Maoism

Peking Review and global anti-imperialist networks in the 1960s

This is a longer version of a conference I recently presented at the Amidst Empires conference at Flinders University last month. It is very much a work in progress, so feedback most welcome!

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There has been a significant amount of scholarship about the dissemination and influence of Maoist ideology (often referred to as Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought or just Mao Zedong Thought) across the globe, primarily by looking at the distribution and readership of Mao’s Little Red Book (Quotations of Chairman Mao), as well as other publications by the Foreign Language Press.[1] There is less scholarship on the Chinese publications for foreign consumption, Peking Review, China Pictorial and China Reconstructs. Cagdas Ungor, who has explored these journals in the most depth so far, has described these publications as part of a wider approach by the Chinese to situate themselves as an alternative anti-imperialist power to the Soviet Union between the 1950s and the 1970s. She has written:

Especially after the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s, when the country was isolated from the socialist bloc as well as the West, China was left with few other options to exert its influence abroad… Therefore the rise in the foreign propaganda output was very much related to the PRC regime’s desire to compensate for the unavailability of official connections.[2]

 The new communist government in China started publishing foreign language materials in the early 1950s, but a reconstitution of the Foreign Languages Press in 1952 led to a higher degree of specialisation amongst the publications produced by Peking.[3] China Pictorial, which had existed since 1951, was ‘intended as a mass publication aimed at overseas audiences with average education’, offering ‘a lot of colorful pictures’ and ‘very little textual material’.[4] China Reconstructs ‘had a similar focus on society, economy and culture’ as China Pictorial, but ‘only with more articles and fewer pictures’.[5]

However Peking Review was a much more explicitly political journal, ‘aimed at readers who had the highest political awareness and educational level’.[6] Ungar suggests that the journal was ‘readable only by the intellectual elite abroad, among them government officials, journalists, China experts, and college youth’,[7] but it was also diligently read by avowed Maoists in the global West, as well as some within the national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America (although Ungar argues that in the Third World, Peking Radio was much more effective). The journal was published in English, as well as in French, Spanish, German and Japanese.

This paper will explore how Peking Review was used to disseminate anti-imperialist ideology amongst Maoists and people sympathetic to China across the world during the 1960s and early 1970s. Although established in 1958, two years before the formal Sino-Soviet split, in the post-split environment, Peking Review was an important vehicle for publicising the idea of China as the vanguard of the global anti-imperialist movement. To varying degrees, the journal was distributed, read and ingested by Maoists in the Third World and the global West. 

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China and global anti-imperialism in the Cold War era

Alongside a number of Cold War diatribes on China’s influence in Africa and Asia, there has been a significant increase in scholarship on China’s internationalism between the 1950s and 1970s and its support for various anti-imperialist movements and postcolonial movements. Known as the ‘Third World’ during this period, China increasingly promoted itself as the anti-imperialist vanguard, separate from the ‘Second World’ of the Soviet sphere of influence, but appropriating rhetoric from the Soviet Union’s anti-imperial traditions and the postcolonial Non-Aligned Movement. As Arif Dirlik has written, the Sino-Soviet split and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 ‘brought the People’s Republic to the centre of world radicalism and turned the Chinese revolutionary experience, embodied in Mao Zedong Thought, into a paradigm not only in the Third World… but also in the First’.[8] Robeson Taj Frazier has argued an awareness of race and racism became:

a primary lens through which China differentiated its model of global power from that of the United States and the Soviet Union, influenced oppressed populations of color, and increased the aura and power of Chinese communism on Chinese citizens.[9]

There has been debate over whether the Cultural Revolution created a sense of isolationism with China at the same time as pursuing a more internationalist outlook in China’s foreign affairs,[10] and an attempt to argue, as Julia Lovell has characterised, that ‘global Maoism was nothing to do with Chinese Maoism’.[11] However Lovell has suggested that China worked hard to ‘[disseminat[e] its soft power globally between 1949 and 1976’ and that the ‘stereotype of a closed-off, isolated Maoist China, shunned by the international community’ is false.[12] Dirlik has described the reach of Maoism in this era as spanning from ‘the Phillipines to Peru and Mexico, to India, Nepal and Turkey’ and to ‘the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Australia and Japan’[13] – although he does not mention Africa, particularly southern Africa, in places such as Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

