Anti-apartheid

Announcing the chapter list for ‘Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956’

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Image source: Getty Images

Now that we have entered the copy-editing phase, Matthew Worley and I are happy to announce the chapter list for our forthcoming volume with Manchester University Press, Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956. It is the second volume that Matt and I have co-edited for MUP (the first being Against the Grain) and we are very excited to showcase new scholarship by a range of established and upcoming scholars (including a number of activist-scholars). Like the previous volume, we have tried to cover a wide variety of different groups and movements and hope that these chapters inspire further research into the British (and international) far left. So here is chapter list:

Introduction: The continuing importance of the history of the British far left – Evan Smith and Matthew Worley

1          Revolutionary vanguard or agent provocateur: students and the far left on English university campuses, c. 1970–90 – Jodi Burkett

2          Not that serious? The investigation and trial of the Angry Brigade, 1967–72 – J. D. Taylor

3          Protest and survive: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Labour Party and civil defence in the 1980s – Jacquelyn Arnold

4          Anti-apartheid solidarity in the perspectives and practices of the British far left in the 1970s and ’80s – Gavin Brown

5          ‘The Merits of Brother Worth’: the International Socialists and life in a Coventry car factory, 1968–75 – Jack Saunders

6          Making miners militant? The Communist Party of Great Britain in the National Union of Mineworkers, 1956–85 – Sheryl Bernadette Buckley

7          Networks of solidarity: the London left and the 1984–85 miners’ strike – Diarmaid Kelliher

8          ‘You have to start where you’re at’: politics and reputation in 1980s Sheffield – Daisy Payling

9          Origins of the present crisis? The emergence of ‘left-wing’ Scottish nationalism,      1956–79 – Rory Scothorne and Ewan Gibbs

10        A miner cause? The persistence of left nationalism in postwar Wales – Daryl Leeworthy

11        The British radical left and Northern Ireland during ‘the Troubles’ – Daniel Finn

12        The point is to change it: a short account of the Revolutionary Communist Party – Michael Fitzpatrick

13        The Militant Tendency and entrism in the Labour Party – Christopher Massey

14        Understanding the formation of the Communist Party of Britain – Lawrence Parker

We hope that the volume will be available by the end of the year, or in early 2018. Further details will be on this blog as they come to us.

For those attending the Modern British Studies conference at the University of Birmingham in July, Matt and several of the contributing authors will be speaking about the collection. More details to follow soon.

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South African progressives and the Suez Crisis of 1956

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On 29 October, 1956, the Suez Crisis began with an Israeli attack upon Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, with the UK and France intervening the subsequent days to ‘protect’ the Suez Canal. Many historians have viewed these actions as the last major ‘roll of the dice’ for the British and French governments hoping to stem the decolonisation process in Africa and the Middle East, and the drawing of the postcolonial world into closer ties with the Soviet Bloc.

From South Africa, progressives watched as imperialist forces invaded one of its former colonies to prevent a programme of nationalisation, occurring amidst the wider decolonisation process across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This worried the various progressive groups that still existed in South Africa in the mid-1950s. Eight years into Apartheid rule, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) had been banned in 1950 and its membership driven underground (its successor, the South African Communist Party (SACP), was not officially established until 1960). The African National Congress (ANC) was still a legal organisation, but a month later, most of its leadership would be arrested and put on trial for treason by the Strijdom government. The remnants of the CPSA that remained in South Africa were often also members of the ANC, while other former CPSA activists coalesced around organisations, such as the ex-servicemen group, the Springbok Legion.

The Suez Crisis, coming at the same time as the Soviet invasion of Hungary, shocked these progressives as a blatant imperialist reaction to the decolonisation process, and an affront to the sovereignty of these newly formed postcolonial nations. In their journal Liberation, the ANC called the action a ‘blatant aggression’ and stated:

British, French and Israeli troops have invaded Egypt and occupied Egyptian territory by force of arms; a wanton, premeditated act of aggression taken in defiance of solemn undertakings under the United Nations Charter.

The reason for this invasion, the ANC declared, was control of the Suez Canal and the revenue generated from this, with the Israeli invasion providing a pretext for seizing control. The journal continued:

[T]hat in fact is exactly what the English and French imperialists are out for – loot. They want to grab the Suez Canal. The Israeli attack was just a feeble excuse (no doubt it was fixed up in advance with the Israeli Government)…

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Meanwhile, the newspaper New Age, run by a number of ex-CPSA members, such as Ruth First, published on its front page a statement drawn up by several progressive organisations in South Africa, such as the ANC, the Indian National Congress, the Coloured People’s Association and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). The statement read:

The invasion by the Israeli army and the decision of the British and French Governments to re-occupy the Suez Canal zone constitute a serious act of aggression against Egypt which will have world-wide repercussions…

These acts are in total disregard of the territorial sovereignty of the Egyptian people and cannot be justified by any alleged provocations. Britain and France have used Israel as a spearhead to re-establish themselves as masters of the Suez Canal in order to maintain their domination over colonial countries in Africa and the Middle East.

This idea of Britain and France reasserting their imperial dominance over the postcolonial world was something that was also highlighted by the ANC. As well retaking the Suez Canal, the ANC suggested that the Anglo-French aims were ‘to overthrow the Nasser Government and re-occupy Egypt as a colony’ in the short term, and ‘to teach the peoples of the colonies and former colonies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East “a lesson”’ in the long term. At this time, the British were fighting anti-colonial movements in Malaya, Cyprus and Kenya, while the French were fighting the National Liberation Front in Algeria.

However the actions of the British and French were not successful and both countries were chastised by the United Nations. Both the ANC and those attached to the New Age newspaper celebrated the fact that Egypt had not been defeated by the imperialist forces. Two weeks after the fighting stopped, the New Age newspaper wrote:

The force of world anger at the British, French and Israeli invasion of Egypt has led to a cease-fire and brought to a temporary halt the use of naked aggression to crush the Nasser government. This is a victory for the forces of progress, but it is by no means a final victory.

The ANC were just as celebratory, writing:

The plot to conquer Egypt has failed; the “lesson” has turned out to be the greatest fiasco in modern history. As we write, the aggressors’ armies are still in Egypt, but we cannot doubt that the massive reaction of the peace-loving people of the whole world will compel them to withdraw unconditionally, and to compensate the innocent Egyptian people for the damage and suffering that they have caused.

From this, both publications expressed solidarity between the progressive and anti-imperialist forces in South Africa and the Egyptian people as allies in the fight against imperialism and racialism. The ANC declared that the Suez Crisis had inspired ‘the awakening millions of Britain’s African empire’ and ‘[i[nstead of frightening the colonial world’, the Anglo-French-Israeli attack had:

raised against themselves a storm of mass solidarity, indignation and determination that can only hasten the doom of imperialism and colonialism through-out the world.

The aforementioned statement on the front page of the New Age finished with this expression of solidarity:

On behalf of all peace-loving South Africans we demand an end to force and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Egyptian territory. We express our sympathy with the Egyptian people and our support for their just claim to sovereignty in the own country.

In an editorial contained in the same issue, the links between progressives in South Africa and the Nasser government in Egypt were reiterated:

As an African country we are closely involved in this invasion of Africa. As members of the liberation movement we are closely involved in this attack on a liberation movement. As opponents of national oppression and colonialism we are involved in this oppressive and imperialist war…

We dare not remain quiet. Our voices must be heard in the call for an end to the war in Egypt – in the demand for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the territory of that country.

