Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Nottingham Communist Group



First Published: Red Star, No. 4, October 1980
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.

In November 1963 Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity was set up in Great Britain by Communists who had come to recognise, in the course of struggle against the policies of the Communist Party of Great Britain, that to transform this Party from within, by accepting rules operated by men such as Gollan, Dutt and Matthews, was an impossibility. This Committee is now organising a public campaign to expose revisionism, and win the militant industrial workers and intellectuals to understand that a genuine Communist Party must be established before advance can be made against monopoly-capital in Britain. We shall, before long, achieve this goal.[1]

Thus wrote the late Michael McCreery, the comrade who led the first serious break with the revisionist Communist Party of Great Britain and the attempt to reconstitute the revolutionary party in Britain. Nearly seventeen years later the task of building a genuine revolutionary party has still not been achieved despite the – fact that during this period the internal contradictions of British capitalism have greatly intensified, as indeed have those in the world as a whole. We are now entering a period when the only possible outcome of the sharpening of the contradictions of capitalism is either war or revolution. The only way forward for the working Class is either to prevent the war by revolution or to turn the imperialist war into revolutionary civil War. More than ever the working class needs its own vanguard revolutionary party to organise and lead it in the struggle to overthrow capitalism and build socialism. The building of a revolutionary party in Britain is a matter of the utmost urgency and supreme importance. There is not much time left.


Since Comrade McCreery’s untimely death in 1965 there have existed at various times around twenty or more Organisations claiming to base themselves on the revolutionary outlook of Marxism-Leninism. Some of them, for example the Communist Party of England (M-L) and the Communist Party of Britain (M-L), have claimed to be proper revolutionary parties of the Leninist type. Yet after having existed for over a decade and more these organisations have made no discernible impact on the working class. Furthermore, while in terms of membership these organisations were never large – the CPB (M-L) had a maximum of around 300 members in the mid-1970’s – they are now shrinking in size. On the criterion of political practice alone, it can only be concluded that these “parties” have been in no way vitally representative of the objective interests of workers in Britain, otherwise they would have been able to begin to build a base and following in the working class, as indeed the Marxist-Leninists in some of the other imperialist countries have succeeded in doing, e.g. in the U.S.A.

As for the other Marxist-Leninist groups and organisations, e.g. the Revolutionary Communist League of Britain, the Communist Workers League of Britain, while formally upholding as their primary aim the building of the revolutionary party, their continued existence as pre-party organisations does itself show their failure after many years to make any significant progress towards the foundation of the party. What is more, the confusion, splits and defections stimulated by the impact of the revisionist seizure of state power in China during the last few years means that whatever party-building potentialities some of these groups may have had are now greatly diminished. The elements left who are resolutely upholding the great Marxist-Leninist revolutionary tradition and exposing the new wave of revisionism emanating from China and Albania are very few in number. It has to be admitted that as a conscious, organised revolutionary movement Marxism-Leninism in Britain is in real danger of extinction.

If this deplorable state of affairs is to be reversed, if the very necessary rebuilding of the proletarian revolutionary movement in Britain is to proceed, we must grasp the essence of past failures so as not to be doomed to the farce of history repeating itself. In discussing the revisionist degeneration of the CPGB McCreery wrote:

... it never 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.[2]

The same general shortcoming has continued to be true of the Marxist-Leninists during the last fifteen years. However, for this criticism and self-criticism to be of any value it is necessary to be quite specific about what is meant by applying the generally agreed principle of Marxism-Leninism to British condition. Otherwise, we are left with little more than the tautological truism that the failure to grasp Marxism-Leninism ac counts for the failure to build a revolutionary movement and party which gives us no positive guidance or how to rectify this deficiency.


Applying the generally agreed principles of Marxism-Leninism to British conditions means something more than involvement in the day-to-day class struggle and the general assertion that the only way forward for the working class is the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. For the last decade and a half in Britain the Marxist-Leninists have participated in many aspects of the class struggle. Trade union work, anti-racist campaigns, solidarity with national liberation struggles, etc. Also, the Marxist-Leninists have upheld the concept of the revolutionary road to socialism against the pernicious reformism of the old revisionists, Trotskyists and social democrats. This is not to claim that we have for the most part been very effective in our attempts to carry out these tasks. But nonetheless it is true that many comrades have resolutely applied themselves to the revolutionary struggle and in many cases this has entailed significant personal sacrifices.

