First Issued: November 1990
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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MIA Introduction: This document was distributed as an internal Briefing by the Revolutionary Communist League in November 1990.
When British communists denounced their Party in 1963 for no longer being revolutionary, the appearance of a group of dissidents was duly noted, and subsequently received scant attention; few people recognised that it occurred after a long period of disenchantment with the direction that the Party had been travelling. That act of open rebellion against a Party leadership considered rotten with opportunism and revisionism formed the taproot for the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain. The occasion of the rebellion was in defence of the analysis and policies defended by the Albanian and Chinese Communist Parties, and whilst the first appearance of Marxist-Leninist organisations were characterised as ’anti-revisionists’ by its activists, within a few years, the activists of the movement would be regarded as Britain’s Maoists.
The events of 1963 cannot be understood unless we first look at 1956 for the 20th Congress of the CPSU of that year had begun a process of disorientation within the International Communist Movement. It was not simply the denunciation of Joseph Stalin, who a few years previously had been lauded to the heavens. For some communists, attacks on Stalin were seen as the means to attack the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism. Khrushchev, the acknowledged leader of the international communism, was seen to be promoting policies that abandon the whole historical experience of communists including the revolutionary road that led to October 1917 and the attempt to build a socialist society.
Here is not the place to dissect the evolution of the Sino-Soviet dispute into open condemnation that saw the two leading communist parties’ sworn ideological opponents. The split developed slowly, but there were early misgivings about the policies endorsed at the 20th Congress. Mao Zedong told his comrades at the Communist Party of China’s 8th Central Committee that the attack on Stalin was incorrect: “First, we protect Stalin, and second, we at the same time criticize his mistakes...Unlike some people who have tried to defame and destroy Stalin, we are acting in accordance with reality.” Mao went on to ask: “As for the sword of Lenin, hasn’t it too been discarded to a certain extent by some Soviet leaders? (“Selected Works of Mao Zedong” Volume V (Beijing) 1977 p 341.)
Given the entrenched viewpoints, the Sino-Soviet Polemic was less a dialogue and more a stand up fight for the “soul” of the International Communist Movement. The Albanian and Chinese Parties were most forthright in their defence of their position but it was generally presented by political opponents as some form of knee-jerk Stalinist reaction to the policies advanced by the Soviet leader Khrushchev.
“Both dogmatism and revisionism run counter to Marxism” observed Mao Zedong. “Marxism must necessarily advance; it must develop along with practice and cannot remain still. It would become lifeless if it were stagnant and stereotyped. However, the basic principles of Marxism must never be violated otherwise mistakes will be made. It is dogmatism to approach Marxism from a metaphysical point of view and to regard it as something rigid. It is revisionism to negate the basic principles of Marxism and to negate its universal truth. Revisionism is one form of bourgeois ideology. The revisionists deny the difference between socialism and capitalism, between the dictatorship of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. What they advocate is in fact not the socialist line but the capitalist line. In the present circumstances, revisionism is the more pernicious than dogmatism. It is an important task for us to unfold criticism of revisionism on the ideological front now.”
Speaking in 1957, against the background of a growing split in the communist world, Mao Zedong advanced a position that sought to rescue Marxism from the theoretical dilution and weakening of militancy. Mao, amongst many others, condemned a political approach “to transform the capitalist state into a state representative of the interest of the working people” as against the canon of Marxist-Leninist teachings on the nature of the state.
Some compromise had been reach at the 1957 and 1960 meetings of communist parties but it proved fragile: they did not resolve the theoretical and ideological issues at stake. The international debate, that public ally unfolded with the 1960 Chinese publication of “Long Live Leninism”, provided a rallying point for anti-revisionist communists. The Chinese position asserted that the main danger within the international movement was revisionism, meaning the policies and analysis pushed by Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership. The Russian line emphasised the dangers of dogmatism, meaning attacks upon the analysis and policies they promoted. An academic sympathetic to the Chinese argument observed: “those carrying out the revisions which are seen by others as a ’negation’ or ’abandonment’ of Marxism (or of ’Marxism-Leninism’) will not admit that is what they are doing. For those who reject Marxism outright can hardly be labelled ’revisionists’. A ’revisionist’ considers himself to be a Marxist, only his critics find his particular interpretation of Marxism to be an abandonment or betrayal of it.”
It is clear that the definitions and analyses that were contained in the public documents were largely improvised in the heat of sectarian and polemical struggle. However, the general anti-revisionist view, expressed by Mao Zedong, did provided a benchmark without necessarily being a clarification of what was meant by “revisionism” in practice other than in broad sweeping terms.
For British communists, Khrushchev’s theories of peaceful coexistence and the parliamentary road to socialism had been enshrined in party policies since the early 1950s. For those who were uneasy with such teachings there was nowhere else to go.
One participant explained: “two subjective factors tended to deter the rank and file from taking a firm stand against what as going on. Firstly, there were social pressures. Most of a member’s social contact tended to be with other members. ...It helped develop a sense of continuity and comradeship. But it also encourages conformity to the Party and to the leadership, even when the latter were clearly in error. The second subjective factor was every Member’s knowledge that the leadership had the endorsement of the Soviet Communist Party. Thus, it was felt that to go against the Party in Britain, was to go against the whole of the international communist movement.
The polemic within international communism was a legitimate occasion for polemics within the Party in Britain. However an entrenched leadership was welded to the policies of the British Road to Socialism, a road attacked by some Party members as capitulation to social democracy, the ideology of the capitalist class within the working class movement.
The CPGB leadership confidently forced the issue and starkly raised the question of the Sino-Soviet Polemic. A statement from the Executive Committee, issued in January 1963, described the Polemic as “a dispute between the overwhelming majority of the parties of the international communist movement and the Chinese Communist Party. ..the public debate shows that the danger of dogmatism has increased in the international communist movement.”