In the United States, Maoism also a diverse influence, fostering a plethora of anti-revisionist and Maoist groups amongst the primarily white left, but also inspiring black, Asian and Latino radicalism. Keisha A. Brown has written:

Post 1949, the CCP foreign relations agenda placed American Blacks within the category of an oppressed peoples within the US… During the Cold War, the CCP placed the struggles of non-White people and countries into two main categories. The first is the broader general category aligning non-White continents (Asia, Africa, and Latin America are most often cited) in solidarity movements. The second is the more defined category of supporting specific oppressed countries in their struggles against some biased system or imperialist country…[14]

African-Americans were viewed as part of this second category, with the Chinese seeing them as ‘an entity within the larger international colored solidarity movement engaged in struggle with the common enemy of American imperialism’.[15] A number of scholars have outlined the inspiration that the China and Maoism gave to black radicals in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s,[16] and similar influence can be found other diaspora communities in the US,[17] as well as in Britain.[18]

For the left in the global West, Maoism became one of the entry points for anti-imperialist activism in the Cold War, alongside campaigns against apartheid in South Africa, against the Vietnam War, against US interventions in Latin America and against the oppression faced by indigenous people under settler colonialism. In the Anglophone world (Britain, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) as well as continental Europe (especially West Germany and France), a variety of anti-revisionist and Maoist groups emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike the Communist and Workers Parties that were associated with the Soviet Union, inheriting the relationship from the days of the Communist International and the Communist Information Bureau, the Maoist groups had varying degrees of affinity with the Chinese Communist Party and Peking had little organisational control over these groups, especially in the West. While its political, economic and military assistance to national liberation movements and postcolonial governments ensured a close relationship between China and the Third World, the CCP relied predominantly on ideology and propaganda to influence Western Maoists. The journal, Peking Review, was part of this attempt at gaining ideological influence.

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An advertisement for Peking Review on the back cover of the SACP’s African Communist from 1963

Peking Review in Africa

Over the decade of the 1950s, Chinese publications, via the International Bookstore, slowly made their way into Africa, with a base set up in Nasser’s Egypt in 1957.[19] At this time, Ungor cites Chinese documents stating that book circulation in Africa had reached up to 210,000, before further growth in 1959 in West Africa as China established diplomatic relations in Guinea, Mali and Ghana.[20] Heavily subsidised by the Chinese government and also heavily discounted for readers in developing countries, Peking Review also reached East and Southern Africa, with records of it being sold in Zanzibar in the early 1960s for ‘low prices’, alongside airmail editions of Moscow News and other Chinese literature.[21] References to Peking Review in the South African journal New Age[22] (aligned the now underground South African Communist Party)[23] in the early 1960s reveals that the journal was read by activists in the apartheid regime, as well as by SACP exiles in London, demonstrated by references to (and advertisements for) the journal in African Communist journal.[24]

American journalist John K. Cooley wrote in 1963 that ‘Red China has a well-coordinated publication program aimed at Africa’, adding ‘[i]ts political backbone is the weekly review Peking Review’.[25] Colley described the distribution methods in Africa during the early 1960s:

Peking Review is given away in some areas, and sold at subscription rates ranging from about fifty cents to $1.25 a year in others. Local Chinese emissaries regularly compile address lists of key persons, who then receive free introductory copies. An African publisher who buys an additional subscription for himself or someone else receives a color calendar. A second extra subscription brings a Chinese scroll, and a third, a desk diary.[26]

We only have anecdotal evidence of the actual readership or influence of Peking Review in Africa, but more archival research and oral histories, particularly regarding the postcolonial governments in Tanzania, Angola and Zimbabwe, may shed more light in the future.

