Revisionism and the British Anti-Revisionist Movement

First Published: Marxist-Leninist Quarterly No.3, Winter 1972/73
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain and throughout the world has emerged in the course of a complex struggle with modern revisionism. In each country the situation and the struggle has had many individual features, but there have also been experiences and problems common to all countries. Revisionism has attacked the basis of Marxism-Leninism on such issues as the state, dictatorship of the proletariat, the party and imperialism. On these matters it has successfully diverted, in the short and medium term, parties and movements in many areas of the world. But its most fundamental blow at the world communist movement has been the strangulation of dialectical materialist knowledge and method in the old, now revisionist, parties. Without a knowledge of dialectics party members are unable to engage in political discussion of sufficient depth to unmask revisionism.

It is necessary to discuss the British Marxist-Leninist movement, its problems and course of development in relation both to the particular nature of revisionism in this country, and in relation to the world communist movement. Born in the fight against revisionism the Marxist-Leninist movement was shaped by the nature of that fight, collectively and individually and must be so understood. Revisionism and Marxism-Leninism are engaged in a struggle, not in isolation, but in close connection with the day-to-day class in Britain and throughout the world Thus problems of the development of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain cannot be understood in any depth without an analysis of its historical relationship to revisionism in the world communist movement. At the present stage the central problem of development faced by revolutionaries in Britain is the establishment of a Marxist-Leninist party.


The nucleus of the anti-revisionist movement in Britain emerged in the course of struggle, against the Communist Party of Great Britain. These struggles, confined to a small number, resulted in expulsions and resignations in the early 1960’s. The anti-revisionist movement, on a collective basis, can be said to date only from this time. Why should this be so?

It is a major weakness in the Marxist-Leninist movement that many of the objective reasons for the emergence of modern revisionism have yet to be identified and analysed. Objective and subjective factors were prominent in the development of the struggle in Britain. Although there had been many individual struggles against the revisionist line of the C.P.G.B.[1] – it was not until a polemic developed in the international communist movement that it was possible for groups of anti-revisionists to become established in Britain. The most important single reason why this should be so was the lack of basic philosophical training and practice in the C.P.G.B. membership. Without an ability to apply Marxist dialectics to the current political situation the membership, debased in any case by unselective recruitment, were entirely at the mercy of a leadership that at best was weak and misguided, and at its worst was cynical, corrupt, and opportunistic. Democratic centralism had been transformed into bureaucratic centralism, and discipline into oppression. Lenin’s ’disciplined army of the proletariat’ had effectively become an obstruction to the development of working-class politics. The political awareness and freedom of discussion of the membership simply did not exist as corrective factors.

But the development of this state of affairs in Britain also has an important international context. The revisionist leadership of the C.P.G.B. drew, great authority prestige from their connection with the international communist movement – from their connection with foreign parties engaged in massive, armed struggle and of course, from the connection with the Soviet and east European party leadership. The importance of such prestige as political support was (and is) particularly great in Britain because of the small size and relative political isolation of the C.P.G.B. It is not necessary to outline here and discuss the basis of the enormous prestige enjoyed by the Soviet party and its leadership. Perhaps it is important to remind ourselves that from the time of the establishment of the Soviet State its defence had been the main task and, distinguishing feature of communists throughout the world. Endorsement by such a party was, to most communists, endorsement by living history, by the most powerful symbol of international working-class unity and aspirations. The low ideological state of the C.P.G.B. membership is not of itself sufficient to explain the lack of significant collective resistance to the introduction of the revisionist policies of ’The British Road to Socialism’. Members who opposed, or who had doubts about the correctness of such policies, were faced with the prospect of cutting themselves off not just from the British party, but from the whole world communist movement.[2]

For many members Of the C.P.G.B., open and unwavering support for their party, and through that party, for the Soviet Union was testimony to their political integrity. When bourgeois commentators sneer at the ’slavishness’ of such party members they fail to remember the times. The Soviet Union and its party were a concrete manifestation of the hopes of millions and millions of ordinary working people all over the world. In themselves they might recognise that it had: its warts, but to do so publicly was for them unthinkable. To do was to align oneself with the imperialists, capitalists, social democrats, fascists and feudalists who were all united in their hatred for the Soviet state. Too many renegades and traitors had been warmly received, and had made comfortable livings from anti-communism and anti-Sovietism in this country. Paradoxically, therefore, with the development of the anti-revisionist movement, it was many of the most active and staunch members of the C.P.G.B. who “opposed it most vehemently.”[3]. The tragedy is that their staunchness and integrity had been, manipulated by and capitalised upon by a self-perpetuating leadership concerned with their own power.[4]

If a central strength of the corrupt leadership of the C.P.G.B. had been their endorsement by the seemingly monolithic international communist movement, their position was severely shaken by the polemic in the movement in the late fifties and early sixties. At first muted and indirect, the polemics swiftly became open and specific. Anti-revisionists in Britain now had their political stand endorsed by an important section of the international movement. The subjective conditions long a major obstacle for many had now developed to a point sufficient to permit an open attack on the policies and leadership of the C.P.G.B.[5]


Two important conditions enabled the revisionist leadership of the C.P.G.B. to maintain its position. The low state of knowledge and of practice of materialist-dialectics among party members, and the international endorsement of the leaders and policies of the C.P.G.B. The former condition arose from a variety of factors: the mass party – in particular the wartime and post-war influx of those supporting the stand of the Soviet Union; centralism without democracy in policy making, and the low priority given to ideological clarity as against uncritical mass work, particularly in the labour movement. (There were many other factors which must be documented and analysed fully if we are to learn from our mistakes). The condition of international endorsement is also complex and in need of careful analysis. The chief factor was the role of the Soviet Union as a symbol and distinguishing criterion. Support for the Soviet State, party and leadership, even if given at a relatively formal level, as in the case of the C.P.G.B., was evidently enough to secure admission to the international movement and its support.[6] For many C.P.G.B. members their own and others’ political integrity rested above all on support for their party against all attacks, from whatever quarter, and through the C.P.G.B. support for the Soviet Union.


The issue of Stalin was an important and common first awakening for many anti-revisionists. This was, of course, not accidental. The world outlook of many communists had been based on a defence of Stalin’s role and leadership. The impact of Khrushchev’s ’secret report’ to the twentieth congress of the C.P.S.U. was widespread and diverse. For many it was a shattering of near-religious beliefs and caused them to cut themselves off from all progressive politics. Others accepted the stand of the new Soviet leadership. This group included most of the members and leaderships of communist parties throughout the world. The symbol of Soviet leadership was stronger for many than the symbol of Stalin, whilst others were just uncritical or opportunist baton-followers. Another group rejected the Khrushchev report. Some of this last group stayed in the C.P.G.B., and are a part of the group who now criticise the leadership on its attitude to the Soviet Union, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in particular. For those people Marxism has ossified into a set of absolute precepts. The other part of this group, that rejected Khrushchev’s report, took an anti-revisionist stand and were expelled from or left the C.P.G.B.

The basis of the anti-revisionist position of Stalin was a rejection of Khrushchev’s sweeping international and domestic policies, launched and justified under the pretext of the ’restoration’ of Leninism and ’combating the cult of the personality’. This issue of Stalin is still under consideration in the movement, but what is of interest here is that it was for many the first and easiest to grasp, formulated objection to modern revisionism. Anti-revisionists thus indicated their still close concern with the symbolism of the international communist movement. That system, based as it was on factors such as uncritical loyalty had undoubtedly played a highly, progressive role, but with changing times and conditions had failed to develop and had been transformed into its opposite and had become reactionary. Although, therefore, anti-revisionists had adopted a progressive stance on this matter, a stance critical of modern revisionism, it is indicative of the background; and low state of ideological development that this particular issue, of all issues, was the most significant for many. A section of the anti-revisionist movement has never managed to outgrow this still-subjective stage, which relied on dogma rather than investigation for its support. Indeed dogma and dialectics are still in major conflict in the anti-revisionist movement. Some comrades, right on the content of the particular issue of Stalin, were unable to see that it was not the changing of that content that was the issue between the revisionist and anti-revisionist positions, but the substitution of any dogma (pro-Stalin or anti-Stalin) for dialectics.

This question of Stalin has been cited at some length to make the point that much of the early anti-revisionist position was adopted and supported for subjective reasons. Just as open polemics between the Chinese, Albanian and other parties was a powerful, though subjective support of itself (irrespective of the content of the polemic which was objective support), so also the changing of the hither to existing line on certain matters by the revisionists was of itself thought to be sufficient justification for the anti-revisionist stand. The anti-revisionist movement is transformed into a Marxist-Leninist movement insofar as it progressively recognises and discards subjective reasoning and justification for investigation and argument. Subjective motivation can be, and has been, progressive in the development of the communist movement. In our British conditions it was a necessary condition for development. But unless recognised for what it is and replaced by objective justification of policies it can become a highly reactionary feature, a major obstruction to political advance.

With a partial and subjective understanding many moved to an anti-revisionist position ’on the question of Stalin’. For others, the issue was that of ’peaceful transition’, or the Soviet leaders’ transmutation of the Leninist policy of peaceful co-existence into great power politics. A common feature of many at the time, however, was the inability to see how all these matters of policy were necessarily linked to modern revisionism, and how this, in turn related to economic and social developments in the world at large, and the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in particular. (This last stage of understanding has yet to be substantially dealt with by the international communist movement).