The Party leadership was solidly behind the Soviet line. CPGB leader John Gollan, writing in the Daily Worker, was in no doubt what was at sake: He saw Long Live Leninism and the general Chinese Party approach not only as a dispute with the CPSU but also a challenge to the general line of our Party embodied in our programme: ’The British Road to Socialism’.
Evidence that the leadership views were well entrenched came with the voting on a four point anti-China resolution at the CPGB’s 28th National Congress held at St.Pancras Town Hall. The voting figures did not bode well for any inner-Party opposition: it was accepted overwhelmingly, with four of the 480 delegates voting against and ten abstentions. Four amendments, which were not withdrawn, received a total of 33 votes and were defeated.
Part of the anti-revisionist’s criticisms of the British Road to Socialism was that it tied the Party to the same political concerns as the left wing of the Labour Party. It assumed an evolutionary development of socialism, legislated for by Parliament, so everything was subordinated to winning allies in the swamp of social democratic politics. The main political thrust’s was thus against the Bolshevik-type Party, the revolutionary overthrow of imperialism and any vestige of classic Leninism.
The adoption of the British Road to Socialism in 1951 had made parliamentary representation central to the Communist Party’s political strategy, ironically just after it had lost its two parliamentary seats. That political strategy no longer counterpoised soviet power to parliamentarism.
“Now the Communist Parties in a number of countries, the British communist Party, for example, only advance the slogan of peaceful transition. “Mao Zedong recalled, “We talked this over with the leader of the British Party but couldn’t get anywhere. Naturally they may well feel proud, for as their leader queried, ’How can Khrushchev claimed to have introduced peaceful transition? We advanced it long before he did!’”
Successive editions of the British Road to Socialism increasingly moved the Party to embrace the British state as the acceptable framework for socialist advance. The Party’s tactical discussions were how far they could utilise the capitalist state. No longer would the Communist Party express the position of For Soviet Britain, its 1935 programme that ’workers’ councils will break up the capitalist machinery of government and take the place of it.
While the CPGB leadership might protest, some bourgeois commentators agreed with the thrust, if not argument, of the anti-revisionists: “The British Communist Party has come to accept the philosophy of gradualism and piecemeal reform...In effect the British Communist Party has come closer to Stalin’s definition of a reformism party – ’a party which denies the socialist revolution and tries to establish socialism peacefully’.”
If the policy of the CPGB was aimed at working with the Left of the Labour Party, it accommodated itself to the agenda set by the Labour Party. As such its own appeal weakened as it became less distinguishable from the general thrust of Labour Party politics. It was in reality a one-sided affair, as the Labour Party never reciprocated the Communist Party’s courtship, rejecting time after time any application for communist affiliation to the Labour Party. This did not deter the Party leadership from the “strategy” of working for a Left Labour government, hopefully with Communist MPs supporting it.
With the emphasis on election politics, or preparing for such contests, anti-revisionists within the Communist Party raised a grave concern that the class nature of the Party was in danger of a claimed membership of 34,281 in 1964, of these less than 15% were in factory branches. The need to organise on a parliamentary constituency basis downplayed the need for communist organisation at the place of work. The need to return to build the organisation within the industrial working class was a re-occurring theme amongst Marxist-Leninists.
Militant party members did not have to be doctrinal purists to be unhappy with the political life with in the CPGB. “British Communism might become a potent political force instead of a trouble-making propaganda sect. But such a consequence might mean an end to the careers of the present leadership and to the comfortable routines, which they have made for themselves.”
The author of one study on the CPGB concluded, “Formerly radical, vigorous and imaginative, now they are none of these things. They have grown conservative defending revolution.”
It was not too far a step to question its revolutionary credentials. The criticism aired in the Sino-Soviet dispute was raised in internal Party meetings to attack the revisionism of the Party Programme.
The leadership of the CPGB rejected such a line of argument and went on the offensive. A resolution of September 14th 1963 asserted that “on a number of occasions the Communist Party of China have attacked the significance of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for the development of the whole world communist movement. Our Chinese comrades are attempting to repudiate some of the important new and correct developments which have occurred in the last few years.”
Even political opponents of the CPGB recognised that “Maoism held an appeal both to industrial militants who looked back to the greater activism of the early 50s, and to those who felt the Communist Party did not give adequate support to the Colonial Revolution – in short, to those who rejected the social democratic path being followed by the Party leadership.”
Anti-revisionists within the Party had seen, in the positions advanced by the ruling Albanian and Chinese parties, criticism akin to those that they held of the “British Road to Socialism”. Although individual Party members rebelled against or stowed disquiet over the parliamentary line of British Road to Socialism and the consequent emphasis on electioneering at the expense of revolutionary activity at the place of work, there was little coherent revolt. There had been isolated but significant individual acts of dissent over the line of British Road to Socialism The national education organiser of the CPGB, Douglas Garman, who created a network of Party schools, gave up this work in 1950 owing to disagreements with the Party leadership over the political line of the British Road to Socialism.
It was only with the disagreements within the international communist movement that brought forth a concerted and co-ordinated attempt by Party members to question the political line of the Communist Party. Oppositionist Party members began to organise amongst themselves drawing anti-revisionist members together on a common position, not only of support for the Albanian and Chinese argument in the international polemic, which had slowly simmered since the CPSU’s 20th Congress, but on their own domestic agenda of a return to Leninist politics.
The birth of the anti-revisionist movement in Britain was the story of two organisations opposed to The British Road to Socialism: the Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity (CDRCU) and the clandestine party opposition grouping FORUM. Each of these organisations was identified with distinctive political strategies to combat revisionism.
With the Party leadership’s offensive against the Chinese position in September 1963, the London grouping of anti-revisionist decided to convene a conference of like-minded communists, and this meeting took place in London at the Lucas Arms public house in Grays Inn Road on November 10th 1963, Michael McCreery addressed the meeting on modern revisionism in both its international (Soviet) and British (CPGB) aspects, putting forward a commitment to struggle against it with the aim of re-establishing in Britain a Communist Party based on the revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism.