Peking Review in the global West

 There is a debate amongst scholars over the relationship between anti-revisionism in the global West and Maoist internationalism. Several scholars have argued that the first wave of Maoism in the West grew organically out of the resistance within the official Communist Parties towards the ‘revisionism’ of the international communist movement in the 1950s. Robin D.G. Kelley and Betsy Esch have written:

Maoism in the United States was exported from China. If anything, for those Maoists schooled in the Old Left, its source can be found in Khrushchev’s revelations at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party Soviet Union in 1956, which prompted an antirevisionist movement throughout the pro-Stalinist left.[27]

With regards to the early Maoist groups in Britain, Lawrence Parker has argued that those eventually formed the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) were anti-revisionists foremost and eventually became attracted to China because of its opposition to ‘peaceful co-existence’ and the Soviet Union.[28] Parker describes the CPB (M-L)’s leader Reg Birch as ‘a fairly typical CPGB trade unionist with a sprinkling of Maoist politics picked up after China broke with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s’.[29]

Julia Lovell further cites Richard Wolin on the organic and domestic origins of French Maoism and former Italian Maoist to suggest that the ‘dominant view of… Western Europe’s engagement with Maoism is to see it largely as a home-grown phenomenon’, describing this view of seeing Western Maoism as ‘an eccentric youthful experiment in alternative politics, an intellectual and cultural outburst divorced from China itself’.[30] However, as mentioned above, Lovell argues that China did have a conscious desire to build Maoist movements outside of China,[31] to build alternatives to the Soviet sphere of influence, but also to promote anti-imperialism across the Third World. Parker suggests that China ‘never sought to establish a functioning Maoist international, but rather worked through a set of bilateral links.’[32] Parker explained this process:

The CPC would bring sympathetic groups to China to meet leading figures; give them publicity; and provide such groups with political material for use in their own publications.[33]

This was the purpose of Peking Review in the global West.

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Peking Review and Maoism in the United States

The Maoist movement in the United States was possibly one of the largest in the West and most of the Chinese imported publications were distributed via Henry Noyes’ China Books and Periodicals in San Francisco, which, according to Cagdas Ungor, ‘remained… the only outlet for Chinese foreign language magazines and book in the US throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s’.[34] Via Noyes’ bookstore, Chinese periodicals, including Peking Review, reached most urban places in the United States. The Hammer and Steel group in New England referred to Peking Review in a 1963 discussion of anti-semitism and racism, stating ‘The correct Marxist-Leninist policy of the Chinese Party on formerly oppressed nations and national minorities is implemented in that great nation’ and citing an article in the journal from the previous year.[35] On the other side of the country, the journal of the Communist Party of the USA (Marxist-Leninist), People’s Voice, reprinted articles from Peking Review, such as that included in the journal’s second issue (written after the Watts Rebellion in August 1965) on the ‘negro struggle’ and proclaiming ‘ALL ANTI-IMPERIALIST FORCES SUPPORT THE HEROIC STRUGGLE OF PEOPLE OF LOS ANGELES’.[36]

As mentioned above, there was a great enthusiasm in China for black radicalism in the United States during the mid-to-late 1960s. The August 1966 issue of Peking Review republished a statement from Mao Zedong made three years earlier ‘supporting the American Negroes in their just struggle against racial discrimination by US imperialism’, which proclaimed:

I call on the workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals, enlightened elements of the bourgeoisie and other enlightened persons of all colours in the world, whether white or black, yellow or brown, to unite to oppose the racial discrimination practised by US imperialism and support the American Negroes in their struggle against racial discrimination.[37]

The same issue had a statement made by black power proponent Robert Williams, who was a state visitor of China at the time, which aligned Maoism with black radicalism and thanked Mao for ‘his great and inspiring statement in support of our struggle’.[38] Williams enthused:

to our great Chinese brothers and true revolutionaries throughout the world, we revolutionary Afro-Americans vow that we shall take the torch of freedom and justice into the streets of racist America and we shall set the last great stronghold of Yankee imperialism ablaze with our battle cry of Black Power!…

Long live the militant friendship between the Chinese and revolutionary American people![39]

