Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Neil Redfern

Remembering the Maoist Movement in Britain

Written: August 2014
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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These reminiscences were written in 2014. Some of the events described took place nearly fifty years earlier, the most recent 25 years earlier. Given the fragility of the human memory, the subjectivity of the human intellect and the volatility of human emotions, it is certain that this account of these events is rather partial. The opinions presented here are entirely my own, though I discussed this memoir with someone who was on the opposite side of the most important event, the struggle in the Revolutionary Communist League of Britain (RCLB), thirty odd years ago. The bare factual information is probably fairly reliable (especially from 1976 onwards, mostly based as it is on the documentary record (though as someone who has taught and written history, I am well aware that the documentary record can tell us only so much)).

My family background is working class of Irish Catholic descent. I belonged to neither of the two main categories of people – anti-revisionists from the Communist Party of Great Britain (CP) and revolutionary intellectuals – who were members of the Maoist movement (though in those days the preferred term was ’Marxist-Leninist’). I was younger (born in 1944) than most of the former. I didn’t go to university at 18 (very few working class people of my age did). I had left school at 15 without qualifications. Perhaps more politically significant is that I eventually moved out of the working class. For most of the period when I was active in the Maoist movement I worked in what is now called Information Technology (IT). When no longer active I became a student and then an academic. I have lectured in modern European history at two universities.

I became politically active relatively late in life. I was 22 when I joined Stockport Labour Party during the general election campaign of 1966. At that time I was a nurse, active in the National Union of Public Employees and in the trade union movement generally. I was arrested during a mass demonstration in solidarity with striking workers at the Roberts Arundel factory in Stockport (the strike was briefly famous as the “Million Dollar Strike”). I moved fairly quickly to the left while in the Labour Party. Members of the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League (SLL) were active in Stockport Labour Party and tried to recruit me. But the SLL didn’t appeal: I can’t claim that this was on clear ideological and political grounds; they just didn’t appeal.

The Secretary of Stockport Labour Party introduced me to members of the CP and in turn I got to know anti-revisionists. Of these, the one who had the most influence on me was Joe Dix, who had been one of the original members of the Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity (CDRCU). Marxism-Leninism (as I then understood it) did appeal and in 1967 or 1968, while still in the Labour Party, I became a founder member of the Manchester based Lancashire and Cheshire Communist League (LCCL). At its largest, the LCCL may have had around 12 members.

In the Autumn of 1968 the LCCL went to Belle Vue, Manchester, to distribute leaflets among those attending the centenary celebrations of the TUC. While there, we met members of the Liverpool group of the recently formed Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CFB). This precipitated a struggle inside the LCCL over whether or not to become a constituent group of the CFB. I and other members of the LCCL attended as observers several CFB meetings at Digbeth Hall, Birmingham.

I was the principal advocate of joining the CFB. I didn’t at that time have a clear view on the way forward: I simply felt that it was better to be in a national organisation than a small group. I suspect that if we had encountered the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPB) at Belle Vue, I would have argued that we should join them. I do remember arguing that those in the LCCL (principally Joe Dix) who opposed joining the CFB wanted to be “big fish in small ponds”: in other words they were suffering from small group mentality.

There was an abortive meeting with the CPB in, I think, 1969. I had a chance encounter with a CPB member who urged us to make contact, I suggested to the other members of the LCCL that as I was then regularly in London we should do so. I met one of the leaders of the CPB, John Hannington, in a pub. Hannington gave me an audience of around five minutes and said that the members of the LCCL could apply to join the CPB, but that the CPB would not hold formal talks with the LCCL. So that was that.

The LCCL considered it politically useful for me to stay in the Labour Party, though I made no attempt to conceal my changing views. In 1969 I stood for the Party (unsuccessfully) in the municipal elections, using the event to denounce Labour as an imperialist party. This was reported on the front page of the local paper on election day and I was duly expelled from the Labour Party.

In 1970 the LCCL did join the CFB, but left after a year or so. A majority of the LCCL couldn’t accept the CFB’s developing stance (though this did not become formal CFB policy for some years) that the Soviet Union had become a social-imperialist state. Almost certainly, this was due to an emotional attachment to the Soviet Union. No theoretical or empirical assessment of the nature of the Soviet Union was made. Small-group mentality was undoubtedly also a major factor. Most members of the group could not accept the CFB’s moves, notably a common constitution, towards greater centralism.

Compounding small-group mentality was, I suspect, world-weariness and fatigue on the part of older members. The LCCL met regularly in a pub on Friday nights, but there was more drinking than serious discussion and little practical activity. I remember that on several occasions Joe Dix responded to proposals for practical activity with “you do that if you want to”. One thing that the group was involved in was Vietnam solidarity work. We were able to work with Trotskyists (from, I think, the International Marxist Group (IMG)) to oppose the CP’s craven ’peace in Vietnam’ line. Three of us (we had been unable to persuade the LCCL as a whole to go) met up with Manchanda’s Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League (RMLL) at the great 1968 demonstration which culminated in the battle of Grosvenor Square.

The experience of Grosvenor Square and brief discussions with the RMLL comrades made me very critical of the LCCL. The low level of activity of the group and the decision to leave the CFB had led to members drifting away. I hadn’t, but only because I couldn’t see what else to do. Politically, a turning point came in the Summer of 1971. By this time I had left nursing and become a computer programmer. Since 1970 I had been working at an engineering factory, Mirrlees Blackstone. But in 1971 I was victimised, due to trying to organise a branch of the technicians’ section of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU). Officially, I had been made redundant, but this was a transparent attempt to get rid of me. The convenor of the AEU, a member of the CP, refused to take up the matter with the management.

I quickly found another job, at Plessey’s Telecommunications factory in Liverpool. Probably, I chose the job at Plessey’s because there was a CFB group in Liverpool (there was also a CPB branch, but by 1971 I had formed an attachment to the CFB and in any case the Hannington episode had put me off the CPB). Without formally resigning from the LCCL, I joined the Liverpool group. This episode soured relations between the two groups. There was no further contact. A friend who was then in the LCCL told me later that the group simply disintegrated. It was virtually defunct when I left.

For a year or so I was a rank-and-file member of the Liverpool group of the CFB. At Plessey’s I was active in the fight against the government’s Industrial Relations Act (IRAct). Along with many other Plessey trade unionists and tens of thousands of workers nationally and locally, I walked out of Plessey’s in support of the ’Pentonville 5’, who had been arrested under the provisions of the IRAct. The Liverpool group of the CFB was not involved in these events. At that time, the group did little other than going on demonstrations and selling the CFB’s paper Struggle in pubs on Friday and Saturday nights. More importantly, the federal structure of the CFB militated against organised national practice.