Most accounts of that meeting agree that the meeting was divided on the apparently tactical issue of whether the struggle should be carried out openly and publicly or whether clandestinely within the CPGB. McCreery led the argument for an open opposition to the Party leadership and drawing clear lines of demarcation in support of the anti-revisionist struggle in the criticism aired by the Albanian and Chinese parties.
There was a vote on the issue that split the anti-revisionist forces present. The majority group led by Michael McCreery at the meeting then issued “An Appeal to All Communists from Members of the CPGB”.
This “revolt among communists”, as The Times headed its report, was dismissed by the Party’s leadership as the “work of one or two extremist intellectuals”. But they feared that the postal distribution of the five-paged Appeal to two thousand party members would hit a “tender spot”. The CDRCU “hope that their doctrine will appeal to many other smaller rebel factions and so induce them to join in a united struggle to abolish revisionism and to revert to a policy of Marxism-Leninist”.
McCreery’s supporters were initially few in number: there were 14 signatories to the “Appeal”. Others were to declare their allegiance to a break with the Communist Party. McCreery spent much time in the next fifteen months sounding out potential recruits from amongst the positive elements still in the Party. Some communists, like Sam Mauger in the YCL, who were to play major roles in the development of the Marxist Leninist movement, were not convinced at that time by McCreery’s argument. Others like Sean McGonville were to remain opponents of McCreery’s line until they themselves faded from the political scene to find a home in academia and rose to prominence in his chosen subject.
The Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity (CDRCU) was based at flat 3, 33 Anson Street in North London. George Thayer described the CDRCU operating amidst “the squalor of unwashed milk: bottles, piles of dirty clothes, unattended dishes in the sink: and rumpled beds. McCreery’s office in the flat contains a library of perhaps 2,000 book’s and pamphlets, which line the face of one wall. Piles of loose literature are scattered over the floor. In the centre of the room is his desk on which he answers all his correspondence by hand in a neat, almost classic, script.”
Michael McCreery was an unlikely Marxist-Leninist leader. He had intimate knowledge of the British ruling class and the state apparatus. He was a class traitor; the Eton educated son of General Sir Richard Loudon McCreery. After Christ Church Oxford, Michael followed the family military tradition and joined the army, serving in military intelligence. As to why he first joined the Labour Party, then left after two years to join the Communist Party in 1956, Thayer writes, “he would only say that, during his many travels throughout the world, he had seen a great deal of suffering and had decided it was the fault of the capitalist system. He would not elaborate on the point further. ”
McCreery’s class background was to raise more than once the whisper of police spy, a charge vigorously denied by his supporters. If one accepts that practice is the criterion of truth, then McCreery’s class stand on the side of the proletariat was genuine. His reported death from cancer on April 10th 1965 robbed the newly emerged anti-revisionist movement of its outstanding exponent.
“This was a great tragedy as he was far ahead of his comrades in political development” wrote Paul Noone voicing a widely held view.
“Most were still enveloped in ideological, organisational and work-style deficiencies inherited from the CPGB.”
A tribute to him from the London Workers Committee argued “McCreery brought Leninism back into the British class struggle. ...McCreery’s analysis of the British situation in the light of Marxist-Leninist general principles has shone like a beacon.”
McCreery had been criticised for using his personal wealth to finance the CDRCU, and principally the publication of VANGUARD, a 16 paged typeset printed-paper, that first appeared in February 1964. The editor of the paper was Arthur Evans, Ron Jones its feature editor. Indeed, Vanguard was disproportionately lavish for the size of the organisation that produced it. The paper was produced monthly until the March 1965 issue reported McCreery’s illness. There were only four regularly published editions (three bi-monthlies and a monthly) following his death in April 1965. Regular publication had ceased by October 1965. Criticism of the attempt to reach out to revolutionaries through a “professional-looking” publication smacks of the dismissive attitude that pervades the production of propaganda. McCreery had been criticised for sustaining the CDRCU’s impressive public face with his money as if that was a political error.
Vanguard’s first front page article, written by McCreery, argued “So long as the 3rd International endured, that is until 1943, the C.P.G.B. supported, in the main, the basic principles of Marxism Leninism, propagated these basic principles to the best of its ability and stood four-square behind the new Socialist state, the U.S.S.R., hope of all progressive mankind. Within Britain Communists was in the forefront of all class battles, and the Communist Party played an important role in defending the interests of the working people during these years. But it never fully mastered dialectical materialism, the Marxist world view, in the sense that it never proved itself capable of applying the generally agreed principles of Marxism-Leninism to British conditions, of working out its own independent and correct policies in each historical period. Continually, the Communist International had to correct lack of theory, lack of understanding in the C.P.G.B., which led the Party into error after error.”
McCreery “said that the history of the CPGB was and still continues to be a struggle not for revolutionary action but a struggle to enter the Labour Party. He claimed that the CPGB failed from the start to grasp the essentials of either dialectical materialism or any of the other basic Marxist-Leninist tenets. He felt that the members of the Party were empirical Marxists who had so deviated from ’true Marxism-Leninism’ that they were now attempting to become respectable – ’Left-Social Democrats’, he called them. Therefore, he believed that they offered no alternative to Labour Party policies.“
The programme of the British Road to Socialism was described as “Fabian imperialism fostered on the Communist Party of Great Britain”. McCreery went on to argue, prematurely prophetically given the liquidation of the Party at its 43rd Congress in November 1991, that the CPGB leadership had “complete and utter contempt for the working class...their appeal is to petty bourgeois elements.”
The CDRCU’s political existence was criticised by anti-revisionists who remained in the CPGB and constituted a small organised inner-party opposition, commonly known as FORUM, named after the duplicated monthly that first appeared in March 1964. Peter Seltman was the (un)acknowledged leader of this grouping, “a very heavy set man, around thirty, a teacher” according to Arthur Evans, who visited Albania with him in the summer of 1964.
