Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Movement

The “Absolute Decline” of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

What is Democratic Centralism?

Within the Secretariat and the party there has been much discussion of, and advocacy for, the concept of a “Monolithic party”. Bateson at the CC said that the nearest thing there had ever been to a monolithic party was the CPSU under Stalin, but that the CPBM-L was going to be the first GENUINELY monolithic party in the world. He may well be right – a monolith is a block of stone which has remained, in the same, place for years, ungrowing, unmoving and unchanging except for the effects of erosion. This is the most accurate description of Bateson and his colleagues at the Centre. Perhaps Mao can have the last word on the matter, for in 1956 he said,

To talk all the time about monolithic unity and not to talk about struggle is not Marxist-Leninist. If there were no contradictions, and no struggle there would be no world, no progress, no life at all. To talk all the time about unity is a “pool of stagnant water;” it can only lead to coldness.

This has been exactly the norm of the party: no discussion, stifling of initiative and an attempt to get blind obedience to whatever the party has decreed, but, so that our statements are not considered unfounded, we will attempt to consider the party organisation in detail to illustrate the isolation of the Centre.


The branches are very much the pariahs of the party, they are expected to do as they are told, to provide the wherewithal for the party to continue – but they are not required to give their opinions or their experiences, nor to originate new developments.

The most telling aspect of this has been the continual flouting of the constitutional guarantee of right of access to the CC. For example when Liverpool branch tried to raise the question of a CC member’s suspension they were told by the Secretariat that “the branch is not called upon to discuss such matters.”, while the CC heard nothing at all. In a like manner the CC did not see the Congress document before Congress, nor has the Secretariat allowed resolutions, letters, documents through to the CC.

Similarly with regard to Congress, the Secretariat fixed delegate numbers by reference to “size and political importance”. Needless to say, such branches as Met. I and Met. II under the eye of the Secretariat were considered so important that almost every full member was a delegate.

Several branches attempted to provide documents for the Congress but the CC did not see them, nor were they circulated, any more than amendments were allowed to be put at Congress.

It is clear that the branches are considered in the same way as the Light Brigade,

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,

which is indeed the effect of such stultification.


Aggregate meetings were originally intended to sound the views’ of members, but it has now become the tradition that although dissent is reported to the CC, those members reporting are too shocked by it to report what the grounds for disagreement actually were, or to take such opinions into account in the working out of the line.


The CC is, according to the constitution, the highest body of the party between congresses and its name is continually invoked to justify the “Party’s” decisions. In fact almost all such decisions are taken by the Secretariat which has usurped the functions of the CC to the point, for example, where the Secretariat had the recommended voting list for the CC prepared even before the branch nominations had arrived.

Similarly the Secretariat decides the agenda for the CC and ensures that almost no resolution, letter or opinion from a branch has been dealt with there. The rule which has developed that “every one must speak” and the practice of preparing lists of speakers hours in advance has ensured that there is no genuine dialectic, no exchange of ideas, no votes, but merely a recitation of prepared statements. To this extent Bateson has achieved his aim of turning the CC into a “cadre school”, a glorified study group or rather glorifying, since its function is not to prepare new ideas but to applaud those with which it is presented by the Secretariat.

The element of farce can be illustrated by one occasion when the CC was solemnly being asked to approve the production of Johnston’s pamphlet “On The Internal Polemic” and to choose the title – while downstairs the pamphlet, title included, was rolling off the presses.

The final gesture of contempt at the 4th Congress was the CC list from which the chairman unilaterally dropped John Hannington’s name for instance, and added that of one whom he had previously opposed on the grounds of being “thick”. Later the member of long standing who voted against the Congress document after the Chairman said that any one with “any reservations whatsoever should vote against”, was suspended until such time as he “recants and changes his vote”.

It was clear that the criteria for CC membership were becoming subservience, silence or stupidity. One can only hope that out of such a large body containing as it does over 15% of the membership some, at least, will realise their ineffectuality and join us in building a new Party.


Congress is the highest body of the party (theoretically) and merits special attention, for it is here that members have the opportunity to correct the errors of the party. However, although several delegates raised fundamental points of criticism of the document – party organisation etc., – they constituted a small minority. Many were willing to accept the document because they could not as yet see the errors it contained, because of its ambiguities and confusion, nor foresee the anti-Marxist, anti-working class lines it would spawn. But there were: other reasons for the failure of the fourth Congress.