In the Summer of 1972 I moved back to Stockport. I worked with two other individual members of the CFB to try to encourage a Manchester University based group of Maoist students and intellectuals to establish with us a formal Marxist-Leninist group. We were unsuccessful, primarily because they had an aversion to the necessary discipline and organisation (some time later these comrades did establish a formal group).

While in Stockport I was particularly active in the Manchester branch of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC). It was then dominated by the IMG, which had a far better position on Vietnam than the other Trotskyist groups. I cherish a memory of a demonstration called by the revisionist-dominated British Campaign for Peace in Vietnam late in 1972, during a critical period in the Paris Peace Talks. Nguyen Thi Binh (’Madame Binh’), the chief negotiator for the National Liberation Front (NLF) at the talks, spoke at the demonstration. I and other members of the VSC attended carrying NLF banners. Hacks from the CP objected to us carrying the banners, but, much to their embarrassment, Nguyen Thi Binh spotted us and insisted that we should go the front of the march.

In late 1973 or early 1974 JT, PT and another revolutionary intellectual joined the Liverpool group of the CFB. This eventually led to the departure of B. and I. the group’s de facto leaders. The new members were critical of much that they found in the group, in particular the reluctance of the existing leaders to involve the rest of the group in the national affairs of the CFB and their failure to try to raise the theoretical level of the group (most of the group’s members were working class militants with a low theoretical level).

In the Spring of 1974 I returned to Liverpool. B. had assumed that I would be an ally of his against the new members, but I supported them. Compounding B’s reluctance to accept criticism was that after its second Special General Meeting of December 1973 & February 1974 the CFB was attempting to develop a much more disciplined style of work, which he found difficult to cope with. He resigned from the CFB not long after I returned to Liverpool. A few months later I. also resigned. B.s & I.s departure helped to invigorate the group. Regular study sessions were held. Practical activity, for instance anti-fascist work, became central to the life of the group. There was much more involvement in national CFB affairs.

Shortly after returning to Liverpool I became part of the national leadership of the CFB. I was co-opted onto the Executive Committee (EC). In the Autumn of 1974 I became a student at Ruskin College, Oxford. This (eventually) led to me becoming an academic. Around this time contradictions in the CFB were becoming acute. In a protracted ideological and political struggle lasting most of 1975 a majority was formed against right opportunist lines on social-democracy, nationalisation, Ireland and the nature of the Soviet Union. A struggle against five ideological errors, especially liberalism and small-group mentality, united most members around a new party-building strategy. The federal approach was rejected. I supported this at the time, but now I am not so sure. The fact that a majority of the constituent groups (two groups (Glasgow and Coventry) left) were united within a federal structure suggests that it was not federalism per se but the ideological errors which was the fundamental problem.

Chris Burford of the London group was the comrade most responsible for the defeat of the right opportunist tendencies in the CFB. In Liverpool, JT and I, who formed the Branch Committee, won over an initially doubtful group for what came to be known as the struggle against the ’five main errors’. By the end of this struggle I had come to be regarded as the CFB’s second leading comrade. At the CFB’s Third Conference of February 1976 it was resolved to proceed as quickly as possible to forming a single democratic-centralist organisation. A new leading core of Burford, myself and Sam Mauger was elected. Later that year JT was added to the leading core.

In 1976 I finished my studies at Ruskin College, but didn’t take the final exams, nor take up an unconditional place I had been offered at Liverpool University to study economic history.

I took these decisions under the influence of an anti-intellectual trend in the CFB. One of the ’five main errors’ identified as holding back the ideological and political development of the CFB had been “intellectualism”. It had been essential to recognise the ideological and political dangers – such as subjectivism and individualism – associated with intellectuals: it had been especially important to recognise these in the CFB, in which a majority of the membership and of the leadership came from that stratum. But evidence that the organisation over-compensated for these dangers is provided by its claim that “the most important book for us at our present stage is the Quotations from Mao Tsetung”). I now think I should have taken up the place at Liverpool.

During 1976, in attempting to enact the Third Conference’s call to “transform the class character of the CFB” it was decided that all practical work should be devoted to the working class and that the organisation should attempt to build bases in the industrial working class. As I was the comrade responsible for the CFB’s industrial work, I gave up my job (I had returned to working in IT) and entered a government centre to train as a capstan lathe setter-operator. I did not complete the course: nominally this was due to illness, but in reality it was due to a lack of ideological commitment.

In 1976-77 the ideological, political and organisational foundations of the RCLB were laid. Not long after its Third Conference, the CFB began a struggle for unity with the Communist Unity Association (CUA). The CUA was led by people who had left the CFB in opposition to its right opportunist stance on British imperialism. But discussion and debate considerably increased the level of ideological and political unity between the two organisations. Unity was also increased by co-operation. In the Summer of 1977 JT and I from the CFB and Phil Dixon and Wilf Dixon from the CUA formed a united opposition at a conference in Birmingham, convened by the Communist Workers Movement (CWM) to launch a new party-building initiative. The negative experience of the conference convinced the CWM that the way forward was to try to unite with the shortly to be formed RCLB. JT and I were the initial CFB/RCLB representatives at the unity talks.

Significant differences between the CFB and the CUA on the question of British imperialism were not resolved. This issue threatened to wreck the unity talks. We, the EC of the CFB, argued that the international section of the Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist League of Britain should be based on the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Theory of the Three Worlds. The CUA disagreed. The CFB’s EC was itself divided. Burford argued that the Manifesto should call for “a united front against the hegemonism of the two superpowers” while the majority favoured the formulation “a united front against imperialism, especially the hegemonism of the two superpowers.”

The CUA argued that these differences should be put to the forthcoming founding congress of the RCLB. This was unacceptable to the CFB’s EC. One of the ’five main errors’ the CFB was struggling against was ultra-democracy. This had certainly been a major problem in the CFB. But in attempting to combat it the organisation had become ultra-centralist. We, the CFB’s EC, insisted that the leaderships of the two organisations should present a ’united face’ to the congress. The CUA capitulated. Burford “reserved his difference” over the formulation on the target of the international united front. The constitution of the new organisation stipulated that congress was its supreme body; but the rank-and-file of the CFB attended the congress (in Liverpool, in July 1977) with not even an inkling that there were major differences in the united leadership.

Out of a desire to fight ultra-democracy rather than out of constitutional conviction, ultra-centralism became part of the ideological, political and organisational culture of the RCL. Particularly dangerous manifestations of this tendency affected the Political Committee (PC). Members of this committee were not members of a branch, thus insulating them from the rank-and-file. Though constitutionally subordinate to the Central Committee, it was initially assumed that the Political Committee should maintain a ’united face’ towards it.