However, it should also be recognised that a strong subjective commitment to the cause of proletarian revolution ion and a dogged determination to persist with the struggle ere by themselves insufficient for the building of a revolutionary movement and party. Marxism-Leninism claims to be scientific socialism which bases itself on the method of materialist dialectics. It asserts that only if the revolutionary forces have really grasped the concrete particularity of the society they wish to transform will they be able to develop a strategy and tactics capable of guiding the class struggle in such a way that the proletariat succeeds in overthrowing the bourgeoisie. In short, if you wish to make revolution then you must have a very clear conception of just how, by what means, you intend to achieve this goal; if you want to get somewhere then you must have a route planned at the outset of your journey. The whole historical experience of the international revolutionary movement confirms this fundamental principle. As Lenin discovered in Russia:

In order to build the Party, it is not enough to be able to should; ’Unity’, it is necessary, in addition, to have some sort of political programme, a programmer of political action.[3]

Similarly, in China the communist movement only began to make real progress when the particular concrete conditions they were faced with were concretely analysed. Mao was very clear on this matter:

No political party can possibly lead a great revolutionary movement to victory unless it possesses revolutionary theory and a knowledge of history and has a pro- found grasp of the practical movement.[4]


Now, most of those calling themselves Marxist-Leninists in Britain today express formal agreement with the proposition that the key to party-building is to develop a proper revolutionary programme. For example, in their Manifesto the RCLB state that:

. ..at the present stage in Britain theory must be primary over practice. The main theoretical tasks in Party building are to develop a programme, ...[5]

Yet in reality it is not this vital task which the RCLB are primarily concerned with because in fact they place organisational unity before and above genuine political unity. They advocate bilateral struggle between Marxist-Leninist organisations so as to resolve differences and unite into larger, democratic centralist organisations. The RCLB specifies “small group mentality” as the factor hindering this unification process, an explanation which owes much to bourgeois social psychology but very little to materialist dialectics.

The experience of the RCLB’s approach to party-building is very instructive. It was formed in 1977 out of a fusion of some of the local groups who had constituted the previous Communist Federation of Britain (M-L) and some of the members of a couple of other small groups, the Communist Unity Association and the East London Marxist-Leninist Association. The programme around which they united was little more than a general statement of Marxist-Leninist principles loosely and un-scientifically applied to contemporary British capitalism. In fact, some of the formulations in this manifesto are not simply imprecise but actually reactionary. In particular, the Three Worlds line of the Chinese revisionists is uncritically reproduced. Even so, it must be admitted that this manifesto does not claim to be a developed party programme. The development of such a programme was a task the RCLB claimed it would eventually carry out.

Almost immediately after the formation of the RCLB, major difference arose within it as to the correctness of its international line. A leading member of the RCLB, the Secretary of its Central Committee, and other comrades attacked the social chauvinist policy contained in their manifesto. The outcome, only a year and a half after the formation of the RCLB, was the expulsion of these comrades and the disillusionment and defection of some others. This incident shows very clearly that the RCLB was not founded on a basis of genuine political unity at all. If the members had really scientifically investigated the present international contradictions and their bearing on the course of revolutionary struggle in Britain, instead of uncritically buying a package deal from Peking, then these differences would have become apparent at the time when they were drawing up their manifesto. This demonstrates just how seriously the RCLB took their manifesto in the first place; not as a scientific guide for political action but just as a bit of political icing on top of the organisational cake. However those expelled from the RCLB have learnt some valuable lesson, from this experience. As they said in their parting critique,

... failure, to grasp the truth that the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line is the decisive factor in building the party and mobilising the masses for revolution, leads to the absurd elevation of organisational and Party matter, to the position of highest principle.[6]


To seek unity for unity’s sake and not to make the struggle for a principled policy the foremost consideration and the only firm basis for unity, leads to opportunist theories and practice.[7]

