“Uncomradely and un-Communist” actions between the Communist Parties of the British Commonwealth

One of the arguments that I am developing in my current project is that once the Comintern ceases to function as a directing centre for the international Communist movement, individual Communist Parties start to look to several different places for guidance. For the Communist Parties of the Commonwealth, London and Moscow existed as competing metropoles and as the Chinese Revolution neared victory, Beijing rose as a further alternative  point of reference (it seems quite clear that the Soviet Union and China agreed on spheres of influence in late 1940s/early 1950s where Moscow would oversee things in Europe, while communists in Asia would follow the ‘Chinese path’).

In my research, I have been particularly interested in the strains in the relationship between the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Communist Party of Australia in the late 1940s. After the CPGB published the pamphlet Looking Ahead in the last days of the Second World War (a precursor for The British Road to Socialism that was published in 1951), the CPA criticised the CPGB for its ‘Browderist’ tendencies and for substituting the struggle for socialism for an acceptance of bourgeois democratic reformism. In 1948, the CPA published a critique of the CPGB in its journal Communist Review, taking the line of the Yugoslav government (before the fallout between Stalin and Tito) and influenced by the leftwards shift that the Cominform took under the ‘two camps’ thesis in 1947. (You can find more about this here)

But the CPA was also highly influenced by the Chinese Communist Party at this stage and had close ties to the Communist Party of Malaya (based in Singapore), who were debating whether to launch an armed insurrection against the British colonial government. Part of the CPA’s critique of the CPGB was that as the British party supported the Labour Government under Clement Atlee, they were unwilling to fully support anti-colonial rebellions in the British Commonwealth as this would upset any prospective ‘Labour-Communist’ alliance. On the other hand, the CPA was very supportive of communist anti-colonialism in the South-East Asia region (on the doorstep of Australia). With its enthusiasm for the Malayan Communist Party, the CPA could highlight the contrast between its agenda and the ‘reformism’ of the CPGB and also depict itself as a supporter of the emerging anti-colonial movements in Asia.

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This leads to me this document, which I found in the CPGB archive in Manchester (CP/CENT/INT/34/02). It is a letter from the CPGB’s Political Committee to L.L. Sharkey, the General Secretary of the CPA, for using the theoretical journal of the Malayan Communist Party to attack the CPGB. The CPGB described Sharkey’s article, titled ‘The International Situation and Opportunism’, as an ‘uncomradely and un-Communist action’ which allowed ‘an entirely false presentation of the policy of our Party’. This is a great letter to find in the archives, but it is only half (or a third) of the story.

I had a look through the CPA archive at the Mitchell LIbrary in Sydney today, but couldn’t find anything from the CPA’s end. I also haven’t been able to ascertain the text of Sharkey’s article, particularly as the journal of the MCP remains unmentioned in the letter. I’m unsure whether the MCP has an archive to investigate either.

I’d be interested in any help from other people – particularly those with a knowledge of the Malayan Communist Party, who might be able to steer me in the right direction with the unnamed journal. Once again, I throw things open to you, the readers…

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