In this situation the position of many anti-revisionists regarding the C.P.G.B. itself was far from clear. Many thought that it was merely a question of policy, and that the C.P.G.B. could be put back on the revolutionary path by changing its policies in an appropriate way. These comrades thus thought that the C.P.G.B. could be transformed from within. They did not see that the C.P.G.B. was rotten through and through, and that its policies, structure and inner-party life were all corruptly and necessarily connected. One of the first internal polemics in the anti-revisionist movement concerned the question of whether the revisionist party could be reformed, or whether it had to be smashed. Given the level of knowledge the now untenable position of some that the C.P.G.B., if it were not for its policies, was still the most progressive party in the country, is nonetheless understandable. A large section of the anti-revisionist movement, even when they saw the need to smash the C.P.G.B. did not fully understand why. They thought that all that was needed was to leave the revisionist party and go into a Marxist-Leninist party, with new slogans, and new leadership, and new allies in the international communist movement. There was no real understanding of the size, of the problem that had to be tackled if the working-class movement in Britain was to advance.


The fetishism of the party, seeing the organisation as an end in itself, and not as a living political body and contribution to the class-struggle, entered into the anti-revisionist movement from the earliest stage. Many who left the C.P.G.B. behind brought with them the political expectations of revisionism. Disturbed by revisionist policies many were equally disturbed by the disunity within, the anti-revisionist movement. They wanted all anti-revisionists to be united as soon as possible into a brand-new party which could then work out correct policies. Many who were vocal opponents of revisionist policies stayed in the C.P.G.B. on the grounds that they would wait until the new party was formed before leaving. There was a failure to take responsibility oneself for the work necessary to build a new party, indeed, no clear concept of a Marxist-Leninist party existed for almost all comrades. There was a hope that leadership would somehow or other emerge. Rumours circulated about divisions on the E.C. of the C.P.G.B., and on the basis of past record this revisionist leader was assessed hopefully against another as a possible future leader of a new party. The lack of confidence in oneself, the failure to realise responsibility may be called ’the man from London attitude’. There was a hope in the various groups that secret moves were under way and that they would soon be told what the new party and new leadership required of them. A man would come from London, or Glasgow, or anywhere but where the group itself was.

Bearing in mind the variety of factors that shaped the political outlook of those who took an anti-revisionist stand in the early sixties, the approach to party building of the Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity was inevitable. The C.D.R.C.U. was a direct response to the subjective needs of a section of the anti-revisionist movement for an instant party, legitimated by international recognition and providing ready-made policies, formulae, and leadership. By the very manner of its origin, by its outlook and aspirations the C.D.R.C.U. could not possibly have made a positive contribution to party building in Britain.[7] Anti-revisionism in name and (for most of those involved) in intent, it brought into the anti-revisionist movement some of the chief features of and incorrect political expectations of organization that characterized the revisionist C.P.G.B.

By 1963 various hitherto isolated individuals and groups adopting an anti-revisionist position had come together for discussions and in an attempt to co-ordinate work. A central issue, as has been mentioned, was whether the C.P.G.B. could be transformed from within or whether a new political party was necessary. Michael McCreery and others later in the C.D.R.C.U. to their credit supported the creation of a new Marxist-Leninist party. But McCreery and his supporters split with those who also supported the building of a Marxist-Leninist party. The basis of the split ostensibly was the timing and means of achieving the new Party. At a meeting in London in the autumn of 1963, McCreery and his supporters presented an ultimatum in the form of a document entitled ’Appeal to all Communists from Members of the C.P.G.B.’ If the others present at the meeting did not sign the document, the McCreery and his supporters would do so, it was stated. This they did, failing to carry with meeting with them. The document was published and, as expected, McCreery and the other signatories were expelled from the C.P.G.B.

The approach of McCreery and his C.D.R.C.U. rested on the premise that if leadership were provided the rank and file anti-revisionists would rally to it. In other words they saw leadership in principally organisational rather than in political terms. Here was an acceptance of the ’man from London’ attitude, and a determination to be that man. But if politics were not seen as the basis of leadership, what was? Specifically, the C.D.R.C.U. sought to erect an edifice that would attract those whose subjective needs were for a new, Marxist-Leninist party, with the ’correct’ slogans and international connections now. The C.D.R.C.U. was in essence a continuation of revisionism in the form of the party fetish, asserting organisation above politics, asserting form above content.

What was needed if the C.D.R.C.U. was to be quickly transformed into a new party? – obviously members. With members and a new organisation, it was reasoned, the correct slogans and tactics could then be worked out. So the central problem was to attract membership. As, the very concept of the C.D.R.C.U. rested on subjective and incorrect analysis, it is hardly surprising that organisation rather than politics were seen as the means of attracting a membership and thus opening the way for future development.


The C.D.R.C.U. was established in November 1963. By February 1964 it published the first issue of its journal Vanguard. Anyone with experience of setting up a new publication must realise that the only task of the C.D.R.C.U. in the intervening period must have been the work necessary to produce this publication. The effort required was considerable, and the numbers involved in the C.D.R.C .U. were small. But the effort was organisational rather than political; a task carried out by a small group of ’leaders’ in an attempt to attract members, rather than an outcome of political building and a response to the needs of political developments which had already taken place.

For a journal to be established on the correct political basis it is not enough that it should attempt to adopt the right slogans. It should be the outcome of the political work of an organisation involved in political struggle. Only in that way can it serve the needs of the struggle. A paper that is not the result of involvement in struggle will be academic, lifeless, and sterile. Lenin’s observation on agitational papers rested on this same reasoning. To found a working-class paper, he said, it was necessary to ”start it not as a business (as usually newspapers are started in capitalist countries), not with big sums of money, not in ordinary and usual manner, but as an economic and political tool of the, masses in their struggle. Either the miners of this district are capable to pay halfpenny daily (for the beginning weekly if you like) for their own daily (or weekly) newspaper (be it very small, if is not important) – or THERE IS NO BEGINNING of the really communist, mass movement in this, part of your country. If the Communist Party of this district cannot collect a few pounds in order to publish small leaflets daily as a beginning of the really proletarian, communist newspaper – if it so, if every miner will not pay a penny for it, then there is not serious, not genuine affiliation to the Third International.”[8]

Lenin’s observations on the building of the mass movement were equally applicable to the building of the anti-revisionist movement. If a paper was to help in the building of that movement it had to reflect the political and organisational level of that movement. Only thus could it help, to resolve the problems of raising political levels and organisational experience. It is necessary for a journal to be involved in the real organisational and political problems of the movement. Such a paper could not be launched as a business, ’bought’ for the movement with a large sum of money. Indeed, insofar as McCreery and his supporters attempted to do this they were acting in a revisionist manner. The press of the C.P.G.B. had long since ceased to reflect the real problems of that organisation, reflecting the political and organizational experiences of members. The revisionist press was supplied as a service to help keep intact the revisionist organisation. This function of the revisionist press was as incorrect as the content of the publications often were. The C.D.R.C.U., wittingly or unwittingly, whilst in much of the content of their journal attempting to adopt an anti-revisionist line, in the method by which they founded it were acting in a revisionist manner. Nor is this surprising. The political experience of all the leading figures involved had been shaped by revisionism, and a long process would be required if they were to ever be able to recognise the revisionist components of their basic political outlook.

Vanguard, the paper of the C.D.R.C.U., rested on the funds of one man, Michael McCreery. McCreery’s private means were the chief resource for the journal, and were also the chief resource for the political and organisational work of the C.D.R.C.U. The journal was lavish in size – sixteen well composited and illustrated pages. The entire resources of all those organisations who today, after ten years of growth and development, describe themselves as Marxist-Leninist, could not produce such a journal as McCreery produced with a literal handful of people.

The first issue of Vanguard serves well to illustrate the political outlook of the C.D.R.C.U. – its inability to ’put politics in command’. The lead article, by McCreery, was entitled “The Way Forward”. In many ways this was a succinct statement of the anti-revisionist position (with the addition of McCreery’s own position on the national question, which led him to call for separate parties for England, Scotland and Wales). But what analysis was there of the historical background and immediate political problems of the anti-revisionist movement? None! Yet without such analyzed how could the various individuals and groups begin the process of emancipating themselves from revisionism and establishing Marxist-Leninist political analysis in Britain? Although in his article McCreery quite rightly attacked the C.P.G.B. for its lack of political education and its suppression of politics, there was no discussion of the impact of this feature of the C.P.G.B. on the anti-revisionist movement.

This shows clearly that McCreery was objectively in the same camp as those who sought to reform the revisionist G.P.G.B., and did not see that revisionism characterised and arose from the structure and methods of work, linked indissolubly with the policies. They put organisational and form above politics and content. McCreery and his supporters did exactly the same thing. The central problem to them was a new form of organisation. Little real attention was paid to content, including the historical background of the movement. There was no recognition that organisation had to be treated politically, and as subordinate to politics. When dealing with how the new party should differ from the old revisionist party, the only organisational difference that McCreery mentioned was the re-establishment of factory branches as the main form of organisation. Yet the abolition of factory branches as the main form of organisation in the C.P.G.B. was not the cause of revisionism, just as the adoption of incorrect analyses and slogans were not the cause of revisionism. Failure to analyse the rise of revisionism from within the processes of the C.P.G.B. itself, and within its international context, showed that McCreery, whatever his subjective motivation, however much he condemned the C.P.G.B. teaching on the state, its line on China, etc., could not free himself from revisionist ideology.

