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New Left Review I/156, March-April 1986


Raphael Samuel

Staying Power: The Lost World of British Communism, (Part II)

1. The Will to Unity

The Communist Party, in my recollection of it (I left the Party in 1956), was singularly free of what are known, in more conventional political formations, as ‘rows’. [*] Thanks are due to the editors of nlr under whose ministrations and patience this piece has expanded far beyond its projected length. Succession struggles of a kind endemic in social-democratic parties were unknown, and indeed for the first ten years of its existence the Party had nothing resembling a Party leader. Political differences, so far from being envenomed by personal rivalries—the normal condition of the Labour Party—were suppressed for the sake of comradeship. If there were political divisions on the Executive Committee, the members did not know about them, nor would it have been conceivable for confidential reports to be leaked to the capitalist press—something which passes without comment today. [1] See a Guardian item which appears, as this article is going through press, under the name of that paper’s rather anti-Labour industrial correspondent, John Torode—Communist Attack On ‘Corrupt’ Unions: ‘The Communist Party has attacked the trade union movement leadership as undemocratic and corrupt. On the eve of the tuc special conference on legal reforms, the party’s executive has approved a confidential document which identifies two “dominant positions” in the unions. The first is described as hard left, which has “no strategy, no concept of alliances, and drives many into the hands of the right, unnecessarily.” Communist leaders blame the hard left for “major setbacks” in Liverpool and during the miners’ strike. Labour Campaign Group of mps are accused of forming an unholy alliance with Militant Tendency and the Stalinist supporters of the pro-Soviet newspaper, the Morning Star. The second group of trade unionists is identified as passive new realists, opposed to struggle and merely waiting for a Labour government.’ (Guardian, 11 March 1986.) Interestingly, the account of this document given in the Party’s weekly, Seven Days, though written by its author (the Industrial Organizer), omits these—or indeed any—controversial passages. (See Seven Days, 15 March 1986.) The headline is positive: TIME IS RIPE FOR UNIONS TO CAPTURE THE INITIATIVE, and the article begins: ‘The immediate priority facing the labour movement is to create a massive wave of solidarity with the print workers’ strike and the teachers’ dispute’. Party proceedings, by comparison with those in the Labour Party, were exceedingly decorous. Leaders were not in the habit of claiming that they had been stabbed in the back (a melodrama latterly as common on the left of the Labour Party as it used to be on the right), they did not stage premeditated tantrums at the rostrum or walk off conference platforms in a huff, nor were delegates accustomed to yelling abuse from the floor. ‘Pride’, Deutscher remarks in his political biography of Stalin, ‘is not a Bolshevik virtue’. [2] Isaac Deutscher, Stalin, a Political Biography, Oxford 1961, pp. 315–16.

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Raphael Samuel, ‘Staying Power: The Lost World of British Communism (Part II)’, NLR I/156: £3
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