The Congress unanimously adopted The Manifesto of the RCLB. It is tautological to add, but worth stating, that I supported it. Indeed I had played a major role in its drafting. The Manifesto had many strengths, but the section on the class struggle internationally was syncretic, containing both Marxist-Leninist class analysis and the CPC’s revisionist Theory of the Three Worlds. Objectively, its primary political content was a call to prepare for a social-chauvinist class alliance against Soviet social-imperialism. It called for the overthrow of the British state and for the strengthening of that state in the interests of struggling for national independence against the Soviet Union. It declared that it would support all struggles against British imperialism while claiming that Britain could “line up” with the Third World in a struggle against superpower hegemonism. Objectively, there were two ideological and political (not organisational) tendencies in the united organisation, reflected in two different interpretations of the Manifesto. One laid the greatest stress on fighting British imperialism; the other on building an international united front against Soviet social-imperialism. Probably, most members of the RCL would spontaneously have favoured the former of the two tendencies, but the Manifesto strongly supported the latter.

The authority of the CPC and our own ideological susceptibility to social-chauvinism had led us to accept the Theory of the Three Worlds. But another factor facilitating its acceptance was that it had its roots in long-standing revisionist tendencies of the movement dating back to 1935’s Seventh Congress of the Communist International (Comintern). JT and I had criticised Seventh Congress strategy in the CFB’s theoretical journal, Marxist-Leninist Quarterly (MLQ). In “Neither Adventurism or Opportunism” we had argued, correctly, that there were no national tasks to be completed in imperialist countries, that they were “ripe for socialism”. We further argued that though the Comintern had treated the World War of 1939-45 as an anti-fascist war and, from 1941, as a war in defence of the Soviet Union, it had primarily been an imperialist war. It had been essential to defend the Soviet Union, but to do so the communists of the allied imperialist countries had entered into social-chauvinist alliances with “their” bourgeoisie.

Our article failed to spark a debate. Indeed, in the next issue of MLQ the CFB distanced itself from the article by pointing out that its stance “represented a minority position...and moreover questioned a long-standing line of the Communist Movement. It was therefore incorrect to publish this without a refutation.” Further, by reprinting a Peking Review article which restated the orthodox Comintern line, the CFB in effect repudiated our article. We didn’t take the matter any further. We should have.

The founding congress of the RCL elected a Central Committee, which elected from its ranks a Political Committee consisting of Burford, JT and myself from the CFB and Phil Dixon from the CUA. Shortly afterwards, the RCL absorbed the East London Marxist-Leninist Association (ELMLA): from it, MK was co-opted onto the PC.

A few weeks prior to the founding congress the RCL had suffered a major blow when Sam Mauger was seriously injured in a car accident. Sam had been the comrade most responsible for right opportunism in the CFB, but had made a thorough and principled self-criticism. He would have been an extremely valuable and tempered member of the RCL’s new leadership, but due to his accident was unable to join the PC, which was also weakened when Burford began to suffer from a protracted but undiagnosed illness (I suspect it was nervous exhaustion) which seriously impaired his ability to lead the organisation. A month or so after the founding Congress I moved to London to assume more leadership responsibilities. I became the RCL’s full-time Secretary. I led a delegation to China and for some months was the organisation’s de facto leader. (Between August 1977 and February 1978 Burford was on leave of absence, (though he went on the delegation to China)).

The delegation (consisting of the whole of the original PC) took place only a year or so after the arrest of the ’Gang of Four’, which the CFB had welcomed with only the most superficial discussion. British Maoists had failed to grasp the significance of the arrest of the Four. We didn’t see that it was a historic turning point comparable with the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Party. Just like those communists of a generation earlier who had been emotionally committed to the Soviet Union, the Maoists of our generation had invested a great deal of emotional capital in socialist China and were reluctant to consider the possibility that revisionism could triumph in China.

What was needed for principled unity in the RCL, given its strong support for the CPC and that its Manifesto had been only recently adopted after a thorough discussion (notwithstanding the concealment of serious differences among the leadership), was a thorough ideological and political debate regarding developments in the CPC and its Theory of the Three Worlds. It was not possible to overthrow the social-chauvinist elements of the RCL’s Manifesto without rejecting the Theory of the Three Worlds; and it was not possible to reject this theory without criticising the growing revisionism of the CPC.

But developments in China were not seriously discussed in the RCL. Probably, I was the member of the leadership most likely to have initiated the necessary discussion. But while I went to China only intellectually convinced of the case for socialism, I returned emotionally convinced (Of course, what inspired me were the achievements of revolutionary China, just beginning to be dismantled). I was not then prepared to accept that the Chinese capitalist roaders had defeated the Maoists. As for the Theory of the Three Worlds, it was quite some time before I began to think that it could be a revisionist theory.

One matter that I can throw some light on due to my membership of the delegation to China is the matter of ’Peking Gold’. For some time there had been rumours that just as the Soviet Party provided the British CP with funds (’Moscow Gold’), so the CPC provided funds for British Maoists. I knew that no money had been provided to the CFB or the RCL. During the delegation the CPC asked us to regularly provide them with copies of our publications, but were correctly adamant that they would take only the number (very few) that they needed for use in the party, in libraries and so on. They would not take so many copies as would amount to an indirect subvention. A leading member of the CPB told me that the CPC had adopted the same stance towards them.

One divides into two: an already fragile unity among the RCL’s leadership began to weaken further during the delegation to China. The PC saw and heard evidence that should have led, but did not, to a serious discussion of developments in China. We were shown round an exhibition on party history in which the prominent revisionist Peng Teh-huai was positively evaluated. Phil Dixon and I were rather disturbed by this. On the first day of talks, the CPC’s representatives contended that Yugoslavia was a socialist country. That they thought that Yugoslavia was a socialist country was compelling evidence that the CPC, or at least the International Department of the Central Committee, was led by revisionists. But Burford argued that if this was what the CPC thought, then maybe it was true. Characteristically, and not the best way of approaching the matter, I said that the question of Yugoslavia could cause a split. But revisionism, not splittism, was the biggest problem in the RCL.

Despite Burford’s leadership of the struggle against right opportunism over the previous two years, he had more than his share of revisionism. A keen believer in “two combines into one”, Burford claimed that it was quite legitimate for Marxism and revisionism to co-exist in the organisation. His stance on Yugoslavia was but one example of his eclecticism. Another was to argue that because the Shah of Iran was supporting the struggle of OPEC for higher oil prices, we, the RCL, should not support the revolutionary struggle inside Iran. Still another was that towards the end of the struggle in the RCL, when he was much more confident in propagating revisionism, he began to argue that Lenin’s views on the necessity for violent revolution were “dogmatic”.