Other features of, the first issue of Vanguard also reflected its incorrect basis. With the objective of recruiting support, and copying the C.P.G.B.’s use of international endorsement as a means of securing a position of leadership, great use was made of international greetings. A message from Enver Hoxha was printed – “I wish you success in your very noble struggle against imperialism and modern revisionism for the unity of Marxist-Leninist Communists in your country, for the triumph of peace, freedom, democracy and socialism in the world.” There is nothing exceptional in that letter, and British anti-revisionists welcomed the political support given by the Albanian Party of Labour. What was incorrect was the context of the letter and the way in which it was used. This letter was being employed, not as a support, to the British anti-revisionist movement’ as a whole, but to a tiny part of it – the C.D.R.C.U. This letter was not featured prominently in Vanguard for its political significance, but for its organisational significance. This as much an appeal to the subjective, revisionist conditioned feelings of the anti-revisionist movement as was any use of endorsement from abroad by the revisionist C.P.G.B. leadership. The use of this letter, seen in the context of the objective of publication, was a clear revisionist act. Likewise was the publication of the second international greeting from Jacques Grippa, at that time leader of a substantial breakaway from the Belgian C.P., known as the Brussels Federation of the Belgian Communist Party.[9].

Other contents of Vanguard also reflected the obviously intended desire to create an impression of size and widespread support. There were unsigned and differently signed articles written by McCreery and his associates, displayed in order to present an exaggerated picture of the number of people involved. Three full pages of letters had been written mainly by individuals in the small group associated with McCreery, in an attempt to create an impression of countryside support. There were advertisements for Albanian and other publications, agreeable enough in themselves, but in this context actually drawing attention to international connections and support.

By issue No. 9 (October 1964) a Central Committee complete with a Secretariat was announced. The function of the secretariat was to “determine the general line and policies of the C.D.R.C.U.” So just as McCreery had provided an ’instant journal’ for his organisation, now he was going to provide politics – and all without the pain of political discussion, investigation and learning by the membership. For years the bulk of the C.P.G.B. membership had taken their politics painlessly from the provided party journals, and McCreery and his associates followed the same method of work – of course the politics given to the membership would be ’anti-revisionist’ politics! Bogus regional committees for Scotland, Wales, Lancashire and Yorkshire were said to have supported the formation of the ’Central Committee’ and the ’Secretariat’.

In March 1965 Vanguard reported McCreery ill. The very next issue departed from monthly publication, and was reduced in size and quality of production. McCreery died in April 1965. Only four regularly published editions followed his death. (Three bi-monthlies and a monthly.) . Regular production ceased in October 1965. McCreery’s money and other resources were no longer available, and the illusion had collapsed.

There was some half-hearted but revealing self-criticism in the August/September issue – “Initially some comrades expected overnight fireworks and a dramatic build-up of Marxist-Leninist forces - such optimism led to impatience and disillusion when progress was gradual...” ’There was admission, for the first time, that only a small nucleus had been involved and that the turnover of members of that tiny nucleus had been great. The grand-sounding ’Central Committee’ and ’Secretariat’ were exposed as the sham they had always been. The last regular issue, in October 1965 gave a list of achievements of the previous ten months. The achievements included what today would be considered a derisory increase (for a national organisation) in the circulation of their journal, and a small number of leaflets circulated. There was also the statement that “we have conducted several discussions with anti-revisionist groups and individuals, both within and outside the C.P.G.B., with a perspective of united action” (p.16). This was the closest that Vanguard ever came to even a mention of the rest of the anti-revisionist movement. [10]

The C.D.R.C.U. declined to a rump with a constantly changing membership. Shorn of some of its delusions of grandeur, it made an appearance at a meeting of the Joint Committee of Communists in early 1969.[11] At that meeting it claimed that it saw its task not as the other groups did, in engaging in practical local ’Work,’ and building theory through analysis and education, but rather as providing theory for the movement as a whole! Once an obstacle to the development of a genuine Marxist-Leninist movement the C.D.R.C.U. now exists only as a negative example.


Modern revisionism cannot be understood merely in terms of incorrect and disruptive policies. Such a limited view led some in the early anti-revisionist movement to believe that the problem of development consisted merely of changing policies or of establishing a new organisation which could then pursue correct policies. In fact the development of modern revisionism must be understood in terms of the relationship between policy, party structure and methods of work. The nature of the revisionist party and its polices are not accidental but are necessarily linked. No revisionist party can be will to correct Marxist-Leninist policies in the long term. Revisionism must first be exposed and then routed in the smashing of revisionist parties and the construction of new Marxist-Leninist organisations.

An essential characteristic of the anti-revisionist movement is that it was called into being by the contradictions within the national and international revisionist movement. At one level it is a truism, but important all the same, to say that the anti-revisionist movement could not exist without the distortions of revisionism. There are however important implications here for the anti-revisionist movement. Anti-revisionists were themselves shaped by revisionism in their political expectations and organisational experience. For the anti-revisionist movement to develop it must recognise this, and by such recognition and continual analysis seek to become conscious of the full nature of revisionism in all political activity and organisation. Such organisation as the anti-revisionist movement constructs must have the objective of building consciousness, and must be in a form appropriate to the development of that consciousness and be capable of resolving the problems involved.

The C.P.G.B. had, at the time of the emergence of the anti-revisionist movement, long since made a fetish of the party. That is to say, they had transformed Lenin’s requirements of democracy and centralism into political direction of: the membership of the leading group.

An attack on the policies of the leading group in the C.P.G.B. was portrayed as an attack on the party, and through the party on the entire international communist movement. Loyalty to the organisation was placed higher than loyalty to principled political analysis and debate. The revisionist party provided newspapers, journals, pamphlets and so forth. A great part of the function of these publications was simply the maintenance of the revisionist organisation, and they were provided rather than an outcome of inner party political life and struggle. With low levels of political training and incorrect expectations of party organisations, many members saw loyalty to the organisation as the criterion by which friends could be distinguished from enemies. International endorsement was a central support for the revisionist leadership and a central deterrent for would be critics. Overall, it can be said that it was (and is) characteristic of the C.P.G.B. that organisation has primacy over politics, and that as an organisation it coheres on the basis of subjective rather than objective thought.

The C.D.R.C.U. continued the revisionist-practice of placing organisation above politics, and met, therefore, the subjective needs of many anti-revisionists for a Marxist-Leninist organisation leading to a party, which once established, they thought, would be capable of putting forward correct analyses. The need, for them, was to have an organisation which would follow correct policies, rather than an attempt to discover the basis of revisionism, and thus be able effectively to combat it. In their subjective anxiety for a new party, in their desire to quickly overcome the divisions in the anti-revisionist ranks, these people failed to see that anti-revisionists had first consciously to emancipate their own-political organisations and politics from revisionism. Without this process of examination, often carried on through debate and polemic, politics could not be put in command, and any new ’Marxist-Leninist’ organisation would in essense be as corrupt and revisionist in essence as the C.P.G.B.

The techniques of revisionism of relying on a prominent display of their international connections, of providing an organisational facade to mask the sterility of their politics were continued by the C.D.R.C.U. which, although it may never had made it explicit, indeed it may not have been part of its consciousness, followed the same political line of the C.P.G.B. with respect to organisation and therefore failed to develop. Any organisation constituted on the basis of the C.D.R.C.U. would similarly have failed to develop into a Marxist-Leninist organisation.

It can be seen that, emerging as it does from the development of revisionism, the anti-revisionist movement develops insofar as it recognises and changes the revisionism in its own politics. With a predominantly subjective basis in its early stages, it is necessary for the anti-revisionist movement to progress increasingly to political consciousness and objective direction of work. To the extent that this progress from the subjective to the objective takes place the anti-revisionist movement develops, on a quantitative and qualitative basis, into a Marxist-Leninist movement. Progress from the subjective to the objective opens more and more issues and problems to assessment by revolutionary dialectics, and places the party increasingly in charge of its own fate, an effective revolutionary weapon of the working class, not simply responding to historical change but developing that change itself.


The next significant attempt working by revisionist methods to establish a national Marxist-Leninist organization was the launching of The Marxist in November 1966. The journal was initiated and supported by a group of wealthy businessmen, largely engaged in trade with China. The previous year some of these businessmen had financed the production and distribution of a series of articles attacking revisionist policies in the period preceding the 1965 Congress of the C.P.G.B.

The Marxist, like the C.D.R.C.U. was in no way the outcome of political activity in the Marxist-Leninist groups up and down the country. It was provided complete and intact without the support or participation of any group. The amount of money involved was large. The journal was expensively produced. Wages and accommodation for a full-time worker, Mike Faulkner, were provided for almost a year.[12] Ownership was rested in a 100 limited company, Oasis Publishing Co. Ltd., with a registered office at Borough High Street, London S.E.1. Two shares in the company were taken up, one by a writer, and the other by an engineering worker. Jim Kean, the secretary, had no share holding.

