East London Marxist-Leninist Association

Reply to Comrade L. [Unpublished letter]

Written: July 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Dear Comrade L.

Thank you for your letter and for the comradely criticisms you make of us.

Your overall criticism of us is that we are spontaneous and empiricist, that we have engaged in one adventure after another, that our practice does not correspond to Marxism-Leninism, and that this is all due to our lack of experience. In other words you conclude that the negative outweighs the positive in our work. You list a number of concrete criticisms to prove this.

Below are our replies to each of your criticisms. There is undoubtedly much truth in your criticisms, but we believe that your conclusions are one sided.

Concerning the London Alliance

You criticise us for trying to turn the London Alliance, “a broad front organisation into a communist organisation.” This criticism is justified; we did make that mistake. And in order to identify these mistake and its causes more accurately we are obliged to look a little more deeply into the development of the Alliance. Of course we cannot deal here with the whole history of the Alliance: and all its problems, merely with the ones related to your important criticism.

The Alliance was initiated in North London towards the close of 1970, by 3 comrades: H.S., S.H. and M.K. Though these comrades were as yet not together in a communist organisation, they had come to understand the dire necessity for the new generation of Marxist-Leninists to integrate with the working class and re-establish, the essential link between revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice.

At the time the new upsurge in the workers mass movement against the bourgeois offensive was reaching a climax in the~ magnificent struggle against the Industrial Relations Bill. Black workers were in the fore of the related struggle against the racist Immigration Bill.

The Alliance was conceived as undertaking two tasks and fulfilling two needs simultaneously. Firstly, the working class needed to understand the significance of the intensification of the class struggle, the fascistic nature of the two bills, the inevitability of a united front against fascism. Therefore the task of uniting all those who could be united into a genuine and democratic broad front to carry out anti-bourgeois, anti-fascist propaganda was of paramount importance. A beginning would be made in North London.

The second need and task concerned the Marxist-Leninist movement and constituted our comrades’ ’ulterior motive’. There was a need for the Marxist-Leninist groups to break out of their barren isolationism, their sterile sectarianism, into the real world of class struggle. Their bare rudiments of communist ideology and organisation could only develop in struggle, in mass practice. The broad front in North London would serve as a vehicle enabling those Marxist-Leninist groups who joined to begin to integrate with the proletariat, to carry out mass work in co-operation with non-communist elements and in co-operation with other Marxist-Leninist groups. Furthermore through the broad fronts’ mass work and study, the conditions would be created for at least some of the groups to unite on a relatively high level to form a new type of Marxist-Leninist organisation.

This strategy was basically correct. Building communist unity through mass work and study related to mass work, building communist organisations with broad support and wide contacts, was the only way forward. Everything depended on the correct handling of the two related tasks, building the broad front and building the communist organisation simultaneously. Building the communist organisation was the overall task and integrating with the proletariat was the key link.

Armed with the idea of setting up a broad front to expose growing fascism our handful of comrades contacted most of the ’left’ groups, and especially the Marxist Leninists who were active in North London. There was hardly any response let alone any favourable response. As you know we fell out with the Trotskyites right from the start. They insisted on obscuring the monopoly capitalist class nature of fascism and of chasing after the N.F. and Enoch Powell. Only the MLWA, WLF and the local revisionists and T.H. gave some tentative support for the plan and the North London Alliance in Defence of Workers’ Rights was set up.

During the first period of the Alliance the activities were quite successful a public meeting with Mike Cooley speaking, street meetings, demonstrations, film shows, literature sales, posterings etc., etc. During this period the Alliance grew considerably with MLWA, SAU, CUA, ALF and several individual joining. Also good relations were established with BUFP. The weekly general meetings and weekly study classes on the state were large and lively. The most active members were from MLEA, MLWA, ALF, and WLF.

What was positive during this period? A large number of people had joined together and were propagating anti-fascist and socialist ideas among the working class and though most activists considered themselves revolutionaries or supporters, none had a real grasp of theory or any significant previous practical experience of such mass work. The practical work and the study classes equipped most comrades with a basic grounding in theory of class struggle and the state.

The quality of the propaganda was improving in quality; for example the Bulletins sold like hot cakes which proved there was a growing interest in our ideas. Precisely because the Alliance was making some headway the police attacked it viciously on two occasions and King Street in its wisdom directed its members to sever all links.

What was the main weakness? Undoubtedly our main weakness was the petty-bourgeois, ultra-leftist style of work. For though the mass work was vigorous and improving in quality, it remained superficial. It was aimed at the working class but was done, exclusively from outside the workers mass movement, from ’above’. We were trying to impose our ideas onto the people. These problems were inevitable considering the class background and lack of experience of the members and the absence of communist leadership. The very forms of propaganda like street demonstrations and meetings were essentially leftist. But then how else were we to begin to unite people together to take a first step towards integrating with the working class. Of much greater consequence than the mistakes themselves was to be whether or not we could rectify our mistakes and improve our style of work.