Those around FORUM attacked the CDRCU as a manifestation of “Left Opportunism in the Anti-Revisionist Struggle”, the title of a 47-paged duplicated pamphlet produced by the London Political Organisation attacking McCreery and the Committee.
There was a fundamental division between the anti-revisionists on where and how the struggle to reassert Marxist Leninist politics should take place. The formation of the CDRCU was seen by those around Seltman’s FORUM as having a serious retarding effect on the anti-revisionist struggle.
Mcreery’s opponents believed that “the fight to build a Marxist-Leninist Party must take place first within the Party itself and extending outside when the conditions of struggle demand it.” While they affirmed the objective need for a new Party, they argued that the subjective conditions were absent, and charged McCreery of abandoning the ’Battlefield within the Party’. Such an organizational break was only permissible when the anti-revisionist struggle has reached a point when nothing will carry it further except the establishment of a new Party.
McCreery’s call for open, public forms of struggle were to gather the Marxist-Leninist forces and isolate the revisionist-leading clique entrenched at the King Street headquarters. Those anti-revisionists around McCreery thought that the isolation of Marxist-Leninist opposition within the CPGB prevented a sufficient consolidation of Marxist-Leninists with the Party prior to the organisational break. It inhibited their development as a cadre force capable of successfully challenging the revisionist politics that dominated the CPGB. With the formation of the CDRCU in November 1963 a nucleus in open opposition to the revisionism in the Party had been consolidated. The attractions of open opposition were clear: it provided a rallying point for the promotion of a clear theoretical and strategic orientation that thwarted the bureaucratic dictat and lack of democratic discussion within the Party.
On returning home from China in 1964, veteran Party member of 28 years standing, Virginia Penn would contend: “,I was amazed and horrified to find the extent to which the party had misinformed and poisoned the minds of its members against China. I have written a number of letters to the Daily Worker and Morning Star, which of course were never published. ...in China where every statement and attack made on her by parties and at conferences aboard was published in full. The Chinese Party and government have full confidence that their people can distinguish right from wrong and believe that the only sound basis for Marxist understanding is to know what the arguments are on both sides.”
But in 1963 those around FORUM judged that the opportunities had not been exhausted “to expose to the full the treachery of the leadership” and maintain the perspective that Marxist Leninist forces would develop from “anonymous centres of anti-revisionist activity” developing increasingly close co-ordination between such groups as a first step towards the formation of a national co-ordinating organisation. As the CDRCU led by McCreery was seen as setting itself up as a political centre, providing leadership to the nascent Marxist Leninist movement, outside of the CPGB, FORUM spent much time and effort attacking CDRCU. The attitude of FORUM was that an organisation of anti-revisionists outside of the revisionist CPGB “must be condemned as diversionary and injurious to the struggle as a whole for a Marxist Leninist party.”
The division at the very birth of an open political challenge to revisionism in Britain saw a split that was never healed, and the different personalities involved never reconciled. Leading members of the CFB (ML) would still be writing articles nine years later attacking McCreery under a title of ’Wrong Tactics”.
In one of the few historical surveys of the Marxist-Leninist movement published in MLQ, the theoretical journal of the Communist Federation of Britain (ML) judged that,
“The C.D.R.C.U. was a direct response to the subjective needs of a section of the anti-revisionist movement for an instant party, legitimated by international recognition and providing ready-made policies, formulae, and leadership. By the very manner of its origin, by its outlook and aspiration the C.D.R.C.U. could not possible have made a positive contribution to party building in Britain.”
The author, writing in defence of the Communist Federation of Britain (ML)’s own anti-Leninist strategy [operating as a federation of local communist groups], echoed the criticism contained in the CFB’s predecessors founding document the Joint Committee of Communists Origins and Perspectives. This asserted that the CDRCU “was in essence a continuation of revisionism in the form of the party fetish, asserting organisation above politics”. The arguments were not new: those who stay inside the Communist party had criticised McCreery’s effort as organisational rather than political; as a task carried out by a small group of leaders in an attempt to attract members, rather than an outcome of political building and in response to the needs of political developments which had already taken place.
The formation of the CDRCU after the Lucas Arms Meeting had been characterised as the consequence of “the irresponsible indiscipline of McCreery”. There were vicious attacks on McCreery as a “self-appointed Lenin”, “a modern left-opportunist’s and little more than “a bourgeois idealist with a veneer of Marxism Leninism”. McCreery was charged with having a “dangerous and disruptive influence’ and “frankly bourgeois methods, reminiscent of the millionaire press owners’ for sinking his personal wealth into the publication of Vanguard”.
McCreery’s opponents were rejecting the analysis that the political arena for the anti-revisionist struggle had shifted. At the beginning of the Sixties the Polemic between the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the CPSU had been conducted in disguised form, artificially polite, often through attacking proxies (either Yugoslavian or Albanian parties) and with the use of pseudonyms. In this situation, anti-revisionist members of the CPGB could engage in struggle and stay within the Party, even if 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.
In September 1963 the situation changed as the CPGB publicly condemned the Communist Party of China. The CPGB secretary John Gollan accused the Chinese Party leadership of being racialist and warmongers. These views were repudiated by all anti-revisionists but demonstrated the CDRCU view that the only way to revive the spirit of Marxism-Leninism lay not through reform of the CPGB but by politically, and organisationally, challenging the power of the “King Street revisionists”. [King Street being the Covent Garden postal address of the CPGB.]
The Communist Party leadership were not idle in the face of the anti-revisionists activities. An Executive statement in March 1964 said of the Communist Party of China: “Their present type of unprincipled polemics do all in their power to encourage splits in various parties.. . (We) will resolutely deal with any attempts from whatever quarter to disrupt the fighting unity of our party.”
