First Published: Workers’ Broadsheet, Vol. 6 No. 7, 1972
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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IN the May 1972 (No 30) issue of the CFB journal “Struggle”, an anonymous attack was made, in an article headed “Sincerity is Not Enough”, on the Workers Party of Scotland and on the late Michael McCreery, a comrade among Communists in Britain in the early 1960s but who died tragically from cancer at the age of 36, in 1965 (three years before the WPS was founded!)
Why should the CFB seek to attack McCreery 7 years after his death? Who is doing the attacking? Who was McCreery? What did he stand for?
These are some of the questions which must occur to younger comrades not familiar with the early years of the anti-revisionist struggle in Britain. Unfortunately many younger comrades may accept the “Struggle” article as a correct evaluation of McCreery and the events of the early sixties. The WPPE has been seeking closer working relations with CFB for some time, in the face of some apparent reluctance on their part. The publication in “Struggle” of this article could hardly be calculated to improve relations: its inaccuracies and total failure to consider McCreery’s political analysis of Britain while advancing an alternative analysis, necessitates comment.
Sean McGonville, Chairman of the CFB, was involved in the anti-revisionist movement in the early 1960s and was hostile to McCreery and the stand he and other comrades took. At least two other leading members or the CFB knew McCreery and were both opposed in practice to his line in the early sixties – Sam Mauger, Secretary of the CFB, and Michael Faulkner, editor or “Marxist-Leninist Quarterly”, the theoretical organ of the CFB. Moreover another erstwhile member or the CFB, Henderson Brooks of Coventry, was yet one more “anti-revisionist” opponent of McCreery in the early sixties. Thus the CFB was largely founded by and is led by the anti-McCreery, anti-revisionist faction of the early sixties. This is an important point and very relevant when considering the present CFB position.
What were the real issues in the early sixties? Most anti-revisionists would agree that the CPGB has NOT been a revolutionary, Marxist-Leninist organisation since at least 1951 and the publication of their programmatic document “The British Road to Socialism” with its strategy or “winning socialism” via the ballot box and a “Left-Labour”–Communist majority in parliament. Although a number of CPGB members rebelled against or showed disquiet over this parliamentarist line and the consequent accent on electioneering at the expense of revolutionary activity at the place of work, there was little coherent revolt.
Everyone who tried to change the line of the CPGB at local or national level quickly discovered that the Party and its organs were completely and bureaucratically controlled by a clique of full-time revisionist officials. There could be no open discussion, criticism or revolutionary activity within the Party.
In the late ’fifties the split in the International Communist Movement began to become obvious. The irreconcilable rift between Marxism-Leninism and Khruschevite revisionism, between revolution and “peaceful coexistence and all-round co-operation” with imperialism; between developing a revolutionary mass line or parliamentary electioneering as the road to socialism. First the Albanian Party of Labour led by Enver Hoxha, and then the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Tsetung, attacked revisionism and the whole revolutionary movement came to life again. The successful unfolding of the Vietnamese people’s struggle and the unprecedented development of national liberation struggles against imperialism throughout the world crystallised the issues. Revolution or sell-out!
McCreery and other comrades in the CPGB had been trying to develop a revolutionary line in opposition to King St. within the Party since 1960 when “Long Live Leninism” was published. Some contacts were made but the party officials prevented effective opposition and refused to allow articles and letters in the party press or speakers in branches to broadcast anti-revisionist views to the rank-and-file.
In 1963 the CPGB finally intervened officially in ’the Sino-Soviet ideological debate, accusing the Chinese Party leadership of being “racialist” and “warmongers”. McCreery and other comrades agreed that this was now time to make a public statement as Communists repudiating this and generally attacking the CPGB line of parliamentarism and sell-out of national liberation struggles. An “Appeal to All Communists” was made and public meetings organised, calling for a complete ideological and organisational break with revisionism and for setting up an organisation to work for the building of a Marxist-Leninist Party to replace the CPGB.
At the last minute some of the anti-revisionist comrades pulled back from supporting the Appeal and the break with the CPGB. Led by Peter Seltman, this group launched a series of anonymous attacks (principally through a paper called “Forum”) on McCreery and the CDRCU (Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity) – the organisation he had helped to form. The attacks alleged that McCreery was setting up a Party. (Yet in 1965 when he died no such Party had been formed). The Seltmanites also believed that McCreery and the others had been too “adventurist” in breaking with the CPGB. They believed that Marxist-Leninists could work on in the CPGB and either win control of the organisation to a Marxist-Leninist line (the old Trotskyist “takeover” strategy) or by working discreetly within the CPGB, abiding by its rules and regulations, winning over the rank and file to an opposition line. Meanwhile their main energies were spent in attacking CDRCU – in other words, objectively opposing the open Marxist-Leninist stand against revisionism, social democracy, monopoly capitalism and imperialism. Nine years later the CPGB is still revisionist.