One manifestation of our ultra-leftism was the majority decision to amend the Alliance Statement of Aims to include the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was proposed by MLEA who argued that the Alliance was essentially a broad front of Marxist-Leninists, They were supported by MLWA and CUO who maintained the main task was the party building task. The three comrades who had initiated the Alliance opposed the amendment, arguing that the concept of a broad front of Marxist Leninists was absurd and that in any case even at that time, the majority of groups in the Alliance were not Marxist-Leninists, i.e., ALF, WLF, SAU and the local revisionists. The amendment was passed but it is interesting to note that the new Statement of Aims was never published and the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat never figured in the propaganda in this period. The debate over what kind of Alliance we were building and what kind of mass work, if any, should be done, continued. Precisely because the overwhelming majority of members were only attracted to the Alliance because it enabled them to participate in mass work, and because all talk of party building was completely above their heads, the comrades of CUO and MLWA became isolated and finally left.

Meanwhile through the mass work, the study and the struggle inside the Alliance a core of leading activists emerged who had began to appreciate the necessity of rectifying the style of work-and deepening the study. It was decided to unite, by step into a single communist organisation which would establish permanent roots in the proletariat and which would undertake serious study of Marxist Leninist theory and of the concrete conditions of Britain. And this would be the best contribution possible on our part towards building the Party.

The first step was taken, the MLEA was dissolved and its members united with other activists and, unannounced to the whole world, the Mao Tsetung Thought Study Group was formed. We now enter the second period of the Alliance. The result of having a united Marxist-Leninist core inside the Alliance enabled the work to take a definite step forward. East London had proven the area most favourable for our work and we decided to concentrate our forces there. Armed with our periodicals and popular leaflets, squads of comrades went to the factory estates and door to door in the flats. A number of comrades took factory jobs in the area. The immediate response was extremely favourable and future prospects were exciting. The study improved in quality and went deeper. We extended our practical work initiating the Anti-Imperialist Co-ordinating Committee which co-ordinated the efforts of organisations of third world students in London and through which English Marxist-Leninists were able to render their support. We were also involved in reprinting the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevic) and Dimitrov’s 7th Congress Report both of which were of vital importance to our Marxist-Leninist movement.

But it was at this time, when we were doing our best work yet and laying the basis for building deep roots in the working class, that we committed our most serious sectarian mistakes.

“Dizzy with success” we completely mishandled the tasks of consolidating and developing the communist group and simultaneously building the broad front. We were actually liquidating the Alliance by turning it into a mere appendage, an expedient front for the MTTSG [Mao TseTung Study Group – MIA]. We were systematically alienating large numbers of genuine and honest members by expecting them to do our communist work, with the same purpose and dedication with which we intended to work. In some cases their patience and loyalty to us was as remarkable as it was undeserved on our part. Some Alliance members travelled all the way out to East London to sell papers and to leaflet the factories in the early hours of the morning. And in practice we were dumping these comrades. It makes us’ cringe to remember our attitudes to these comrades, our inability to lead. Sectarianism is not a failing it is a crime. The Alliance periodical was named ’Class War’; it displayed the five portraits and run a series on the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The May Day supplement was an overtly Marxist-Leninist supplement (produced jointly with BUFP) and though certainly none of these were wrong in themselves, they were absolutely wrong for the Alliance. With this sectarianism at work, the very comrades who had built up the Alliance, including the initiators, liquidated the Alliance by dumping dozens of good contacts and supporters.

To sum up. The essence of your criticism is correct. We mishandled the task of consolidating and building the communist group while simultaneously building the broad front.

However, overall we have to say that more positive than negative came out of the Alliance, i.e. the necessity of building the Party and a deeper insight into how to go about doing it was grasped. It was inevitable that we had to go through that stage in order to learn through practice, due to our inexperience and lack of leadership.

We have not dealt with the whole history of the Alliance with all its aspects, only will the one fundamental aspect raised in your criticism. Nor have we dealt with the problems that existed inside the MTTSG or those questions which arose after the liquidation of the Alliance. For all the above there will be a time and a place.

Concerning our move to East London

You criticise us for making an “adventurous move to East London”. But why is it adventurous if, having realised the necessity of concentrating forces in coordinated factory work and of building communist organisation and finally, the Party, primarily among the proletariat, comrades decide to make a start somewhere?

If comrades decide to concentrate, their work in an area that is itself a concentrated proletarian area, with vast factory estates, the, London docks, Fords Dagenham, etc., and where compared with any other part of London or the South East of England there is a history and a living tradition of struggle, why is that considered adventurous? The decision to move was made on the basis of what little experience we had in the Alliance. The response to our propaganda literature, the response to our door to door work, was extremely favourable in East London. And though these are early days yet, and though we do continue to make serious mistakes, our experiences have more than justified the decision.

Moving to East London and implementing a better style of work, far from being an adventure is the best thing we have done and a real beginning to serious work.

Concerning S.A.U.

Concerning S.A.U. [Schools Action Union – MIA], you criticise us for “liquidating SAU” which was a serious loss to the Marxist-Leninist movement’. Here comrade you are seriously mistaken on two counts. Firstly, we as a group, in no way contributed to the liquidation of SAU, and secondly SAU was not, and never could have been a M-L organisation.

