Heroes and villains - Weekly Worker

Date: unknown

Location: weeklyworker.co.uk

20.01.2022

Lawrence Parker reviews 'The chronology of revolution: communism, culture, and civil society in twentieth-century Britain' by Ben Harker (University of Toronto Press, 2021, pp376, £63.99)

Ben Harker has produced a well-researched and engaging account of the history of the Communist Party of Great Britain, seen through the lens of the party’s cultural activity and the ideas that informed its work in this arena. The book is beautifully produced and I hadn’t previously seen many of its illustrations, which are well chosen and empathetic to the topic. I respect Harker’s knowledge of the CPGB and this book taught me many interesting things. It is worth noting that Harker previously produced the outstanding Class act: the cultural and political life of Ewan MacColl (2007). Some of the preconceptions used to inform this 2021 work are another matter, and I have to record a profound disappointment at the author’s interpretative method, which, to my mind, is a reiteration of dusty themes that have been kicking around histories of the CPGB for a few decades now.

EP Thompson once famously wrote that he wanted to save working-class historical figures “from the enormous condescension of posterity”. Before I had read Harker’s book, I never thought of myself as having that type of moral imperative, but now I’m not so sure, given that I seem to have spent considerable time raising up the voices of the CPGB’s previously half-forgotten revolutionary left - ‘anti-revisionist’ and pro-Soviet, for the most part. So, I’m always curious to see how other historians treat activists from these left trends.

Fergus Nicholson was the CPGB’s national student officer in the late 1960s and, according to Harker, “best remembered by some for pulling the plug on the pop music at a lively [Young Communist League, YCL] branch social in the summer of 1968 to deliver a speech defending the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia” (p166). Who is this “some”? In this case, it is the memory of the CPGB’s last, Eurocommunist, general secretary Nina Temple, when she was interviewed for Phil Cohen’s Children of the revolution (1998); needless to say, she was hardly a friend of the party’s left. We must also record the mundane point that, surely, although it might have impeded Temple’s fox-trot, it wouldn’t have been unusual for the Young Communist League to be having discussions around Czechoslovakia in 1968 when this issue was controversial in the British movement. All Harker has really done is amplify Temple’s displeasure at Nicholson’s stance on inner-party divisions, treating it as unilateral good coin.

Harker adds: “Committed to traditional party hierarchies, Nicholson and [assistant Phil] Goodwin created an atmosphere more likely to repel than recruit, complaining about the difficulty of organising a group that refused to behave like workers, stressing the importance of bringing students ‘towards the labour movement’, and warning ominously that no special licence would be granted to newly recruited students in terms of ‘attitudes and breaches of rule that nobody else would get away with’” (p167). Harker makes this judgement based on articles from Nicholson and Goodwin, and it is therefore a perfectly legitimate opinion that they were “more likely to repel than recruit”. But this doesn’t stack up with what subsequently emerged in the YCL and the CPGB. Nicholson didn’t act alone in the YCL - he was the leader of an alternative factional structure inside the youth organisation (Jack Conrad, a member of this group in the late 1960s and 1970s, has explained how this functioned1). This YCL faction then informed the ‘party within a party’ that worked inside the CPGB through the 1970s (combining a Surrey district bridgehead with Nicholson’s followers and other associated left fiefdoms) and the 1980s (the Straight Left/Communist group that remained inside the party until it was liquidated in 1991). Nicholson’s problem was not that he couldn’t recruit or even sometimes maintain supporters (although all these fiefdoms were always prone to shedding members): it was his overall dead-end strategy for the CPGB. Some found Nicholson’s rhetoric of discipline attractive, particularly as many of his youthful target audience saw themselves as revolutionary ‘Leninists’ and because the YCL/CPGB had competition to its left from Maoist groups who had some success in recruiting young communists in the late 1960s to their own disciplined brand of politics, with the YCL/CPGB becoming a significant feeder of ‘anti-revisionism’. Put another way, there was clearly more to life than just dancing.

