Stockport Communist Group: A Self-criticism

First Published: Red Star, No. 8, October 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The Stockport Communist Group (SCG) has very recently overthrown the liquidationist and sectarian line on party building which had dominated that organisation since its foundation. It has begun a rectification campaign against that line and this article is part of the rectification.

The aim of this article is that Marxist-Leninists in particular and revolutionary minded people in general should learn from our errors as we have recognised them and begun to overcome them in the course of struggle. The article is a contribution to the present attempts of the Nottingham Communist Group (NCG) and the SCG to win over all who can be won for the task of re-building the Communist Movement by means of joint work in a Programme Commission.

In the recent joint call to “Build the Party!” the NCG and the SCG point to the glaring contradiction between the crisis of imperialism, which is objectively favourable to revolution and the subjective state of the communist movement – it is dangerously close to extinction – which is endangering revolution. Both organisations emphasize that it is the task of re-building the communist movement which must be given priority.

Given that imperialist Britain is a class society it is not surprising that our attempts to re-build the communist movement face ideological and political attacks from within our own ranks. The lines of attack can usefully be divided into two. On the one hand the policies put forward by the communists to lead the working class and people have come under attack from within the communist movement – i.e., the revolutionary proposals for such policies have confronted revisionist proposals.” Clearly if the revisionist policies prevail the movement will change and become a revisionist movement. It will then not lead to a Communist Party and to revolution but to a revisionist party in support of the British imperialists. The new international centre of such revisionist policies like the Theory of the Three Worlds is the revisionist Teng/Hua clique in Peking. On the other hand the attempts to re-build the communist movement also face attacks in the form of opportunist ideas about party building itself.

To summarize: the development of the Marxist-Leninist movement has been held back both by revisionist contents – i.e., what political line we put forward to the working class and people and by opportunist methods of party building – i.e., how we build the party. The Stockport Communist Group has succumbed to these revisionist attacks on both scores. Self criticism on some aspects of our revisionist political line has been made in our recent document on China – “China: Mao and the ’Gang of Four’ against the Capitalist Roaders.” The present article concentrates on the other aspect of our opportunism – our previously incorrect line on how to re-build the Communist Party.


Historically the first fundamental error we made regarding party building was to underestimate it and deny its importance.

After splitting from the Revolutionary Communist League of Britain (RCLB) we published a document entitled “Exposure and Defeat of the RCLB’s Social Chauvinism is a Major Task in Party Building”.

In the section of that document entitled “The Party Building Line of the RCLB” we justifiably accused the RCLB of economism and sectarianism. However particularly in our criticism of their sectarianism correct ideas were mixed up with incorrect and liquidationist ideas. Our statement that

It is a hallmark of the RCLB’s sectarianism that we have to consider their “party building line” as a thing in itself

amounts to a denial of the need for a clear cut plan of how to build the party. The implication of our disparaging inverted commas around ”party building line” is that we should merely pursue correct political lines on all specific issues that arise in class struggle and the party will somehow or other build itself. We were scornful of the very idea of going to the trouble of working out a line on party building, and we did not recognise it as a valid topic of investigation.

From the very beginning therefore of the SCG there was, mixed up with our strong rejection of social chauvinism and our firm commitment to the revolutionary line of smashing the imperialist state apparatus, a line which refused to take party building seriously. This was a line which refused to discuss party building as such. This line manifested itself in a willingness to discuss any particular issue of class struggle but not to discuss our organization’s general contribution to the development of class struggle to revolution, i.e., our contribution to party building. This line can be characterised descriptively as myopic.

This liquidationist attitude manifests itself even more clearly where we criticized the RCLB’s statement

Whether or not to form a single leading centre is a major question for the British Marxist-Leninist movement today.

We countered the RCLB’s statement (which we now consider to be correct) with this:

We reply; whether or not to strengthen the state or smash it is a major question: whether to struggle for Britain to leave NATO or stay in it is a major question.

At this point in our text we were counterpoising uniting the Marxist-Leninists against political line. We were saying that we should discuss NATO instead of uniting the Marxist-Leninists. We correctly wrote that “the RCL debunks politics and tries to divert party building from questions of line” but what we were doing in that document and ever since was precisely the opposite error: we were trying to divorce questions of line from party building. And in that publication we documented our intention of concentrating only on questions of line (in the sense of specific policies to lead particular aspects of class struggle} and of boycotting the very topic “party building”.

This attitude to party building was a manifestation of empiricism. We were mesmerized by each specific question of political line and did not subordinate each partial question to the whole. We did not grasp that a correct political line on some specific issues is of no use to the proletariat if it is not subordinated to building the party. We did not grasp that a correct political line on a particular issue is not in its capacity as a political line already a material force for revolution. Lines have to be turned into material forces. And the process which will enable correct political lines to become material forces is party building. It is an objective fact – whether we like it or not – that there is no task at present more important to the British proletariat than party building. And it is an objective fact that inasmuch as the SCG has diverted its energies to other things, it has been wasting its time as far as the interests of the proletariat are concerned.