Peking Review had previously made similar statements and referred to Robert Williams as an authoritative figure on the black struggle in the United States.[40] However some Maoists disagreed with Peking Review’s line on Afro-American liberation, with the Hammer and Steel group criticising the Chinese in 1965 for listening to Robert Williams, rather than black Marxist-Leninists in the United States, such as Harry Haywood (as well as two CPUSA stalwarts, William Z. Foster and James W. Ford, who had promoted the ‘black belt’ thesis in the 1930s).[41] The group complained that ‘[m]ost of the people from the US that Peking Review quotes are middle class professional people who have little knowledge of the working class in our country and its revolutionary efforts in theory and organisation.’[42] The group argued that ‘Peking Review maintains that the Afro-American question is primarily one of “racial discrimination”’, but suggested that, using CPUSA literature from the 1940s, that the problem was not racial discrimination but national oppression.[43] The group also admonished the Chinese journal for describing the black struggle as a question of class, stating, ‘According to this logic the Afro-American must place their destiny in the hands of whites and wait for their inclinations’.[44]

While there were some disagreements between Maoists in the United States and the line advanced through Peking Review and other publications from China, particularly as the Cultural Revolution zigzagged throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Peking Review was still promoted in various Maoist and black radical publications. For example, advertisements for Peking Review were published in The Black Panther and People’s Voice newspapers, while the American Communist Workers Movement (Marxist-Leninist) announced that all members should ‘distribute widely the Red Book, Five Articles by Chairman Mao, and Peking Review’.[45]

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Pic from The MAO Projekt.

Peking Review and Maoism in West Germany

Owing to the fractured nature of communism in West Germany after the Communist Party of Germany was banned in 1956 and the spectre of East Germany looming over the West German left, Maoism in Germany gained a foothold in West Germany as it was able to present itself as a radical socialist alternative to Soviet-styled socialism on the other side of the Berlin Wall.[46] Like in the United States and France, Maoism heavily intersected with the student movement in West Germany, emerging from the Socialist German Student Union/League (SDS) and developing into the Red Guards (the name taken from the similar movement in China), then the Communist Party of Germany (Marxist-Leninist) (KPD (M-L)).

Rudi Dutschke, the student activist leader, enthused about China and the Cultural Revolution, using Peking Review (or Peking Runschau) to justify his arguments at times.[47] As Slobodian has explained, West German leftists took inspiration of the Chinese ideas of encirclement and ‘contradiction’, both promoted in Peking Review.[48] Encirclement developed an idea from Lin Biao (before his fall from his position in 1969)[49] of the ‘encircling the cities from the countryside’ onto the global stage, proposing that ‘the revolutionary struggles of the “world villages” were leading to an encirclement of the “world cities” of North America and Western Europe.’[50] While the idea of contradiction was that there were ‘multiple, fundamental national and international contradictions’, in which the Third World and its allies in China, as well as anti-imperialists in the West, stood in ‘primary contradiction’ to US imperialism.[51]

The Chinese started to publish the German language version of Peking Review in 1964, while the German language version of China Pictorial (China im Bild) had been published since 1956, but with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, it displayed a ‘clear Maoist agenda’ from 1966 onwards.[52] Unlike the United States, where Chinese publications were imported by an American bookseller and then distributed around the country, Chinese publications were initially smuggled into West Germany from the Chinese Embassy in East Berlin.[53] West German students ‘made day trips from West Berlin to the embassy’ to purchase wholesale copies of Peking Review and other Chinese publications, such as the Little Red Book.[54] As Quinn Slobodian has shown, Maoist publications were also popular amongst East German youth who looked to rebel against the state socialism of the GDR. An interest in Chinese literature from both sides of the Wall peaked in 1967, with the Chinese distributing ‘3000 packages monthly with 6000 issues of Peking Review and China im Bild’.[55]

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Peking Review and Maoism in New Zealand

The Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) gained notoriety as the only Western Communist Party to side with China in the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s. The CPNZ is an interesting case study in the use of Peking Review in building Maoist solidarity across the world. After Khrushchev’s Secret Speech in 1956, the CPNZ leadership, under the leader V.G. Wilcox, started to move against ‘revisionism’ in the international communist movement. Although its sister party the Communist Party of Australia (which was quite pro-Chinese in the 1950s) eventually returned to the Soviet sphere of influence, the CPNZ deliberately shifted closer to the Chinese and in March 1964, Peking Review published an article by Wilcox proclaiming their support for the Chinese and denouncing the Soviet Union.[56] This article praised Mao Zedong as a ‘great creative Marxist-Leninist leader’ and called the Soviet Union ‘the puny leaders of modern revisionism’.[57] Herbert Roth notes this article also came at a time when the Communist Parties in New Zealand and Australia were entering into joint talks, but this attack on the pro-Soviet communist movement, including the denunciation of the CPA, scuppered these talks.[58] Roth stated, ‘Wilcox in China adopted a hard, unyielding position which made any meaningful talks with the Australians impossible’.[59]