Subsequently, the RCLB has absorbed two other small groups, the Communist Workers Movement and the Birmingham Communist Association. The CWM was founded in 1976 by defectors from the hopelessly economist and chauvinist CPB (ML). They too always placed organisational considerations above political ones. As a direct result, the CWM was subject to continual internal feuding resulting in expulsions and defections and the few remaining members, of whom hardly any were the original members, threw in their lot with the RCLB earlier this year. A few years ago, the BCA showed some appreciation of the need to develop a proper programme as the basis for unity and it is to be regretted that the members have succumbed to the opportunism of the RCLB. Despite these amalgamations, the membership of the RCLB, which was never large at any time, has probably declined during the last two years. More significantly, it has never been very involved in the day-to-day class struggle, (its virtual lack of participation in the anti-racist campaigns of the last few years is one instance), and burdened as it is with the millstone of support for the Chinese revisionists around its neck, its future prospects are dismal.


How can we explain the failure to make any real progress in building the revolutionary movement and party in Britain during the last fifteen years? Any explanation which simply claims that there has been a shear lack of subjective determination and effort on the part of Marxist-Leninists is not a materialist one. In So far as comrades have been lacksidaisical and fallen by the wayside, this has to be explained in terms of the objective conditions of the continuing class struggle in this country. What we really have to pinpoint are the reasons which explain the failure of the Marxist-Leninists to effect a genuine unity of revolutionary theory and practice. The fundamental weakness which stands in need of explanation is an ideological one that is, the persistence of empiricist practice and dogmatic theory and consequently the failure to bring about any qualitative transformation in the level of the class struggle.

It is well known that the revolutionary movement in Britain has always been very weak in every sense – ideologically, politically and organisationally. In general, this can be explained by the strength of bourgeois hegemony in Britain in the past, based as it was on the tact that industrial capitalism first arose in this country and that for a long period the position of Britain as the leading imperialist power secured comparative internal prosperity and stability, thus enabling the bourgeoisie to make many concessions to working class demands which, far from weakening the legitimacy of bourgeois rule, actually served to strengthen it. It has to be admitted that adherence to reformist trade unionism and the essentially bourgeois ideology of social democracy did result in the great mass of working people securing very considerable improvements in their general living standards.


Given these material conditions, it is hardly surprising that the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920-1 should have occurred on a very weak ideological basis. Under the influence of the Comintern, a small number of rather disparate and ideologically weak elements were hastily welded together into one body. In the course of this highly opportunistic process some of the most politically advanced proletarian leaders were excluded, e.g. John MacLean. Perhaps most significant is the fact that the formation of the CPGB was not so much a direct response to the state of the class struggle in Britain at that time but rather a response to the October Revolution and the subsequent upheavals in other European countries after World War 1. However, despite these inauspicious beginnings the political work of the CPGB up until the mid-l930s was in the main of a positive kind. For example, its leadership of the struggles of unemployed workers was very successful, given the limitations imposed by the objective conditions then prevailing. Nonetheless the ideological weakness of the CPGB was apparent at many levels and it leaned heavily on the Comintern for guidance, which in turn had to frequently criticise incorrect policies formulated by the CPGB.

The ideological turning point for the CPGB came during the Popular Front period from 1935 onwards. The policy of uniting all who could be united against the growing menace of fascism adopted by the Comintern at its 7th World Congress was essentially correct. However, it was a tactic the application of which could easily lead to opportunist errors on the part of the proletarian party. In entering a temporary, tactical alliance of this kind with social democrats and other bourgeois elements it was essential that the communist parties should not in any way abandon their revolutionary objectives so as to appease their bourgeois and petit bourgeois allies. But this is precisely what happened in the case of the CPGB. In its eagerness to build the anti-fascist front the Party threw open its doors to the ranks of the radical petit bourgeois intelligentsia. The differences between bourgeois democracy and proletarian revolution quickly became obscured. The coming together within the Party of elements of the labour aristocracy, represented by persons such as Harry Pollitt, and the radical intelligentsia resulted in the triumph of bourgeois ideology of revisionism in the CPGB. This development became clearly apparent with the confusion and vacillation of both the leadership and the membership as a whole upon the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

