First Published: n.d., circa 1972
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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MIA Introduction: This article by Paul Noone, the General Secretary of the Working People’s Party of England (WPPE), appeared as an introduction to a pamphlet entitled, The Way Forward. A Marxist-Leninist analysis of the British State, the CPGB and the tasks for revolutionaries, which reprinted three articles by Michael McCreery – ’Destroy the old to build the new’, ’Organise at the place of work’ and ’the Way Forward’.
It is almost ten years since Michael McCreery led the CDRCU (Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity) in its clear ideological and political break with the CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain). During the late 1950’s the split in the International Communist Movement became obvious and because of its nature irreconcilable. On the one hand was the revolutionary line of mass political mobilisation, national liberation struggles and peoples war, as outlined by the Party of Labour of Albania and the Communist Party of China; on the other side the revisionist or reformist line of “peaceful coexistence and all-round cooperation” with imperialism, parliamentary electioneering boosted as the road to socialism. This was expounded by the Khruschevite Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its allies. The CPGB had been officially pursuing such a line at least since 1951 and the publication of its programme “The British Road to Socialism” – still, with trivial alterations, the CPGB programme today!
As the international debate in the Communist Movement sharpened, so the struggle of the two lines intensified with the CPGB. McCreery and other comrades who were then members of the CPGB had been trying to develop a revolutionary line in opposition to the King Street, full-time-official bureaucracy. Contacts were made in several branches but 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, Gollan as secretary of the CPGB finally intervened in the Sino-Soviet ideological dispute, accusing the Chinese Party leadership of being racialist and “warmongers”. McCreery and his comrades agreed that this was now the time to make a public statement as communists, repudiating Gollan’s statement and generally attacking the CPGB line of parliamentarism and sell-out of the national liberation struggles. At a meeting in the “Lucas Arms” in Grays Inn Road, London in 1963, the CDRCU was born and the “Appeal to All Communists”, drafted by McCreery, adopted as the group’s first official statement. Public meetings were held and the paper “Vanguard” produced. The three pieces by McCreery republished by the WPPE in this pamphlet formed the kernel of CDRCU’s political line.
Destroy the Old To Build the New – is a withering attack on the parliamentarist illusions of the “British Road to Socialism”, ridiculing the ballot box and a “Labour-Communist” parliamentary majority. It is a trenchant restatement of the Leninist position with regard to the capitalist state and the dictatorship of the proletariat, clearly showing the heightened relevance of Lenin’s analysis for us today because of the changes in capitalism since Lenin’s time.
Organise At The Place of Work – This was originally an address to the London District Committee of the CPGB in 1962. It calls for a replacement of electioneering tactics and party structure based on electoral districts by organisation at the workplace where class struggle is at its most obvious, where working people can be most easily organised, and where working people, providing they are organised, can exercise most power within the capitalist system.
The Way Forward – This, written in January 1964, is in many ways the single most important contribution McCreery made to the development of a revolutionary line in Britain. Not only does he lay bare the ideological, political and organisational revisionism of the CPGB but he outlines with outstanding clarity and succinctness the basic principles that a revolutionary party needs. Proletarian internationalism; dedication to achieving the Dictatorship of the Proletariat by smashing the capitalist state in the revolution led by the workers’ own organisations; mobilising politically on all immediate issues such as wages, housing, etc., with workers power as the final goal; mobilising the mass of people for action (the “mass line”) at the place of work; fighting for positions and progressive policies in the trade union movement as a tactic of the overall struggle, but always opposing the false idea that simply capturing positions in such bodies is the road to socialism; and finally, operating on democratic centralist lines with full discussion within the party to reach full agreement on policy in each new situation accompanied by united action to implement such policy ’with each basic unit itself translating the general policy into action within its local field of work’
As a result of this revolutionary initiative, McCreery became the subject of the most malicious personal attacks. Several so-called “anti-revisionists” who had been collaborating or in contact with McCreery for considerable periods prior to the “Appeal to Communists”, suddenly developed cold feet after the agreed decisions of the “Lucas Arms” meeting. They tried to stop the public stand against revisionism being effective and when that failed they resorted to anonymous attacks on McCreery and the CDRCU in their newsletter “Forum”.
These individuals and their associates who included a number of persons now prominent members of both the CFB (ML) and the CPB (ML) argued that the anti-revisionist movement should function as an opposition within the CPGB working towards taking control of the CPGB! Their attacks on McCreery branded him as everything from a left-opportunist to a police spy. Their chief spokesman was Seltman, who has long since dropped out of Marxist Leninist politics. Many of these critics have since broken with the CPGB organisationally themselves while the CPGB remains staunchly revisionist, all eloquent testimony to the correctness of McCreery’s line.
The critics accused McCreery of being elitist, of trying to “buy” a movement with the money he had obtained from his rich family background, and they accused him of setting up a new party prematurely. In fact he did none of these things. “His” money was spent by the democratic collective decision of the central committee of CDRCU, while his life style and work style were plain, simple and conscientious. He was always prepared to listen to others and never behaved in an arrogant fashion.