The CDRCU never attacked the Seltmanites but concentrated on attacking the main enemy, the ruling class, and developing a Marxist-Leninist analysis of Britain. While McCreery was alive the CDRCU consisted of at least 50 to 60 members with a Central Committee of comrades, representing the constituent groups, of about 10 to 12. The Scottish member of the Central Committee did indeed fly on occasions to London for meetings; delegates also flew to Europe during visits to fraternal parties. Air-travel is a recognised form of transport, competitive in price with rail and sea travel.
The constituent group consisted mainly of expelled CP branches or sections of branches and other members, in Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, South Lancashire, West Country, Home Counties and London. The organisation was financed by the members although McCreery was able to contribute considerable extra sums of money as did other comrades, some of whom donated their life savings. Spending of all money was controlled by the Central Committee. One of the first acts of the committee was to launch a large, printed paper “Vanguard” which was aimed at doing a propaganda job of reaching militant workers. This it did.
Nonsensical jibes about Marxist-Leninists and money are put in proper perspective by recalling Engels’ support or Marx, Lenin’s acceptance of money from Parvus and other rich sympathisers, also his support of (and the Mensheviks’ opposition to) Stalin’s organisation of bank robberies to fund the party. Money is only one weapon of the Marxist-Leninist party and cannot provide a short-cut for buying membership. But properly spent, money where its spending is controlled in a democratic centralist manner by the party, can certainly help develop revolutionary activity. Serious revolutionaries will not get bogged down in petty bourgeois (sic) “moral” attitudes towards money.
The real issue in 1963 was not about whose money was spent or whether “Vanguard” was too ambitious at that stage but whether the time was right to break ideologically and organisationally with revisionism and to reconstitute a Marxist-Leninist Party.
McCreery and his comrades were right. Seltman and the other “anti-revisionist” critics of McCreery were wrong. Indeed, even McGonville and the CFB must admit this albeit churlishly, some 9 years later. Under the strange subheading “Wrong Tactics” (sic), says that, “(McCreery) made a positive contribution in that he called for an alternative organisation to the bankrupt CPGB, at a time when many seriously sought merely to reform it”.
[He] omits to mention that he and his colleagues were “reformers” in 1963. He also omits to give full credit to McCreery for his historic positive contribution!
But is that really all that McCreery did? He certainly didn’t form a Marxist-Leninist party either in Britain, in England or in Scotland.
He died in 1965 and the WPS was founded in 1968 and the WPPE some months later (in 1969). He cannot be held personally responsible for their ’mistakes and deficiencies. But the CDRCU, while he was alive, was active through-out England, Scotland and Wales, functioning in a democratic centralist manner, developing a programme through discussion, debate and practical activity in the class struggle.
What sort of analysis did McCreery develop? One can only judge by his writings over that period, and the main articles were published in “Vanguard” or as pamphlets. They were:
1. “Destroy the Old to Build the New”
A devastating attack on the “British Road to Socialism” and its parliamentarist illusions; with a trenchant restatement of the Leninist position with regard to the Capitalist State and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
2. “The Patriots”
A collection of short articles on British Imperialism with detailed examples of how monopolies are exporting capital to neo-colonies, South Africa etc to make higher profits abroad, through the exploitation of overseas peoples. There is also a thoroughgoing attack on the CPGB line with its mixture of opportunism and covert imperialism.
3. “Organise at the Place of Work”
From an address to the 1962 CPGB conference calling for a replacement of electioneering tactics and party structure based on electoral districts by organisation where class struggle is at its most obvious and where working people can be most easily organized.
4. “Class Analysis: Notes on the Lower Middle Class and the Semi-proletariat in Britain”
A detailed investigation of the middle strata, the small businessmen, professional, technical and white collar workers to assess which sections can be allied with the industrial working class in revolutionary struggle. Whatever debate there might be over certain details, the general analysis was valuable and timely.
5. “On the origins of the British State” and “The National Question in Britain”
An analysis tracing the development of British imperialism with particular reference to the significance of the national liberation movements in the British isle, following in the steps of Connolly and MacLean. Events in Ireland, Wales and Scotland since then have served to emphasize the importance of McCreery’s insight.
6. “On Capitalism’s Economic Prospects” published in “Marxism Today” in 1961 as a Critical reply to a Palm Dutt article.