For the RCL’s leadership 1978 was a year of increasingly bitter struggle. The organisation’s party-building strategy, its organisational structure and its mass work all became subjects of debate and struggle. But, fuelled by the increasingly tense international situation, it was social-chauvinism – not just Burford’s social-chauvinism, but also the social-chauvinism that co-existed with proletarian internationalism in the Manifesto – that was the main issue. The principal contradiction in the RCL in 1978 was that between Marxism and revisionism, specifically between Marxism and Burford’s promotion of social-chauvinism. I think it probable but not inevitable that no matter how well the contradiction in the RCL between Marxism and revisionism had been handled it would have led to a split. Burford and a number of other members were ideologically and politically firmly committed to the revisionist tendency.

The ideological and political contradictions in the RCL were not handled well. We were inexperienced leaders of an immature organisation. The much-needed ideological and political debate didn’t take place. Differences on the PC quickly took the form of a personal battle between Burford and me. This personal battle became increasingly antagonistic, obscured the fundamental issues at stake, took up more and more of the leadership’s time and obstructed a principled resolution of ideological and political differences.

Early meetings of the Standing Committee (SC) (a new committee established on my initiative, consisting of three PC members in London (Burford, Dixon and me)) and the PC in 1978 saw the first manifestations of a subordinate but major contradiction in the RCL, that between my splittism and the rest of the leadership, especially those on the PC. I was beginning to reject much of the section of the Manifesto on the international situation, unanimously agreed only six months previously. It was incumbent on me to wage a patient struggle to convince the rest of the PC that I was right on this matter (and, at the time, to be open to the possibility that I was wrong), but I did not. Further, I seriously underestimated the level of ideological and political unity that existed in the organisation and was far too ready to treat differences antagonistically.

A major factor in my splittism was a personal relationship I had developed with Pat Derrington. She had been a member of the KBW in Germany for several years. On returning to Britain, she joined the RCL intent on turning it into a clone of the KBW. If I had strictly observed the RCL’s ultra-centralism, Pat would not have known that I shared some of her criticisms of RCL policy. But I found strict observation incompatible with a close personal relationship. During political discussions it began to be apparent that we had similar views on quite a few matters. Moreover, Pat had similar splittist tendencies to me. I am sure that political discussions with Pat fuelled my existing tendencies to individualism and splittism.

Immediately on his return from leave of absence Burford had begun an ideological and political campaign to persuade the leadership of the RCL that the organisation overestimated the importance of struggling against British imperialism and underestimated the importance of opposing Soviet social-imperialism. At the first meeting of the new SC Burford provocatively claimed that if the Soviet Union were to try to take advantage of the struggle against British imperialism in northern Ireland then it might no longer be possible to support that struggle. In an outburst of anger, I said that his remarks were “monstrous and disgusting” and walked out of the meeting.

The PC met shortly after the first meeting of the Standing Committee. Burford’s arguments concerning the relative importance of struggling against British imperialism and against Soviet social-imperialism were rejected. In the course of his exposition Burford claimed that we didn’t take seriously enough an alleged Soviet threat to Zimbabwe. He would have known that this would raise political hackles. And so it proved. I reacted badly and accused Burford of “dishonesty” on this matter (I cannot now remember precisely why).

Losing the political argument, Burford then attempted to buttress his position by absurdly demanding that he should be the subject of a cult of the individual. The PC rejected this demand. He then argued that he should be named as the leader of the organisation. In response to these rather obvious political manoeuvres, I opportunistically argued that I too should be named. Burford objected to this on the grounds that there should be a cult of the individual of only one comrade, not two. But it was agreed that we should both be named.

The question of the ’united face’ of the PC towards the CC now became a vexed question. It was but one aspect of Burford’s use of ultra-centralism to obstruct discussion of the RCL’s line on the international situation. Exasperated by Burford’s insistence that the ’united face’ should be maintained, I submitted a resolution to the April PC that the differences on the PC on the international situation “could not be resolved on the PC” and that the issues involved should be opened up to the whole membership. This would have been premature, at a time when the CC was only just becoming aware of differences on the PC. My resolution was rightly rejected. But the PC readily agreed – with only Burford opposed – that the united face of the PC should be abolished.

After the united face of the PC was lifted, I initiated a CC discussion on the international class struggle. I argued that the Manifesto underestimated the importance of fighting British imperialism. I did not however criticise the Theory of the Three Worlds as I still believed that this was a correct theory. A resolution stating that the RCL had underestimated the importance of fighting British imperialism gained overwhelming support. Only Burford and one other voted against. An article (“Proletarian Internationalism and the Duties of British Communists”) by me based on the CC resolution was published in Revolution in June 1978. Out of the CC discussion came a decision to oppose British imperialism in practice by supporting the national liberation war in Zimbabwe. A campaign to raise money to send a landrover to Zanu was started and successfully completed. Among other activities, a representative of Zanu and I went on a national speaking tour.

One matter that aroused Burford’s ire – because it had obvious implications for the way the RCL treated British imperialism – was the RCL’s response to imperialist interventions in Zaire in May 1978. France and Belgium, both ’second world’ countries in Three Worlds parlance, intervened there in response to Soviet-Cuban backed aggression by mercenaries. France and Belgium were of course, like Britain, members of NATO, the military wing of the US-led bloc of western imperialist powers. The intervention was plainly carried out as part of that bloc’s contention with Soviet social-imperialism.

I drafted a SC resolution (carried 2 to 1 with Burford opposing) and wrote an article for the League’s monthly paper Class Struggle on the situation in Zaire. Both the SC resolution and the Class Struggle article were quite clear that from an international perspective the main issue was Soviet and Cuban aggression, and denounced this. But both also took the stance – crucial for us as communists in a ’second world’ country – that all the imperialists involved should be opposed. This was in conformity with the fundamental principle that for communists in imperialist countries the main enemy is “at home”. It was not in conformity with the Three Worlds Theory which held that ’second world’ countries should unite with ’third world’ countries such as Zaire against the ’first world’ countries, the United States and the Soviet Union.

Clearly, opinion on the CC was moving to the left. Probably not co-incidentally, Burford made organisational moves against me shortly after the SC passed the Zaire resolution. Two weeks prior to the June CC he demanded at the PC that I be removed from the post of Secretary. The PC rejected his demand. He demanded not only that I should be sacked but also that that the rank-and-file should be told only the general and not the specific reasons for my removal, i.e., not told of the political issues involved, Zaire, for instance. This was a particularly crass manifestation of ultra-centralism. Burford was concerned that the more open a discussion, the more likely it was that his line would be defeated. On more than one occasion he argued that open discussion would increase the likelihood of “emotional” decisions, i.e., shifts to the left on the matter of fighting British imperialism. On this aspect of ultra-centralism, Burford prevailed. Prior to the expulsion of myself and three others (the ’Anti-League Faction’) from the RCL in early 1979 the serious differences among the leadership were concealed from the rank-and-file.