But while these various groups expressed solidarity in the face of imperialist attack, they did not all consider Colonel Nasser in the same light. Moses Kotane, the General Secretary of the CPSA and then the SACP, stated in New Age that Nasser was ‘no fascist’ as the Western media and politicians had described him, but was ‘an ardent nationalist whose main concern is the freedom, independence, progress and honour of Egypt and her 25 million inhabitants’. Kotane explained that Nasser played an important role in the worldwide anti-colonial movement, saying, ‘Colonel Nasser desires to see colonialism ended in Africa, Asia and the rest of the world.’ He concluded his outline of Nasser with this:

The South African people must clearly understand that the continued independence and progress of the Egyptian people means a lot to their own struggle against apartheid and injustices in this country.

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Lionel Bernstein, a comrade of Kotane in the CPSA/SACP and editor of the Springbok Legion’s Fighting Talk, was much more critical of Nasser and his government. The revolution that was led by Nasser and his fellow army generals was, according to Bernstein, simply passing Egypt ‘into the hands of the new dictatorship of the military junta, acting without consultation with the people, without elections, without any authority save the force they commanded’. Bernstein pointed to locking up of all political opponents, including Egypt’s communists, as a very negative aspect of the regime, but also pointed to positive changes, such as the creation of a ‘democratic’ constitution. However this constitution was deemed to be a constitution of the bourgeoisie – ‘the creation of the Nasser regime, of the middle-class revolutionaries representing the middle class of Egypt’. Teleologically it was moving the country ‘steadily away from military dictatorship towards bourgeois democracy’, but for Bernstein, the Nasser regime was not socialist.

On the other hand, Bernstein recognised Egypt’s commitment to anti-colonial solidarity:

It is a government of fighters against foreign subjection, taking the first steps against colonialism, against the backward heritage of imperialism. Let its enemies look to their own record in their own territory – in Kenya and Algeria, in Cyprus and in Malaya and Morocco and compare the record.

The Suez Crisis coincided with the Soviet invasion of Hungary and this led to a schism amongst communists, socialists and other progressives across the globe. Unlike other Communist Parties in the West, the fact that the CPSA had disbanded and gone underground meant similar open debates that occurred in the British, French and Italian parties could not happen, and in general, amongst South African progressives, the events in Hungary were seen as justified in comparison with the Anglo-French-Israeli actions in Egypt. In the New Age, it was pronounced that comparison between the two interventions was a ‘false analogy’, stating:

  • The Anglo-French aggression was directed against the Egyptian government; the Soviet [gave] assistance on the invitation of the Hungarian government.
  • The Anglo-French forces invaded Egypt. The Soviet forces were stationed in Hungary with the recognised responsibility of protecting Hungary’s independence and preventing her return to fascism.
  • Britain and France had no shred of legal right to invade; the Soviet armed forces were legally in Hungary in terms of the Warsaw pact.
  • Most important of all – the issue of Egypt is between imperialism and national liberation; the issue in Hungary is between socialism and reaction…

In the editorial of Liberation, the ANC made a similar case for the differences between Suez and Hungary:

we should not forget that the Soviet Union has not suddenly ‘invaded’ Hungary, as the British and French have invaded Egypt. Soviet troops have been in Hungary ever since the end of the second world war, and as a result of that war.

From these statements, it is evident that the progressive forces in South Africa were particularly concerned about other national liberation movements in Africa (and across the rest of the world) in their fight against imperialism and colonialism. Experiencing a severe racialist reaction against the decolonisation process in the form of Apartheid, South African progressives expressed solidarity with the Egyptian people and viewed the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion as part of a wider reaction by the global West against decolonisation. In the following years, southern Africa would be viewed as anomaly where the imperialist powers had not relinquished their stranglehold on these settler colonies, in the face of a generally decolonised African continent.

On the other hand, those progressives that were part of the SACP and ANC looked to the Soviet Union, as well as the Non-Aligned Movement (which had first met the previous year in Bandung) as guiding forces in the anti-colonial struggle. The ANC called the USSR ‘a great power openly and irrevocably hostile to imperialism’ that had ‘enabled the former colonies triumphantly to proclaim and consolidate their independence’. Criticism of the Soviets would come later on, but in 1956, there was little dissent amongst what the ANC and the underground SACP expressed towards the Soviet Union.

Like the putting down of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, the Suez Crisis showed South African progressives that the British were unwilling to give up control of some colonies that had strategic value to them, or where they felt that communists could potentially take power. Although Harold Macmillan would speak of ‘winds of change’ across Africa a few years later, the long struggle against Apartheid and imperialism in southern Africa was only just beginning.

 

 

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London Recruits: Please help fund doco on ‘secret war against Apartheid’

This is an appeal to help raise money to fund the completion of this documentary on the British activists who travelled to South Africa in the late 1960s to undertake secret missions to help the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. Here’s a message from the film makers:

New documentary feature London Recruits tells the stories of the young women and men who undertook clandestine missions in the struggle to overthrow apartheid. Kept secret for decades, with your help, the nail-biting stories of those who risked all in taking on one of the 20th century’s most feared and brutal regimes will be told on the big screen for the first time.

The filmmakers behind London Recruits have launched a Kickstarter appeal to raise the final injection of funds needed to finish the project. Money raised with enable them to shoot reconstruction scenes, film remaining interviews, excavate further archives and build visual effects.

By backing London Recruits you will play and integral role in the project and help get the story of solidarity and internationalism to the big screen. Donate by October 1st. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/londonrecruits/london-recruits

Keep up to date with the project on Twitter (https://twitter.com/LondonRecruits) and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/londonrecruits/)

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If you can, do donate to the film’s Kickstarter. A book recounting these stories of those who went on these secret missions was published in 2012 by Merlin Press. Do check that out as well!

I may post more on this next week, as I am just going through the papers of Ronnie Kasrils that were recently deposited at the Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits in Johannesburg.

New article in Journal of Australian Studies: Policing Protest in the Australian Capital Territory

Canberra Times on the first use of the Public Order Act

Just a quick post to let you all know that the latest issue of Journal of Australian Studies features my long awaited article on policing protest in the ACT in the early 1970s. The full title of the paper is ‘Policing Protest in the Australian Capital Territory: The Introduction and Use of the Public Order Act 1971’. The abstract is below:

This article examines the reaction by the Australian Federal Government to the protest movements of the 1960s–1970s and their attempts to use public order legislation to thwart radical discontent in Australia. It argues that the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 was aimed at the threat of “violent” protests, particularly the tactic of the “sit-in”, and that to this end, the legislation was an overreaction to the actual threat posed by the protest movements at the time. It also shows that after a long gestation period, the Act was ill-equipped to deal with the changing nature of demonstrations in the 1970s, such as the problems caused by the erection of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Thus, after an initial flurry of use in mid-1971, the law has been seldom used since.

You can find the article here. If you use academia.edu, you can access the article here.

CFP FOR EDITED VOLUME ON HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN FAR LEFT

CPA pamphlet

Evan Smith (Flinders University), Matthew Worley (University of Reading) and Jon Piccini (University of Queensland) are calling for chapter proposals for an edited volume on the Australian far left in the post-war era (1945 to the present). Expanding on our work looking at the history of the British far left, we believe that a survey of the exciting new work being done of the far left in Australia and its influence on wider Australian political history is due.