Throughout the 1960s, Peking Review published numerous articles by Wilcox and another CPNZ leading figure, Ray Nunes, dedicated to praising Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party. However while the CPNZ’s Communist Review published a ‘high proportion’ of material from Chinese sources, these were more likely to be from domestic Chinese publications, such as the People’s Daily,[60] rather than Peking Review. Thus the articles by Wilcox and Nunes in Peking Review became vehicles for promoting pro-Chinese sentiment to other Maoist groups across the world, most likely in the global West, rather than for internal consumption in New Zealand by CPNZ members. Roth has written:

However negligible its influence within New Zealand, the NZCP is a most valuable asset to the Chinese leaders on the international scene…

The appreciation of New Zealand’s pro-Chinese stand is expressed in many ways: in heroes’ welcomes to New Zealand Communist leaders who visit Peking with increasing frequency, and in worldwide distribution of their writings, giving Latin Americans an opportunity to read La Firme Posicion del Partido Comunista de Nueva Zelandia, a ninety-page pamphlet by camarada V.G. Wilcox, while French readrs are provided with Aller Parmi le Peuple, a l’Assaut du Monopole by the same author.[61]

As the 1960s continued, the relationship between China and the CPNZ became increasingly mutually beneficial. The CPNZ relished the attention lavished upon it by the Chinese, while the Chinese used the CPNZ as an example of its ability to penetrate the international communist movement and attract Marxist-Leninists away from the Soviet sphere of influence.

In the 1970s

 By the mid-1970s, the outlook of the Chinese government had changed. Although the Cultural Revolution still raged on at home, China’s foreign policy shifted towards rapprochement with the United States and the cooling of its promotion of global anti-imperialism. China still maintained connections with some national liberation movements and postcolonial governments, such as the FLNA and UNITA in Angola, ZANU in Zimbabwe and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (amongst a number of others). This was done partly to counter Soviet influence in the Third World and to strengthen its own geopolitical hand.

Peking Review was still published, but became a weapon in the sectarian fights that occurred across most Western Maoist groups in the aftermath of Mao’s death in 1976, the end of the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four controversy.

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[1] Alexander C. Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

[2] Cagdas Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade: Chinese Communist Propaganda Abroad (1949-1976), unpublished PhD thesis, Binghamton University/State University of New York (2009) p. 5.

[3] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, pp. 92-93.

[4] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 160.

[5] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 161.

[6] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 162.

[7] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 162.

[8] Arif Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, Interventions, 16/2 (2014) p. 246.

[9] Robeson Taj Frazier, The East is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014) p. 11.

[10] See: Patrick Laboon, ‘Peaceful Co-Existence: Sino-African Relations and the Evolution of Maoist Internationalism’, unpublished MA thesis, University of California Santa Barbara (2016) p. 25; Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, p. 235

[11] Julia Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China: “Techniques of Hospitality” and International Image-Building in the People’s Republic, 1949-1976’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 25 (2015) p. 138.

[12] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, p. 138.

[13] Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, pp. 246-247.

[14] Keisha A. Brown, ‘Blackness in Exile: W.E.B. Du Bois’ Role in the Formation of Representations of Blackness as Conceptualized by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’, Phylon, 53/2 (Winter 2016) p. 24.

[15] Brown, ‘Blackness in Exile’, p. 24.

[16] Robin D.G. Kelley & Betsy Esch, ‘Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution’, Souls (Fall 1999) pp. 6-41; Bill V. Mullen, ‘By the Book: Quotations From Chairman Mao and the Making of Afro-Asian Radicalism, 1966-1975’, in Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book, pp. 245-265.