The important point to be gasped here is that the CPGB had become completely revisionist long before its formal adoption of a revisionist programme, The British road to Socialism, in 1951. Of course, there were dissident elements who tried to oppose this ideological and political degeneration but they never did so in a concerted, organised way and consequently simply dropped out of the Party, were individually expelled or carried on as members while keeping their disquiet mostly to themselves. It must be admitted that the 1950’s was a period of great confusion and disarray for communists, especially those in the imperialist countries as a result of the triumph of revisionism in the Soviet Union and the revolt in Hungary in 1956. Nonetheless, it is important to note that none of the dissident Marxist-Leninist elements in Britain made any serious attempt to combat the revisionism of the CPGB, either within its ranks or from without.


It was only with the public debate between the Communist Party of China and the revisionist Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the early 1960’s that some of the dissidents in the CPGB found courage to attack its revisionist policies. This was a very positive development but it had a negative side to it. The stand taken by the CPC in attacking and opposing revisionism in the international communist movement was absolutely correct and it was inevitable that genuine communists throughout the world looked to the CPC for ideological and political leadership. However many of these comrades especially those in Britain were in effect exchanging a Russian crutch for a Chinese one. Where as hitherto they had uncritically adopted whatever lines emanated from Russia they now adopted the same stance but with respect to China. Apart from a few of the most advanced comrades such as McCreery the communists in Britain failed to grasp one of the most important lessons of the Chinese revolution. As Mao said to a delegation of Latin American comrades in 1956:

I beg to advise you not to transplant Chinese experience mechanically. The experience of any foreign country can serve only for reference and must not be regarded as dogma. The universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and the concrete conditions of your own countries – the two must be integrated. [8]

The experience of the Chinese communists had been that only when they had ceased relying on Moscow for strategic and tactical guidance and actually applied materialist dialectics to the concrete analysis of their own concrete conditions did they begin to make advances in their revolutionary struggle. While many of the CPGB dissidents in the 1960’s formally acknowledged this crucial proposition that the revolutionary forces in each ’country have to develop their own particular strategy and tactics in response to the particularities of their own material conditions, subsequent events show that they have been incapable of doing this in actual practice.

To sum up at this point, we can say that the originators of the present Marxist-Leninist current in Britain were dissidents from the CPGB who for the most part had, as a result of their political formation in the overwhelmingly revisionist CPGB, a somewhat insecure ideological grasp of Marxism-Leninism, however great their subjective hatred for capitalism was and however strong their desire to make proletarian revolution may have been.

What is more, some of the defectors from the CPGB departed for rather more empiricist reasons. People such as Reg Birch and the group around him were acutely aware of the failure of the CPGB to make any political advances in the post-war period. On the contrary, the CPGB was in a state of decline, both organisationally and in terms of political influence, and they realised that they were standing on a sinking ship.


The dissidents who departed from the CPGB during the mid-1960’s were of varied social Composition, some of them workers and some from the middle strata, and very few in total numbers. Their ranks were augmented by rather larger contingents of young people, mostly students and former students, who had become radicalised in the course of the student revolt, beginning around 1966, and its close connection with the movement of solidarity with Vietnam. The initial dissent of these young people from bourgeois society was on the basis not of material deprivation but in reaction to the spiritual emptiness of late capitalism; they were experiencing a profound sense of subjective alienation. In searching for a reference point to give their revolt some coherence and guidance there were no adequate models to be found in Britain where, although cracks in the post-war boom were appearing, the working class was displaying no revolutionary tendencies. Instead, inspiration had to be found abroad and in the past. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had little appeal for these romantic revolutionaries. Even those who conceded that the Soviet bloc might be socialist in some sense found “goulash communism” to be a model lacking in appeal and thus not to be emulated. This was a factor which helped to deflect the majority of radical students towards various species of Trotskyism, an important attraction of which is that it enables one to embrace socialism in the mind while at the same time rejecting the actual concrete achievements of socialist revolution which have occurred, however temporally and partial they may have been. However, a potent reference point for the young was the great strength of the national liberation struggles occurring in many regions, especially Indo-China. These apparently uncomplicated struggles, between the forces of Western imperialism and the oppressed nations, exerted a very strong emotional appeal. By supporting these struggles one was simultaneously opposing the ruling classes in the imperialist countries. At the same time, attention was drawn towards China because of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which began in 1966. This also had great romantic appeal and the possibility and hope was raised that the reversal of the socialist revolution which had occurred in the Soviet bloc was not inevitable. Furthermore, those who investigated the history of the Chinese revolution realised that here was a general model whereby the national liberation struggles then raging could proceed further and at a later stage become socialist revolutions.