McCreery himself never answered personal slander with slander, he always attempted to answer the underlying political attack and at some future date the WPPE will publish the whole correspondence and polemics of that time. It speaks for itself.
As to his desire to set up a new party prematurely, firstly when he died in 1965 no such party had been formed, both the WPS and WPPE were begun subsequently. His attitude can be seen in this extract from a letter sent to the writer of this article in December 1963.
“In the New Year regular weekly Marxist-Leninist lectures will be organised. A periodical will by then be appearing. Its role will be organisational, agitational, propagandist. For we are pressing for the establishment of groups in all main industrial centres actively and openly advancing the new line, and regular national delegate meetings to hammer out an agreed policy for Britain. This National Council would be advisory [McC’s emphasis] during this period of preparation for the establishment of a new, genuine, Marxist-Leninist Party. Not until we have active, self-reliant groups in all main industrial centres can a Party be established.”
Why have ten years elapsed since McCreery made his analysis and yet there is still political and organisational confusion and ineffectiveness in Britain?
In this period almost a dozen different “Marxist-Leninist” and “Maoist” organisations have arisen, often based on the “charisma” of various political figures in the trade union or other fields. Most have largely supported the international line of the CPC which, since it is a verbal exercise, is not hard to do. Few have undertaken comprehensive or detailed analysis of the class struggle in Britain. On the home-front most content themselves with simply reacting verbally to attacks by the capitalist government or joining (usually in a sectarian way) whichever leftist bandwagon happens to be rolling at the time. This means largely tailing behind CPGB, Trotskyist or Left Labour initiatives. No one and no organisation save the WPPE and WPS, has even attempted a thoroughgoing analysis of what needs to be done. None have matched McCreery’s analysis of ten years ago. This is why we republish his work at this time.
McCreery himself died from cancer in April 1965 after a long illness at the age of 36. This was a great tragedy as he was far ahead of his comrades in political development. Most were still enveloped in ideological, organisational and work-style deficiencies inherited from the CPGB. Most really did not know (and still don’t) how to take revolutionary initiative; how to develop class struggle at their workplace or in their communities. The cadres of the WPPE are just beginning to learn after a slow start and a good deal of misdirection from various exponents of the short-cut.
While McCreery was alive the CDRCU developed with groups in London, Scotland, West Yorkshire, Manchester, Cardiff, the Thames Valley and contacts in a dozen places. “Vanguard” reached a wide readership and did much to disseminate criticism of revisionism and develop revolutionary ideas. But after McCreery died, the CDRCU degenerated into an ineffective group without direction, unable to understand what it needed to do, meeting regularly to discuss abstract ideas and paper struggles. Inevitably such organisations splinter. However some comrades developed from the beginnings Michael had made. In Scotland the Workers Party of Scotland was formed and has developed steadily, taking important national initiatives in founding the John Maclean Society and organising for the Scottish National Convention involving trade unionists and progressive nationalists.
In England progress has been more difficult. The WPPE was formed in 1968 and has, in spite of several politically important campaigns, so far not developed sufficient strength and influence. Our programme was drawn up through full discussion of all members and contacts and remains basically correct although it needs further development and re-emphasis. A current task is the re-drafting of this programme, to make it more useful in developing class struggle.
Initially, the WPPE suffered from the disruption of a leading group of individuals with sectarian and elitist political ideas associated with liberalistic and undisciplined methods of organisation. These persons failed to get active among the people at places of work or in the community, starting with mobilisation for simple demands; but instead they talked of revolutionary violence while waiting for revolution to begin spontaneously and expecting the masses in such a situation to turn around and call in a clique of passive dogmatists to lead them! This group of paper Blanquists talked of seizing state power on behalf of the masses and then “giving” the masses “socialism”. These petty-bourgeois conspiratorial and elitist notions were paraded as “Leninism”. It had nothing at all in common with it. The Bolshevik Party led the masses not simply because of what intellectuals wrote but because the Party shared the life of the people in day-to-day struggles, because it was of and for the masses. It advanced general theories and analysis derived from close attention to real everyday struggles. It did not seek to impose itself. This is the way Lenin, Sverdlov, Stalin, and Orjonikidze worked. It was because of this integration with working people that the Bolshevik Party led the revolutionary masses in 1917. It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t a trick or a 7-day wonder, but a process growing and developing over 20 years.
The verbal revolutionists usually fail to appreciate the possibilities of class struggle in their own lives, instead they are eager to proffer advice and leadership to already developed struggles, standing as they are on the side-lines. They dismiss their fellow workers at their own places of work or in their own streets as “reactionary” and “useless”. Their Marxism-Leninism is an abstract collection of ideas and fantasies reserved for sounding off at political meetings or in publications. It’s a hobby like collecting stamps or matchbox tops.