Unreconciled to his defeat at the PC, at the June CC Burford escalated his campaign to isolate me by claiming that I had been plotting to “seize power” in the RCL. I insisted that the CC minute that they did not accept this claim. Only Burford and one other (the same one who had voted against the CC resolution on British imperialism) voted against.

In the late summer the internationalist tide on the CC began to recede. The August issue of Class Struggle published, in connection with a joint RCL/CWM demonstration on the tenth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, an article calling for increased military preparedness against the Soviet Union. True, this was the line of the Manifesto. But the article was so imbued with the spirit of social-chauvinism and my criticism of it met with so much complacency by the majority of the PC (by now enlarged with members who Burford expected would support him), that I reacted by arguing that I now considered myself justified in breaching democratic-centralism by criticising the article outside the CC. I didn’t, whether because I decided it would have been splittist or because it would have been tactically unwise, I cannot now remember.

During the September and October PC meetings Burford intensified his campaign against fighting British imperialism in propaganda and practice by arguing that the Zimbabwe campaign had been “diversionary” and that solidarity work with Zimbabwe should soon be ended. This at the very time that he had initiated discussions on how better to oppose Soviet-social-imperialism. In response, I called him “a traitor to the working class”. I compounded this splittism by refusing to withdraw the accusation.

Burford’s line on the international situation was objectively social-chauvinist, but perhaps not subjectively so. Burford had led the struggle against the right opportunist line of the London and Coventry groups of the CFB on social-democracy and had played a major part in the struggle against Coventry’s right opportunist line on nationalisation. It was therefore at best premature to call him a “traitor”. It was also a foolish political error: he was able to use it to isolate me and bolster social-chauvinism. Burford took the matter to the November CC, which instructed me to withdraw the accusation and to make a written self-criticism. I refused.

Deeming my splittist errors to be a much more serious matter than Burford’s promotion of social-chauvinism, the CC then accepted his demand that I be removed from the post of Secretary and from the PC (but not from the CC). On Burford’s insistence, I was not allowed to explain why I had called him a “traitor to the working class.” Nor were the rank-and-file, again on Burford’s insistence, to be told why. No doubt the members of the CC were quite sincere that this was appropriate leadership. But it was quite extraordinary for the members of a political organisation, or at least of a Marxist-Leninist organisation, not to be informed of the specific political reasons for the sacking of its Secretary.

Following the CC meeting I reluctantly formed a faction with Pat Derrington. It is hard to recall now quite why. My personal relationship with Pat was undoubtedly a major factor. When she realised, soon after joining the League, that only after a lengthy struggle would it be possible, if at all, to turn the RCL into a version of the KBW, she argued that as we had similar criticisms of the line of the RCL on the international situation, she and I should form a faction. But until October I had refused to do so. I think it likely that I would have made a self-criticism had it not been for the influence of Pat, who strongly argued that I should not.

But this was not the only, probably not even the main, factor at play. Despite the fact that the PC and CC had opposed both Burford’s attempts to move the organisation to the right and his early attempts to isolate me, I took the instruction to withdraw my accusation against him as evidence that that they were supporting Burford on the question of Zimbabwe. I am sure that most of them were not. I am sure too that I and the rest of the soon to be formed ’Anti-League Faction’ had mechanically transferred Mao’s theory that in China the bourgeoisie was “right inside the Communist Party” to the very different conditions of Britain. We treated as class enemies people making what we regarded as serious ideological and political errors. Early in 1979 we claimed that the “bourgeoisie has seized power on the Political Committee.”

Burford took full advantage of my splittism by gaining the support of the CC at its December meeting for an openly social-chauvinist resolution, ironically entitled “proletarian internationalism”. The CC adopted his original formulation on the international united front (that the target should be “superpower hegemonism” not “imperialism, especially the hegemonism of the two superpowers”). It claimed that British imperialism should be fought only “in the course of the struggle against the two superpowers” and that an allegedly just “struggle for British national independence” should be “Britain’s main contribution” to the international united front. (But Burford’s proposal that the RCL should approach the Young Conservatives with a view to jointly opposing appeasement of Soviet social-imperialism was rejected).

Immediately prior to the December PC Phil Dixon had suddenly announced that he agreed with my general ideological and political stance and my accusation against Burford. The ’Anti-League Faction’ (Dixon, Pat, myself and one other) was then formed. It sent to the CC (to the CC only, not to the whole organisation) a long document comprehensively criticising Burford, the Manifesto and the practice of the organisation. The Bourgeoisie has Seized Power on the Political Committee made many correct ideological and political criticisms of the RCL’s Manifesto and leadership, but it was a thoroughly splittist document, written in a thoroughly sectarian style. It also contained a fair amount of subjectivism regarding the state of the objective class struggle and what the RCL could realistically accomplish. Moreover, our criticism of the RCL’s growing social-chauvinism was gravely hampered by our failure to attack the Theory of the Three Worlds (Dixon had suddenly announced that it was a revisionist theory, while Pat Derrington and I still upheld it).

At the December PC Dixon was removed from the PC (just as when I was removed from the post of Secretary, the reasons for his removal were concealed from the branches). I was informed that I could remain on the CC only if I struggled in an “orderly manner”. But the faction then circulated another factional document (The Two-Line Struggle in the RCLB is a Struggle between Marxism and Revisionism) to the entire organisation. This was of course far too late to have any impact. Furthermore, such factionalism must have been self-defeating. We were denouncing the majority of a trusted leadership, elected a mere eighteen months previously, on the basis of a political platform which the majority of the membership had only just become aware of. We were then all expelled.

After the expulsions the CC circulated the membership with documents contending that the principal issue leading up to the expulsions had been democratic-centralism. Had it? Or had it been Burford’s attempts to lead the organisation into a morass of social-chauvinism? Overall and objectively, that had been the main problem. Democratic-centralism had certainly been a major issue, but not in the way the CC meant: the fetish the RCL had made of democratic-centralism and its resultant institutional ultra-centralism had led to the containment of the ideological and political struggle within a very narrow circle.