What had been permissible within the Party became impermissible. The political struggle was now condemned. Those anti-revisionists within the Party who persisted in arguing politics were expelled. The Party leadership were determined to crush the anti-revisionist opposition: “The McCreery Committee against Revisionism has since made clear its desire – a vain one! – to destroy our Party. ..Our Party has repulsed all previous attempts, whether from the right or the ultra-left to disrupt our unity, discipline, and adherence to Marxism-Leninism and democratic centralism – We shall also repulse the present attack.”
In March 1964 the leadership circulated a duplicated listing entitled, “The Attack Upon the Party from the So-Called ’Extreme Left’”. Throughout the anti-revisionists struggle, attacks on Party policies were portrayed as an attack on the party, and through the party on the entire international communist movement. Loyalty to the organisation was placed higher than loyalty to principled political analysis and debate: loyalty to the organisation was the criterion by which friends could be distinguished from enemies. Betty Reid laid down the line in Marxism Today; the party “will not tolerate association with these people, or failure to fight for our policy when they appear.”
Anti-revisionists within the Communist Party were, as noted, largely organised around a duplicated monthly called FORUM. It was produced from March 1964 with the contact address given as 41 Atholl Mansions, South Lambeth Road, London SW8. The address of the London Political Organisation. The LPO did not encompass all anti-revisionist groups in London and three quarters of its membership were still inside the Communist Party. The shared perspective was that it was not correct to aim at pulling as many members out of the Party as possible but to win as many members of the Communist Party for a Marxist line as possible.
The main struggle was seen as the struggle for an alternative and Marxist line as opposed to the British Road to Socialism. While opposing the Party leadership at 16 King Street, this did not mean the actual creation of an organisational alternative to the Communist Party.
The uneven guerrilla struggle undertaken by FORUM members within the Party was doomed. All real avenues of discussion had been closed; the Party press a monopoly weapon used against the anti-revisionists. The anonymity of FORUM designed to avoid a personality following developing amongst anti-revisionists and allow analysis to be judged objectively, offered no protection. All it took was to argue in the manner and language of its publications, such as that which described the Labour Party as “Agent and Accomplice of Imperialism”, to have ’your cards marked’. Equally, striving to remain in the Party at all cost and to transform it from within, which meant avoiding confrontation with the leadership, would inevitably result in a compromise of Marxist-Leninist principles.
Any attempt to organise and reach out to others was presented as “factionalism”, and the answered with removal of the Party card. This was regardless of position in the branch or district: the Finsbury Communist Association original membership was on the branch committee, the Coventry Workers Association was formed by District leaders. Complain at the harsh treatment or expulsion of comrades and you were as likely to receive similar treatment as those in London in Stoke Newington Communist Party Branch.
The question was not when would they be forced out, but why did they tolerate such an unhealthy political existence within the Party for so long? Michael McCreery was condemn as “essentially splittist” for acting on the analysis that the Party was in the image of the leadership, that the political effect of the British Road to Socialism had robbed the Party of its revolutionary nature.
His rupture with a revisionist ruled and run Party machinery was described as “drawing off ’trouble-makers’ into an organisation which can with ease be used to frighten the rest of the Party into acceptance of the revisionist line.” (Forum. Comments on McCreery’s Pamphlet, “Destroy The Old to Build The New’ Typescript 1964).
But the Party leadership and majority of its rank-and-file had accepted that line embodied in the Party programme more than a decade earlier, and was not prepared to have that questioned.
The anti-revisionist opposition within the Party were too vulnerable to the Party’s sanction to operate as an effective alternative to the entrenched King Street leadership. There was no person of national standing that clearly identified with the anti-revisionist argument: Executive member and trade union leader, Reg Birch was not to emerge as an anti-revisionist until later in the decade. Another sympathetic voice former Party Executive member, Professor George Thompson was to be associated with the China Policy Study Group and independent Marxist-Leninists in Birmingham but he never acted as an anti-revisionist rally point in defiance of the Party leadership.
What underlie the analysis of those who remained inside the Communist Party was an assessment of the strength and future development of the anti-revisionists forces. Those around FORUM believed the anti-revisionist struggle to be at a very “primitive stage”: “As yet the essential task of translating the anti-revisionist struggle from being nothing more than agreement with what the Chinese say into organised practical struggle against the British ruling class and against the revisionists has not began.”
This was not strictly accurate, as the politics of the anti-revisionist movement did not derive entirely from the context of the dispute in International Communist Movement. The Polemic had provided the catalyst for those who had long-standing opposition to the prevailing doctrine of the British Road to Socialism: the dilution of revolutionary principles through the promotion of long term electoral politics that dispensed with serious factory agitation and necessitated coalition politics at the expense of class politics.
These concerns were reflected not only in the CDRCU but also FORUM, and the Marxist-Leninist groups that were to emerge throughout the Sixties. The anti-revisionist movement was never simply pro-China, [KA] editor of the RCLB’s newspaper argued: “Whilst the CDRCU was by no means simply pro-China, it is a fact that the early Marxist-Leninist movement took defence of China as a basic standpoint. That was totally correct because then China was leading genuine communists around the world to rescue communism from a full-scale revisionist onslaught, just as today it leads the struggle to defend world peace. The Marxist-Leninist movement exists not simply for “the reassertion of Marxism-Leninism as a weapon of change”. By making Marxism-Leninism the ideology of the most oppressed on a world scale, Mao Zedong Thought has enriched and developed (not merely reasserted) Marxism-Leninism. There is nothing wrong with being pro-China!”