The venture was based on a mechanical interpretation and application of Lenin’s What is to be Done? In this article Lenin advocated the setting up of an all-Russian political journal which would serve to bring together the Marxist groups all over Russia. The articles would unite the groups politically, whilst distribution, of the journal would bring about greater organisational cohesion. Obviously the problems of the Russian revolutionary movement in 1902 and the problems of the anti-revisionist movement in Britain over sixty year later could, at the least, well be different, but the Marxist group undertook no investigation of the problems, ideological, political and organisational, of the anti-revisionist movement. Even a cursory investigation of the nature and practice of British revisionism would have revealed to those concerned their incorrect approach.

With no investigation, an attempt was made which, objectively, would have destroyed the whole basis of the anti-revisionist movement in Britain, by destroying the groups. The tactics of the Marxist organisation were to set up Marxist clubs all over the country. These clubs would (a) support the Marxist organisationally, (b) discus articles appearing in the Marxist suggest new articles, (c) arrange educational syllabi, (d) engage in political activities, appropriate to members of the group.[13] Those concerned with the Marxist used whatever contact they had in anti-revisionist groups, and also visited various parts of the country to attempt to further their ends. In most cases the tactics were to bypass existing groups and approach individual members directly. In some instance they succeeded in splitting and destroying groups.

This organisation had little overall impact. It lacked any real base, and was unable to contribute significantly to the development of the politics of most of the anti-revisionist group then existing. The fact that it had been launched by wealthy businessmen was uncovered and widely publicised, and though this fact in itself was not supported by any political analysis and a contrary indication of the correct path of development, it caused severe damage to the Marxist organisation and its ambitions. Politically and organisationally all it could offer was the mere vehicle of a journal, whose control and conditions of establishment were viewed with increasing suspicion on a subjective basis alone by most active groups. So far as is known, the chief revisionist feature of this organisation was its attempt to impose a facade without political investigation. It did not achieve the international connections of the C.D.R.C.U.

By August 1967 contradictions within the Marxist group had come to a head. It was decided on a subjective basis and without breaking out of the original erroneous concept completely, to put the journal more at the service of the groups.

However, the basis of work of this organisation still rested on an incorrect attitude towards the groups, and was still not based on any analysis of the development of the anti-revisionist movement. The journal was the legal property of one or two people and there was no real and honest attempt to involve groups in its future. It was seen as a provided service.

Not springing from the day-to-day political work and problems of groups, the Marxist, which at best involved only a few groups and a tiny part of the anti-revisionist movement, became less and less relevant. With sometimes notable exceptions, the majority of the articles were selected on an available basis, i.e. whatever suitable material presented, itself. The journal more and more became an end in itself rather than a political means. Organisation, in the true revisionist tradition, was placed totally in command of polities, and subjectivism took the place of attempting correct political analysis.

Politically and organisationally quite isolated, this journal now appears irregularly and is the property of the Brent Industrial Group, whose political work is characterised by an aversion to theory, by sectarianism and, as would-be expected, a spontaneist outlook.[14] As for the erstwhile founders and supporters of the journal who were not involved in groups, some have ceased to be politically active, others now work in groups, whilst a significant number joined the next opportunistic organisation that looked viable and presented itself.


The origins and development of the C.P.B.(M.-L.) combine all the features of its true forerunners, the C.D.R.C.U. and the Marxist. This organisation, however, has survived for longer as an obstacle to the development of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain than did its predecessors. It will be dealt with in some detail here, and in a future article. The Communist Federation of Britain (M-L) regards the political exposure and destruction of this revisionist organisation as an important task in the building of a genuine Marxist-Leninist party.

The C.P.B. (M-L) was founded by and to a very great extent depended upon one man, Reg Birch. Birch had a long and active experience as member of the C.P.G.B., eventually becoming a member of the Executive Committee. His connection with the C P.G.B. terminated in 1967 when he was expelled for being in correspondence with the leader of a Marxist-Leninist party abroad. A full-time official in the A.E.U., Birch’s work for the Revisionist C.P.G.B. has been in the industrial field. He had been the leading figure in the building up of an alliance in the A.E.U. to contest for union positions and influence in North London, and nationally. He was the C.P.G.B. and ’left’ sponsored candidate for the presidency of the A.E.U. for a number of years.

Birch was involved, in a peripheral manner, with the Marxist organisation, even whilst-still a member of the C.P.G.B. Outside of this and a section of the A.E.U. he had no known record as an anti-revisionist, though it is only fair to add that he had been known to have had rows whilst a member of the C.P.G.B. E.C. But as the anti-revisionist movement was never involved in these rows they cannot be considered as part of an anti-revisionist struggle. Birch, like many others who have since repudiated their past, is on record as supporting the revisionist ’British Road to Socialism’ and, as recently recorded, revisionist campaigns to increase production in the post-war period.[15] In the absence of any public record as an anti-revisionist, it has been argued in his favour that his break with the C.P.G.B. damaged his career prospects in the A.E.U, as it deprived him of the support of C.P.G.B. endorsement for the presidential elections in 1968. But this may well have been why he was exposed in impermissible activities by the C.P.G.B. leadership, and then expelled, rather than taking an open political and organisational stand against revisionism in the ranks of an anti-revisionist movement that had at the time of his expulsion, existed for at least seven years. It is significant that Birch at this time refused to make any public political statement.

However much scepticism there maybe, in retrospect, it must be said that Birch, when first involved with the anti-revisionist movement in 1966/67 had a formidable reputation. He was the first, the only E. C. member of the C.P.G.B. to have taken an implicit anti-revisionist position, by allowing his name to be associated with the Marxist. Marxist-Leninists have always recognised the powerful role that leadership can play, and before exposing himself as an opportunist in the anti-revisionist movement, many who subsequently became his bitter political opponents hoped that he would play an important part in the development towards a genuine Marxist-Leninist movement.

In August 1967 Birch visited China. Whilst there he had talks, as many had before him, with members of the CP.C. Whilst Birch was still in China, his wife, in collaboration with A.E.U. contacts, arranged a meeting of anti-revisionists which was to take place on his return. There are two important points that should be made concerning the circumstances of this meeting. Firstly the fact that it was announced whilst Birch was still in China. The significance of the CP.C. as a leading force in the international Marxist-Leninist movement was based on an objective achievement and contribution of massive proportions. However, the struggle of the CP.C. also had an important subjective impact on the British anti-revisionist movement. Although the CP.C was not directly involved in the meeting the implication was that Birch had been informed by the CP.C that it supported the immediate formation of a Marxist-Leninist party in Britain and had asked him to act. Secondly, the organisation of the meeting was not done by a group but by individuals. Birch had not been a member of any group active in the anti-revisionist movement. So how could his wife and friends determine whom the invitations to a meeting should go? How did people with no political experience of the anti-revisionist movement recognise the political characteristic of anti-revisionism? This is all aside from the basic problem confronting the largely subjective-based anti-revisionist movement of what revisionism in British conditions actually was.

It was in this manner that there was collected together a group of initially 44 people at the Conway Hall on 12th September 1967. The meeting started at 11.00 am. Birch, now opened, made a short speech that contained much that can now be seen to be the revisionism and opportunism of his position. He first of all asked the meeting to forego the election of a chairman. He said that the ‘I’ used in the circular which had convened this meeting did not mean that his standing was high or that his knowledge was superior. Referring to the motley composition of his audience – some people from groups, many just individuals, whilst some important groups had never been notified at the meeting at all – he said that the blame was all his; he never carried names or addresses for security reasons. This was his entire explanation for the calling of a meeting that did not, organisationally or politically, reflect the composition of the anti-revisionist movement, but which would, nevertheless, it emerged, take a decision that was of great importance for the future of the anti-revisionist movement. One of the attributes required of a full-time union officials is organisational ability, and Birch is noted as a capable employee of his union. His total experience of meetings of all kinds is immense, so that many attending that first meeting found it hard to accept his explanation, especially as it emerged that whereas most groups that were represented had one or possibly two people there, Birch, in his ’random’ invitations, had secured a very substantial attendance by his friends and supporters, who made appropriate contributions at appropriate times.

Birch next informed the meeting that contrary to belief (and the rumours that and begun to circulate during the previous months) there was no Marxist-Leninist group in the A.E.U. Some of the union group which had worked together was still members of the C.P.G.B., and would not affiliate to any groups, in London or elsewhere. (He did not explain in any terms why this should be so). It was inevitable, Birch said, that people would adhere to a Marxist-Leninist position following the 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U. The fragmented nature of the Marxist-Leninist groups could not be avoided. However, he said, we cannot excuse the present position in which there is no revolutionary party in Britain. Birch’s speech up to this point showed that he regarded the existence of groups as unhelpful to the development of a Marxist-Leninist movement. He showed no awareness of the fact that they were, in British conditions at least, the anti-revisionist movement, and that their polemics and analyses represented, for better or for worse, the entire attack that had been made, with Marxist-Leninist intent, upon the revisionist C.P.G.B.