But I have no doubt that I fought, certainly from October, in such a way that Burford’s social-chauvinist project was obscured. Objectively, I aided his project. Burford could claim that my splittism and my criticisms of the Manifesto were complementary. My failure to recognise the revisionist essence of the Three Worlds Theory helped Burford to promote social-chauvinism. At the start of the struggle in the RCL I had been closer to the centre of ideological and political gravity of the organisation than had Burford. It is significant then that in the end the only people I could unite with were the other members of the ’Anti-League Faction’, all of whom were looking for a ticket out of the RCL (two of them were looking for a ticket out of the movement).

Despite these qualifications, objectively the CC had capitulated to Burford’s social-chauvinism. In documents circulated to the whole organisation just before and just after the expulsions, Burford spelt out in the name of the CC the full implications of the changed formulation. Henceforth the main thrust of the RCL’s propaganda and practice on the class struggle internationally was to be against Soviet social-imperialism. Implicitly, the struggle against British imperialism was to be downplayed.

I don’t doubt that the majority of the CC subjectively regarded British imperialism as the main enemy, but objectively they were now members of an organisation which regarded Soviet social-imperialism as the main enemy. This rapidly became clear after the expulsions. The issue of Zaire illustrates Burford’s new confidence in promoting social-chauvinism and the perverted version of proletarian internationalism now upheld by the RCL. For it, the main enemy was not at home but in Moscow. When the tide on the CC in the Spring and early Summer of 1978 had clearly been against social-chauvinism, Burford had presumably thought it tactically unwise to seriously oppose the Zaire resolution at the CC, for he did not. But now he made Zaire the focus of an ideological campaign, though a more obvious candidate was Zimbabwe. Probably Burford calculated that it would be counter-productive to use Zimbabwe to promote his social-chauvinism: many members of the RCL had an emotional commitment to supporting the national liberation war in Zimbabwe.

During the rectification campaign which followed the expulsions, the decisions taken on Zaire were said to “epitomise” the alleged ultra-leftism of the faction. It was probably true, as the RCL’s leadership claimed, that at the time of the interventions Soviet social-imperialism had been the main enemy of Zaire. It did not follow that it had therefore been “idealist nonsense” to oppose the Franco-Belgian intervention. In the summer of 1979, in keeping with the RCL’s new orientation on the international situation, the CC withdrew the SC resolution and Class Struggle article on Zaire. Zaire had been a better candidate than Zimbabwe to help obscure the fact that RCL now had a greater commitment to fighting Soviet social-imperialism than British imperialism.

After the expulsions, the four of us formed the short-lived Communist Unity organisation. It published a pamphlet, Exposure and Defeat of the RCLB’s Social Chauvinism is a Major Task in Party-Building, written in the same sectarian style as The Bourgeoisie has Seized Power on the Political Committee. The unity between us was limited to that indicated by the pamphlet’s title. Phil had begun to argue that the CPC had become revisionist. Neither Pat Derrington nor I then agreed with that. Phil was unable to offer a coherent argument to support his view. It soon became apparent that he no longer had any interest in party-building, nor, for that matter, in any political activity. The last time I saw him, sometime in 1980, he announced that Marxism had been devised by the bourgeoisie as a weapon with which to deceive the working class. I don’t know what happened to Phil: as far as I know he played no further part in the movement.

In Autumn 1979 Pat Derrington and I moved to Stockport, which, as part of Greater Manchester, seemed as good a place as any for political work. It also satisfied my emotional needs, after the turmoil of the previous year, to get away from London and to go home. We formed the Stockport Communist Group (SCG). Conditions were not favourable for a small Maoist group. The expulsion of the ’Anti-League Faction’ roughly coincided with the beginning of the terminal decline of the Maoist movement in Britain. The great world-wide rightwards shift which began in the later 1970s, the victory of revisionism in China and the later collapse of the Soviet Union all served to discredit Marxism. The Maoist movement in Britain had never been strong numerically. In the 1980s and 90s the great majority of people attracted to the movement were disaffected petit-bourgeois youth. The SCG was no exception to this trend: we gained some influence in left circles in Manchester, but in the four years of its independent existence recruited only a tiny number of people.

I was demoralised after my expulsion from the RCLB. I spent quite a lot of time brooding over what had happened in that organisation and eventually came to the conclusion that we should apply to be readmitted. I think that I believed that somehow or other a renewed but non-splittist ideological and political struggle could take place. But I cannot imagine that the RCL would have readmitted us at that time. In any case Pat was adamantly opposed. Eventually we agreed to carry on as an independent organisation. But over ten years I had built up a lot of emotional capital in the RCL. The dog returns to its vomit. Three years later I rejoined the RCL.

For over a year Pat effectively led the SCG. For a tiny organisation we very busy. In effect we behaved as though were a branch of the KBW. We completely forgot about party-building. Or it would be more accurate to say that while we had come to the correct conclusion that party-building was, as Lenin put it, “uniting the working class movement and scientific socialism”, we interpreted this to mean that we could build the party locally, through mass work. But in this mass work we ignored an important advance the RCL had made in its understanding of mass work. This was its support for the distinction made by Lenin between the two historical tasks of revolution: on the one hand, rallying the vanguard; and on the other, leading the masses in practical political action.

We published a monthly paper, The Stockport Communist, which we sold outside two factories. We held public meetings. We held a film show of October. We held a street meeting in the centre of Stockport the day after Bobby Sands died. We carried out research on the tax system and held a public meeting on that. We worked in the anti-war movement, which had been revitalised by the New Cold War. We did not gain significant mass influence.

Our view that party-building was “uniting the working class movement and scientific socialism” was an advance on the RCL’s sectarianism, which attempted to rebuild the party in isolation from the masses (during the row over Zimbabwe, Burford had argued that the Zimbabwe campaign was mass work, whereas party-building was uniting the Marxist-Leninist movement). But we had gone to the opposite extreme. Throughout this period we had very little contact with other Marxist-Leninists. We refused to take up the issue of China. We refused to attend the international conference of Marxist-Leninists which produced the Joint Communique of Thirteen Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organisations (a precursor of the Declaration of the RIM).

We began to change direction in the Spring of 1981, influenced by the ideological and political line of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP,USA). After a thorough analysis of what had happened in China over the previous ten years we reluctantly concluded that revisionism had triumphed in China, and overturned our previous support for the Three Worlds Theory. We turned our attention to the other Maoists. But by 1981 the RCLB and the CPB(M-L) were both heading rapidly down the revisionist road. The RCL still supported the Beijing revisionists, while the CPB had switched to supporting the Albanian revisionists. The crackpots of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) (CPE) had also transferred their allegiance to Tirana. The Communist Workers League of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CWLB) was on the verge of dissolution. The Association of Communist Workers (ACW) had never made the transition from anti-revisionism to Maoism. Most of the Maoist circles not absorbed by the RCL had either disintegrated or become inactive. The only organisations still firmly upholding Maoism were the Nottingham Communist Group (NCG), a split from the CPB led by ’Harry Powell’, and ourselves.