Free spirit

Harker’s treatment of ‘villains’ from the CPGB’s left can be usefully contrasted with his more ‘heroic’ picture of Eurocommunists such as Martin Jacques, who ultimately became editor of Marxism Today - once the party’s theoretical journal, but, under Jacques, a platform for police chiefs and other assorted reactionaries dredged up under the serially abused moniker of ‘lively and modern’. The Eurocommunists were the party’s leading faction in its final years, which, in concert with sections of the CPGB’s older bureaucracy, attempted to persecute and drive out its long-established left wing. Jacques is portrayed as part of a “young rising cadre” being incorporated into the CPGB’s leadership due to anxieties over the latter’s ageing membership, although Harker is slightly sceptical about Jacques’ own description of himself as a “free spirit” (a quality that doesn’t exactly bubble up in the folk memory of the CPGB’s left) and notes, correctly, the limitations of working inside the CPGB bureaucracy (pp151-152). But Harker has no hesitation at all in sympathetically defining Jacques as a moderniser, hailing the “significant headway” made in the cultural arena: “Redefining culture and reconceptualising the role it played in shaping and reinforcing experience of the world was therefore one task to which culturally minded modernisers like Jacques naturally applied themselves” (p180). The attentive reader will note the softer focus that comes into play here.

It is obvious whom Harker does and doesn’t like and it’s fair enough for him to have those preferences. But it’s also useful to counter this with the observation that Jacques and Nicholson were both supremely flawed factional leaders and a faction can never be equated with a genuine working-class party, so to prefer one or the other in such an obvious manner is a methodological trap. It should also be clear that Nicholson and the CPGB’s left have been besmirched by the “enormous condescension of posterity” in histories like this one in a way that the Eurocommunists haven’t. I could very easily gather from my contacts a collection of statements that would show how utterly loathed the likes of Temple, Jacques and Beatrix Campbell were in the CPGB (and not just by the party’s left, either). That would scarcely be edifying history - merely reversing the condescension shown towards the old CPGB left would solve nothing, but such material needs to be part of the historical record.

In Harker’s case, I think his respective treatment of these representative figures shows an inability to conceive a fragmented post-war CPGB that, by the 1970s had developed into two parties: the ‘official’ one around the party’s right-centrist, and later Eurocommunist-inclined, bureaucracy; and another ‘unofficial’ party of opposition, with its own discipline, leadership and cadre structure. (You could also make a case for a third party, composed of trade-union activists, but I’ll leave that aside here.) Harker certainly notes serious political divisions inside the CPGB in the immediate post-war era (for example, p72) but, as far as I can see, these don’t have real consequences for the future of the party. Once you ascertain what I would argue is the reality of the post-1945 CPGB - an organisation fundamentally split between left and right factions - then the urge to ‘prefer’ this or that alignment, or align oneself with ‘winners’, rapidly fades; or, at least, it should do.

This inclination towards Eurocommunists is a function of Harker’s overall thesis and perspective for his study. He argues that the international communist movement formed in the wake of the Russian revolution of 1917 was overly focused on the seizure of state power accompanied by a “fundamental underestimation of the resilience of capitalism and its supporting structures and ideologies” (p5). This meant a movement that relegated and underplayed cultural struggles as something that would be decided after a communist seizure of power. That led in turn to disabled parties in the west that lacked the necessary cultural mechanisms to undermine resilient capitalist superstructures. The ‘chronology’ of the revolution needed to be altered so that culture was dealt with prefiguratively by such parties in the here-and-now, and not deferred until the morning after the revolution.