Birch then turned to the future. If ’we’ continued with the development of groupings without a centre there would be no progress towards a party. Groupings would simply proliferate. Positions would come to be drawn, people would arrive at different stages of development, and various people would set up to be a party. We need a party, but how do we go about it? Once again, despite the highly ironical reference to “people who would simply set up a party”, Birch showed that he saw the groups and their political activities in a negative light. Yet from a Marxist-Leninist point of view, indeed against the whole history of Marxism, possibly the most important contribution that the groups were making was the drawing up of positions. Without the drawing of clear political lines there was (and is) simply no future for the revolutionary movement in Britain. Birch quite clearly revealed that his perspective for development did not for one moment begin from investigation, and was in fact based upon the revisionist priority of organisation over politics.

More irony and double-talk followed. Should we use Birch’s standing to set up a party, asked the man himself, and then replied with a firm ’No’! We must form a provisional committee on which there would be representation. This committee should arrive at a constitution and a programme. All those present in the room, said Birch, must have something in common, otherwise they would not be there. But in any case, he at the end of the day would still go ahead. (Author’s emphasis). He hoped that the discussion would not centre around the way in which the meeting had been called. Birch had used this standing to call that very meeting, and his standing was to be the main, indeed sole, support of the organisation that came out of the meeting, so his statement of intent was a straightforward lie, designed to anticipate criticisms. The phrase “on which there would be representation” later acquired significance, and its use shows that even at an early stage Birch knew exactly what he was doing. When his ’Provisional Committee’ was formed, Birch and his supporters made on-the-spot nominations. Individuals were nominated on exactly the same basis as representatives of groups. In this way, just as he had packed the meeting itself, Birch and his supporters packed the Provisional Committee (a technique long used by the revisionist C.P.G.B. in union and other broad-front work). The only real politics that mattered in this situation were thus suppressed. The statement that all those who were in the room must have something in common is a tautology and platitude, yet this was Birch’s only reference to the divisions in the anti-revisionist movement. Historically, this was the only justification he put forward for his actions. But whatever pretences adhered to the tautology, he brushed aside when he stated that in any case, whatever was decided he was going ahead at the end of the day. Birch’s standing would be used and this packed meeting was no more than a figleaf.

However, to understand why Birch’s erroneous and revisionist politics succeeded at that meeting (in the sense that they were not fully exposed) it is necessary to point out that much of the political understanding of the Communist Federation of Britain (M-L) that exists today actually grew out of the experience of Birch’s early tactics and subsequent organisation. Comrades attending the meeting were not, at that time, fully capable of explaining why groups were essential at that stage if the movement was to develop. Comrades spoke of the negative experience of McCreery and the C.D.R.C.U., and the Marxist (indeed Birch himself was at some pains to deny any connection between the Marxist group and his actions). They spoke of the need to consult groups, and of loyalty to groups. One or two even spoke of “putting politics in command”. What they did not do was to show that in the particular situation the whole basis of the movement was the groups, and that “putting politics in command” meant the support of their development, and that in that situation any other action was incorrect and opportunist. (The groups constituting the J.C.C., Communist Federation of Britain (M-L) had to learn from the example of the C.P.B. (M-L) and others the lessons which they applied in their important document analysing the anti-revisionist movement, The Marxist-Leninist Movement in Britain: Origins and Perspectives). Birch’s undoubted manipulative skills are only a part of the reason why he was not politically exposed at that meeting, and the low political understanding of the anti-revisionist movement must also be considered.

Concerted opposition to Birch was small, and as has been said, not fully effective. The opposition group was two or three in number, and argued from a largely subjective and empirical base. Much larger was the group that was in complete disarray and did net know where to turn when faced with Birch’s reputation as an Industrial leader, and by the cleverly implied endorsement of the Central Committee of the C.P.C. There was a widespread echoing of the opposition group’s criticism of the manner in which the meeting had been constituted, but it would not be unfair to say that this was the highest level of unity against Birch’s opportunism. The low level of unity and political argument unfortunately was an accurate reflection of the stage of development of the anti-revisionist movement.[16] At the end of the day, Reg. Birch and his supporters did go ahead and set up the Provisional Committee of the British Marxist-Leninist Organisation. The anti-revisionist movement had shown itself still incapable of resisting the revisionist methods of work formerly demonstrated in the C.D.R.C.U. and the Marxist organisation. But in many ways this meeting was an important catalyst for the building up of a political awareness sufficient to limit the influence and damage caused by Birch’s future party.

Many of the organisations and individuals who had expressed doubts about or opposition to the action of Birch and his supporters nonetheless attended the first meeting of the newly founded Provisional Committee. In some cases this reflected the already existing threat of a split in their groups, if attendance had not taken place. This was held on 14th October 1967 at Birch’s house. The lack of clarity among the groups on the one hand, and the united manipulation of Birch and his supporters on the other, which had characterised the 12th September meeting, continued. Some other groups – from Birmingham and Oxford attended rating and complained that they had been told by a Birch supporter (Hannington) that the October meeting had been an internal meeting of the A.E.U. group. There was an unconscious truth and farcical element in Hannington’s apology, and as this was the main reservation or objection expressed by either the Birmingham or Oxford groups, it serves further to show the low state of development of the groups at that time, and indeed of the J.C.C of which they were member groups.

But this and more substantial objections, to the previous meeting were brushed aside by Birch who announced that there would be no going back to the first meeting. Likewise, there was to be no discussion of the question of the weight of representation, as between individuals and groups, on the new committee, Birch announced. The Joint Committee of Communists’ (J.C.C.) poor as its political level was at the time, nonetheless attempted, according to that level, to place the whole meeting on a different footing by suggesting that instead of proceeding with the existing meeting a coordinating committee should be formed and given the task of calling a new meeting of groups and other interested parties in four to six weeks time, which could then go ahead, on a proper footing to make preparations for the formation of a party. Incorrect as this proposal can now be seen to be, it did represent the reaction of the opportunism of the Birch group. This was simply rejected by Birch and the meeting went ahead to discuss the proposal for the work of the Provisional Committee that Birch had drafted. In fact, there was no political discussion allowed at the meeting, in the sense that no questioning of the Provisional Committee’s relationship to the anti-revisionist movement was allowed. The ’political discussion’ was confined to Birch’s draft document and how best it to proceed on the basis of the existing committee. The items discussed, therefore, were how a draft programme for the proposed communist party could best be delegated to those present and the election of a ’Secretariat.’[17] It was stated that an office should be obtained as soon a.: possible, and that in the meantime Birch’s address would be used. A treasurer was elected and a number of financial contributions were made there and then.[18] It was agreed that as an immediate activity there should be a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution. Also discussed was the relations of groups with foreign organizations. (Until the now party was established, Birch stated, the groups could have links with foreign organisations). It was also announced that the question of which groups should be ’recognized’ would be considered by the secretariat. With the conclusion of this meeting the Provisional Committee was well on its way to the establishment of a bogus ’Marxist-Leninist’ party.[19]

This meeting was the last to have any representation from groups. The Oxford group – one of the smallest and least experienced of the J.C.C. groups (who were small and inexperienced enough in themselves) – joined the Provisional Committee. The Communist Workers’ League (a mainly Bristol-based group) was divided on the issue and was a member – for two months. Generally, however, it is a tribute to the integrity of the bulk of the still poorly developed anti-revisionist movement that Birch and his supporter remained isolated from the October meeting onwards.

The position of the Provisional Committee, that it could not talk or act with any group on an equal basis because it was of itself of a different order of political organisation, was an important subjective factor contributing to its isolation. The important objective factor was that any discussion the Provisional Committee had could only, as with McCreery before it, be on the basis of why the other party should unite with it. The real problem of how and why the Provisional Committee existed at all could not be considered. In a very real sense, therefore, there could be no principled discussions at all, even though the Provisional Committee had played lip-service to their necessity – after they had taken their unprincipled stand! ’The Provisional Committee went ahead with the organisational procedures it had laid down and the so-called Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), an organisation born of blatant manipulation and opportunism and the negation of Marxist-Leninist politics, was founded on 12th April 1968. By this time the greetings of the Provisional Committee to foreign communist parties on special occasions had appeared in the Chinese and Albanian press, as had some of their other statements. Secure with such implied endorsement (at that time extended to them alone) the new party procured an office from the A.E.U. and launched a monthly paper, ’The Worker’, in January 1969.[20]


The Provisional Committee of the British Marxist-Leninist Organisation and the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) which it set up followed the revisionist methods of work of its predecessors the C.D.R.C.U. and the Marxist organisation closely. An organisational facade and international endorsement were used, as substitutes for politics, to win the support of the British anti-revisionist movement. There was no analysis of the origins of the anti-revisionist movement, and the contradictions within it. Implicitly and explicitly the groups, who in their polemics and organisation were revitalising the Marxist movement in Britain, were treated as obstacles. In one important sense, of course, they did constitute an important obstacle to the intentions of the Birch group. They no longer paid hommage to the organisational facade which was presented to them. Increasingly they demanded political justification, even against endorsement from revered foreign parties. The experience of the C.D.R.C.U. and the Marxist had strengthened the movement.