We are currently seeking chapter proposals on the following topics:

  • The CPA and Cold War espionage
  • 1956 for the Australian left
  • The peace/nuclear disarmament movement
  • The student left and the anti-Vietnam War movement
  • Radical Marxism since the 1960s (Trotskyism, Maoism, anti-revisionism)
  • Anarchism in Australia
  • ASIO and the new left
  • The left and Indigenous rights
  • The left and the women’s movement
  • The left and gay rights
  • The anti-apartheid movement in Australia
  • Nationalism and internationalism on the far left
  • Trade unionism, the ALP and the left
  • The Green Bans
  • Environmentalism and the Greens as a ‘left’ party
  • Or any other aspect of the Australian far left if suitably interesting.

We welcome proposals from both scholars and activists, but emphasise that chapters must be presented in an academic format, written ‘objectively’ and with references to primary source materials.

An internationally recognised publisher has already shown interest in publishing the collection.

300 word abstracts and a short bio should be sent to: evan.smith@flinders.edu.au (Please CC in m.worley@reading.ac.uk and Jon.Piccini@uqconnect.edu.au into all emails)

Please email any editor with any further questions.

DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS – 4 APRIL, 2016

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Rhodesia, the UDI and the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s

This is a continuation of my research into how the Communist Party of Great Britain campaigned around the issue of national liberation and majority African rule in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, looking at the period from the breakup of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland to the aftermath of the UDI. Today is the 50th anniversary of Ian Smith’s  Unilateral Declaration of Independence (11 November, 1965), which is often forgotten when compared with the other historical anniversaries that the day represents.

A CPGB pamphlet from the late 1960s

The role of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) within the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Britain is well documented and it is generally acknowledged that while a number of key personnel within the AAM were members of the CPGB, these Party members did not try to assert the Communist Party’s perspective on South Africa onto the Movement. Inspired at this moment in its history by the idea of ‘broad popular alliance’ (CPGB 1968: 1), the Communist Party emphasised that it was willing to work alongside other progressive organisations and social movements and not try to dominate them. This meant working with potential allies in the Labour Party, the trade union movement, progressive Christian groups, various other left-wing groups and non-aligned anti-apartheid activists. While critics of the AAM attempted to portray it as a communist front, the influence of the CPGB at the leadership level was greatly limited.

However in an adjacent conflict to the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the Zimbabwean war of national liberation, the Communist Party was less constrained by the AAM and promoted its own line on the Zimbabwean struggle, influenced by a reading of the struggle as part of a wider conflict in the Cold War period. The CPGB saw South Africa and Rhodesia as two arenas of the same battle against capitalism and imperialism being waged in Southern Africa, also taking in Mozambique and Angola. From the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith in 1965 to the elections held under African majority rule in 1980, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was viewed by the CPGB as the ‘weakest link’ in the chain of the imperialist system and an important battle against racial oppression on the road to fight against apartheid.

In the year prior to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Smith regime, leader of the Communist Party’s International Department, Idris Cox (1964a: 38), wrote in Marxism Today:

Within the past seven years the number of independent states in Africa has trebled… With the exception of South Africa (which is ‘independent’ only for the European minority) these independent states account for over 80 per cent of the African territory, and 85 per cent of its population.

After Harold Macmillan’s ‘winds of change’ speech in South Africa in 1960, decolonisation amongst Britain’s African colonies rapidly increased so that by 1965, the only British colony left on the continent was the Dominion of Southern Rhodesia. Rhodesia (as it was also known) was joined by the Republic of South Africa (which had left the Commonwealth in 1960) and by the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique. These four nations formed a bloc of imperialist states where white racial supremacy mixed with anti-communism to maintain ‘Western civilisation’ in the face of the broader decolonisation movement and as part of the global West in the Cold War. When declaring Rhodesia’s UDI in late 1965, Smith described the action as striking ‘a blow for the preservation of justice, civilization and Christianity’, rhetorically asking, ‘does anyone believe that Rhodesia would be the last target of the communists of the Afro-Asian block?’ (The Times, 12 November, 1965).

In an attempt to delay potential problems with the seemingly inevitable transition to majority African rule in their southern African colonies, the Conservative Government in Britain had overseen the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953, which combined both Southern and Northern Rhodesia, as well as the protectorate of Nyasaland. By 1963, this federation had collapsed, leaving Southern Rhodesia as one of the few imperialist states in Africa that maintained rule by the white minority, denying the majority African population many political and social rights. Resistant to pressures from the British government (and other members of the Commonwealth) to integrate the African population into the body politic of the former settler colony, the Rhodesian Front (RF), under the leadership of Ian Smith, promoted that Southern Rhodesia (increasingly referred to as just Rhodesia) should remain a white-ruled Dominion. Formally taking power in 1964, Smith’s RF initiated the beginnings of a fight against the emergent national liberation movements inside the country, awoken by the slow collapse of the Federation since the early 1960s. Criticised by the incoming Labour government under Harold Wilson, Smith announced the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in November 1965, withdrawing Rhodesia from the Commonwealth and initiating a long battle against majority African rule.

The Communist Party had long been involved in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist politics in Africa and in the Party’s publicity material for the 1964 general election, proudly stated:

The Communist Party is the only political party which has always opposed imperialism and all forms of colonial rule and exploitation. It fully supports the efforts of the colonial and newly independent peoples.

We have stood consistently by the peoples of Africa and Asia, and never hesitated in that cause to oppose our own Government and condemn the actions of our own military forces (CPGB 1964a: 2).

As the Federation broke up in the early 1960s, the Communist Party saw Southern Rhodesia on the cusp of either majority African rule or joining ‘the familiar henchmen of imperialism’, such as the UK, the USA and South Africa (Buckle, 1962: 374). The head of the Party’s International Department, Idris Cox (1963: 229), declared that ‘[t]he Federation is now dead’ and predicted that ‘[s]ooner or later Southern Rhodesia will become independent – but not under European minority rule’, proclaiming that independence ‘must be democratic independence under African majority rule’. After the transition to majority African rule by Nyasaland (Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), the Communists saw Southern Rhodesia as the next to fall and would leave apartheid South Africa vulnerable and isolated. Support for the national liberation forces in Southern Rhodesia became paramount to defeating imperialism and colonialism on the African continent, with Jack Woddis (1963: 776) writing, ‘it would be no exaggeration to say that Southern Rhodesia is one of the most dangerous explosions points in Africa.’ By the following May, Cox (1964b: 291) stated that if Smith maintained his position on resisting majority African rule, there would be ‘more violence and bloodshed in Southern Rhodesia and would be ‘another “trouble spot”’ for the British (following from the counter-insurgencies in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus).

The Communist Party put its support behind the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), a national liberation organisation established in the early 1960s and led by Joshua Nkomo. Despite being banned by the Smith government, ZAPU first agitated against white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia, calling for the mobilisation of the African population and demanding the British and the UN intervene in negotiations with the regime. Before the UDI in late 1965, the demands of ZAPU were:

  1. Suspend immediately the Constitution of the Colony.
  2. Order the release of Joshua Nkomo and all other political prisoners.
  3. Appoint an Executive pending the calling of a Constitutional Conference.
  4. Make available units of the British forces for emergency action against any attempted act of treason by the white minority Smith Government against the Crown (as cited in, Cox 1964: 292).