Our empiricist preoccupation with the specific was a particular form of that general ideological error – metaphysics. Our organisation has from the beginning attached great importance to the fact that it is the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line which decides everything. But we metaphysically misinterpreted this statement to mean:

it is enough if we have a correct political line on a particular aspect of class struggle. This misinterpretation meant that we treated each aspect of class struggle individually and separately and could not relate it to the whole process of preparing for revolution, which at present means party building. This left us with lots of static, isolated lines and without a moving strategy of intervention to promote party building and revolution. We saw these lines as if they lived in a vacuum. We were mesmerized by them and did not relate them to the fact that we, the SCG, held these lines, that other Marxist-Leninists did not share these lines and that the SCG on its own could not possibly take these lines to the whole workingclass movement. We thought that the mere fact that these lines were in our opinion correct was enough. The attitude of some people outside our organisation who discussed our publications with us is significant in this context. They often agreed with our lines on this and that question, but they were utterly dissatisfied with and unmotivated by our perspective as a whole. We may on occasions have done potentially useful work on certain issues in isolation but we had no grasp of our role and our intervention into the whole moving process.


The next document we published was entitled “The Way Forward in Re-Building the Communist Party” and true basic stance we took in it was that the SCG should get on with building the party self-reliantly! This line was in fact liquidationist because it ignored the real tasks of party building, and it stank to high heaven of self opinionated and arrogant circle mentality.

In that publication we documented our intention of in effect boycotting all attempts to unite the Marxist-Leninists or to re-build the communist movement. We intended instead to go to the masses independently. We regarded party building as a process between the SCG and the working class and people of Britain. In this spirit at the end of the document we cast off our former name “Communist Unity” with an explanation which now seems ironic, namely that the name “smacked of sectarianism”! In fact the opposite was true: our reasons for repudiating that name were sectarian and isolationist whereas that name really smacked of taking the concrete task of party building seriously, namely the task of uniting the communists.

We justified our decision to go it alone with the statements that

“there is at present no principled basis for unity in the ML movement, or for putting the struggle to achieve such unity foremost” and “the only unity presently on offer is unity with the mouthpiece of British imperialism in the RCLB.

These statements are obviously not true. In particular the NCG and the Association of Communist workers long ago took up the struggle against the social chauvinism and revisionism of the RCLB. Behind such statements lies nothing but small group mentality. We did not grasp that the unity of all Marxist-Leninists on the basis of one revolutionary programme is much more important than our tiny, isolated approaches to the working class movement. We were so tied up with ourselves that we could not see that it would be worth sacrificing some of our local activities if this enabled us to contribute to the unity of the Marxist-Leninists who could take scientific socialism to the working class movement on a national scale.


After publishing our party building document we added a self critical preface to it which made the correct point that the principal contradiction in party building is between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism. This did not however in any way reverse the liquidationist line of the document.

The main point made in the original introduction to the document was that the task of the moment is to fuse scientific socialism and the working class movement. This was a dogmatic transference of a principally correct statement to the wrong situation. We had correctly grasped the essence of party building. But we did not grasp that each fundamental contradiction goes through various phases of development, and that to grasp the essence alone is not enough. To justify our dogmatism we conjured up a false picture of the present situation, writing:

we also have a Marxist-Leninist movement which understands to varying degrees the necessity for socialist revolution and the transition to communism. The main task of the communists at present therefore is to unite scientific socialism (which they are the bearers of) and the working class movement: and only this process can further the political development and the political organization of the working class.

The above quoted description of the ML movement does not correspond with reality. The NCG analysed the state of the ML movement much more accurately’ when they wrote that “as a conscious, organized revolutionary movement Marxism-Leninism in Britain is in real danger of extinction.” And the conclusion they correctly came to was that at present the ML movement in Britain needs re-building and that that is the process we must concentrate on now in order to further the political development and organization of the working class. Our argument at this point was that the ML movement was doing very well thank you so we could happily concentrate on taking scientific socialism to the workers, i.e., we used complacency about the state of the movement to justify ignoring it. However in our self criticism we made a complete volte-face. There we wrote:

From the point of view of party building, the present Marxist-Leninist movement is, to put it bluntly, a bad job...


Frankly there is at present no principled basis for uniting the ML movement, or for putting the struggle to achieve such unity foremost.

In other words we had moved from complacency about the ML movement to writing it off. In both cases we retained the position that we would not concentrate on struggling to unite the Marxist-Leninists.

Behind this refusal to come to terms with the real ML movement lay dogmatism and idealism.