Harker traces the lineage of this argument through Trotsky and Gramsci, but he largely defers to the reformist twist given to the latter by the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in the 1940s under Togliatti. In David Broder’s words, this was “the creation of a ‘folk Gramsci’ in the war period” that laid “a massive tombstone over the many green shoots of working-class communist thought during the resistance period” and, above all, a ‘Gramsci’ that became “a cipher for the PCI’s claim to be the democratic party of all Italians, united by anti-fascism and the values of the constitution written after the war”.2 Leaving aside the lack of historical authenticity of such claims, Gramsci, in the post-war PCI and when he was subsequently ‘discovered’ by the CPGB, became a symbol of adaptation to bourgeois ideas in the supposed cause of hegemonic struggles for the ‘heart and soul’ of the nation. It is no accident that Harker, who appears to have swallowed a large dose of PCI mythology, draws attention to his recuperation of those moments in the CPGB’s history when it seemed most porous to bourgeois ideas and sought to adapt itself to British nationalism: the popular front of 1935-39; late- and post-war reconstruction (1942-47); and the ‘Battle of Ideas’ (1947-56) against US imperialism. He calls these “exceptional moments” when key hierarchies around the ‘Bolshevised’ party “were overthrown and notions of cultural struggle were tolerated and even promoted by the party leadership” (p9). The CPGB had a final chance to embrace the “countercultural and oppositional” in the mid-to-late 1970s, which coincides, as if by magic, with the rise of the party’s Eurocommunist faction (p12). Their failure in this regard means, for Harker, that the CPGB’s grisly fate was sealed.

For those of us who have been around a bit, this thesis sounds awfully familiar, despite comrade Harker giving it a more elegant rendering than most. It originated in the CPGB’s final decades, when the party started to address its history in works by James Klugmann, Noreen Branson and Margot Heinemann (all CPGB activists/writers of long standing). I’m going to have to over-simplify this for brevity, but the story went something like this: the CPGB formed in 1920 was far too revolutionary for the tastes of the party’s right-centrist leadership in the 1960s; the popular front of the 1930s, stripped of its practical relationship to Stalin’s diplomacy and the ‘party of a new type’, was thus projected as the real foundation period of the party. By the 1970s and 1980s, the Eurocommunist faction of the party was also venerating the CPGB of the popular front era, seeing the 1930s adaptation to bourgeois politics as support for its own inclinations towards adapting to feminism and other social movements and becoming the ‘democratic party of all Britons’, as a kind of mini-homage to Togliatti’s PCI. Harker has produced a more elaborate version of this mythology, and his projection of it into some palpably under-researched areas of the CPGB’s history means his work is still valuable. His preconceptions draw on the CPGB’s own mythologies about itself, but they are problematic because they blind Harker to a more salient tragedy in the party’s cultural history, when, as in Italy, a tombstone was laid over a richer working-class political culture. In order to see that tragedy we must strip away Harker’s contextual narrative and pretty much start over.

There’s no real sense in Harker’s book of the roots of Comintern-associated parties in the Second International. Even the small CPGB had significant components from the British Socialist Party and the Independent Labour Party. Harker starts with Eric Hobsbawm’s concept of a short 20th century of 1914-91 and identifies a key problem with such a frame: “This flatters the communist movement by positioning it at the century’s dynamic core” (p4). Harker offers no corrective to this in the sense of recognising that the Third International was bounded by the experience of its forebear, and so he is largely left with the singularity of the Comintern experience. As readers of this paper will be fully aware, the Second International, including the German SPD, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and its Bolshevik faction, had very pronounced ideas on the prefigurative organisation of the working class in the cultural sphere; there was no sense of waiting for the revolution to solve such problems. The German party’s dense web of cultural and social associations was hugely influential, and some of this was very obviously carried over into the Comintern’s national sections, which, even in a relative backwater such as Britain, meant competition with the Labour Party in the cultural sphere.