The Birch group was more successful than either of its predecessors for a number of tactical reasons. It did not have the stigma of ’rich men’s money’ that attached to both the C.D.R.C.U. and the Marxist. Birch had a high reputation – based partly on the fact that he was the only member of the E.C. of the C.P.G.B. to be associated with the anti-revisionist movement – but mainly on his involvement in trade union organisation and industrial conflict. Many illusions existed in the anti-revisionist movement at that time about the way in which industrial struggle was important. Some of these illusions were of a spontaneist nature, others were direct imports from the C.P.G.B., and as far as they were consciously held at all confused the historical role of the working-class as a whole, with individual political standing.

According to this ’feeling’ (it rarely became more explicit than that) an industrial worker was intrinsically somehow or other more valuable than a non-industrial worker or an intellectual. Birch quite deliberately used both his standing and the misconception about the strength and political quality of the A.E.U. organisation as a valuable asset in his fight to win support on a subjective basis. A further distinction between the Birch group and its predecessors was that organisationally the Birch group was highly effective. It had shown that in north London union work. But even the fact that they had worked together at all gave them enormous advantage over McCreery and the businessmen of The Marxist. All in all, whilst the anti-revisionist movement had developed its political strength and level since the early sixties, it was still not in a position to smash opportunist bids such as the Birch group, completely and at an early stage.


The C.F.B. (M-L) has already outlined its views on the British anti-revisionist movement.[21] Whilst its views are continually developing and are certainly being communicated more effectively, the basis of that analysis still strongly holds: that is, that political analysis comes before organisation, and that organisation must at all times serve to develop the political struggle. As has been said, the central task in Britain is to reach an understanding of revisionism, in politics and methods of work, sufficient to provide the conditions for the establishment of a party. But this political process does not go in inside some kind of autonomous anti-revisionist movement, cut off from society. Issues where revisionist and Marxist-Leninist views contest are to be found within the day-to-day ongoing class struggle. The C.F.B. (M-L) therefore feels that practical work in the struggles of the working class and the building of theory and political consciousness are not discrete activities. They are indissolubly linked. This has also been the experience of revolutionary movements in other countries and at other times, as even a brief examination of Russian experience of the 1900’s and British experience in 1919-1921 serves to illustrate.

The Russian Social democratic Labour party (fore-runner of the C.P.S.U.) was fought for against a situation of numerous study circles and groups – each defending autonomy and most acting in an amateur and ineffective manner. In his analysis, Lenin did not attempt to remedy the situation by decree. His first significant action was an analysis of the movement itself, of the various tendencies and conflicting ideologies.[22] Lenin did not seek to dictate differences away, but rather to subjugate differences by principled political argument. He declared, regarding the building of unity, “Some comrades (and even some groups and organisations) are of the opinion that in order to achieve this we must adopt the practice of electing the central party institutions and instruct that body to resume the publication of the party organ. We consider such a plan to be a wrong one, or at all events a risky one. To establish and consolidate the party means to establish unity among all social-democrats. Such unity cannot be decreed, it cannot be bought about by, let us say, a meeting of representatives passing a resolution.

“Open polemics, conducted in the sight and hearing of all Russian Social-Democrats and class-conscious workers, are necessary and desirable in order to explain the profoundness of the differences that exist, in order that disputed questions may be discussed from all angles... Indeed, we regard one of the drawbacks of the present-day movement to be the absence of open polemics between avowedly different views, an effort to conceal the differences that exist over extremely fundamental questions.”[23] Further, “before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation.”[24] Lenin was here putting politics firmly in command. It should be noted, moreover, that the process of drawing lines of demarcation did not preclude an appropriate degree of co-ordination throughout Russia. Indeed, a polemic such as Lenin envisaged needed communication and an exchange of views between groups as a very minimum, but political unity at a party level could come about only through polemic and could not be decreed. It should be further remembered that Lenin’s statement was made after the bankrupt foundation congress of the R.S.D.L.P. had been thoroughly exposed in practice as having had no positive effect on the divided and disparate groups. Unity by decree had already failed.[25] It was only after a lengthy process of ideological consolidation against the opportunism and defeatism of economism that Lenin was able to tackle the organisational opportunism of the Mensheviks in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (1904), a slashing attack on autonomism and the circle mentality.[26] With ideological preparation an important new line was drawn between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, at the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. The party was politically formed at this meeting, and only after this were the organisational steps of adoption of a programme and rules and the election of a central body taken. A different situation in very many ways prevailed in Britain when the C.P.G.B. was founded, yet the principles/guiding the foundation of that organisation was also the primacy of politics. To the extent that departure was made from that principle the C.P.G.B. later paid the price.

Some six or seven organisations, most with already substantial public records of political activity, were involved in the attempt to build unity in the creation of the C.P.G.B. One organisation, the British Socialist Party, could, trace its origins, through changes of name and structure, back to 1881.[27] Klugman sees the impulse to unity itself going back several years, to 1913.[28] Certainly the Russian revolution and, in 1919, the Communist International were very important factors bringing about the unity discussions. These two important events gave political support to the concept of a communist party in Britain, and provided the occasion to the British revolutionary groups to consider their differences and how they might be resolved. The B.S.P., the largest of the groups, called series of meetings which started in June 1919 and continued into the middle of the next year. On 31st July 1920, after over a year’s preparatory work, a Unity Convention was held in London. Only groups from organisations which accepted the “fundamental basis of Communist Unity” were invited. The basis of unity was

“a) Thp Dictatorship of the Working Class, (b) The Soviet System, (c) The Third International.”[29] (It can be seen, therefore, that the intervening year had been spent in consciously drawing lines, and in polemic.) The London Convention formally inaugurated the C.P.G.B. However, there was a recognition that all the necessary critical work had not been carried out. The main issues contested in the preceding polemics had been whether parliamentary action should be undertaken, and whether there should be affiliation to the Labour Party. As majority decisions were taken on both of these matters, the Convention resolved that “since full unity had not yet been achieved, the provisional committee of eight members...was instructed to carry on, with the addition of six persons elected by the Convention” and attempt to build further political unity.[30]

A Second Unity Convention took place in Leeds on 29th January 1921, and concluded unity between the groups involved. (The I.L.P. ’Left’ group did not come in until 1922). Organisation still did not command politics, and because of the level of political unity the party had a federal form.[31] At a Rules Conference in Manchester in April 1921 the principle of regional representation was again incorporated in the rules. Reform of this loose federal structure, even with the active intervention of the Communist International, was not accomplished overnight. The adoption of the theses of the Third Congress of the Communist International secured formal agreement to a central committee, district committee structure. Even then this still had to be fought for politically within the party.[32]

The C.P.G.B. was formed at a time of much greater urgency and change than Britain in the sixties. Lenin and the Communist International expected imminent revolution in the west – “it is likely we shall require two and even three years before the whole of Europe becomes Soviet ... I assert with confidence that one year sooner or later, a little more patience, and we shall finally possess an International Soviet Republic, which will be guided by one Communist International.”[33] Nonetheless, and with the direct urging of Lenin, extensive political discussions went on. All the groups involved had publicly stated positions, some going back for many years. Between them they represented memberships of very different sizes – from 2,500 down to a handful. Yet there was no ’decreeing’ of unity and no arbitrary decisions, based on membership strength. Even so it could probably be argued that because of the urgency with which they saw the world situation, Lenin and the Communist International to some extent intervened in such a way as to shorten political and organisational discussion.[34]

From this brief account of the formation of two parties, the Russian and the British, it can be seen how much historical example contrasts with the three attempts in Britain in the 1960’s to establish a Marxist-Leninist party. In Russia and in Britain in 1919 in accordance with conditions prevailing, the question of party-building was taken seriously. Organisations with greater experience, membership and public political records than any of the British anti-revisionist groups did not attempt to use their strengths to impose unity by decree. Political differences were put to the fore, discussed and analysed, and only on the basis of a resolution of the differences was unity reached. Groups were not viewed in a subjective manner and treated as obstacles. They were treated for what they were; the basis of the existing revolutionary movement. In both Britain and Russia the importance of the groups was recognised in continuing federal elements in party structure because at this stage unity was not seen as resolution passing, but as the outcome of political struggle.


Modern revisionism is not a mere matter of slogans and of incorrect policies. It is a matter of consciousness, of ways of viewing the world. An organisation may adopt at any one time slogans which are ’correct’ and still be thoroughly revisionist in nature.[35] The Chinese Cultural Revolution has demonstrated clearly that the most profound changes are needed to combat revisionism, and that the struggle against the revisionist world view is extremely complex.

British anti-revisionists have emerged in political and in individual terms from the revisionist C.P.G.B. They are faced with the central task of emancipating themselves, not just from the slogans and policies of the C.P.G.B., but from the methods of work; from the whole political consciousness imparted by that organisation and its international allies. Many come to an anti-revisionist position on subjective grounds. They rejected the sterility and oppression of the C.P.G.B. Others were strengthened in partial understandings by the stand of the Albanian and Chinese parties in the early sixties. The task of the movement has been, and is, the substitution of an objective political world view, based on a Marxist-Leninist analysis, for the subjective positions of individuals and groups. Without an objectively established British Marxist-Leninist ideological and political analysis, the movement cannot advance. This continues to be the immediate priority for the British revolutionary movement, and win lead to the establishment of a genuine and effective Marxist-Leninist party.