Such, very briefly, were the conditions which led to a very small section of the student radicals to become attracted towards Marxism-Leninism. Of course, for the great majority their dissent from the hegemony of bourgeois ideology was very temporary and they were quickly reabsorbed into the comfortable complicacy of petit bourgeois life. Only a few managed to sustain their revolutionary zeal and it was inevitable that they should come into contact with the older CPGB dissidents and to look to them for political leadership. Thus it was, out of these elements, that the various Marxist-Leninist organisations set up in the late 1960’s were formed. Now, we have already drawn attention to the ideological weakness of the dissidents from the CPGB whose political development had taken place in an organisation which had been dominated by revisionism for thirty years. At the same time, the comrades emerging from the student movement were new to Marxism-Leninism, had limited experience of the class struggle and consequently also suffered from ideological weakness. Furthermore, just like the older CPGB dissidents, their political reference points were not so much concrete developments within British capitalism but rather international events. Given these origins, it was inevitable that they newly constituted Marxist-Leninist movement was doomed to a long and tortuous journey in the struggle to build a revolutionary party.


At this point in our exposition it is necessary to be quite clear as to what we mean by the term “ideological weakness”. Do we mean a reluctance to engage vigorously and persistently in the day-to-day struggles of the working class? No, we do not: although it must be insisted that anyone who fails to do this cannot be considered a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary. Do we mean a disinclination to study the classic Marxist-Leninist writings and the historical experience of the revolutionary movement? Again, no, although this too is essential to learn from the struggles of the past. What we mean by the term “ideological weakness” is the failure of the revolutionaries to throw off and overcome bourgeois habits of thought and action in the course of their political activity. We are all the products of bourgeois society and, regardless of which class or strata we emerge from or belong to, we are all deeply permeated by bourgeois consciousness. We have to face up to the fact that our habitual, spontaneous modes of behaving and thinking are those generated by capitalist relations of production. However subjectively committed we may be to the revolutionary cause still the contradiction between bourgeois ideology and proletarian ideology in our own consciousness will persist. For us, born and bred in the bourgeois era, both acting and thinking in a revolutionary way will always only be possible as a result of deliberate, conscious effort. It is inevitab1e that our habitual, spontaneous behaviour will tend to be of a bourgeois kind. The adoption of a revolutionary posture is not a once and for all transformation but a continuous struggle to transform the world and ourselves. There are many workers who persist, year after year, in the most dogged and determined battle against capital and there are many academics who churn out the most detailed studies of the Marxist classics and revolutionary movements. But, neither in reality makes any contribution to the development of the revolutionary movement.

The emergent Marxist-Leninist movement of the late 1960s had little in the way of ideological capital that could be drawn upon. As an ideological current Marxism-Leninism had always been weak in Britain and from the late 1930’s had been virtually dead. Whether they knew it or not, the Marxist-Leninists had before them the task of recovering, grasping and developing revolutionary theory and practice in relation to their immediate concrete conditions. The writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao certainly needed to be seriously studied as did the experience of the class struggle throughout the world. But when all is said and done, while crucial lessons can be learnt in this way, it nonetheless will not provide adequate guidance for the conduct of revolutionary struggle in the rather different condition of contemporary British capitalism.