We were dogmatic in that we wanted to take scientific socialism to the workers immediately, without investigating the conditions that would enable this to be done effectively. We were idealist in that we ignored real ML movement which, when united around a revolutionary programme, would be the organised bearer of scientific socialism on a national scale to the working class movement. It was also quite idealist of us to think that our tiny, local organisation was capable of building the party on its own. Idealism blinded us to the fact that “Inevitably, the members of small, isolated local groups tend to develop a common position on many matters, very often incorrect and inadequate positions but because of their isolation from other comrades with different experiences and knowledge, they are limited in their ability to overcome these errors and develop further” (as the NCG and SCG have written in their Call to “Build the Party”).

Our idealist world outlook undermined any in sight we sometimes showed into the need to direct our attention towards the ML movement. On the one hand we wrote very correctly:

It is a question of struggle against opportunist currents for a revolutionary programme. This struggle must set the ML movement in motion and must result in the formulation of the revolutionary programme.

In the next breath we condemn “those who want to club together, to pool write the programme” and dismiss the idea of a commission as “premature!” The statement about setting the ML movement in motion is reduced to a pious genuflection to the idea of party building if we immediately reject the means which would bring this motion about. All along we obviously cared more about scientific socialism than scientific socialists, but without people to develop and propagate it there can be no scientific socialism. We did not consider how to raise the level of the scientific socialists, i.e., the MLs so that there could come about one national organized body of people to propagate scientific socialism and take it to the masses. We could not be bothered with that painstaking but necessary work. This lack of consideration about how this body would come about is a manifestation of idealism.


In the self critical preface to our party building document we correctly stated that the key link in party building at present is the struggle against revisionism for the programme. However our empiricist world outlook managed to undermine even the clarity reflected in that statement. Instead of organizing the struggle of the revolutionaries against revisionism for the programme we introduced an empiricist method of coming about a programme. We described this method as follows:

The main task which we intend to address ourselves to to concentrate self-reliantly on solving theoretically and practically those questions posed by the objective class struggle and to take the political solutions to these problems to the masses and thereby under take the work of furthering the political development and political organization of the working class. This task can only be accomplished if each communist circle consciously fights against revisionism in its own ranks with the objective of formulating programmatic demands for the practical class struggle.

Here we have obviously renounced the systematic struggle for the programme and declare instead that we will deal with programmatic questions as they turn up in real class struggle! This is a spontaneist attitude to the programme, and it is rubbish! If we do not systematically discuss what a programme is, what it must contain etc., then how will we even recognise which issues of class struggle are actually of a programmatic nature?

At another point in the same document we moved yet further away from the systematic struggle for the programme. We actually contradicted our definition of the main task – the struggle against revisionism for the programme – and blithely stated instead that at present the main thing is “to actually get on with the task of propagating and criticising political lines”. This illustrates how important it is to fight incorrect ideological lines. Although we had formally grasped the importance of the struggle against revisionism for the programme, our empiricism led us to a position which in the final analysis amounted to spontaneously reacting to daily political events.


The crux of this self critical document is that the SCG has not subordinated its activities to the task of re-building the Communist in Britain. This “error” is severe. In the import of this “error” is that it negates the usefulness of any progress we may have made on questions of political line.

In fact the SCG has spent very little of its on contributing to re-building the CP in country. ”What contributions it has made have been half hearty, have not been followed up and have been treated as side-issues or as the activities of individual comrades and not as a conscious effort on the part of the organisation. We have for example published a “Programmatic Statement”, but this happened more or less by chance, and we left it to other Marxist-Leninists to “take it or leave it”.

It is of course not the case that we openly declared our intention of boycotting party building. Or the contrary, subjectively we believed we were contributing to party building. But objectively our attitude to party building was liquidationist. This liquidationist attitude, which reigned until recently in our organisation, was the result of the victory of that line over the revolutionary line.

In the course of struggle the liquidationist line in the SCG has been toppled and the following resolution marks our attempts to defeat this line:


Our present line on party-building is left-opportunist. We have spuriously claimed to be struggling to win the leadership of the masses and to be concentrating on their interests. But because we have ignored the present stage of development of party-building – that of re-building the communist movement – and have attempted to jump straight to a stage of party-building characterized by a re-built communist movement struggling to win the leadership of the working class movement, we have liquidated the task of party-building and thus not served the real interests of the masses. The ideological foundation of these errors was idealism and metaphysics, dogmatism and circle mentality. The intellectual class background of our membership was a major contributory factor to these errors.

We repudiate our past line and affirm the following: The key task in party building now is to organise the systematic struggle in the Marxist-Leninist movement for the programme. The result of this struggle must be a clear split between the Marxist-Leninists re-organized into one new organization on the basis of the programme for the revolution in Britain on the one hand and the revisionists and social chauvinists on the other. The organizational basis of this struggle is a programmatic commission.

Whilst putting to the fore the struggle to re-build the communist movement, we must take part to the best of our ability in the objective class struggle. (Adopted 8.6.1981)