Literary merger

Neither was Lenin in any sense laissez faire about the cultural struggle within the confines of tsarist Russia. In 1905’s ‘Party organisation and party literature’ he said:

To work, then, comrades! We are faced with a new and difficult task. But it is a noble and grateful one - to organise a broad, multiform and varied literature inseparably linked with the Social-Democratic working-class movement. All Social-Democratic literature must become party literature. Every newspaper, journal, publishing house, etc, must immediately set about reorganising its work, leading up to a situation in which it will, in one form or another, be integrated into one party organisation or another. Only then will ‘Social-Democratic’ literature really become worthy of that name, only then will it be able to fulfil its duty and, even within the framework of bourgeois society, break out of bourgeois slavery and merge with the movement of the really advanced and thoroughly revolutionary class.3

This is the ‘merger theory’, common currency in the Second International, whereby the working class was seen as quite capable of absorbing and using Marxism up to, including and after the revolution. Harker’s Lenin, on the other hand, who hadn’t apparently absorbed the nuances of the more participatory structures of western capitalist democracy (pp5-6) and, by that token, couldn’t lead sophisticated prefigurative cultural struggles in the pursuit of hegemonic strategies, is, at best, a poor caricature.

In fact, Lenin was often adapting the experience of the German SPD to Russian circumstances. If it really was the case that Lenin and the Bolsheviks hadn’t understood the role of “supporting structures”, it would make the serious and lengthy work of the Bolsheviks in the Duma, and Lenin’s close attention to such tasks, completely inexplicable. Finally, long before the phrase ‘organic intellectual’ had become a necessary Gramscian condiment to spice up faltering hypotheses, Lenin, as the recent work of Lars T Lih shows, had looked confidently to the Russian movement to produce worker-leaders in the mould of August Bebel of the German SPD.4

We are then faced with the question of what happened to the ‘merger theory’, the positive vision that Marxist ideas could become the life blood of millions of working-class people and their proletarian leaders, in the Comintern and organisations such as the CPGB. We can offer some pointers.5 If one considers the National Left-Wing Movement (NLWM) and the Sunday Worker newspaper (which Harker is rightly enthusiastic about, see pp22-25) - projects initiated by the CPGB in the mid-1920s to win the rank and file of the British Labour Party to communist ideas - one is struck by the relatively sophisticated political culture that underpinned such initiatives. One could find the working-class readership of the Sunday Worker debating all manner of political and cultural matters in its pages; non-communist members of the NLWM arguing with CPGB members over their interpretation of Lenin’s theory of Labourism; and, after the dissolution of the NLWM by the CPGB in 1929, arguing with the CPGB over the decision. Thus, the programme of the NLWM sought to differentiate the organisation from more run-of-the-mill reformist Labour lefts by introducing advanced anti-militarist, anti-imperialist, and anti-monarchist demands. This, of course, relied on a certain conception of its audience as the advanced part of the proletarian class. But such a culture was not set in aspic, and, because the CPGB was a product of the early Comintern, it denied the right to form internal factions. This had the effect, when operating in the wider labour movement, of producing an opportunistic tendency to close ranks in relation to other non-communist sections. The differentiation, or ‘unity in diversity’, that it denied to itself could not be properly advanced externally without radically undermining the party’s internal regime.

By the time the CPGB started to develop the politics of the Third Period in late 1928 and 1929, the political programme of the NLWM was something to be junked, a barrier to engaging with the working class. Unlike the radical verbiage one associates with this juncture in Comintern politics, solace was to be sought in developing ‘immediate’ demands deemed more appealing to workers. Despite the shift in rhetoric, this perspective of a politically stunted and simplistic proletariat was carried over into the popular front. In contrast to historians such as Harker (and others such as Elinor Taylor in her recent work on popular front novels6) this tactic wasn’t a fundamental break in terms of its perception of the ability of working-class people to master advanced ideas. By January 1936 a leading party member could state:

What are the issues around which unity can be achieved? We are not thinking in terms of a cut-and-dried programme, but those immediate and sometimes changing issues affecting the daily lives of the workers, small shopkeepers and professional people: wages, salaries, hours, conditions, taxation, democratic rights, armament expenditure, the threat of war, etc.7

This programmatic perspective bred a certain limited view of the proletarians it was meant to address. In other words, more simplistic and immediate programmes meant thinking of proletarians in a simplistic manner, including in the realm of culture. Critics included Bertolt Brecht, who castigated these “so-called poetical forms”, in his famous 1930s critique of Georg Lukács. Brecht derided the representation of ‘the people’ “in a superstitious fashion” that “endow[s] the people with unchanging characteristics, hallowed traditions, art forms, habits and customs” such that “a remarkable unity appears between tormentors and tormented …”8 This was clearly a political problem lodged in the development of the Comintern throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Poetry pleas