We have already mentioned the allocation of the delegates as a snub to the branches and the CC, and as a means of ensuring a preponderance of adulatory speeches in support of the document, similarly we have mentioned the fact that the Congress Document had not been seen by the CC before the Congress, but it should be stressed that it was not distributed to the provincial branches until a little over a week before the Congress.

It certainly gave no time to discuss the document, produce amendments or to attempt to improve the thing, but this aspect was soon relegated to an academic level since the Chairman at its inception declared that the document stood or fell in its entirety no amendments were to be allowed.

It was ho great surprise considering the depths of dissimulation reached when it was declared that in having voted for the document we must necessarily vote for the CC that produced it. See above for details of where the list and the document came from. Birch had declared that “democratic centralism was an attitude of mind”, it was obvious by now that even within these metaphysical limit’s it was an attitude conspicuous by its absence. It was equally clear that when one convenes a meeting for three days which, at the end, passes a hastily contrived document unaltered that the congress was not meant to gather the opinions and experiences of the party, the idea was not to bury or amend the document but to praise it. How far is that from the conception that prevailed upon the 20th Congress of the CPSU to accept Khrushchev’s railings? The answer is that there is absolutely no difference at all that is what a monolithic party is all about. In such a vein is the penalisation of members who vote the “wrong way”.


Overall, the picture we have given illustrates the individual organs of the party and the way in which they have been corrupted, although there are many more examples that could have been adduced. The crucial point was that any point emanating outside a certain favoured circle, any attempt to oppose or alter a product of that clique has resulted in accusations of factionalism, oppositionalism. Any attempt to reach a genuinely collective decision has been stifled in the name of an unevenly aimed discipline, any attempt to temper the enthusiasm of the clique in the chilly waters of experience has been spurned.

This process has gone so far that oppositionalism is now defined not so much by what is said as by whom it is said and, conversely, when such members of the clique issue forth statements like ”We are in favour of immigration controls, just as we are in favour of import controls,” then regardless of our inability to square such phrases with proletarian internationalism or socialism, they are incorporated into party orthodoxy.

This then is one of the sources of idealism in the party, the clique in the secretariat and its simpering band of supporters who have two things in common: almost all were members of the London Communist Group, and to a man have little or no experience of the main stream of class struggle. Indeed they have little or no contact with the industrial section of the working class at all, apart from the few remaining in the party. It is hardly surprising under these circumstances that the deviations that have crept in, such as the emphasis on theory to the detriment of practice, or the gross distortion in favour of the “white collar sector” and its concomitant vilification of the rest of the class, which has progressively been credited with the invention of social democracy and now even with being the origin of Fascism. Such attitudes are not based on experience of the class, nor any form of objectivity. On the contrary their source is the social isolation from the class of their ’inventors!’. They are a reflection of arrogance: since the class does not accept our erroneous line it cannot be us who are wrong...so it is the class which has failed the party!

How did the leadership take power in the party? When the party was founded it was undoubtedly Reg Birch mainly responsible for the success such as it was. He played a vital role in attracting other working class communists to support the party.

Unfortunately many of these had a too uncritical respect for him, this was aligned with the traits they brought with them from the revisionist party to provide a fertile ground for the London Communist Group who joined within a few months of calling them “Birchites”, for everything in the way of economism and neo-revisionism. With the fervour of new converts eschewing their previous heresies, they rapidly elevated the justifiable respect for Birch to the heights of a personality cult.

Shortly the LCG was almost in its entirety on the Central Committee and their former secretary, General Secretary in all but name.

It was apparent that Birch had by now come to accept the political version of papal infallibility which had been foisted upon him, and as a consequence most of those who came from the revisionist party allowed their respect and the norms of “democratic centralism” they had brought from that organisation to blind them to these development and limited themselves to grumbling about “Reg’s inaccessibility”. Some of them left or became inactive. Others despite their opposition, abandoned the field ideologically and under a cloud of silence tried to manoeuvre themselves into their former position.

To finally consolidate their position, after the 4th Congress the Secretariat, while suspending the CC member who voted against the document, announced that “purges” would begin of all elements who opposed the document. The only exceptions in Birch’s words was to be those who pled “ignorance”; all others were to be considered to be of “evil intent”, and this was further glossed by the “General Secretary” to the effect that someone who was wrong on one aspect of the line was invariably wrong on the rest.

In short it had become plain that the party was beyond salvage – that a new one must be built as a matter of urgency, and that we had to examine critically the mistakes made including our own lapses and errors in allowing it to happen.