But he wrote, omitting the Albanian role, after participation in a movement heavily influenced by the Cultural Revolution and the shrilled sectarian politics of an age still yet to come. The anti-revisionists of the early Sixties were focused on the domestic agenda that sought to turn the tide of revisionism. Their formative experience had been, not in student politics, but in the dominant, if decaying, communist organisation. The explosion of political trends and philosophy, which occurred later in the decade providing alternative political homes, was not available to the early anti-revisionist. In 1963, there was only the Communist Party, seemingly the only consistent revolutionary force in British society. The break with the revisionism of the CPGB was wrongly seen as a march into the wilderness. Those around FORUM argued that “the only kind of new Party that could arise now would be a self-appointed leadership of the working class very much in the trotskyist tradition – highly theoretical, divorced from the practical experience of the masses and standing above them.”
The Joint Committee of Communists returned to this criticism: “Over emphasising and indeed distorting the role and possibilities of leadership, McCreery and his followers concentrated on the creation of a framework for which it was hoped grass-roots support could be won.”
McCreery did see the CDRCU as a nucleus for a party building organisation that would attract the best elements of the CPGB and recruit new revolutionary activists. The idea that the CDRCU would announce the formation of a new party without the work to root it within the industrial working class was a distortion by those who remained outside of it. McCreery’s attitude towards the charge of wanting to set up a new party prematurely was given in a letter in December 1963:
“In the New Year regular weekly Marxist-Leninist lectures will be organized, 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 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.”
McCreery had been attacked as “adventurist”, but once disciplinary measures were taken against those who engaged in anti-revisionist activity what then of the alternative line of working on within the CPGB? The political objective had been of either winning control of the organisation for a Marxist-Leninist line or by working discreetly within the CPGB, abiding by its rules and regulations, winning over the rank and file. These were not feasible political options. Political opponents of McCreery’s line, such as Henderson Brookes, came to recognise that.
One time Party prospective Parliamentary candidate, Henderson Brookes was expelled in October 1964 ending membership of the CPGB, which began in 1947. He, and Dick Jones, both members of Coventry City Party Committee had been charged with anti-Party activity since 1961. Subsequentially prominent figures in the anti-revisionist movement Brookes and Jones were instrumental in the formation of the Organisation for the Defence of Marxism-Leninism, predecessor of the Coventry Workers Association.
They published an analysis that argued: “Many comrades have fought against the policy of the leadership of the CPGB for several years, from inside the ranks of the Party...[They have] either been expelled or have become disillusioned and have finished with politics. Some comrades are still struggling inside the Party, but their fate will be the same as the others.
“The Coventry group of Marxist-Leninists are convinced that the leadership and policies of the CPGB cannot be defeated from inside the organisation.”
The anti-revisionist politics promoted by the CDRCU and others was seen initially by others as “orthodox Stalinism”. Much of the early writings produced were in support of the position expounded by the Communist Party of China: on the questions of peaceful co-existence, neo-colonialism etc. But questions of the defence of Stalin, factory organisation, anti-imperialist struggle and armed revolution served to spur the anti-revisionists to look anew at the class struggle in Britain. It saw the beginning of an attempt to apply the general principles of Marxism-Leninism to the conditions of Britain. McCreery made a tentative start towards a class analyses and resurrected the national question. Peter Seltman produced a more substantial publication, Classes in Modern Imperialist Britain, in 1964.
The criticism contained in the duplicated monthly ’Forum for Marxist-Leninist inner-party struggle’ was sound Marxist critique of the policies of the Communist Party.
But it was on the essential question of whether the CPGB could be transformed that FORUM was wrong. And that flaw negated its existence and activity: after their consolidation around FORUM, these anti-revisionists within the Party were gradually isolated and forced out of the CPGB. As an organisation it fizzled out, although some of its members were active in the second wave of Maoist’s activist organisations.
The CDRCU published McCreery’s analysis in Vanguard and pamphlet form. Those still inside the CPGB described his writings as “highly erroneous, involving attacks on the working class itself in this country, elements of racism and paternalism towards colonial peoples.”
His opponents cited “Destroy the Old to Build the New” as “conclusive evidence of McCreery’s anti-communism” but the major criticism alleged was “the error of categorically excluding parliament as a factor of any significance as from this moment. ..What he fails to do, having exposed the futility of the parliamentary road, is to demonstrate the role of parliamentary struggle itself as part of the revolutionary struggle of the classes.”
Yet any reading of McCreery’s works shows an analysis that attacks the British Road to Socialism and its parliamentary illusions with a trenchant restatement of the Leninist position with regard to the class nature of the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat and internationalism. Much of the criticism anti-revisionists outside CDRCU would agree with. The point of departure was the call to engage in party building activity to re-establish a communist party. It was with McCreery’s undeveloped analysis, in the tradition of John MacLean and James Connolly that called for separate parties for the constituent nations of the British state that strategic political arguments emerged.
While many years after the event, McCreery’s criticisms are common currency on the Left; the point is that his was the point of departure. Some of Michael McCreery’s writings were published in a collection produced by the Working People’s Party of England in 1973 under the title, The Way Forward: a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the British State, the CPGB and the tasks for revolutionaries. The Workers’ Party of Scotland also reproduced some of his writings. A list of his published writings consists of:
o The Way forward
o Destroy the Old to Build the New
o The Patriots
o Organise at the Place of Work
o Notes on the Lower Middle Class and the Semi-Proletariat in Britain
o On the Origins of the British State
o The National Question in Britain
o On Capitalism’s Economic Prospects – published in Marxism Today 1961 as a critical reply to a Palme Dutt article
The anti-revisionist forces did not seriously threaten the leadership of the Communist Party: those inside the Party were either silenced or expelled. The loss of Party membership was a real deterrent to political opposition. The situation was not as in subsequent years when the Party was the largest of one among many possible political homes. The CPGB was the party of the Left. The leadership had a dismissive attitude towards its political opponents, contempt displayed in a pamphlet, penned by Betty Reid in 1969, entitled Ultra Leftism in Britain, and bourgeois commentators were less than complementary in their description of the people who defended Marxism without defeating revisionism.