After the merger of several schools groups into one organisation (SAU) in 1969, the membership grew to 600 spread throughout the country in 1970. However, this membership was almost exclusively petit bourgeois: SAU strongholds were mainly grammar and public schools (with some. notable exceptions). Throughout the period the leadership consisted of an assortment of ‘leftists’-anarchists, trotskyites, revisionists and social democrats. By 1971, this uneasy combination led to severe contradictions. Attempts to take over the organisation were made, in chronological order, by the CPB(ML), IMG, IS, CPGB, and LPYS. Due to these conflicts work at branch level virtually stopped except in a few areas and the membership declined rapidly. By the end of 1971, SAU consisted of 80 fully-paid up members, restricted to London, Birmingham and Kent.

The leadership squabbles were resolved by the expulsion and future exclusion of the members of the ’take-over’ organisations. The new leadership consisted of people influenced by the events in Vietnam, China etc., were naturally attracted to Marxism-Leninism and revolution. To its credit SAU in these days held successful study classes, leafleted schools and sold revolutionary literature. However, instead of now broadening the base of the schools movement, drawing on working class members on the basis of a popular line which reflected the needs and aspirations of the school students, the new leadership only alienated the remaining members. The small leading core (dominated by MH) put in a great deal of hard work for SAU but unfortunately they were misguided. SAU was seen by these as a revolutionary vanguard. A long manifesto and constitution largely extracted from the constitution of the CPC and including the concepts of ’the dictatorship of the proletariat’, ’violent revolution’ etc., were drafted, these were surely the basis for the Marxist-Leninist Party of the working class, not for a broad front.

This leadership proved unfit to lead amass movement and lost its membership. By the time of the massive London school strikes of May that year, when SAU were supposedly at the forefront of the struggles, they exposed their inadequacy. Not one school student was won to, the organisation from these strikes, they flared up spontaneously and died out just as rapidly, and, with it the hopes of a mass organisation of revolutionary school students. At the beginning of 1972 the SAU branches in Birmingham had collapsed and the total membership was reduced to 30.

By the time (1972) we came to know the leading comrades of SAU, the members of MLEA, the situation had become quite critical. To the best of our ability we encouraged what was positive in SAU and criticised what was negative. We criticised the pretence that SAU was a “democratic Centralist” organisation, a M-L organisation which would establish “dual power” in the schools etc. We pointed to the fact voiced by a number of SAU members that such literally infantile and sectarian policies would further liquidate SAU. And SAU was liquidated. It was left with one or two leaders and no members.

Our part in its liquidation can be no greater than what little influence we had on its affairs. Even when MTTSG was formed, certain comrades, especially M.H. who were involved in SAU, consistently rejected out criticisms of their policies in SAU and on occasions went behind the back of the group in planning new grandiose schemes like setting up a “young workers union.” In fact, differences over SAU and related principles of mass work were the source of struggles which culminated in MH’s desertion.

Concerning the CPB(ML)

You criticise another “adventure” of ours: that we “joined the CPBML in order to change it, and are now out of that organisation”.

After our move to East London and prior to our joining the CPBML we examined critically our own development and our attitudes to the ML movement. We came to the realisation that our errors had primarily been leftist and our attitude both to the working class and to the movement had been sectarian. We realised the need for great leaps in our theoretical understanding of Marxism Leninism and in building genuine roots among the masses. In our reassessment of the movement this latter point assumed great significance and in part lead to our subjective conclusions about the CPBML.

We decided to join the party without a full and serious investigation. We were aware of its rightist economist line and incorrect analysis of classes, imperialism, role of theory etc. We had no illusions about its being the party, however, we felt that it had some mass support and more working class members than any other organisation. As such we believed that there would be great possibilities for doing mass work and uniting with the rank and file of the party in struggle against the thoroughly bankrupt leadership.

We were accepted as candidate members with the leadership fully aware of our differences with them. But right from the start we began to realise that our appraisal had been idealistic. We had overestimated the numbers and influence of working class members. Over the years many have been purged, the remaining few subordinated to the leading clique. There is no mass base. The revisionist two class line finds its main appeal among the petty bourgeoisie who now make up the bulk of that party. Although some are genuine, most are liberals, not Marxists.

Their class origins and outlook help to perpetuate revisionism and tip the balance against principled struggle. Democracy inside the party did not exist, there was only centralism which was being further institutionalised while we were there. (in fact our continued opposition and refusal to be silenced on the principles of Marxism-Leninism helped harden the attitudes to dissension)

In our six turbulent months we brought to light contradictions within the organisation by our continued defence of Leninism, but our struggle was manipulated to isolate and expel us... this was accomplished but not so easily or as successfully as the leadership hoped. However, even though we never capitulated to the line, it is clear on reflection that we could never have achieved much by an alliance with the party.

To conclude, our joining the party was opportunistic and we accept the criticism of undertaking an “adventure”. It is too soon to appreciate fully the consequences of this adventure for ourselves and for others. In particular a fuller analysis of the struggles and debates within the CPBML will be required at some later stage.