However the resistance of the Smith regime to any form of negotiations of the prospect of majority African rule and the persecution of the national liberation movement in Southern Rhodesia led ZAPU to take up the idea of the armed struggle, establishing the military wing the Zimbabwe People’s Republic Army (ZIPRA) in 1964 in Zambia. ZAPU formed links with the African National Congress (ANC), exiled from South Africa, and both organisations were supported by the Soviet Union. The ANC, along with the South African Communist Party (SACP), had adopted the notion of the armed struggle in the early 1960s, with the formation of its military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) in December 1961. This served as a framework for ZAPU/ZIPRA and the two organisations would fight together against the Rhodesian and South African armed forces in the near future (such as the raids on Wankie in 1967).

The CPGB published a statement by ZAPU in the fortnightly journal Comment in September 1964, which called for people to support either ‘Smith and his fascist group’ or ‘the majority, who are the Africans, led by Mr. Nkomo’, declaring ‘[t]here is no question of pedalling in the neutral zone’ (ZAPU 1964: 566). Taking inspiration from the anti-fascist struggles of the Second World War (as well as the armed struggle advocated by the ANC), ZAPU (1964: 566) argued that if the Smith regime was unwilling to negotiate on the issues of democracy and ending ‘the venom of minority rule’, it would fight to liberate the majority African population ‘from the yoke injustice, domination [and] exploitation’. The statement ended with this declaration:

We cannot condone violence and bloodshed nor can we condemn it, for there is no course left in Zimbabwe. The people have been frustrated so much that they cannot see any other course open but the REVOLUTIONARY WAY! GO ON FREEDOM FIGHTERS – FOR IN OUR BATTLE THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS!!

At this moment in 1964-65, Rhodesia seemed to be at a turning point – it was either going go the way of the other British colonies in Africa, such as Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Kenya and Tanganyika (later Tanzania), who all gained independence and majority African rule in the early 1960s, or it was either going to join South Africa, South-West Africa and the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique as part of a network of imperialist states ruled by a white minority. The Communist Party (1964b: 562) noted the two options open to Rhodesia, posing the question, ‘shall white minority domination continue or shall democracy prevail and the country advance to independence based on the rule of the African majority?’ And it was once again felt that Rhodesia was the lynchpin of the imperialist system in Southern Africa, which, if it fell to majority African rule, would put enormous pressure on the existing imperialist states. The Party saw the Dominion as such, writing:

Imperialism sees Southern Rhodesia as the central bastion in the line of colonialist strongholds stretching across the southern part of the African continent, linking the Portuguese colonies of Angola in the west and Mozambique in the East (CPGB 1964b: 562).

As Ian Smith consolidated his hold on power in Rhodesia, he proposed that the country’s 1961 Constitution allowed for him to claim its independence from the British Commonwealth and maintain white minority rule. Both sides of the British government attempted to bring Smith back from the brink of declaring the UDI during 1965 and called for a compromise, with Smith retaining the 1961 Constitution, but allowing for Africans to have the vote. Jack Woddis (1965: 358), the future Head of the International Department, wrote that this was no suitable compromise as ‘the African people and their organisations and leaders have repeatedly rejected the 1961 Constitution… and have emphasised time and again that they will never accept this constitution as the basis for independence’. But on 11 November, 1965, Smith pronounced Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence and refused to impose majority African rule, declaring that the British and the other constituent parts of the former Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland had tried ‘to foist the same dogma [of ‘racial harmony’] on to Rhodesia’ (The Times, 12 November, 1965).

Writing in the CPGB aligned journal Labour Monthly, R. Palme Dutt (1965: 529-530; 541) described the UDI as a ‘fascist type’ and ‘racialist’ coup by the Smith regime and likened the British government’s reaction as akin to the policy of appeasement of the 1930s. The UDI, Dutt argued, was a counter-revolutionary and ‘rearguard action of a fanatical racialist minority’ against the ‘advancing African Revolution’, but one which was ‘doomed to defeat’ as European imperialism was removed from the African continent by the forces of national liberation. He declared that the ‘interests of African freedom and of world peace demand the unconditional defeat and destruction of the racialist regime in Rhodesia’, looking to ZAPU and the country’s neighbouring African-led governments to intervene. Like others, Dutt saw the struggle for majority African rule in Rhodesia as part of a struggle against racism and imperialism in the rest of Southern Africa, writing:

The question of Rhodesia cannot finally be separated from the question of South Africa and of the Portuguese colonies. The fight to end racial servitude and win democratic freedom in these territories is a common fight… It is a common battle of all the African peoples, as proclaimed already by all the independent African governments, with support of all the progressive peoples of the world, of the socialist nations, the newly independent states outside Africa, and of all who support these common anti-imperialist aims in the imperialist countries. 

However support for this by the British trade unions was lacking at the time, beyond affiliation to the MCF and support for an embargo for South Africa, with Dutt thus imploring, ‘it is the vital interest of the British labour movement to play its full part in this common fight’.

In an emergency resolution passed at the CPGB’s 29th National Congress in November 1965, the Party made three demands on the issue of Rhodesia:

  1. The removal of the illegal Smith Government in Southern Rhodesia;
  2. Release of all political prisoners and those in detention;
  3. Suspension of the 1961 constitution, and a fully representative conference to frame a new constitution based on universal adult suffrage and majority rule (CPGB 1965: 64).

Furthermore the resolution expressed ‘firm solidarity’ with ZAPU which it described as ‘the spearhead of the African liberation movement in Southern Rhodesia’. Like Dutt’s conclusion, the resolution called for members of the CPGB ‘to do their utmost to win the organised labour movement to bring the maximum pressure to bear upon the Wilson Government to put these measures into effect’.

There seemed to be general consensus in Britain and in Africa that the Smith regime, with the oil embargo, pressure from the United Nations and the national liberation campaign being waged by both ZAPU and ZANU, would not be able to hold out for long on its own. Harold Wilson, perhaps infamously, declared that Rhodesia would feel the brunt of sanctions ‘within weeks, not months’ (Cited in, Coggins 2006: 371). This initial enthusiasm was tempered by the failure of the Wankie Raids by the ANC and ZAPU, when the armed wings of both organisations, the MK and ZIPRA, attempted to attack the Smith regime within its borders (to create a communication link between ANC camps in Botswana and Zambia) and were repelled by the Rhodesian Army, with assistance from the South African Defence Force (SADF) (Ralinala, et. al. 2004). By the late 1960s, the Rhodesian ‘bush war’ seemed headed for a stalemate, and further negotiations between Wilson and Smith (the Tiger and Fearless talks) failed to break the political deadlock.

At this stage, the international campaign for solidarity with the national liberation forces in Zimbabwe shifted, believing that the armed struggle and co-operation between the ANC and ZAPU would intensify in the late 1960s – as shown in the Marxism Today from September 1969 below. This is covered in the other posts that I have written on the subject.

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REFERENCES

Buckle, D. (1962) ‘The United Nations and Southern Rhodesia’, Labour Monthly (August) pp. 372-376.

Coggins, R. (2006) ‘Wilson and Rhodesia: UDI and British Policy Towards Africa’, Contemporary British History, 20/3, pp. 363-381.

Cox, I. (1963) ‘The Real Issue in Southern Rhodesia’, Comment (April 13) p. 229.

  • (1964a) ‘Socialist Ideas in Africa’, Marxism Today (February) pp. 38-45.
  • (1964b) ‘Zero Hour in Southern Rhodesia, Comment (May 9) pp. 291-292.

CPGB (1964a) ‘Finish with Colonialism! Draft for General Election’, CP/CENT/EC/09/08, LHASC.