Throughout its history the revisionist C.P.G.B. was of a small size and had a relatively low level of political development in its branches and members. It has generally been isolated from the mainstream of British working-class politics, which after fifty years’ existence of the C.P.G.B. still remain dominated by the ideology of social-democracy and parliamentarianism. In this situation the C.P.G.B. relied heavily on two factors for its continued existence – international endorsement and vicarious prestige and an extensive organisational facade. The organisational facade was both a means and an end, as its maintenance soon became, and remains, the main activity of the party. Giving organisation priority over politics involves the suppression of discussions and denying from party members and organisations the opportunity to develop politically.

The anti-revisionist movement has clearly shown the impact which revisionist consciousness has had upon it in the three main opportunist attempts at party formation in the sixties. In each of the three cases the objective was seen in almost purely organisational terms. Coming inevitably from such an objective were the methods of constructing an organisational facade and of securing endorsement (’recognition’ was the term used) from parties with prestige and standing in the international communist movement. Such organisations even had they attained their necessary objective at the price of the destruction of the British anti-revisionist movement could never themselves have been anything but revisionist. Depending for their existence on a facade and recognition they (rightly) saw the groups as an obstacle in their path. The essence of the groups was political and organisational autonomy and polemic. Polemics could not be tolerated where the main effort was to present a united front to impress and deceive revolutionaries at home and abroad. Without politics there could be, can be, no emancipation from revisionism, in the broad and penetrating sense that we understand it. At best there would be a mechanical following of a foreign baton, as with the C.P.G.B., as a substitute for a genuine political encounter with British and world struggles and problems.

But what of the groups? As has been stated, much of the groups’ understanding of the nature of revisionism was (and is) partial. Often it was extremely superficial. The reasons for rejecting the revisionism of the C.P.G.B. and the later pseudo-anti-revisionist organisations were mainly subjective. There was a rejection of sycophancy, of meaningless and verbose political formulae, of dictation and manipulation. Centrally there was the feeling that revisionist politic did not reflect the real world, and that British Marxism had to be revitalised by practical and theoretical work. The groups had (and have) at their best the great virtue of putting politics and principle in command. No pseudo-revolutionary organisation can allow this to happen without being destroyed. But this does not mean that the groups were (and are) without serious negative features. Many made no serious attempt to move from the stage of subjective and partial under-standing, and displayed characteristics of sectarianism and irresponsibility. Not all (or even most) polemics were conducted for principled political reasons. Not all groups knew to engage in polemic of a principled basis, and reflecting the mode of debate in the C.P.G.B. confined themselves to attempting to pin damaging labels of ’spy’, ’agent’, trotskyist’ and the like on their opponents. Many polemics had only the dubious virtue of employing invective in a novel manner. These negative characteristics could and would be exposed by the needs of groups’ practical work and problems, and could, moreover, be corrected without destroying the basis of the groups’ existence. The negative features of the pseudo-anti-revisionists, on the other hand, were of a fundamental nature that they were not subject to correction without destroying the whole basis of the existence of those groups. The groups had (and are now) adapted to the concrete conditions of the revolutionary movement in Britain, and provided the correct organisations for political analysis, investigation and education. Any attempt to build a Marxist-Leninist party in Britain must start with the groups and their politics.

From time to time in the British and international communist movement those who diverted and sabotaged the struggle have had conscious motivation attributed to them, and have been called agents of the imperialist intelligence services and the like. Similar accusations have been made against the leadership of the C.P.G.B. and against those involved in the C.D.R.C.U., the Marxist and the C.P.B. (M-L). Whilst on occasion those accusations may have been true, in the British and international movement they do not amount to an explanation of revisionism. The motivation of McCreery, Birch and others is largely irrelevant, and it is the consequences of their actions that interests the movement. There seems no reason to attribute to them necessary motives of deliberate and conscious sabotage. We can assume that they were not interested in personal power and glory, but sought to do their best for the movement. We can say that their attempts to destroy groups were motivated by the desire to stop quarrels that seemed endless, and to get on with the serious business of leading the class struggle. Birch, who wished to apply his reputation and expertise, McCreery and the businessmen of the Marxist who wished to apply their money, all probably did so without any intention of destroying the movement, but rather of building it. What has been argued here is that these efforts, because they did not proceed from an analysis of the real situation, because they were subjective in their reasoning, because they gave the fetish of organsiation priority, would objectively have resulted in nothing less than the destruction of the movement, and the setting back, for a generation or more, of the struggle for a Marxist-Leninist party in Britain.

An organisation based on a revisionist concept of the party, founded and maintained by revisionist methods can never be reformed, can never become a Marxist-Leninist organisation. Such organisations have failed, and will fail, to develop. However, the requirements of the ever-heightening class struggle in Britain and throughout the world, the basic principles of Marxism, allow no genuine revolutionary to sit back and await the dissolution of these obstacles by the development of their own internal contradictions. Our efforts must contribute to their political and organisational destructions without delay. Already exposed ideologically, propaganda and agitational efforts must be directed to uniting with all those with whom principled unity is possible. We must also fight against the other opportunist efforts that are and will be made to direct the movement. The main target of our work should, for the time being, be the CP.B. (M-L). If our work avoids subjectivism and is based on analysis and investigation, the whole British movement can be improved quantitatively and qualitatively, and unity will be built to a hitherto unreached level. Marxist-Leninism can be the powerful weapon of the British working-class. British revolutionaries can fulfill their duty.


[1] For an excellent account of one such individual struggle in The late forties see The Rotten Elements, Edward Upward, Penguin 1972.

[2] Upward’s two main characters, Alan and Elsie, have an interesting discussion about the C.P.G.B. leadership which illustrates this point: “If it were just power they were after wouldn’t they be in some other organisation not quite so small as the present British Communist Party’?” “I don’t think the power they now have seems all that negligible to them. Remember, they have ’international contacts.’ And the portraits of some of them have been carried on banners in processions through the cities of various capitalist as well as communist countries.” “That is a frightening thought. And also it almost makes me doubt whether we mightn’t after all somehow be wrong about them. They are honoured in other countries by communist leaders whom we trust and admire. Can they really have become what we think they are? How could it have happened?” (Ibid., pp.160/161) The sentiments, if not the actual conversation, were surely held by many anti-revisionists, at onetime or another in their struggle against the C.P.G.B. With some, of course, the struggle never even began because of those crippling doubts.

[3] This is one of the reasons for the relative backwardness of the anti-revisionist movement in the North-East, Scotland and Wales. These were all areas of relatively high C.P.G.B. activity and prestige, whose membership by their loyalty and adherence to the revisionist party were the most difficult to approach. An instinctive ’closing of the ranks’ was a major obstacle to political exposure of revisionism.

[4] The social pressures imposed on party members in the event of any conflict or breach with the leadership should also be remembered. Very many party members had few, if any, social contacts outside the party. Complete inter-generational involvement in the party was not uncommon. A couple would meet in the course of party work and would marry. Their children might eventually be involved in the Y.C.L., would make friends there, marry, and so the cycle went on. The small size and political isolation of the C.P.G.B. helped to make this a common pattern. It greatly decreased the possibility of a correct and critical Marxist-Leninist posture for many.

[5] See The Marxist-Leninist Movement in Britain – Origins and Perspectives (1972 edition), obtainable from the C.F.B.

[6] In fact, by pursuing policies which promoted the growth of revisionism, the leaders of the C.P.G.B. were anti-Soviet in essence, and were strengthening imperialism.

[7] This is not to say that its failure was not of itself a contribution by negative example.

[8] Lenin. Letter to Tom Bell, 13th August 1921, in Lenin on Britain, F.L.P.H., Moscow. Lenin wrote this letter in English. The capitals and emphasis are his.

[9] Grippa later became a supporter of the revisionist Liu Shao-Chi, when the policies of Liu were attacked during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

[10] Those who experienced such ’unity’ discussions will remember that the unity discussed was organisational, and always around the C.D.R.C.U.

[11] The forerunner of the Communist Federation of Britain (M-L).

[12] Throughout this article I have named certain individuals and the contributions they made in order to give the reader evidence to illustrate the general argument which I advance. It also allows those active at the time to check the accuracy of my account. Names have been omitted in cases where individuals have not taken up a public position, or in cases where it was felt that they could suffer at work etc. if their connection with the movement were made known.

[13] From notes taken at a Marxist meeting.

[14] The J.C.C. and, for a while, the C.F.B., attempted to work with this group in the Marxist. The Brent group joined the J.C.C. in December 1968 and left a few months later in Spring 1969. They made no contribution to the organisation and offered no substantive criticisms. They left because, they said, the J.C.C. was ’irrelevant’ to the British class struggle. Time has clearly proved who was relevant and who was not. For a while, however, many articles which appeared in the Marxist and much of the production and distribution work was carried out by members of the J.C.C., and later by the C.F.B. Owing to the sectarianism of the Brent group, political relations could not be built between them and the constituent groups of the C.F.B., and seeing no potential for development the C.F.B. transferred its efforts into the creation of its own publications.