In 1950, the CPGB’s Daily Worker featured a ‘debate’ on poetry in which one reader responded with the fatal words: “For the working class, things are and always have been fairly simple - for the class-conscious workers, extremely so.”9 This is simply a superstition, or even a prejudice, on the lines laid out by Brecht. It absolutely jars with many autobiographies of working-class autodidact CPGB members who joined the party not only because of immediate issues such as poverty but often due to a thirst for knowledge and a discerning attitude towards the political and social forms taken by the proletarian movement. Raphael Samuel argues: “Many, it seems, came into the [CPGB] through reading, sometimes under the guidance of older workers, sometimes by themselves.”10 So, when communist politics were refracted through this fatalist superstition that non-communist workers could only be approached through so-called immediate issues, unmediated by the intellectual life of proletarians, the CPGB partly ran up against its own experiences, which led to a particularly schizophrenic ideological existence.

This deformed culture of working-class consciousness has consequences for some of the ‘heroes’ that Harker raises up: those CPGB figures that, in his eyes, attempted to disrupt the party’s erroneous ‘chronology’ by raising cultural struggle onto the centre stage. I’m thinking in this case of the writer, Jack Lindsay (1900-1990). It would be churlish to see Lindsay as anything other than an interesting character and a talented writer, although reading him is sometimes like perceiving someone with a brain composed of blotting paper, sopping up whatever ideas he comes across and then expounding them. (I’m thinking in particular of Marxism and contemporary science [1949], which was influenced by the ‘Browderism’ that was current in the international communist movement in 1944,11 and The subtle knot [1947], a strange novel that housed a rather undigested collection of philosophical and psychological themes.) Harker draws attention to Lindsay working up a selection of documents and articles in 1945-46, in which he attempted to tackle the party’s anti-intellectualism and its reduction of culture to “a secondary manifestation of class position”. This blocked the party from building effective alliances across civil society (p73). Lindsay also argued that Marxism “had failed to produce an adequate theory of culture and popular consciousness” (ibid). He is drawn by Harker as a kind of British proto-Gramscian, invoking the PCI’s strategy of a nebulous ‘national unity’ and looking for routes back to an enhanced version of the popular front of the 1930s (p74). This became a familiar theme with Lindsay, and his later works, such as After the thirties (1956), partly function as reductive nostalgia for the CPGB of the popular front: ie, profound unpopularity cast as popularity. His writings of 1945-46 were all rejected, with a measure of vituperation, by the CPGB’s leadership (p75). Harker also has his own partial criticism of such writings, stating that they “remained stuck in an essentially diffusionist model of cultural empowerment” (p74).

British way

Where then did Lindsay stand on the CPGB’s relationship to working-class culture and consciousness, that had deteriorated so badly in the 1920s and 1930s? One gets an answer by drawing on his ‘British way’ novels (essentially a fictional rationalisation of the CPGB’s British road to socialism programme of 1951). His Betrayed spring (1953) is pertinent because here Lindsay spelled out, in an exceptionally clear fictional form, how the CPGB envisaged the development of working-class consciousness. The novel centres on a young working-class woman from London, Phyl, who, having been through the experience of the mass squatting movement, attends a demonstration of striking hotel workers in central London: “She wasn’t sure what the cause was in its full working-out, what the big words implied when the march was ended and the strike was won; but she felt the meaning of it all inside her, in the deep determination and happiness that gripped her, the pride of being there in the defiant march …”12