[17] For the effect of Maoism on Asian Americans, see: Daryl J. Maeda, ‘Black Panthers, Red Guards and Chinamen: Constructing Asian American Identity Through Performing Blackness, 1969-1972’, American Quarterly, 57/4 (2005) pp. 1079-1103; Karen L. Ishizuka, Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties (London/New York: Verso, 2016) p. 43.

For the effect of Maoism on Latino radicals, see: Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, ‘History of the Development of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization’ (August 1974), Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1/prrwo-history.htm (accessed 22 January, 2018); Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (London/New York: Verso, 2006) pp. 104-110.

[18] For the effect of Maoism on South Asian activists in Britain, see: DeWitt John, Indian Workers Associations in Britain (London: Oxford University Press, 1969) pp. 66-81; Sasha Josephides, ‘Organizational Splits and Political Ideology in the Indian Workers Associations’, in Pnina Werbner & Muhammad Anwar (eds), Black and Ethnic Leaderships in Britain: The Cultural Turn of Political Action (London: Routledge, 1991) pp. 253-276.

For the effect of Maoism on African-Caribbean activists in Britain, see: Rosaline Eleanor Wild, ‘“Black was the Colour of Our Fight”: Black Power in Britain, 1955-1976’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sheffield (2008) pp. 94-95.

[19] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 209.

[20] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 209.

[21] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 211.

[22] ‘Oil for the Lamps of China’, New Age, 15 September, 1960, p. 2; ‘Indian Authorities Must Not Miscalculate’, New Age, 25 October, 1962, p. 7.

[23] Alan Wieder, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid (Auckland Park, SA: Jacana Media, 2013) p. 103.

[24] For example, see advertisement for Peking Review in African Communist (April-June 1963).

[25] John K. Cooley, East Wind Over Africa: Red China’s African Offensive (New York: Walker & Company, 1963) pp. 196-197.

[26] Cooley, East Wind Over Africa, p. 197.

[27] Kelley & Esch, ‘Black Like Mao’, p. 11.

[28] Lawrence Parker, The Kick Inside: Revolutionary Opposition in the CPGB, 1945-1991 (London: November Publications, 2012) p. 69.

[29] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 63.

[30] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, pp. 137-138.

[31] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, p. 138.

[32] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 44.

[33] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 44.

[34] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 241.

[35] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, April 1963, p. 3. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/hammer-and-steel/hs-4-63.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[36] People’s Voice, 30 August, 1965, p. 1. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/peoples-voice/pv-1-2.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[37] Mao Zedong, ‘Statement supporting the American Negroes in their just struggle against racial discrimination by US imperialism’, Peking Review, 12 August, 1966, pp. 12-13.

[38] Robert Williams, ‘Speech by US Negro Leader Robert Williams’, Peking Review, August 1966, p. 27.

[39] Williams, ‘Speech by US Negro Leader Robert Williams’, p. 27.

[40] For example, see: Mao Zedong, ‘Calling Upon the People of the World to Unite to Oppose Racial Discrimination by U.S. Imperialism and Support the American Negroes in Their Struggle Against Racial Discrimination’, Peking Review, 8 Aug, 1963, https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1963/PR1963-33a.htm (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[41] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, pp. 4-5. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/hammer-and-steel/hs-9-65.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

For further information on Harry Haywood, see: Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978).

[42] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 5.

[43] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 6.

[44] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 7.

[45] American Communist Workers Movement (Marxist-Leninist), ‘Youth and Students Unite!’, The Workers’ Advocat, 3/1 (13 November, 1972) https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-8/youth-students.htm (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[46] See: Quinn Slobodian, Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Timothy Scott Brown, West Germany and the Global Sixties: The Anti-Authoritarian Revolt, 1962-1978 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[47] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 53.

[48] See: ‘Chairman Mao is the Red Sun in the Hearts of the People of the World’, Peking Review, 22 July, 1966, https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1966/PR1966-30e.htm (accessed 28 January, 2018); ‘People’s War is Invincible’, Peking Review, 14 July, 1967, p. 8; ‘Chairman Mao on Continuing the Revolution Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, Peking Review, 26 September, 1969, p. 3-10.

[49] Frank Dikötter, The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976 (London: Bloomsbury, 2016) pp. 242-252.

[50] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 172.

[51] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 172.