Right-wing researcher, Peter Shipley described the anti-revisionists as “merely a rump of hard-line Bolshevik and Stalinist traditionalists, mainly intellectuals, a few workers and the impatient young whose views are very much out of favour with the party hierarchy”.
Cold War warrior, Ian Greig listed David Volpe as chairman of CDRCU in his 1968 publication, The Assault on the West. Like much of the literature produced by the Foreign Affairs Publishing Company his information was inaccurate: the organisation was long defunct. One can dismiss the charade of the appearance of a duplicated edition of ’Vanguard’ published (and probably produced) by R. Archibold, formerly of the Irish Communist Organisation.
A favourable, while not uncritical, assessment came from within the newly emergent ’Maoist’ movement. The influential analysis on party-building from the Communist Unity Association (ML), “Imperialism and the Struggle for a Revolutionary Party”, while discussing the CDRCU’s activities and publications in detail, criticises the CDRCU for its lack of a strategy for building a new party. It concludes that “it orientated itself too much towards the revisionists and was unable to rise above simple anti-revisionism.” This would seem a harsh judgement given the short life and difficulties that faced the organisation. However the CUA (ML) did defend the CDRCU against the charge of “fetish for the party” advanced by the CFB (ML): in its opinion, the CDRCU’s errors were political, “it failed in its attempt to give a lead to the movement but it was correct then and is now to make this attempt.’
Scant attention is paid to the CDRCU by one sympathetic historian of the (now defunct) Communist Party. Willie Thompson, formerly on the editorial board of Marxism Today during the 1980s, writes of the CDRCU as Maoism “false start” in Britain, “it achieved a second wind in student politics further stimulated from 1967 by the Cultural Revolution in China with its evocations of revolutionary romanticism.” Thompson wrongly asserts that McCreery was a New Zealander. John Callaghan correctly names McCreery as the leader of the CDRCU, in his survey of the British political fringe, in a single sentence reference to a “small split” in 1963.
Despite its short existence the CDRCU had successfully implanted the ideas associated with Mao Zedong within Britain. Doctor Paul Noone, an leading member of the WPPE, puts membership ”of at least 50 to 60 members with a Central Committee of comrades, representing the constitutent groups, of about 10 to 12.”
The organisation did grow throughout its fifteen months existence, providing a political testing bed for many activists who were to remain within the movement in Maoism’s second wave in Britain. The publication (and selling) of Vanguard and pamphlets, the series of lectures and political discussions, the attempt to accumulate revolutionaries and heckling of the revisionist Party meetings were part of the early days of establishing a political profile. Undoubtedly the effectiveness of the anti-revisionist resistance was lessened by its divided nature inside, and outside the Communist Party. But that was a fact of life that McCreery and others in the CDRCU were attempting to overcome.
As its activities developed, the CDRCU was gaining acceptance internationally: Vanguard carried a picture of McCreery with the Albanian leader, Enver Hoxha. A message was printed – “I wish you ever success in your very noble struggle against imperialism and modern revisionism for the unity of Marxist-Leninist Communist in your country, for the triumph of peace, freedom and democracy and socialism in the world.”
The constituent groups of the CDRCU consisted mainly of expelled Communist Party branches or sections of branches and other members in Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, South Lancashire, West Country, Home Counties and London.
Other prominent members of the CDRCU included Johnny James, expelled London District Committee member from Stoke Newington, later associated with WPPE and better known for his role in the radicalisation of CARD [Campaign Against Racial Discrimination]. Vanguard carried a statement in solidarity with James from Stoke Newington CP branch, with 14 signatories,[all to be expelled from the CPGB] associating themselves “with the principled stand” and “fundamentally correct ’Appeal to All Communists’” stating the leadership had substituted insults for serious political discussion, indulged in “vulgar lies” “damaging slanders,” “scurrilous practice” and expelled Comrade James.
Ken Houlison founder of the WPS(ML) and Arthur Evans were both leading comrades with the CDRCU. A partial list of 1965 branch members included: Manchester – J Dix, M Major, J Hoyle, E Graham; Leeds & Bradford – K Jennings, I Fairey, S Caton, J Rayner, M Baker; Dewsbury & Morely – N Stringer, A Stringer, E Stringer, G Worthington; Scarborough – J Baker, A Moss; South Wales – C Roberts, E Williams, D Sewell.
Whilst the CDRCU did mark a new stage in the development of Marxist-Leninist politics in Britain, the failure to sustain its existence after McCreery’s departure points to major weaknesses in its political life. One participant, the organisation’s secretary, Mike Baker concluded that:
“ ...Important weaknesses were also present in the political framework and organisational structure of the CDRCU. In particular, the failure to establish correct organisational methods of work and correct relations between the Central Committee and the various CDRCU groups must be noted – an error, which later, was to result in the growth of sectarianism in outlook and in the implementation of policy, and to arbitrariness and spontaneity in methods of work and leadership. Above all, it must be recognized that the absence of principled unity amongst the various ML groups outside the CDRCU framework formed an important negative factor inhibiting the development of the CDRCU’s political work and the growth and maturity and organisational stability within CDRCU ranks.”
The background to Baker’s analysis was his “expulsion” from the CDRCU after pushing for a firm democratic centralist structure with him at the helm. In March 1965 Baker had moved to London from Manchester to fulfil the duties of Political Organiser. His own analysis was of an organisation in bad shape, with arbitrariness and spontaneity in methods of work and leadership. The intention to strengthen the political control of the Central Committee at the expense of the powers “usurped” by the Secretariat – a body originally exercising only organisational functions of a day-to-day character – created an antagonistic atmosphere that saw Baker expelled three months later in June 1965. The issue of the relationship between leaders and the rank and file was to wreck more than one of the Maoist groups that were to emerge in the years following the demise of the CDRCU.