  • (1964b) ‘Salazar – Smith – Verwoerd’, Comment (September 5) p. 562.
  • (1965) ‘Emergency Resolution: Southern Rhodesia’, in CPGB, 29th Communist Party Congress Report (London: CPGB pamphlet) p. 64.
  • (1968) The British Road to Socialism (London: CPGB pamphlet).
  • (1969) International Affairs Bulletin: Rhodesia Special Issue, 3/4 (January/February) CP/CENT/INT/08/08, LHASC.

Gurney, C. (2000) ‘“A Great Cause”: The Origins of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, June 1959-March 1960’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 26/1 (March) pp. 123-144.

Ralinala, R.M, et. al. (2004) ‘The Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns’, in South African Democracy Education Trust (eds), The Road to Democracy in South Africa: Volume 1, 1960-1970 (Arcadia, SA: UniSA Press) pp. 479-540.

Woddis, J. (1963) ‘What Next for Southern Rhodesia?’, Comment (December 7) pp. 776-778.

  • (1965) ‘Rhodesia’s 1961 Constitution’, Marxism Today (December) pp. 358-364.

ZAPU (1964) ‘The Revolution Gripping Zimbabwe’, Comment (September 7) p. 566.

 

The final years of the CPGB and the legacy of Marxism Today

With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader, many journalists and commentators are looking back to the 1980s and delving into the history of the British left. A lot of this has focused on Militant and the battles between the entrist group and Neil Kinnock, but journalists have also revived interest in the post-IMG entrist group, Socialist Action, which is linked to some of Corbyn’s staff. Corbyn himself was involved in several left-leaning social movements in the 1970s and 1980s, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Anti-Fascist Action.

However what truly interested me was an article in The Guardian by John Harris on the Communist Party of Great Britain’s journal Marxism Today and how the Party in its final years pointed to new directions for the left, which, Harris argues, are useful for understanding the political situation today. The following is based on an extract from my forthcoming book on the CPGB and the politics of race (Brill/Haymarket) and looks at the final years of the Communist Party, as well as its legacy (and its flagship journal).

Hobsbawm-Tony-Benn-Marxism-Today

Margaret Thatcher’s election victory in May 1979 was a watershed moment, emphatically pronouncing the end of the post-war social democratic consensus of the role of the state that had been in decline since the late 1960s. Thatcher’s victory was a demonstration of the ascendancy of the rightist populism that considered British society on the verge of collapse. The Thatcherite solution was to confront and control the ‘subversive’ elements in society, whether it was trade unionists, Irish republicans, youth or Britain’s black population. Margaret Thatcher combined a social conservatism from the traditional Tory right (previously espoused by Enoch Powell and the Monday Club) with an economic liberalism that preached free markets and privatisation at its core – something that the Conservatives since the 1950s had shifted away from. This was a break with Britain’s post-war social democratic consensus and a realignment of state power upon the framework of a market-led economic base – what is known to many now as ‘neo-liberalism’. The Thatcherite model of neo-liberalism was more than classic laissez-faire liberal economics, but a rearrangement of the relationship between the state and the individual citizen to favour certain forms of economics. As Michel Foucault wrote in 1978, neo-liberalism is not merely Adam Smith or a market society, but assumes:

the overall exercise of political power can be modeled on the principles of a market economy … to discover how far and to what extent the formal principles of a market economy can index a general art of government.[1]

Under neo-liberalism, the governance of the state favours market principles so that democratic concepts, such as ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’, are defined by consumer ‘choice’, resulting in citizneship not being defined by an individual’s obligations to and rights within a democratic society, but by their consumer power. Richard Seymour has argued that under Thatcher, while championing the idea of ‘choice’ for rational and infomed consumer citizen, the state pushed individuals towards accepting certain rationalities of the free market in some circumstances and on other occasions, intervened heavily to ensure an outcome preferable to the government.[2] This meant financial incentives for financial capitalist ventures in the City, a divestment in manufacturing, a drive towards privatisation and most importantly in the first half of the decade, the use of state power, through legilsation and police force, to ‘tackle’ the trade union ‘problem’. This desire of Thatcher and other Conservatives to ‘smash’ the trade unions was borne out of the victory of the miners in 1972, where the Heath government was unable to stand up to the tactics taken by the labour movement, and the experience of the Grunwick strike, where the National Association For Freedom campaigned that the presence of a trade union was anathema to the freedom of the individual worker. This desire resulted in early confrontations with the unions, such as the 1980 Steel Strike, but did not really gain momentum until March 1984 when the Miners’ Strike began. Before the confrontations with the trade unions, the first massive confrontation between the represstive appartus of the state and the people was between the police and black and Asian youth in Britain’s inner cities across the country in 1981.

Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques first viewed ‘Thatcherism’ as a defining change in Conservatism in the late 1970s before the Conservatives were elected in May 1979. Hall and Jacques, writing in the theoretical journal Marxism Today, saw that the agenda put forward by Margaret Thatcher was the representation of a shift to the right that had been gathering momentum since the upturn in industrial militancy and cultural radicalism in the late 1960s. This shift to the right was as much an ideological shift as it was a response to the economic crisis conditions of the mid-to-late 1970s. This analysis of Thatcherism and the emphasis upon ideology was part of a larger dynamic shift on the left that encompassed the Communist Party, of whom Jacques was an Executive Committee member and editor of Marxism Today. Jacques was a leading reformer within the CPGB, who was pushing that the Communist Party should have incorporated a wider political approach than focusing on industrial militancy and traditional class based politics. The push to reform the Party’s political strategy was encompassed in the redrafting of the CPGB programme, The British Road to Socialism, in 1977.

This redrafting of the Party manifesto came at a time in the late 1970s when the CPGB seemed to be in a severely weakened position. Despite having considerable influence in the trade union movement at the executive level during the previous decade of heightened industrial militancy, this had failed to produce any real political gains or stem its dramatically decreasing membership numbers. This decline in membership was exacerbated by the schisms that had formed within the Party after the introduction of the Social Contract between the Labour Government and the Trades Union Congress (TUC). This schism was defined between the reformers, influenced by Gramscism and Eurocommunism, who believed that the Party’s limited industrial approach had alienated potential allies within the new social movements and on the other side, the traditional industrial militants, who viewed the centrality of class politics and the emphasis upon Labour-Communist unity in the trade unions as essential to the creation of a socialist Britain. The 1977 edition of The British Road to Socialism promoted the strategy of the broad democratic alliance, which signified the official, yet highly disputed, idea that the struggle for socialism needed ‘not only… to be an association of class forces,… but of other important forces in society which emerge out of areas of oppression not always directly connected with the relations of production’.[3] The CPGB, ‘as the organised Marxist political party’, imbued itself as a vital organisation in mediating between the traditional labour movement and the other social forces to establish this alliance.[4]

For many of the reformers within the Party, it seemed as if the strategies put forward by the left (including the Communist Party) were from another era (principally the late 1960s and early 1970s) and this made them seem out of touch, particularly as the Conservative side of politics was mutating into a more confrontational and ideologically driven threat. It seemed evident that the traditional strategies of the left were not going to draw massive support from those who had been involved in the inner-city riots, despite a large disaffection with Thatcherism from both areas of British society. Hall and Jacques, along with others centred around Marxism Today, sought to reinvigorate the left and attempted to appeal to those who were disaffected by Thatcherism, but not part of the traditional left and the labour movement. To understand how the Conservatives were to combated in the 1980s, Hall and Jacques were instrumental in determining what Thatcherism meant and how it differed from previous post-war Conservatism. Particularly, Hall and Jacques (along with others, such as Andrew Gamble, Paul Gilroy and Joe Sim) recognised the ‘strong state’ emphasis by Thatcher and the need to confront the ‘enemies within’, all the while using terms such as ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ to describe the role of the individual in 1980s British society. As Stuart Hall wrote in 1980, ‘Make no mistake about it: under this regime, the market is to be Free; the people are to be Disciplined’.[5]

Renewal or defeat at the end of the decade?