In this, McCreery pointed out that Keynesian economic manipulation by the capitalist state could not prevent a full-blown economic crisis developing as severe as any before the second world war. This in answer to Palme Dutt and the CPGB who believed that the intervention of the capitalist state could continuously iron out the contradiction between production and consumption. Few really foresaw the severity of the crisis of the late sixties and the present time back in the “never-had-it-so-good” days of 1961.
7. But in many ways McCreery’s most useful contribution was “The Way Forward” in which he analysed the ideological and organisational revisionisms of the CPGB and urged the need to build a new party based on Marxist-Leninist ideology and politics. In an important section of this work, McCreery outlined quite clearly (this was in January 1964) the basic principles that the new party would need. “It will be based, firstly upon the principle of PROLETARIAN INTERNATIONALISM”... secondly, the “Party will fight to establish the DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT in Britain. This involves SMASHING the capitalist state machine in a Socialist revolution which will be led by the workers OWN organisations. “Thirdly, the Party will relate the struggles on all immediate issues (wages and conditions of work, housing, against military bases and militarism, for all: democratic rights) to this central and final goal, the establishment of working class power. The result of struggles on all immediate issues should be to increase their understanding of the masses for the need to take political power into their own hands”... “Fourthly, in the struggles for all immediate aims, and for the final conquest of power, the main line of the Party will be to MOBILISE THE MASS OF THE PEOPLE FOR ACTION. This demands organisation of the Party AT THE PLACE OF WORK” ...“Fifthly, the Party will fight for positions, and progressive policies, in all Trade Unions and Co-operatives, as a means of mobilising the mass of the people for action in defence of their own interests, but it will resolutely oppose the false idea that capturing of positions within the legal organisations of the Labour Movement, and the capitalist state within which they operate, is the road to working class power.”
“Finally, not BUREAUCRATIC BUT DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM will operate within the new Party. Full discussion within the Party in order to reach agreement on policy in each new situation must be accompanied by united action to implement this agreed policy with each basic unit ITSELF translating the general policy into action within its local field of work. Only when the Party as a whole is capable of understanding each policy and slogan so as to apply it to its own local conditions, can we give that leadership in the struggle against monopoly capital which the interests of the British people demand.”
No one has put the matter so succinctly in this country since that time. Eight years later the CFB launched their journal “Marxist-Leninist Quarterly’ with an article by M. Faulkner headed, “What is a Marxist-Leninist Party?” which adds nothing to what has been said by Lenin or Mao or in this country by McCreery 8 years ago. Faulkner does refer to “mystification” about the Party but fails to refer to the CFB’s mystification about the party and their constant failure to “take the plunge” of developing a political analysis (including above all a CLASS ANALYSIS) of Britain which could lead to systematic practical activity, and a political organisation working according to the guidelines of democratic centralism.
To continue as a loose federation of Marxist-Leninist study groups without a programme for the past 7 years since the Joint Committee of Communists formed in 1965 is to abdicate revolutionary responsibility. As says, “Sincerity is Not Enough”, put “politics in command”; the result of not doing so is clear. It means drifting behind the spontaneous class struggle, applauding (with suitable resolutions), criticising, but always tailing. It leads to the adoption of opportunist slogans which seem popular at the time. A classical example adorns the front page of the issue in which attacks McCreery. “Recall TUC. Defy the Act” it reads, no different to the CPGB, the SLL or IS. At a time of intensifying class struggle when militants at their work-places have already defied the Act, going over the heads of the TUC, both left and right wings of that body), it is nonsense to ask workers to put the General Council of the TUC in command of so crucial a campaign. If the masses are mobilised by correct local struggles and national rank-and-file contact, some trade union officials, even sections of the General Council, will be mobilised in support. But the leadership can never be surrendered to these persons.
We must always emphasize the role of the workers in liberating themselves through correct understanding. There are no short cuts through established, constitutional channels like winning a majority in parliament or passing a resolution at the TUC. These are mere tactics never strategy. accusations that McCreery put “Organisation first, politics next” rebounds like a boomerang. It sums up the CFB to date.
The WPPE is willing to discuss politics with any revolutionary organisation and is always eager to co-ordinate practical activity. We still remain keen to resolve differences between the CFB and WPPE. But we cannot gloss over those differences when they are of such crucial importance as those raised in attack on the late Comrade McCreery.
Let the CFB members study McCreery’s principles for forming a Marxist-Leninist Party. How do they disagree? Have they an alternative analysis and programme that could unite revolutionaries and mobilise the people for class struggle and workers power? If the CFB has not got a programme – however imperfect – then it is a matter of urgent priority for them to develop one as soon as possible. It is a prerequisite for any Marxist-Leninist organisation.