We contacted the NCG and over the next two years or so developed quite a high degree of ideological and political unity with them. Collectively we had some achievements. In 1984, for instance, we participated in the second international conference of Marxist-Leninists which led to the founding of the Revolutionary International Movement (RIM) and the publication of its Declaration.

But our main work was on the Marxist-Leninist Programme Commission (MLPC). In 1980 the NCG had published in their journal Red Star an article (“The Marxist-Leninist Movement in Britain”) summing up the history of the Marxist-Leninist movement. The only exception to the NCG’s negative appraisal of the movement and its practice was a party-building initiative of the CWLB. In 1976 this organisation had published Hey It’s Up to Us! Draft Theses, Conclusions and Proposal [of the CWLB] on the Central Question of Party Building, a call to the rest of the movement to collectively study and apply the international experience of party-building. Hey It’s Up to Us! was launched at a well-attended public meeting in London. I and other members of the CFB, then in the process of rejecting federalism, had attended the conference to criticise the CWLB’s proposals as an incorrect federalist party-building strategy. But the main problem with these proposals was not federalism but idealism.

The CWLB claimed that through investigation of the past practice of the international communist movement and contemporary reality a “scientific” programme could be developed. Then a split between “the camp of science and the camp of anti-science” could take place. A programme was certainly needed. But the great historic setbacks of the movement were not due to the lack of a revolutionary programme, a disconnection between objective reality and subjective understanding, a failure to carry out adequate investigation, and thus being in the camp of “anti-science”, but to ideological capitulations to the class enemy. The German Marxists had a very advanced, no doubt very scientific, programme, but that did not prevent the vast majority of them supporting the war effort of ’their’ imperialists in 1914.

Endorsing Hey It’s Up to Us!, the NCG had called for the establishment of a programme commission. Extrapolating from Lenin’s well-known axiom that “without a revolutionary theory there can be revolutionary movement”, the NCG had argued that without a revolutionary programme there could be no revolutionary practice. The absurdity of this position is clear (though it was not then clear to the SCG): it would mean, for instance, that there had been nothing revolutionary in Vietnam solidarity work or in the RCLB’s support for the national liberation struggle in Zimbabwe. But discussions with the NCG convinced us that a programme commission was the way forward. In Build the Party! our two groups issued a call to the rest of the movement to join us in establishing a Marxist-Leninist Programme Commission (MLPC).

We spent six months trying to rally people to the MLPC, which was formally launched at a meeting in Stockport in the Spring of 1982. We succeeded in interesting only the sectarian and dogmatic ACW and a few dilettantes. The ACW split away promptly, once they realised that the rest of us thought that Stalin might have made a few mistakes (one of the tasks of the Commission was to be to sum up the experience of the international communist movement). The dilettantes left once they realised that the rest of us did not think it necessary to exhaustively discuss the history of the First International. The NCG and SCG decided to press on. A few more dilettantes were attracted, but contributed nothing.

By 1983 little had been accomplished. Little progress had been made on our programmatic work. It had never been intended that the commission itself would be engaged in any practice, but the NCG & SCG devoted so much effort to the MLPC that virtually no practical work was done. Build the Party! had argued that the primary reason for the failure of the movement had been a breach between theory and practice. But now our two groups were guilty of such a breach. At a time of intensifying class struggle we were taking time out from that struggle to draft the programme: we rationalised this breach by noting that Marx had spent years in the British Museum rather than participating in the revolutionary struggle.

The SCG began to criticise the underlying assumptions of the MLPC and to propose an alternative way forward. Though we claimed that the “basic stance” of Build the Party! had been correct, we in effect asserted that it had not been. We argued that although a programme was undoubtedly needed to lead the revolutionary struggle, the revolutionary task then actually confronting us was not leading the masses in revolutionary struggle, but rallying the vanguard of the working class and uniting the remaining Marxist-Leninists. We asserted that we already had a substantial body of theory, that it was possible to carry out revolutionary practice. We argued that our two organisations should unite forthwith on the basis of the Joint Communique and that a united organisation should develop the programme through theoretical and practical struggle.

The NCG rejected these proposals. Some organisational adjustments were made to the work of the MLPC and we carried on. Most of the papers produced manifested the scholasticism which might be expected when theory is divorced from practice. A paper on the economic contradictions of capitalism failed to mention the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. A paper by me on the history of the international communist movement correctly identified the Seventh Congress of the Comintern as the source of long-standing opportunist errors in the international communist movement. But, basing its arguments on this paper, the MLPC published The Unholy Alliance: the United Front against Fascism and War. This document (written by me) made many correct criticisms of Comintern policy, but effectively treated the post-1935 Comintern as a counter-revolutionary organisation, rather than as one making serious opportunist errors. Unsurprisingly, it was roundly criticised at the conference which founded the RIM. Accusations of Trotskyism were made.

Probably because of the work I had done on the history of the international communist movement, I was asked to lead the work of the Commission. Little progress was made. By 1984 the MLPC was in crisis. Its members were becoming increasingly detached from reality, illustrated by a proposal by members of both groups that we should found the Party on completion of the programme. The SCG raised again the criticisms we had made a year or so earlier. We further argued that the increasingly acute international tensions made it all the more imperative that we unite and put into practice what we did know. We argued that we should unite on the Declaration of the RIM. We pointed out that in 1919 Lenin had argued that communist parties should be founded on the basis of the Comintern’s ’19 Points’ and that the “logic of the struggle” against the class enemy would help to resolve differences of opinion.

The NCG were unmoved and again rejected our criticisms and proposals. The NCG’s entrenched idealism was demonstrated by its reaction to our insistence that the looming threat of war made it imperative that we unite, that we had more than enough theoretical clarity on the causes of imperialist war, and of the looming third world war in particular, to be able to mount a revolutionary opposition to war. But, the NCG loftily declared, “Even if world war does seem likely”, unity would still be incorrect “unless we had a clear analysis of the causes of the impending war in some detail.” Exasperated by their refusal to change course and seeing little alternative, we set off down another cul-de-sac: we (or rather Pat and I) applied to rejoin the RCLB.

This was gross opportunism. Personal factors again influenced me. A few months earlier we had come into contact with members of the RCL. I had previously worked very closely with these members in the Liverpool branch and in the leadership of the RCL and developed friendship ties with them. I still felt some emotional connection with the RCL. And I had recently developed a relationship with one of these members, JT. I am sure that I was unduly influenced by these factors and by the opportunity to work with the RCL members on such mass work as anti-deportation campaigns and in solidarity with the struggle in northern Ireland. This seemed very attractive after the idealism and isolation of the MLPC. Far more importantly though, the RCL still had the social-chauvinist line on the international situation which we had struggled against five years previously. But, while making clear that I had not changed my mind on that matter, I made a self-criticism for splittism during the struggle in the RCL and persuaded myself (and the RCL) that differences could be ’reserved’.