In the final months of 1978, Dave Cook responded to the decline of the CPGB after the 35th National Congress – defeats of union action at British Leyland and Grunwick, the secession of the hardline Stalinists to the New Communist Party, hostile reaction by some traditionalists within the Party to the broad democratic alliance, continuing decline in Party membership – by reaffirming the relevance of the Party’s programme in an article in Marxism Today, ‘The British Road to Socialism and the Communist Party’.[6] Cook argued that the traditional labour movement was ‘far from corresponding with the whole working class’ and that class exploitation was not the sole politicising force for workers.[7] The ‘renewal of Marxism over recent years [had] tended to remain at abstract level’ and it was the purpose of the ‘broad democratic alliance’ to expand ‘collective action’ between the labour movement and the new social movements for a ‘much closer relationship between [the Party’s] theoretical work and practical activities’.[8] There were some in the Party who were sceptical about the changes in The British Road to Socialism and Cook’s article, alongside Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted?’, presented at the 1978 Marx Memorial Lecture, generated furious debate in Marxism Today throughout 1979. In his study of the CPGB’s industrial strategy, John McIlroy asked what these new social forces of action outside the ‘old axis of the unions, Labour Party and CP’ could achieve if the ‘big industrial struggles of the 1970s had failed to qualitatively advance socialist consciousness’.[9]

However it was not the intention of Cook or the other reformists to have the CPGB select either industrial militancy or the broad democratic alliance, but rather attempt to synthesise the two strategies. In Cook’s article, the ANL was used as an example of successful co-operation between the labour movement and the social movements, with a ‘range of cultural sponsorship and involvement’, such as ‘Rock Against Racism, actors, sports, festivals’ to ‘trigger off such a response from predominantly working class youth’.[10] However either strategy put forward by the Party in The British Road to Socialism could not overcome the fact that the Party was in decline. In 1979, the Party had 20,599 members, having lost over 10,000 in ten years and only 126 factory branches, having less than half than it did in the mid-1960s.[11] The Party had had no MPs since Phil Piratin and Willie Gallacher lost their seats in 1950 and only five candidates had been elected in local elections.[12]

Much of the optimism portrayed by the reformers around The British Road to Socialism was quashed by the convincing Conservative victory at the General Election in May 1979. The election of Margaret Thatcher saw the lowest share of the vote for the Labour Party since 1931 and a swing to the right by skilled working class voters, with around a third of trade unionists voting for the Conservatives.[13] Martin Jacques saw this shift to the right as part of the ‘crisis of hegemony’ and while the Party developed the concepts of ‘the broad democratic alliance, the mode of rule and the revolutionary process’ inside The British Road to Socialism as a response to this crisis, Jacques acknowledged in October 1979 that this ‘reorientation is not yet complete’.[14] ‘The biggest single weakness of the Party’s practice’, stated Jacques, was to ‘underestimate the extent of the crisis and the range of issues around which popular support can be mobilised’.[15] After the 1979 election, Eric Hobsbawm, who had criticised the ‘almost entirely economist militancy’ of the traditional labour movement in ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted?’ in late 1978,[16] maintained that this Conservative victory demonstrated that the limits of ‘trade union consciousness’ had not been overcome and that unions ‘by themselves cannot offset, the setbacks of the labour movement in other respects’.[17] Effectively Hobsbawm was arguing that trade union militancy by itself could not automatically create class-consciousness or organise a radical socialist advance. Ideally, this was the responsibility of the Communist Party. However, with membership just over 20,000 in 1979 (further declining to 18,458 in 1981),[18] diminished workplace presence and internal divisions between the traditionalists and the reformists, the CPGB was hardly in a position to, as Jacques hoped, ‘transform the labour movement and popular consciousness’.[19]

The ‘limits’ of trade unionism in the 1980s

Most of those connected to the pushes for reform within the Party and Marxism Today were of the opinion that the traditional reliance of the labour movement on the trade unions had limited success and argued that this had been borne out by the events of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Eric Hobsbawm had argued in ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted?’ in 1978 that ‘straight-forward economist trade union consciousness may at timesd actually set workers against each other rather than establish wider patterns of solidarity’,[20] and for those who endorsed the CPGB’s ‘broad democratic alliance’, these ‘wider patterns of solidarity’ could not be expended just to maintain the trade unions on side. Despite the debates surrounding Hobsbawm’s thesis and its links to the newly promoted ‘broad democratic alliance’, which filled the pages of Marxism Today between 1978 and 1980, the early 1980s saw an uneasy truce between the two main factions, the ‘Euros’ and the ‘Tankies’ (although two opposition factional journals started to appear that argued that both of these larger factions as ‘anti-party’ – Straight Left and The Leninist).[21]

The ‘match on the blue touch paper’, as Francis Beckett described it,[22] that re-ignited this division and led to irrepairable damage within the Communist Party was an article in Marxism Today in late 1982 by Tony Lane, which criticised the trade union strategy promoted by some inside the CPGB, particularly censuring the trade union bureaucracy for failing to deal with the significant changes to the manufacturing industry in Britain and the decline of large scale urban factories where traditionally the most organised workforces. For Lane, these long term economic shifts had a more profound effect upon the trade union movement than ‘resurgent laissez-faire Toryism’, writing:

Trade union leadership at all levels, from the local to the national, has been so stuinned by the reactionary nature of shopkeeper Toryism that it often seems to take more notice of isdeology than it does of material changes in its environment.[23]

Lane blamed ‘sectional interests’ and ‘a lack of will to fight’ for the trade unions’ ‘crisis of legitimacy’, explaining that this had caused a schism between the trade union leaders (including the shop stewards) and the rank-and-file membership and the feeling that there was little democracy within the movement.[24] Unless there was a clear leadership over how to face the problems facing the unions in the 1980, as well as more interactive democracy at the rank-and-file level, Lane argued, the rank-and-file would face ‘uncertainity as to whether unions are worth fighting for’.[25]

Lane’s was not particularly different from other criticisms made by Hobsbawm and others since the late 1970s and could not be seen as especially controversial – as Andrew Pearmain has written, ‘[i]t was a mildly populist critique of the trade union bureaucracy, which would not have seemed out of place in The Sunday Times or Socialist Worker’.[26] But the CPGB’s Industrial Organiser Mick Costello and editor of the Morning Star Tony Chater used the article as an issue to force the centrist Party leadership under General Secretary Gordon McLennan to take action against the journal and its editor, Martin Jacques, as well as airing critiques of Lane, Jacques and the journal in the pages of the daily paper. Disciplinary action for Jacques and the journal by the Party’s internal bodies was defeated (narrowly according to Pearmain),[27] but the same bodies also severely rebuked Chater, Costello and the paper for, in the words of Willie Thompson, ‘forming a cabal to attack another rparty journal and to use the party’s name without reference to the EC [Executive Committee].’[28] In the ensuing aftermath, Costello resigned from his post as Industrial Organiser and joined Chater at the Morning Star. The newspaper, nominally run independently from the CPGB by the People’s Press Printing Society, was used by Chater as a base for criticising the Party and its leadership, who, it was believed, were unwilling to stand up to the ‘Euros’. On the other hand, Jacques had, according to Francis Beckett, lost faith in reforming the Party[29] and moved towards transforming Marxism Today into a separate entity, although it still relied on funding from the Party. While two of the major Party organs drifted away from any form of oversight by the Party leadership, the Party itself fractured, unclear of its direction and role within the British political landscape. As Geoff Andrews wrote:

From this point on, the party was split in two; the leadership and Gramscian-Eurocommunists were in control of the party and the Costello/Chater group controlled the Morning Star, and, with it, a notable list of trade union leaders, and contact with a declining trade union base. Neither side could decribed as ultimate victors in this battle. The party was deprived of its daily paper and with it, what was left of its trade union base; and the ‘hardliners’ were now detahced from the party, its political machine and its resources.[30]

At the 1983 AGM of the PPPS and Communist Party’s National Congress in the same year, the issue of control of the newspaper became a heated one, leading to the expulsion of several Party members from the Morning Star group. By the time that the Miners’ Strike broke out in March 1984, the industrial strategy of the Communist Party was in total disarray and at the national level, the Party was slow to come up with a programme of action to help the National Union of Mineworkers, leaving it to local activists to take the initiative.

The end of the party

The Thatcherite years also had a dramatic effect upon the Communist Party of Great Britain. As those reformers connected to Marxism Today argued in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Thatcherism was more than a stricter continuation of previous Conservative Governments and represented a widespread ideological shift to the right that embodied strong notions of ‘law and order’, combined with the neo-liberalism of free market economics. The reformers believed that this shift to the right needed to be addressed by more than traditional class based politics and demanded a greater emphasis on the long-term ideological aspects that had allowed this rightwards shift. This emphasis on ideology and the insufficiencies of class based politics by the reformers has been viewed as a central reason for the eventual collapse of the CPGB. By the end of the 1980s, the ‘New Times’ approach, presented by Martin Jacques and Stuart Hall in Marxism Today,[31] was described by critics as a defeatist attitude and a vindication of Thatcherism. A. Sivanandan, who had previously criticised the left for its failure to address other issues outside the class politics of industrial militancy, wrote in Race & Class in 1989:

New Times is a fraud, a counterfeit, a humbug. It palms off Thatcherite values as socialist, shores up the Thatcherite market with the pretended politics of choice, fits out the Thatcherite individual with progressive consumerism, makes consumption itself the stuff of politics. New Times is a mirror image of Thatcherism passing for socialism. New Times is Thatcherism in drag.[32]

With the Communist Party becoming increasingly divided between the reformers and the traditional industrialist wing, polarised through the respective publications of Marxism Today and the Morning Star, the Party also witnessed further defeats on the industrial front, experienced, along with the wider labour movement, during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. For many in the labour movement, the defeat of the strike represented an end to the traditional approach of class politics through industrial actions and trade union militancy and was symptomatic of a wider crisis in the British left. Thatcher’s monetarist policies had hastened the decline of heavy industry throughout Britain and the upheaval in many British towns caused by this decline, demonstrably felt through high levels of unemployment, was difficult for the left to counter. Raphael Samuel wrote that the ‘disarray of the Left in the face of the miners’ strike [was]… part of a large discomfort both about the alternative to Thatcherism, and of the very possibility of a socialism which [was] in any sense representative of popular desire and will’.[33]

The defeat of the strike further demoralised the remaining traditionalists within the CPGB, who were already in open conflict with the reformers in the Party leadership and had suffered from the leading traditionalists being expelled by the Executive Committee. Although the CPGB leadership and Marxism Today supported the strike, the assumptions of the reformers of the limited actions of industrial militancy seemed to be further validated by the strike’s defeat. During the 1980s, the Communist Party’s membership rapidly declined, hastened by the internal Party splits. In 1981, membership had been 18,458 and this had fallen to 12,711 in 1985, which then fell to a mere 7,615 in 1989 at the time of the collapse of the Soviet bloc.[34] Although those remaining in the Party launched a new Party programme in 1989 titled A Manifesto for New Times (expanding on a series of articles published in the October 1988 issue of Marxism Today), there was little enthusiasm for continuing the Party as a political organisation and at the December 1991 National Congress, the membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain, after more than seventy years of its existence, voted to dissolve itself.

Thinking intersectionally about Marxism Today and the ‘broad democratic alliance’

Kimberle Crenshaw first used the term ‘intersectional’ in the late 1980s to describe the position of black women in the United States and their struggles with the US criminal justice system[35] and over the last 25 years, the term has become a valuable concept within many academic disciplines. Looking back at some of the struggles of the 1970s in Britain, it can be seen that many of these struggles were intersectional and for those involved, their politics often combined class-based, racial and gendered perspectives. For example at the Grunwick strike, this combined those interested in the strike as a demonstration of class unity and the fight for trade union recognition, those interested in the strike to fight racial discrimination in the workplace and those interested in the strike as chance to highlight the particular difficulties faced by South Asian women in this ‘sweatshop’ environment. Although the concept did not exist at the time, it was widely understood by many, especially those who excited by the rise of the new social movements in the late 1960s and those who pushed for their recognition in the Communist Party, that class was just part of a wider spectrum that informed someone’s political identity.

The 1977 version of The British Road to Socialism started to acknowledge this with the promotion of the broad democratic alliance as recognition that the political struggle was moving beyond ‘an expression of class forces’ and had to recognise the ‘other important forces in society which emerge out of areas of oppression not always directly connected with the relations of production.’[36] In the same year, Barry Hindess at the Communist Party’s annual Communist University of London (CUL) lecture series stated, ‘At any given time,… working-class politics must contain features that are not reducible to class position’[37] and as a leading reformer inside the CPGB, pointed to an article by Sam Aaronovitch from 1973 to demonstrate that this reconsideration of class politics had a longer history inside the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is worth quoting Aaronovitch beyond Hindess’ initial notes here to highlight the connections between the arguments being put forward by some within the Communist Party in the 1970s and the theoretical concept we now know as ‘intersectionality’:

The nature of the issues posed by contemporary capitalism brings into action (or can do so) a series of intersecting forces which comprise: various section of the working class as broadly defined;…

People may be brought into action by the way they are affected in their different roles; workers as tenant or shopper; worker as parent.

They are intersecting forces in the sense that their memberships overlap but they also interact.[38]

The work of Stuart Hall (and others such as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe) in Marxism Today in the 1980s further promoted this idea that people were likely to be guided in their actions by notions of class, as they were to be guided by notions of ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or any other form of ‘identity politics’. After their defeat at the 1987 elections, Hall wrote an important piece for the journal on Labour’s shortcomings in the ideological battle against Thatcherism and the shifting support bases for both major parties in the 1980s, which further encapsulated the idea of the intersecting experiences and identities that form an individual’s political outlook. Hall wrote:

Electoral politics – in fact, every kind of politics – depends on political identities and identifications. People make identifications symbolically: through social imagery, in their political imaginations. They ‘see themselves’ as one sort of person or another. They ‘imagine their future’ within this scenario or that. They don’t just think about voting in terms of how much they have, their so-called ‘material interests’. Material interests matter profoundly. But they are always ideologically defined.

Contrary to a certain version of Marxism, which has as strong a hold over the Labour ‘Centre’ as it does on the so-called ‘hard Left’, material interests, on their own, have no necessary class belongingness. They influence us. But they are not escalators which automatically deliver people to their appointed destinations, ‘in place’, within the political-ideological spectrum.