Another common error of the time was to see political campaigns developing through an appeal to “national figures” or the leadership of other “left-wing” organisations to launch a joint “movement” on this or that topical issue. Each such initiative was doomed to failure. A political appeal to political opportunists futile unless they see clear personal advantage in such a campaign. “National figures” and “Left-wing leaderships” will support any successful campaign (and probably try to pervert it to their own ends) once it is developing strongly and they can no longer ignore it. Their support may serve a useful tactical purpose but gaining it should never become our strategy, nor must we ever surrender the political initiative to these opportunists in any such campaign.
To develop any political campaign, concrete practice in a specific situation is more useful than volumes of theoretical exhortation. Moreover we should start our struggles where we have our cadres and contacts – not try to take over other peoples’ struggles which are further developed. Of course we must try to support all specific class struggles as practically and usefully as possible and develop contacts on a basis of mutual respect and help with those involved in struggle. But giving big-mouthed advice from the side-lines in leaflets and public meetings, which attempt to take over leadership of the struggle only alienates those involved in it. We have few cadres and we must use them effectively. We must not rush like bees from flower to flower sipping the nectar of other people’s efforts. We must re-double our efforts at our own workplaces and in our own environments, making a detailed analysis of conditions, class contradictions and recognising those specific issues which may be developed in struggle to involve as many working people as possible. We must form working alliances in these struggles with all militants and not &eek office necessarily in such movements. Personal involvement and contacts can be sufficient providing political analysis and ideas are clear and properly put over. And we must always advance in a relevant way our general political analysis and the need for working class power, never allowing misguided trust by the people including militants in the legislative processes and institutions of capitalism.
A properly developed struggle in a specific situation can become pacemaker for the whole country and give a political lead to our whole class. The Party in its practical work must set an example for the class to follow. Successful local struggles spark off general revolutionary developments. At the same time party organisation must be kept simple and committees only formed and meetings held to serve practical purposes. We must also collectively delegate tasks to cadres to carry out and not try to do every job by committee. Allow cadres to act responsibly, this is the only way we develop as cadres. Mistakes will be made. This is not disastrous if we honestly admit them and rectify them. If we are afraid to act for fear of making mistakes or prevent any cadre taking initiatives for the same reason, then we will never grow.
The successes of WPPE have always been derived from local activity of a broadly correct nature. It includes the mobilisation of Bengali workers and militants of all races against thug attacks in Euston and the East End of London; the support of gypsies threatened with eviction in Northumberland; mobilisation of building workers on Tyneside against the “Lump” system and during the recent strike; initiatives amongst young people in conflict with the forces of law-and-order in London; helping the destruction of the liberal-establishment misleadership of the anti-racist movement in Britain some 4 years ago; and much work in the NHS, Britain’s major nationalised industry, helping to mobilise health service workers and gain the support of trade unionists for their struggle against gross exploitation and also mobilising working people against the private sector in the health service (a very obvious and much despised symbol of profiteering in our society). On both these latter issues national campaigns involving rank-and-file militants are developing strongly. In all these successful campaigns our cadres worked closely with other sympathetic militants and all recruits to the party were made then.
But above all else our experience both positive and negative over the past five years have served to re-emphasize the correctness of Michael McCreery’s initial analysis. In a sense it is through our experiences of these years that we have at last begun to appreciate what Michael was saying and have at last begun to apply it to our own struggles and organisation.
The deepening financial and political crisis of British capitalism in the past decade has further facilitated revolutionary developments. The unprecedented rate of inflation and the successive wage freezes which together have caused a real fall in working peoples’ living standards; the unbridled speculation in land and property matched by soaring rents and house prices; the attacks on trade union organisation and shop stewards; the immigration laws and devaluation of British passports for Black people; the attacks on the social services and dismantling of the ”welfare state”; the continued balance of payments problems caused by the imperialist export of capital for super profits in South Africa, Hong Kong and other overseas countries coupled with lack of growth, unemployment and total distortion for profit of the domestic economy; and the disillusion with parliament and the Labour-Tory charade. And on the other hand, the working people fight back, miners, dockers, ship-yard workers, building workers, railwaymen, council workers, hospital ancillary staff, and even white collar and “professional” workers, draughtsmen, teachers, civil servants – all battling against falling living standards and the owning class freeze and squeeze. More days “lost” through strike action in 1972 than in any year since the 1926 General Strike.
Opposition on a wide-scale to the government’s anti-trade union Act; council tenants in mass protests, a few councils defying the government’s higher rents schemes; black workers protesting against double oppression in Loughborough and North West London; women pressing with renewed intensity for an end to centuries of discrimination and subjection. Not for a long time have there been so many struggles and so much militancy in this country. The widespread disillusion with parliamentary politics leaves the field wide open for revolutionaries. It also raises the serious possibility of an overtly fascist takeover as an alternative for British capitalism if the situation deteriorates sufficiently.
Now more than ever a Marxist Leninist Party is needed to coordinate struggles and develop overall analysis and policy. Now more than ever the writings of Michael McCreery are relevant.