Let us examine the vulgar, undialectical way in which the great majority of the Marxist-Leninists have conceived of the relationship between revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice. “Yes”, they say, “theory arises out of practice and is in turn a guide to practice. Also, in general, in the contradiction between theory and practice it is practice which is the principal aspect and theory is the secondary aspect”. Quite so, this is a universal truth of Marxism-Leninism. However, the way in which this relationship is actually conceived and put into operation is quite undialectical. Typically, what happens is that comrades spontaneously become involved in some aspect of the class struggle, e.g. economic struggle. They imagine that simply because they are actively participating in this work that in some mysterious way a correct revolutionary orientation, theoretical guidance will emerge of its own accord. In reality this is not the way things happen. These comrades are confusing dialectical materialism with empiricism. Correct theoretical conclusions, which can guide a struggle in a revolutionary direction, can only be arrived at if the struggle in question is analysed in a conscious, reflective manner by using the method of dialectical analysis. Indeed, some attempt should be made to gain a provisional theoretical orientation before one enters into a particular struggle. Instead, what typically occurs is unreflective involvement of an entirely reformist kind, undistguishable from that of Trotskyists, revisionists and social democrats. This “theory” is then justified by searching for and finding some crude analogy between the struggle at hand and judiciously selected extracts from the classical Marxist writings – that is, dogmatism.

An example of this sort of vulgar Marxism is Reg Birch’s theory of trade unionism as “guerrilla warfare.”[9]

Birch attempts to justify his advocacy of making the most conventional, reformist trade union activity the focus of the class struggle by drawing a crude and false analogy between the daily conflict between workers and capitalists and the guerrilla warfare waged in China by the Red Army against the Kuomintang and the Japanese imperialists. This is a most blatant example of dressing up economism as revolutionary struggle by decking it out with a few quotations from Mao. Another example, taken from an article in the RCLB’s journal Revolution[10], is an attempt at political economy which tries to explain the inflation which has occurred in Britain in recent years. What we are in fact presented with is a monetarist explanation exactly of the kind put forward by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher, claiming that the fundamental cause of inflation is the government “printing money”. Where, of course, the article differs from the bourgeois theorising of Joseph and Thatcher is that it contains the obligatory, copious quotations from Marx’s Capital. A third Example of this sort of dogmatising concerns the line of capitulation to British imperialism put forward by the Workers Party of Scotland (M.L) and their associates. They try to justify their contention that the task of the working class in Britain is to support the bourgeoisie in the struggle for “national independence” against the threat of Soviet social imperialism by drawing a fallacious parallel between the situation in imperialist Britain and imperialistically oppressed China during the late 1930’s. Again, we have the phenomenon of quotations, of dishing out a few quotes from Mao quite regardless of their specific historical context, and doing so in support of the most outrageous, reactionary policy.

These are just a few of many examples of the failure to effect any real dialectical unity of revolutionary theory and practice. This failure to integrate the “universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and the concrete conditions of your own countries” (to use Mao’s expression), does not simply result in failure to build the revolutionary party but, worse, it allows the most commonplace, bourgeois platitudes to be presented as revolutionary Marxism-Leninism and thus brings the proletarian revolutionary tradition into disrepute.

Workers and others, who, as a result of their own day to day experiences of capitalism, are moving towards a revolutionary outlook are repelled by this reactionary trash. Furthermore, since such “theory” can only be a guide to failure to achieve any advances in the class struggle, comrades eventually tire of their fruitless activities and fall by the wayside. Latterly, during the last four years, this lamentable ideological weakness, this failure to really apply materialist dialectics to the concrete conditions of the contemporary world, accounts for the ease with which the Hua-Teng revisionist leadership in China have been able to secure the support and allegiance of many Marxist-Leninists in Britain.


Having dwelt at length on the ideological shortcomings of most Marxist-Leninists in Britain, we should emphasise that this is not entirely the case. A few comrades have risen: to a level of ideological clarity whereby they recognise the shortcomings of the movement and have specified how a qualitative advance can be achieved. Most notable in this aspect are the proposals put forward in 1976 by the CWLB (ML) in their pamphlet Hey! It’s up to us.