So, rationality is placed as the antithesis of the emotional impact of the march, given that Phyl apparently doesn’t understand all of the implications of the cause she is supporting. We have this alienated power of the mass on the move to spark proletarian political virgins into life. This is no accident on the part of Lindsay, and he underlines Phyl’s response as she listens to the speeches at the end of the march: “And once more she felt herself part of this great thing which she only partly understood but which had entered irretrievably into her life.”13 Lindsay also extends this impact to the crowd around Phyl: “…  the sunlight was sparkling over the myriad faces, while the voice flowed on, like the truth of struggle suddenly becoming articulate in all the dumb mouths of the world. The world within the world, the ghosts of the future taking body as the familiar comrades of everyday light.”14

Now, “the truth of struggle suddenly becoming articulate in all the dumb mouths of the world” is pretty prose indeed, but its alliance with such a partial and intensely ideological view of the “dumb” working-class being impregnated with external signs, merely foregrounds the retreat of Lindsay’s articulate prose into the realm of a mere literary effect; a reconciliation with an alien ideology.

Harker clearly applauds Lindsay’s ‘oppositional’ writings of 1945-46. But this opposition is all surface, in that Lindsay’s view of working-class potentiality wasn’t that of the ‘merger theory’ of Karl Kautsky and Lenin, whereby the class rationally attains socialist ideology. It was the mutilated view, presaged on the survival of various party bureaucracies, that saw the proletariat as something to be poked and prodded by external factors, stuck in its immediacy. The ‘hegemonic’ system of cultural alliances that CPGB dissidents such as Lindsay outlined was not based on any conceivable notion of proletarian revolution and the boundless potential that the Bolsheviks, for example, saw in the working class. In that sense, they are not even properly “diffusionist” at all, except in the most manipulative fashion. Such notions came to function (and this is what compelled the CPGB bureaucracy to sponsor and adopt Eurocommunists in the 1970s) as wishes and hopes that the party could do better in its existing state of bureaucratic centralism - ie, the party regime that complemented its anti-working-class ideology by making it impossible that the CPGB could be captured by proletarian forces. Jack Lindsay was clearly a pain in the arse to the party leadership at times, but viewing him as a major heretic is simply implausible. Much the same could be said of Harker’s other intellectual heroes in his lexicon of CPGB cultural heretics: an opposition of appearances but not of reality.

Questions

I am in more agreement with Harker around his diagnosis of the CPGB’s Questions of ideology and culture (QIC) statement of 1967, which fed off discussions in the French and Italian parties, and was meant to offer a renewal of the CPGB’s work in scientific, cultural and ideological spheres (pp145-147). Naturally, it wasn’t drawn up in any democratic fashion but, after its top-down submission, it was the subject of a long debate in Marxism Today. Its nebulous advocacy of ‘freedom’ in the cultural sphere was, as critics observed, paying penance for the past crimes of Stalinism and the days in which the movement had no hesitation in ordering comrades what to paint and write. But this ‘hands-off’ approach meant that the CPGB had nothing very specific to say on these topics anymore and many of the activists in the party’s cultural and specialist groups were reported to be in opposition to QIC in the years following its appearance.15

Harker says of QIC: “A document that was at least frank in identifying ‘a lack of theory and perspective’ as the central weakness of the British working-class movement … was itself a striking instance of it” (p146). The BBC mocked the CPGB at the time of QIC (“The party line is that there is no line …”) and party philosopher Maurice Cornforth was the most savage of all: “Never objecting to anything is as stupid as objecting to everything” (ibid). The irony is that the majority of the party’s activists would, I think, in this period still be inclined towards a preference for realism, even ‘socialist realism’, trimmed of the more blood-curdling rhetoric of the Zhdanov era of the 1940s and 1950s. This was the basis for the launching of dissident CPGB cultural magazines from the left, such as Artery in 1971, in which Harker, naturally, shows no interest.

By 1967, the CPGB’s ageing leadership was frightened of its own reflection. The party had long ago abandoned the noble Bolshevik mission of merging socialist consciousness and the working class. For a time, this could be offset by notions of a ‘party of a new type’ vanguard, a minority that would drag the proletariat by its ear towards the promised land. When the CPGB had to face up to what that actually meant in its crisis year of 1956, the horrors of Stalinist ‘construction’ and sending tanks into Hungary, this, unsurprisingly provoked a crisis in party morality; hence the eventual emergence of QIC and a leadership scared of its own historical shadow.