[15] ”Employers are not going to be allowed to do things just as they think fit. The nation’s needs must come before the personal ambitions of the old employing class. Because of the urgent needs of the day, there is every reason why Joint Production Committees should be in existence, more so today than in the most perilous war days. The people have elected a Labour Government – the first of its kind in the history of the country. There are powerful interests already at work sabotaging the efforts of this Government. The workers’ safeguard is inside the factory, demanding Production Committees determined that the maximum production must be achieved and that no one is to be allowed to frustrate our efforts ... In fact, years and years of necessary work stare us in the face. The engineering workers are willing to co-operate. Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way.” A Wage Based on Human Needs’, Reg. Birch, C.P.G.B. Pamphlet 1946, pp. 15-16, cited in Workers’ Control, Coates and Topham, Panther, 1970. Despite his frequent protestations of being a militant supporter of the working-class, this quotation shows Birch to have been devoid of even the most elementary class analysis and politics at the time of writing.

[16] Steven Taylor, a member of the Workers’ Party of Scotland, argued against Birch on the grounds that there should be four national parties: one for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. In the course of making his contribution he mentioned that he had previously lived in New Zealand. Birch, in reply, ignored the case that Taylor had made, incorrect as it was. Is there a Polynesian Party to cover the New Zealand trust territories, he rhetorically asked. Taylor was forced to answer ’No’, and Birch considered the matter closed.

John Hannington, a close associate of Birch, attacked the London groups. The A.E.U. (the North London machine) did not belong to any of them, he said. The A.E.U. activists worked in groups. Of course the A.E.U. group had a weakness in not having a political policy, he said, but nonetheless ,they tackled the revisionists as they came. Hannington then went on to say that many of the London groups were too academic. Indeed, he enlarged, the London groups had “been poncing off the industrial workers for years.” Hannington did not make clear what he meant by this, but it was his contribution to the attack on groups made by Birch supporters; and was an accurate reflection of the political level of the attacks, and calls to mind Lenin’s statement: “All worship of the spontaneity of the labour movement, all belittling the role of the conscious element’, of the role of the party of Social Democracy, means, quite irrespective of whether the belittler likes it or not, strengthening the influence of bourgeois ideology among the workers.” (Lenin, What is to be Done? Sel. Works, I, pp. 175-176, F.I.P.H., Moscow, 1947).

Dorothy Birch argued that ’we’ were being too careful. The time has come to set up a provisional committee. The time for little groups is past. She compared, unfavourably, the intellectuals whom she imagined constituted most of the groups. “We have got to decide today”, she concluded, to applause.

A. Manchanda, representing Indian workers, argued that Marx and Engels did not represent the groups. But they reflected the interests of the workers, the whole of mankind. Manchanda supported the immediate establishment of a provisional committee.

Ted Roycroft (formerly of the Marxist group) also argued for the immediate formation of a provisional committee, as the present situation was wasteful of energy.

Others who supported the immediate formation of a provisional committee included an associate of Manchanda at that time. He argued that the groups existed purely because of the petty pride of the members. All wanted to maintain predominance. An associate of Birch supported an immediate go-ahead, as did Mrs. R. Ash and D. Ryan. None gave any political grounds for their stand. An interesting contribution was made by a writer who had been prominent in the Marxist organisation. He argued that the anti-revisionists should forget the past and only consider the future. This was a preposterous stance, the equivalent of asking the young anti-revisionist movement to forego what experience it had had, and step back six or seven years.

Representatives of the Coventry and West of England groups, and most members of the Camden Communist Movement were the only real opposition that Birch and his supporters had.

All attributions and quotations respecting this meeting are from long-hand notes taken at the time and confirmed with other participants.

[17] Roycroft, Birch, Ryan, Manchanda, Hannington and Clerk. A member of the J.C.C., declined nomination. Outside of Ryan and Manchanda – fervent supporters of Birch in their contributions to the September 12th and October l4th meetings, all the other members of this Secretariat, in charge of the day-to-day guidance of the Provisional Committee, were members of the A.E.U. alliance.

[18] The A.E.U. group gave £10 and Indian workers £5. D. Ryan offered half of £10, a television fee, already pledged to the Bristol Workers’ Association. Birch thought that it might be better if he consulted the B.W.A. first.

[19] There were various interesting and revealing remarks made by Birch supporters. The writer previously of the Marxist described groups as “an alibi for individual activity.” Dorothy Birch stated in regard to the groups’ objections to the way in which the Provisional Committee had been established, “I am not worried by some phoney little groups. Birch said, ’Blame me. Take me.’ I am delighted and admire him.” Hannington told A.E.U. members to speak up in support of the Provisional Committee. ”They (A.E.U. members, auth.) do more than anyone else. They are bruised and beaten up. They should let people know.”

[20] As with the first issue of Vanguard, the first issue of The Worker carried greetings from Albania – on this occasion from the Editorial Office of Zeri-i-Popullit. There is nothing exceptional in this, or in the Albanian and Chinese printing the statements of the Provisional Committee and C.P.B. (M-L). British Marxist-Leninists must, however, consider the use to which they were put by the Birch group, and how objectively therefore these greetings and publications were likely to affect the development of a Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain. In point of fact their impact was minimal as by now the movement was of the correct opinion that the only ’recognition’ of real importance to its development was that of British revolutionaries and the British working-class.

By issue No. 3, in an almost uncanny replication of Vanguard, The Worker was carrying advertisements for New Albania and for a recently acquired New Albanian Society. There was, of course, in the first issue’s statement of intent no mention of the British anti-revisionist movement, at the moment or in the past.

[21] The Marxist Leninist Movement in Britain: Origins and Perspectives , obtainable from the C.F.B. (M-L).

[22] See, What the Friends of the People Are and How they Fight the Social Democrats, The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats, What is to be Done?

[23] Draft Declaration by the Editorial Board of the Iskra and the Zarya, Lenin, Collected Works, Vol, IV, part I, pp.13-23, London: Laurence and Wishart Ltd., 1929.

[24] Lenin, Sel. Works, I, p. 164, P.L.P.H., Moscow, 1947.

[25] It is a notable fact that to the extent that the C.P.B. (M-L) has taken up any ideological position of its own on the British situation, it is characterised by economism and spontaneist thought. (For useful, though limited, exposure of this ideology of the C.P.B, (M-L) see Economism or Revolution? A Critique of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), published by the Marxist-Leninist Workers’ Association and obtainable from them, 1/289 Green Lanes, London N.4, or the C.F.B. (M-L). The chief ideological struggle waged by Lenin at the time he was arguing for open polemics was against the Russian Economists. He could as well have been arguing with the C.P.B. (M-L) when he asserted against the Economists the primacy of politics. The economists he said, argued that “the role of the conscious element in the working-class movement, the organising and directing role of socialist consciousness and socialist theory was insignificant, or almost insignificant; that the Social-Democrats should not elevate the minds of the workers to the level of socialist consciousness, but, on the contrary, should adjust themselves and descend to the level of the average, or even of the more backward sections of the working-class, and that the Social-Democrats should net try to impart a socialist consciousness to the working-class, but should wait until the spontaneous movement of the working-class arrived of itself at a socialist consciousness.” History of the C.P.S.U.(B), pp.62-63, F.L.P.H. Moscow, 1951. Nothing could more clearly reflect the founding and continuing work of the C.P.B. (M-L).

[26] This article was an analysis of the Mensheviks who were defeated at the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., in 1903.

[27] The organisations involved were: The British Socialist Party, South Wales Socialist Society, Socialist Labour Party, the Unity Group (a split from the S.L.P.), Scottish Workers’ Committee and Sylvia Pankhurst’s Communist Party, and the I.L.P. Left group.

[28] James Klugman, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Vol. I, 1968, p.30 {Laurence and Wishart).

[29] The British Communist Party, Henry Pelling, p.9, London, 1958.

[30] Ibid., p. 10.

[31] Thus elections to the committee were on a semi-federal basis, “It was agreed, however, that elections for the new committee of the united party should be partly on a geographical basis and partly on the basis of representation of the participating groups. Unity was thus to be limited by a measure of federalism, which clearly reflected the sectionalism that ... was all along an important feature of the Marxist support in Britain.” Ibid., p. 12.

[32] Ibid., pp. 21-22. See also Tom Bell, who in his Pioneering Days states, ”time after time on the Executive Committee we had to combat the federalist and constituency notions of the comrades who had come from the provinces.” Cited by Walter Kendall in The Revolutionary Movement in Britain. 1900-21, London,’1969, p 194.

[33] Zinoviev to the 2nd Congress of the Communist International, 17th July-7th August 1920, cited in Kendall, op. cit., p. 16.

[34] The history of the Communist International is an urgent need of Marxist-Leninist evaluation. Membership of the C.I. conferred great powers on individual party leaderships, and its negative effects on the politics of the C.P.G.B. and other Western European parties have to be assessed. With a new international alignment of Marxist-Leninist forces, and with the differences in sizes and political and organisational resources between parties, a resolute struggle must be waged to ensure that such negative tendencies as ’endorsement’ and ’exclusion’ do not reappear.

[35] See for example the case of the Australian Communist Party in the early sixties. This organisation sided with the Albanian and Chinese parties for a while, yet soon returned to following the Moscow baton.