I was accepted as a candidate member of the RCL in the Winter of 1984/5. I worked on the production of Class Struggle. Pat Derrington (who had not been accepted into membership of the RCL) and I immersed ourselves in Irish solidarity work. Our main activity was working on the Manchester Martyrs Memorial Committee (MMMC), which carried out solidarity work with the Republican movement, including organising every year a demonstration to commemorate the hanging of three Republicans in Manchester in 1867. The MMMC was dominated by various British left organisations, primarily Red Action, the RCL and the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), but pretended that the annual commemoration was organised by Sinn Fein (which usually had one or two members working on the Committee) and the local Irish community, who had little to do with it (in fact many of them would have preferred it did not take place). Class Struggle carried regular articles supporting the struggle of the nationalist community in Ireland, including that of the Provisional IRA. But the RCL’s practical work on Ireland was tailist: it regarded it as a point of principle not to sell or distribute communist literature on this and the other Republican commemorations.

While I initially found working in the RCL congenial, this was only because I ignored, rather than ’reserved’, my differences with it. I soon released that I was profoundly out of sympathy with the fundamental outlook of the RCL. After a year or so I resigned. By then the remaining comrades on the MLPC had dissolved it and founded the Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent (RIC) The SCG’s criticisms of the MLPC had been met to some extent by parking the programmatic work and founding a united organisation. Clearly the work of ’Harry Powell’ rather than the MLPC, RIC published Break the Chains! Manifesto of the Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent. This upheld the idealist stance of the MLPC regarding theory and practice. But in the Spring of 1986, making my differences with the Manifesto clear (all of which were subordinate to what I agreed with), I applied for membership of RIC and was accepted. Pat too applied and was also accepted.

RIC did valuable work in popularising the people’s war in Peru and in marking the tenth anniversary of Mao’s death. But its main practical activity was what it called the Campaign against State Oppression (CASO), an attempt to develop revolutionary consciousness among the proletariat by fighting state oppression. The founding members of RIC had assumed that the CASO work would lead to influence and recruits. It did not. In the Spring of 1987, at a meeting convened to discuss RIC’s practice, it became clear that there was little enthusiasm for the CASO. Members of RIC were drifting away or becoming inactive. I was asked to draft proposals for alternative political work. I did.

I argued that there were two crucial, related and fundamental problems with our practical work. Firstly, we did not accept the distinction between rallying the vanguard and leading the masses. Secondly, in our mass work we made no distinction between advanced workers and the mass of workers. On receipt of my proposals ’Harry Powell’ issued a lengthy denunciation of me, and argued that Pat and I were disruptive and that our differences could not be contained in one organisation.

RIM intervened to support the criticisms I had made of RIC’s practical work and to argue that the differences could and should be resolved within the organisation. I agreed, but ’Harry Powell’ did not. RIM suggested that there should be a meeting of all concerned, members and sympathisers, all to have a vote, to discuss the differences and decide on a solution. If unity could not be reached, then, RIM argued, there should be a friendly split. Attended by a representative of RIM, the meeting duly took place that Summer. After a long but fruitless discussion it was resolved that there should be a friendly split. Immediately after the meeting we founded the Revolutionary Communist Union (RCU).

The main achievement of the short-lived RCU was the publication, in co-operation with supporters of the RIM in London, of the Draft Programme for Revolutionary Communists in Britain. Though we did quite a lot of mass work, as a party-building organisation the RCU never really took off, probably because by then the only firm Maoists were ourselves, RIC and the RIM supporters in London. We sold RIM’s A World to Win. I wrote a couple of articles for it. We continued the Irish solidarity work. We did joint work on Ireland with RIC and the RIM supporters in London, but this was very difficult due to the latter’s individualism and ill-discipline. By now I was the convenor of the MMMC. I was arrested on a commemoration in Birmingham. We attempted to combine party-building with the solidarity work, but were not successful. We withdrew from the MMMC when our argument that we should make it an organisation for British solidarity rather one which simply tailed behind the Republican movement was not accepted.

In 1989 I summed up twenty-odd years of revolutionary activity by concluding that there was no longer a viable Maoist movement and no prospect of revolutionary change in Britain in the foreseeable future. I further concluded that M.N. Roy had been correct in arguing at the Second Congress of the Comintern that only after successful revolutions in the East could there be successful revolutions in the West.

I am aware that these conclusions might have been a rationalisation of a desire to give up the struggle. It was certainly true that most of the members of the RCU no longer had the revolutionary energy necessary to keep up the fight. Rather than stagger on, we decided to dissolve the RCU. That was twenty five years ago. I still think that the fundamental premises of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism are correct and are being vindicated by the crisis which erupted a few years ago. People are stepping forward, will step forward, to fight capital. However, while new forces should be prepared to learn from the experiences of those who have gone before them, it is not likely that lecturing such new forces on where they are going wrong is the way forward. Perhaps they will find new ways of struggling and accomplish what we failed to do.

The fact that we failed does not mean that we were wrong to try. We were propelled into struggle by the historic conjuncture of the 1960s. What did we achieve? We upheld the revolutionary banner of Marxism in opposition to the revisionists, who tried to turn it into a white flag of surrender to the bourgeoisie. We made some advances in Marxist theory. We fought against social-chauvinism and tried, with some success, to build movements in solidarity with national liberation movements, notably that in Vietnam. We failed to build significant support among the working class. We failed to defeat the new wave of revisionism coming from China. It is to be hoped that new revolutionary forces will learn from our successes and from our failures.

I played a greater role than most in these successes and failures. My greatest regret is over the splittism that contributed to the triumph of revisionism in the RCLB. I think that there had been potential for that organisation to become a much more solidly Maoist organisation. If there is one thing to my credit it is that I tried my best, in theory and in practice, to oppose the endemic social-chauvinism of the British left.

Though I have sometimes taken part in practical work since the dissolution of the RCU (in the anti-Iraq war movement for instance), I decided in 1989 that I could best contribute through research and writing. My Class or Nation. Communists, Imperialism and Two World Wars (I.B. Tauris, 2005) is, I think, a useful contribution to summing up the experience of the international communist movement. I am at present working on a book on social-imperialism in Britain, concentrating on the two world wars. I have also commenced work on a history of the Maoist movement in Britain. Such is what I can do.

Neil Redfern, August 2014.