chater’s Support for Stalinist Bureaucracy
The leaders of both factions are busily cuddling up to Moscow, although this has produced an incipient split between the Euro-communists and McLennon. He likes to be invited to the soviet embassy in his capacity as official general secretary of the Party – whereas the Euros prefer to wine and dine with the well-heeled journalists of Fleet Street.
While Martin Jacques waits in Party headquarters in St. John Street for the phone to ring from his favourite journalist on the national press. Mick Costello, who is Chater’s right hand man, is engaged in a similar vigil at the Morning Star offices in Farringdon Road.
Both sides are equally anti-communist and politically corrupt. Chater has already split the Communist Party and turned entirely towards the trade unions for support. He enjoys even closer connections than McLennon with Moscow. In recent days, on the very eve of the Congress, both he and Mary Rosser are reported to have made a short visit to the Soviets, which follows an earlier visit by David Whitfield, another leading pro-Chater man.
The politics of both camps move further and further to the right and this at times makes Moscow anxious. The Chater drift to the trade unions is only different in form the Jacques turn to the Liberals and the SDP. In the growing nuclear war danger the SDP, trade union bureaucracy and the Labour Party will solidly support the imperialist war.
Even if the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Kremlin leans to the Chater wing as against the McLennon/Jacques Euro-wing, the road of both camps leads further and further into the swamp of imperialism. Even the verbal defence of the Soviet Union will be entirely abandoned in the event of war. Thus the crisis of the British Communist Party is firmly rooted in the world crisis of Stalinism.
The Historical Background to the Split
Historically speaking, the Stalinisation of the CPGB is proceeded without the earlier crises which were characteristic of those parties which were founder members of the Third (Communist) International. In these parties, there was in many cases active pro-Trotskyist resistance to Stalin’s policies and favourable to the Left Opposition. The Stalinists of those parties proceeded through expulsions and splits, where as in Britain the effective leadership remained unchanged. Both McLennon and Chater were the closest disciples of the Stalinist politics of Pollitt, Dutt, Gallagher and Campbell. They are the real heirs of Stalinism in Britain.
The answer to this contradiction lies in the historical background of the Communist Party itself. The earlier groups and organisations which founded the Party in 1919, such as the British Socialist Party, the socialist Labour Party in Scotland, the Workers Socialist Federation which was predominantly from the East End of London, and the South Wales Socialist Society, were all politically influenced by powerful sectarian and syndicalist trends. They evaluated the growth of the Labour Party not from the contradictory manifestation of the political development of the working class but entirely from its opportunist parliamentary road.
In the working out of the idealist method - and it was this which characterised the founders of the Communist Party – their sectarian and syndicalist past was simply the other side of the coin to the opportunism of the Labour Party itself. Shortly after the Party was founded, when it was still affiliated to the Labour Party, Lenin, in his pamphlet Left Wing Communism, sharply criticised the sectarian anti-parliamentarianism of Gallagher, which the latter accepted at least in words, whilst still remaining a leader of the communist Party.
Shortly after Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin set about transforming the parties of the Third International into appendages of the rising Soviet bureaucracy. This was an essential prerequisite to the advocacy of the reformist theory of “socialism in a single country”, and he had no difficulty with the leadership of the British Communist Party.
From its sectarian past, it accepted Stalin’s opportunism wholeheartedly. Prior to and during the 1926 General Strike the Communist Party, under Stalin’s instructions, subordinated itself to the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee, which was dominated entirely by agents of Stalin’s bureaucracy on the one hand, and by the very trade union bureaucracy who were shortly to betray the General Strike in Britain on the other. From Gallagher’s anti-parliamentarianism, the Party had now entirely succumbed to the opportunist road, from the ultra-left and sectarian side of the coin to the opportunist side.
The General Strike posed the problem of power, and the Communist Party, already committed to the class collaboration role of Stalin’s Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee, could not develop the strategy of taking the power through social revolution. Instead it appeared before the masses as a more “left side” of the very trade union bureaucracy which betrayed the strike.
Soviet Foreign Policy Reflects its Domestic Policy
Leon Trotsky constantly stressed that what lay behind the changes in the foreign policy of the Soviet Union under Stalin were the changes in its internal domestic policy. Following Lenin’s death, the growth of the bureaucracy proceeded under the old social democratic reformist theory of “socialism in a single country”. From this anti-internationalist position, the leadership of the Communist Parties outside the USSR were whipped into line by the Soviet bureaucracy to serve its own bureaucratic ends. From Communist Parties they rapidly degenerated into Stalinist parties.