Subsequently Mike Baker was instrumental in organising the Northern groups of the CDRCU to demand a delegate conference in support of the proposals. He had political support in the region having stood in the 1964 Huyton election gaining 899 votes [1.4%] as nominee of the North of England Communist Association The CDRCU disintegrated with the southern membership largely absent from the re-grouping that saw the formation at a Manchester conference of the Action Centre for Marxist Leninist Unity.
The southern membership was to be found in various organisations that sprang up in the wake of the disintegration of the CDRCU. Those in the Working People’s Party of England advertised their CDRCU ancestry, and the Scottish membership led by Ken Houlison and Val Sutherland, true to the analysis put publicly forward by McCreery formed the Workers’ Party of Scotland. Later, with much less justification, the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) backdated their ideological antecedents to the McCreery-led rupture with modern revisionism.
After McCreery’s death the CDRCU broke up, its members re-grouped, forming new organisations the nature of the anti-revisionist movement had changed, but the political issues raised by McCreery and the existence of the CDRCU endured.
As the first anti-revisionist organisation in Britain, aiming explicitly at party building, it has considerable historical significance for us. The general errors of failing to unify theory with practice and to understand basic party-building tasks continued, after its collapse, to be characteristic of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain. In fact, McCreery’s attempts to grapple with basic problems was unfortunately not a general feature of the movement for some time after his death.”
 Speech at the Chinese Communist Party National Conference on Propaganda Work. Selected Works of Mao Zedong Volume V (Beijing) 1977 p 434
While a discussion of the Polemic is not appropriate here, the most important statements from the Sino-Soviet Polemic are to be found in:
Long Live Leninism. Foreign Language Press (Beijing) 1960
The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement.
Foreign Language Press (Beijing) 1965
Whence the Difference. New Era (Bath) 1965
Two studies useful in tracing the early impact of the Polemic on the international movement are:
Dallin A (ed), Diversity in International Communism: a documentary record, 1961-63 Columbia University Press 1963
Laqueur W & Labedz, Polycentrism: new factor in International Communism, Preager (New York) 1962 [First published 1962 as a special issue of Survey]
 McCreery, The Way Forward: a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the British State, the CPGB and the tasks for revolutionaries. WPPE (London) 1973 p 14
 Jitendra Mohan, Revisionism: towards a definition, China Policy Study Group Broadsheet Vol 18 : 6&7 June-July 1981
 G Lee, “Revisionism in Britain: the Decline of the British Communist Party”. RCL Briefing. Revisionism: the politics of the CPGB Past & Present 1990. This work provides a useful and succinct Maoist account of the political lines of demarcation involved in the International Polemic and life within the YCL.
 Communist Party of Great Britain Executive Committee statement on the International Communist Movement (November 1965)
 Daily Worker September 18, 1968
 The Times April 14, 1963
 Be activists in promoting the revolution Selected Works V (Beijing) 1977 p 495
 Wood, The Empirical Proletariat: a note on British Communism. Political Science Quarterly 1959:256-272
 K.Newton, The Sociology of British Communism Allen Lane 1969 p 19
 Ian Birchall. The British Communist Party 1945-1964 International Socialism 50 Jan-March 1972
 The Times November 11,1963
 The British Political Fringe: a profile Anthony Blond (London) 1965 p 124
 The British Political Fringe p 124
 The Way Forward. WPPE p 7
 Michael McCreery Marxist-Leninist Leader Workers’ Broadsheet Spring 1968 p 5
 The Way Forward Vanguard Vol 1 No 1 February 1964 pI See also: Unpublished manuscript circulated within CUA(ML) Opportunism and its Development in the CPGB that argues how the revisionism of the British Road to Socialism was written into the already opportunist line of the Party.
 The British Political Fringe p 124. See also: Notes on revisionism – John Gollan in RCL Briefing: Revisionism quotes Gollan that the Party ’has always striven and always will strive for unity and agreement with the Labour Party, not only on the immediate issues, but for the achievement of political power and socialism.”
 Vanguard Vol.1.No.1 p 2
London Political Organisation, Left Opportunism in the Anti-Revisionist Struggle. Undated (1964?)
 The Communist Party of Great Britain in the Anti-China Chorus 196’7 p 6
 Left Opportunism p 45
 CFB newspaper. Struggle May 1972 (No.30)
 CFB Theoretical journal. Revisionism and the British Anti-revisionist Movement. Marxist-Leninist Quarterly No 3 Winter 1972/73 p 7
 Comment supplement May 16 1964 pp III and IV
 Trotskyism in Britain Today.Marxism Today September 1964. Interestingly, the internal circular, unlike the Marxism Today article, listed Maoist groups.
 Left Opportunism p 12 RCLB newspaper. Class Struggle Vol 6 No 12 December 1982/Jan 1983 p 2
 Left Opportunism p 20,/P>
 Joint Committee of Communists Origins and Perspectives. The Marxist Autumn 1969 p 7
 The Way Forward WPPE p 6
 On Minimum Conditions necessary for the formation of a Marxist Leninist Party in Britain. Undated (1965?)
 Left Opportunism p 6
 Modern Revolutionaries in Britain Bodley Head 1976 p 152
 CUA(ML), Imperialism and the Struggle for a Revolutionary Party 1974 p 22
 The Good Old Cause: British Communism 1920-1991. Pluto Press 1992 p147
 The Far left in British Politics. Blackwell 1987 p 172
 Michael McCreery, the Workers Party of Scotland and the Communist Federation of Britain. Workers Broadsheet Vol.6 No.7, 1972
 Arthur Evans was to break with the CDRCU “over the Chinese attitude to Africa – “which I considered rotten with opportunism” and publish ’Once Again, Truth will Out’ “which exposes the ’political degeneration of McCreery’”. Late in life Evans was associated with the Welsh Socialist Republican Movement.
 Manifesto of the Action Centre for Marxist Leninist Unity. August 1965
 CUA (ML) Imperialism p 22.