The method adopted in this exposition is to survey the course taken by the revolutionary struggles in those countries where the dictatorship of the proletariat was established and socialist construction begun: Russia, China, Korea, Albania and Vietnam. On this basis they reach the conclusion that “... the actual practice of successful modern revolutions and the parties that led them, ...reveal to us that a genuine revolutionary communist party is one that, in a living way[11]:

Knows well the conditions in its own country because it has made a scientific class analysis of those conditions and knows therefore, the existence, characteristics and development of all classes and important intra-class strata, and thus the friends and foes of the revolution; and has, based on this analysis, a programme of mass work;
Knows well the conditions in the world because it has made a scientific analysis of those conditions and knows therefore its friends and foes in the international arena, those who it can rely on for support, those who side with the enemy of its own revolution and who might intervene on that enemy’s behalf;
Knows how to solve its national question because it has investigated this question with a spirit of being scientific and being just and can thus prove the way for self-determination for those who are entitled to it, and for the unity of nations based on consent and proletarian principles;
Knows, really comprehends down to its very roots, that the working class, especially the industrial proletariat, is, and can be, the only vanguard of the struggle for revolution, and knows, has worked out in very concrete way how to educate, agitate and organise the proletariat and put it, under its leadership, on the high road to revolution, and has actually won workers to its ranks and leadership; &
Knows, because it has conducted a scientific analysis of class forces and their continuing development, how to scientifically characterise each and every major turn of events and every distinct stage of the tortuous battle for class supremacy and has a clear view of what strategy and tactics are correct at each stage.[12]

On the basis on this thoroughgoing, scientifically formulated characterisation of genuine communist parties the CWLB (ML) then examine the existing Marxist-Leninist organisations in Britain to establish whether or not any of them satisfy these criteria. Having then arrived at the conclusion that none of these organisations fit the bill, a proposal is then put forward to remedy the deficiency. They state:

The movement that at present calls itself Marxist-Leninist must formally be split in a most clear cut and profound way -it must be split into two camps: the camp of science and the camp of anti-science.[13]

The manner in which the split between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism is to be achieved is by means of setting up a Working Commission on Party Building, consisting of Marxist-Leninist organisations willing to participate. The task of the Commission is, in a systematic and disciplined way, to undertake a scientific analysis of the main contradictions of contemporary British capitalism; (class, international, national etc) and then, on the basis of objective knowledge, to draft a strategy and tactics for the conduct of class struggle. This work should be done according to a definite timetable and would result in the formulation of a programme which could be the basis for the establishment of a pre-party communist organisation.

In our view the Hey Its up to us! proposals were essentially correct. However, the response from the other Marxist-Leninist organisation was disappointing. A few small groups expressed agreement but, in the main, the proposals were ignored or dismissed out of hand. The CWLB (ML) and two other small local groups tried to set up the party building commission but, for reasons not entirely clear to us, it never really got off the ground and quickly collapsed. Subsequently the CWLB claimed that their mistake in putting forward their proposals at that time was to have overestimated the political maturity of the Marxist-Leninists in Britain. Unfortunately this observation was only too true. The Nottingham Communist Group was only formed in 1976 and we did not learn about the Hey! Its up to Us proposals until after the collapse of the party building commission. We did suggest to the CWLB (ML) that a further try to set up the commission should be made but they felt that favourable conditions did not exist. It is a sad comment of the correctness of the CWLB (ML)’s proposals that they themselves have subsequently capitulated to the revisionist international line being propagated from Peking. This shows very clearly that unless comrades persist with the struggle to build the revolutionary movement, none of us are immune from falling back into revisionism.


So where does all this get us? What conclusions are we to draw? What is the way forward in the revolutionary struggle? The analysis we have presented of the failure of the Marxist-Leninists in Britain, during the last fifteen years to build a revolutionary party should not be taken on any account as a cause for despair. Given the origins of the present Marxist-Leninist movement given its unavoidable ideological weakness it can be seen in retrospect that a long process of struggle for clarity was and is inevitable. A decisive break with bourgeois ideology could and can only come about as a result of the disappointments and setbacks of opportunist tactics. It should also be noted that the objective material conditions of British capitalism during the past fifteen years have only been partially favourable for the development of revolutionary struggle and consciousness. During this period the post-war boom of Western imperialism has been gradually collapsing but in a rather slow way. This has meant that the bourgeoisie has not found it too difficult to contain the sharpening of class contradictions. Such conditions determine that even if the revolutionary forces had been more advanced their progress in developing a revolutionary consciousness would have been slow and limited. Also, these years of stagnation, these conditions of only a slow growth of instability, mean that it has not been too difficult for comrades who tire of the struggle to make their peace with the bourgeoisie and settle down to a not altogether intolerable existence.