One reason why they don’t is because people have conflicting social interests, sometimes reflecting conflicting identities. As a worker a person might put ‘wages’ first: in a period of high unemployment, ‘job security’ may come higher; a woman might prioritise ‘child-care’. But what does a ‘working woman’ put first? Which of her identities is the one that determines her political choices?[39]

In 1988, Homi Bhabha wrote that the arguments put forward by Stuart Hall in 1987, alongside similar ones made in the pages of Marxism Today by Eric Hobsbawm and Beatrix Campbell represented ‘the “hybrid” moment of political change’.[40] ‘Here the transformational value of change lies in’, Bhabha said discussing the role of women in the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, ‘neither the One (unitary working class) nor the Other (the politics of gender) but something else besides which contests the terms and territories of both.’[41] Similar to the concept of intersectionality, Bhabha’s notion of hybridity reflected what Hall described as people’s ‘conflicting social interests’[42] and recognized that the traditional Marxist approach to the question of ‘race’ (or gender or sexuality) was inadequate to assist in their contemporary struggles against inequality. For Bbabha and other postcolonial thinkers, such as Ranajit Guha or Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,[43] traditional Marxism could not adequately explain the politics of ‘race’ and ethnicity, or effectively uphold the notion that racism and colonialism were simply parts of the wider phenomenon of capitalist exploitation. But the inadequacies of Marxism were not merely to be replaced by other forms of identity politics, with the ideas of postcolonialism opening up spaces of political and cultural hybridity. At this point, the broad democratic alliance and the counter-hegemony discussed within Marxism Today transformed into what Homi Bhabha called the ‘Third Space’. For Bhabha, Hall’s writing in Marxism Today introduced ‘an exciting, neglected moment… in the “recognition” of the relation of politics to theory’[44] and demonstrates that although the Communist Party of Great Britain itself declined, its impact has continued to resonate in various ways since.

The final Marxism Today in 1991 - will 2013 mark the end of the ISJ?

[1] Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) p. 131.

[2] Richard Seymour , The Meaning of David Cameron (Winchester: Zero Books, 2010) p. 31.

[3] CPGB, The British Road to Socialism (London, 1977) 29

[4] CPGB, The British Road to Socialism, 34

[5] Stuart Hall, Drifting into a Law and Order Society (Amersham, Cobden Trust, 1980) p. 5.

[6] Dave Cook, ‘The British Road to Socialism and the Communist Party’, Marxism Today, December 1978, pp. 370-379

[7] D. Cook, ‘The British Road to Socialism and the Communist Party’, p. 372

[8] D. Cook, ‘The British Road to Socialism and the Communist Party’, p. 374

[9] John McIlroy, ‘Notes on the Communist Party and Industrial Politics’, p. 224

[10] D. Cook, ‘The British Road to Socialism and the Communist Party’, p. 378

[11] Willie Thompson, The Good Old Cause: British Communism, 1920-1991 (London: Pluto Press, 1992) p. 218; J. McIlroy, ‘Notes on the Communist Party and Industrial Politics’, John McIlroy, Nina Fishman and Alan Campbell (eds), British Trade Unions and Industrial Politics vol. II: The High Tide of Trade Unionism, 1964-79 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999) p. 222

[12] Richard Cross, ‘The CPGB and the “Collapse of Socialism”, 1977-1991’, unpublished PhD thesis, University Mnchester, 2007, p. 314

[13]Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted? – A Response’, Marxism Today, September 1979, p. 265; Willie Thompson, The Long Death of British Labourism (London: Pluto Press, 1993) p. 112

[14] Martin Jacques, ‘Thatcherism – The Impasse Broken?’, Marxism Today, October 1979, p. 13

[15] M. Jacques, ‘Thatcherism – The Impasse Broken?’, p. 13

[16] Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted?’, Marxism Today, September 1978, p. 286

[17] E. Hobsbawm, ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted? – A Response’, p. 266; p. 267; Italics are in the original text

[18] W. Thompson, The Good Old Cause, p. 218

[19] M. Jacques, ‘Thatcherism – The Impasse Broken?’, p. 13

[20] Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted?’, Marxism Today, September 1978, p. 286.

[21] Lawrence Parker, Revolutionary Opposition in the CPGB, 1960-1991 (London: November Publicatuons, 2012) p. 104.

[22] Francis Beckett, Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party (London: Merlin Press, 1995) p. 194.

[23] Tony Lane, ‘The Unions: Caught on the Ebb Tide’, Marxism Today (September 1982) p. 7.

[24] Lane, ‘The Unions’, p. 13.

[25] Lane, ‘The Unions’, p. 13.

[26] Andrew Pearmain, The Politics of New Labour: A Gramscian Analysis (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2011) p. 129.

[27] Pearmain, The Politics of New Labour, pp. 130-131

[28] Thompson, The Good Old Cause, p. 184.

[29] Beckett, Enemy Within, p. 197.

[30] Andrews, Endgames and New Times, p. 207.

[31] The October 1988 edition of Marxism Today was dedicated to the ‘New Times’. The Manifesto for New Times was the programme adopted by the CPGB at its 1989 National Congress that occurred as the Soviet bloc was collapsing. After the collapse of the CPGB in November 1991, some remnants of the Party formed the Democratic Left, which published the journal, New Times, throughout the 1990s. See: Stuart Hall & Martin Jacques, New Times: The Changing Face of Politics in the 1990s, Verso, London, 1990

[32] A. Sivanandan, ‘All that Melts Into Air is Solid: The Hokum of New Times’, Race & Class, 31/3, 1989, p. 1

[33] Raphael Samuel, ‘Preface’, in Raphael Samuel, Barbara Bloomfield & Guy Boanas (eds), The Enemy Within: Pit Villages and the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1986, pp. xiv-xv

[34] ‘Communist Party Membership’, CP/CENT/ORG/19/04, LHASC.

[35] See: Kimberle Crenshaw, ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989, pp. 139-168; Kimberle Crenshaw, ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color’, Stanford Law Review, 43/6, July 1991, pp. 1242-1300.

[36] CPGB, The British Road to Socialism, p. 29

[37] Barry Hindess, ‘The Concept of Class in Marxist Theory and Marxist Politics’, in Jon Bloomfield (ed.) Class, Hegemony and Party (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1977) pp. 100-101.

[38] Sam Aaronovitch, ‘Perspectives for Class Struggles and Alliances’, Marxism Today (March 1973) p. 69. Italics are in the original text.

[39] Stuart Hall, ‘Blue Elections, Election Blues’, Marxism Today, July 1987, p. 33

[40] Homi K. Bhabha, ‘The Commitment to Theory’, New Formations, 5 (Summer 1988) p. 13.

[41] Bhabha, ‘The Commitment to Theory’, p. 13; Italics are in the original text.

[42] S. Hall, ‘Blue Elections, Election Blues’, p. 33; Italics are in the original text.

[43] See: Ranajit Guha & Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (eds), Selected Subaltern Studies, Oxford University Press, New York, 1988; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present, Harvard University Press, London, 2003.

For a critical overview of the relationship between Marxism and subaltern studies, see: Vinay Lal, ‘Subaltern Studies and Its Critics: Debates over Indian History’, History and Theory, 40/1, February 2001, pp. 135-148.

[44] Bhabha, ‘The Commitment to Theory’, p. 8.