In 1925 Stalin rested upon the Kulaks, who he encouraged to “get rich quick”. Trotsky, who opposed this policy, was falsely accused of “underestimating the peasantry”, whilst it was Stalin’s policy which was responsible for the Communist Party’s swing to the right during the vital days of 1926. At the time of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International in 1928 it was already clear that the peasants had not only taken Stalin at his word, but they were holding the industrial population of the cities and towns in the Soviet Union to ransom by depriving them of food produce from the countryside in order to raise prices. The Sixth Congress of the Communist International in 1928 swung violently from what was previously a rightward position to the ultra-left position of the “united front from below” and no truck with top Labour and trade union leaders.
Hitler Comes to Power
By 1929 the Kulak threat had grown to such proportions that Stalin was obliged to launch what was in effect a civil war in order to liquidate them. The internal result in the USSR was that over 3 million peasants and their families were liquidated.
In relation to foreign policy the catastrophe reached its highest point in Germany, where the split between the Social Democrats, the trade unions and the Communist Party allowed Hitler to come the power in 1933 without a shot being fired. Stalin’s policy of the “united front from below” split the German working class and made possible Hitler’s victory. The united front from below was seen as an ultimatum by the non-communist working class which was unable, as yet, to understand the treacherous role of the reformist leaders.
For the united front policy to be successful, it had to by built up through parties and trade unions with the Communist Party, as a party. The leadership as well as the ranks had to be involved if the reformists and class collaborationists were to be exposed.
The German Communist Party, (KPD), excused Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 with the superficial Stalinist theory of “after Hitler our turn”, but instead Hitler grew stronger. In 1935 the Seventh Congress of the Communist International met in Moscow and reflected the swing to the right that was now under way inside the USSR.
This was the beginning of the liquidation of Lenin’s “old guard”, during the infamous Moscow Show Trials. Leading old Bolsheviks such as Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov and Tomsky, confessed to crimes against the Soviet Union which were a pack of lies from beginning to end. Because of the disaster which arose from the liquidation of the Kulaks and the disruption of the Soviet economy which followed their forced collectivisation through civil war, Stalin needed a scapegoat. So Lenin’s old comrades were forced to confess to being agents of imperialism and fascism. Trotsky was referred to as an agent of fascism in the trials. History has since revealed that the purges, which not only struck deeply at the soviet Communist Party, also decimated the leadership of the Red Army and thus played further into the hands of the fascists.
The swing to the right inside the USSR produced a corresponding swing to the right in foreign policy. From the ultra-left “third period” line, (1929-1933), the Seventh congress swung rightward again in its elaboration of the policy of the “Popular Front”. This was a policy based upon unity with parties of the capitalist class, be they Liberals or Tories. It was the historical setting for the Euro-Communist class collaboration proposals of today.
Communist Party Support for Churchill’s Imperialist War
Stalin entered World War II on Hitler’s side. For a brief period there was a split in the top ranks of the British communist Party. Pollitt was dropped and Palme Dutt came forward. As soon as Hitler attacked in June 1941 Pollitt came out of cold storage and as a most staunch supporter of Churchill, went all-out from opposing the imperialist was to winning it.
This is the rightward course pursued ever since by the British Communist Party. In 1952, Pollitt went to Moscow and returned with Stalin’s approval of the British Road to Socialism, [ a comprehensive manifesto setting out the political principles of the Party and its programme for the future – Ed.], which is merely an echo of the old Fabian theories of gradualist class collaboration. The first Euro-Stalinist was Harry Pollitt, ably supported by Stalin.
The Third, (Communist), International was dissolved by Stalin in 1943. Ten years later he died, and shortly afterwards, at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in 1956, Krushchev revealed information concerning Stalin’s tyrannical rule. Trotsky was proved absolutely right in his basic analysis of the counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy in his book Revolution Betrayed.
The rightward movement of the Soviet bureaucracy arises from the liquidation of the “old line” Stalinist parties into the camp of imperialism. They never could, and cannot today, defend the nationalised property relations established by the October socialist revolution of 1917. The Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR has produced only counter-revolutionary parties which have already sold out to imperialism. The Communist Party Biennial Congress will reach a high point of this process.
Only the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party today can defend the property relations established by the October Revolution. This defence cannot be separated from its context of the coming world revolution.