But now, conditions are changing very rapidly. Within the capitalist countries, especially Britain economic stagnation is rapidly being supplanted by a major economic depression. Internationally and related to the growing economic crisis, the major inter-imperialist contradiction ’between the U.S. and Soviet imperialist blocs is intensifying. In the coming period the working class really will be presented with a very clear choice: war or revolution. So the objective conditions for an upsurge in revolutionary consciousness are becoming more favourable. But it cannot be emphasised too strongly that unless conscious revolutionary elements carry out their vital party-building tasks there will be no growth of revolutionary forces but rather an upsurge of extreme reaction: fascism.

From the time of our inception in 1976 the NCG has always emphasised the key role of the development of a programme in the task of party-building. Other, for example the CWM, have criticised us along the lines that if we consider this to be so important then why have we publicly not made any detailed contributions to such a programme. Part of the reason we have refrained from so doing is that we had hoped to carry out this work jointly and systematically together with other comrades in the form of a party-building commission. For around three years we sought to persuade other Marxist-Leninist organisations of the correctness of this approach, but without success. Also for the last two years we have found it necessary to pay considerable attention to the counter-revolution in China and the influence of the reactionary line emanating from China. In Britain we have found ourselves to be practically alone in our struggle to combat the new wave of revisionism which has swept through the Marxist-Leninist movement. Latterly we have made contact with the anti-revisionist element in other countries and assisted by their valuable ideological and political support, have begun to work with the remaining anti-revisionist elements in Britain. In addition to these tasks we have necessarily persisted with our participation in the day-to-day class struggle in our area: trade union work, anti-racist work and anti-war work.

In fact over the last four years, we of the NCG have tried to carry out our own scientific investigation into the major contradictions of British capitalism. In particular we have carried cut work on the economic and class contradictions and some of this work will appear in future editions of Red Star. But we do not flatter ourselves into thinking one small group is capable of developing a correct revolutionary programme. We do not have the necessary experience, time or knowledge to carry out the task by ourselves. Only the combined efforts of at least a number of Marxist-Leninist groups will be adequate for this vital task.

To draw matters to a conclusion we say to fellow Marxist-Leninists and to those other people moving towards a revolutionary outlook that now is not the time for either complacency or despair. The objective conditions favouring the development of a really effective revolutionary movement in Britain have never been better. Join with us in criticising and exposing the new revisionism which is rampant among the Marxist-Leninists, join with us in the struggle to develop the programme for revolution in Britain!


[1] McCreery, M., The Way Forward, in his The Way Forward: A Marxist-Leninist Analysis of the British State, the GPGB and the Tasks for Revolutionaries, Working Peoples Party of England, London, n.d., p. 39

[2] Ibid. p.28 (Continued on page. 42)

[3] [no reference given for reference 3]

[4]MAO TSE-TUNG, The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War, in his Selected Works, Vol. II, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1966, p. 208.

[5] Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist League of Britain, Revolution,Vol 2, No. I, 1977, p. 25.

[6] Communist Unity, Exposure and Defeat of the R.C.L.B.’s Social Chauvinism is a Major Task in Party Building, London, 1979, p. 1.

[7] Ibid. p. I.

[8] MAO TSE-TUNG, Some Experiences in Our Party’s History, in his Selected Works, Vol. V, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1977, p. 326.

[9] BIRCH R. , Guerrilla Struggle and the Working Class, Communist Party of Britain (ML), London, n.d..

[10] Inflation is Caused by the Capitalist System. Revolution, Vol 3 No 2, 1978, 25-32. -

[11] Communist Workers League of Britain (M-L), Hey! It’s Up to Us : The Draft Theses, Conclusions and Proposals of the Communist Workers League of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) on the Central Question of Party Building, London 1976, pp. 37-8.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., p. 46.