Despite his inclination towards the later dubious luminaries of the CPGB’s Eurocommunist faction (I once had a vivid dream that I opened a dictionary and the entry for ‘overrated’ had been merely defined as ‘Beatrix Campbell’), Harker is sensible enough to recognise that no real ‘renewal’ of the CPGB took place and the party was pretty much finished by 1979, along with the Eurocommunist trend in Europe, which ran aground in Italy and effectively destroyed the Spanish party under Santiago Carrillo’s tutelage (p197). But I think Harker’s analysis is under-powered in not identifying the inability of any of his heretical ‘heroes’ to face up to the existential crisis of the CPGB. Class politics - the universal liberation of the proletariat ‘for itself’ and without distinction in relation to gender, race or sexuality - was side-lined, and the Euros, as they were dubbed, became the most enthusiastic protagonists of the anti-democratic, bureaucratic centralist mechanism that the likes of Dutt, Pollitt and Gollan had used to maintain their control over proletarian activists.

This book, I would judge, is not really a history of the CPGB as a party, even in the cultural sphere. To be a party history it would need to include more of the arguments and activities of the CPGB’s left, which contributed a lot to the debates that Harker covers, partly because such questions were dealt with in a relatively open manner by the leadership. You could debate about art in a way that you couldn’t about the nature of the Soviet Union. But the left is largely invisible, being subjected to the “enormous condescension of posterity”. Instead, this is largely a factional history about precursors of the Euros, saddled with the limited preconceptions of that group. That doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. You can’t tell the story of the CPGB without Harker’s often shop-soiled ‘heroes’, but they don’t equate, in themselves, to the cultural history of the party.

Lawrence Parker


  1. Jack Conrad, ‘The Leninist: Before this there was that’ Weekly Worker March 6 2014: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1000/the-leninist-before-this-there-was-that.↩︎

  2. David Broder ‘The misuses of Gramsci’ Weekly Worker February 25 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1336/the-misuses-of-gramsci.↩︎

  3. www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/nov/13.htm.↩︎

  4. See, for example, Lars T Lih Lenin London 2012 pp82-83.↩︎

  5. This passage is adapted from a longer article about CPGB novels that was published by the Cosmonaut blog: cosmonautmag.com/2020/08/workers-and-writers-the-communist-novel-in-britain.↩︎

  6. E Taylor The popular front novel in Britain, 1934-1940 London 2018.↩︎

  7. W Rust ‘The Labour Party’s future’ Labour Monthly January 1936.↩︎

  8. B Brecht ‘Against Georg Lukács’ in Aesthetics and politics London 1979 p80.↩︎

  9. Cited in A Croft ‘The boys round the corner: the story of Fore Publications’ in A Croft (editor) A weapon in the struggle: essays on the cultural history of the Communist Party in Britain London 1998 p143.↩︎

  10. R Samuel The lost world of British communism London 2006 pp198-199.↩︎

  11. ‘Browderism’ refers to the actions of Earl Browder (1891-1973), general secretary of the Communist Party USA, who dissolved his party in May 1944 in favour of the looser Communist Political Association, a move based on Browder’s expectation that a wartime coalition with ‘progressive’ capitalists and the diplomacy between the US, Britain and the Soviet Union would continue beyond the war. This eventually caused some controversy in the CPGB and Lindsay was himself chastised for ‘Browderism’ by the party.↩︎

  12. J Lindsay Betrayed Spring London 1953 p92.↩︎

  13. Ibid p96.↩︎

  14. Ibid.↩︎

  15. In August 1972, Betty Reid had to report internally that “many of the most active people” in the CPGB’s specialist groups and journals were “totally in disagreement” with the party’s thinking in QIC. B Reid ‘Specialist groups, journals and associated questions’ in CPGB archive, CP/CENT/CULT/04/09.↩︎