[52] Sebastian Gehrig, ‘(Re-)Configuring Mao: Trajectories of a Culturo-Political Trend in West Germany’, Transcultural Studies, 2 (2011) p. 209.

[53] Gehrig, ‘(Re-)Configuring Mao’, p. 211.

[54] Quinn Slobodian, ‘Badge Books and Brand Books: The Mao Bible in East and West Germany’, in Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book, p. 220.

[55] Quinn Slobodian, ‘The Maoist Enemy: China’s Challenge in 1960s East Germany’, Journal of Contemporary History, 51/3 (2016) p. 654.

[56] V.G. Wilcox, ‘V.G. Wilcox’s Speech at Party School in Canton’, Peking Review, 20 March, 1964, pp. 14-21.

[57] Wilcox, ‘V.G. Wilcox’s Speech at Party School in Canton’, p. 21.

[58] Herbert Roth, ‘Moscow, Peking and NZ Communists’, Politics, 4/2 (1969) p. 177.

[59] Roth, ‘Moscow, Peking and NZ Communists’, p. 177.

[60] R.H. Brookes, ‘The CPNZ and the Sino-Soviet Split’, Political Science, 17/2 (1965) p. 6.

[61] Herbert Roth, ‘Fragmentation on the Left’, Comment, 27 (June 1966) p. 16.

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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.

Sydney, London, Moscow, Beijing: Schisms in the international communist movement, 1947-61

The following forms part of a forthcoming book chapter on the relationship between the Communist Parties in Britain, Australia and South Africa. It builds on previous posts (here and here) and will also be worked into the manuscript that I am currently developing from my postdoctoral research. As per usual, any feedback is most welcome!

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Mao Zedong meets Harry Pollitt, Nelson Clarke and L.L. Sharkey.

The relationship between the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and Moscow started to deviate in the post-war period. In the era of decolonisation that started after the Second World War, the CPA increasingly look towards Asia and the revolutionary precedent established by the Communist Party of China. It is evident that as the dual processes of the Cold War and decolonisation got underway, there was a clear division of labour between Moscow and Beijing, with the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence concentrating on Europe, while it was accepted that the colonial countries of Asia would follow the ‘Chinese path’. As David Lockwood has argued, after 1949:

an informal ‘division of labour’ within the world movement seems to have been agreed upon between the Soviet and Chinese parties in which communists in the colonies, ‘semi-colonies’ and ex-colonies would receive their advice from Beijing.[1]

The CPA was to provide support to the anti-colonial movements in Asia and formed particularly close links with the Communist Parties of Malaya, Indonesia and India, as well as the Chinese Party. This support also caused friction between the Australian and British parties, particularly over the level of support that the British party gave to the national liberation movements in the British colonies.

On the eve of the Malayan Emergency in mid-1948, the CPA’s leadership used the situation in Malaya to attack the CPGB for its reformist tendencies. In the initial post-war period, the CPGB supported the Labour Government, who despite endorsing colonial independence in some instances, harshly put down anti-colonial movements which had communist links, such as in Malaya. The CPA saw the CPGB’s support for Labour as ‘Browderist’, based on the argument made by former CPUSA leader Earl Browder that separate Communist Parties were no longer necessary in the global West. The Australian party further accused the British party of substituting the struggle for socialism with the acceptance of bourgeois democracy. The CPA believed that the CPGB had lost its way and it would rather look towards Moscow (and Beijing) for direction.

In particular, the Australian Communist Party, strongly influenced by the Chinese Communist Party (and for a time, the Tito regime in Yugoslavia), accused the British Communist Party of not fully committing the struggle against colonialism.[2] This began in 1947 with Sharkey’s heavy criticisms in the newspaper Tribune of the new pamphlet by CPGB General Secretary Harry Pollitt, Looking Ahead for ‘mislead[ing] the British working-class’ and evading the logic of Marxism-Leninism.[3]

The CPA 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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A letter from the Central Committee of the CPGB to Sharkey in July 1948 accused him of ‘uncomradely and un-Communist’ behaviour for using the theoretical journal of the Malayan Communist Party to attack the CPGB.[4] The CPGB described Sharkey’s article, titled ‘The International Situation and Opportunism’, as ‘an entirely false presentation of the policy of our Party’ and pronounced:

Such methods as you have seen fit to adopt have nothing in common with international practice among Communist Parties and between Communist Party leaders.[5]

In a further exchange of letters between the two parties, published in the CPGB’s World News and Views, Sharkey further criticised the British party over its anti-colonial work, accusing it of

insufficient struggle on behalf of the independence of the colonies; and worse still, the example of the British comrades which led to opportunism and confusion in a number of the colonial Communist Parties.[6]

Although Sharkey did not elaborate on this accusation, it is true that some national liberation movements and Communist Parties in the colonial sphere, such as those in India, believed that the resolve of the CPGB on anti-colonial issues had waned in the 1940s.[7] The CPGB believed that the Australian party was possibly ‘pro-Tito’ (and thus willing to criticise the British party) because Sharkey had spent time in Calcutta with a Yugoslav delegate in 1948 as the only two non-Asian communist representatives at the congress of the Communist Party of India.[8]

In further private correspondence between Sharkey and Pollitt, the Australian Communist leader wrote, ‘you have an incorrect understanding of the present day maneuvers of British imperialism in relation to the colonial revolutions’.[9] However the CPGB maintained that anti-colonial politics was central to its programme and that ‘as the Party in the ruling centre of the Empire’, it held ‘the greatest responsibility… to combat the vicious and harmful policies of imperialism’.[10] And despite these fractures, the Communist Party of Australia still sent delegates to the CPGB’s Communist Parties of the British Empire conferences in 1947, 1954 and 1958, while several leading CPGB members, such as Harry Pollitt and Willie Gallacher, toured Australia in the 1950s.

Throughout the 1950s, the CPA looked increasingly to the Chinese Communist Party for direction and as Mark Aarons has written, ‘[t]he CPA was the first Australian political party to understand that Australia is geographically located in Asia.’[11] Although Australia was a settler colonial power, rather than a colony, it seemed to make sense, geographically, for the CPA to build closer ties with China, rather than simply looking to the Kremlin and the CPGB in London, with whom ties had been loosened throughout the late 1940s.

After the denunciation of the ‘crimes’ of the Stalin era by Khrushchev in 1956 and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in October 1956, Communist Parties across the world went into shock, with many suffering significant membership loss and debate spilling over into the public sphere. Inside the British Communist Party, dissidents, such as E.P. Thompson, John Saville, Brian Pearce, Peter Fryer and Malcolm MacEwen (amongst others), sought channels outside the Party to denounce the actions of the Soviet Union, as well as the lack of internal debate within the Party. Phillip Deery and Rachel Calkin have shown that similar scenes occurred in the CPA.[12] Although the leadership of both the CPGB and CPA supported the invasion of Hungary in October 1956, the backlash in these Parties fostered a much deeper debate about the role of the Soviet Union in the international communist movement. In Britain, the Communist Party lost over 8,000 members between February 1956 and February 1958,[13] leading to the creation of the first New Left that attempted to negotiate a path between Western capitalism and Stalinism.[14] In Australia, Communist Party membership ‘slumped from about 8000 to less than 6000’,[15] which was followed by further divisions inside the CPA over the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s.

Between 1956 and 1960, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China seemed to heading towards a major split in the international communist movement and it was up to each individual country or Communist Party to decide where their support lay. Right up until 1960, the CPA seemed to take the side of the Chinese in the dispute, with Nick Knight claiming that during the late 1950s, ‘virtually the entire National Secretariat of the CPA was ideologically and psychologically in favour of the Chinese position’.[16] However Sharkey, despite visiting China in 1959 and 1961, pulled back at the last moment and shifted its support back to Moscow when attending the 81 Communist and Workers Parties conference in Moscow in November 1961.[17] ASIO noted that the Sino-Soviet split also had a major impact upon the CPA’s relationship with the Communist Party of New Zealand (the only Western Communist Party to side with China in the split).[18] While Mark Aarons suggests that Sharkey was partially swayed by some large cash payments by Moscow, Tom O’Lincoln suggests that the rank-and-file membership had little appetite for the extreme rhetoric of the Chinese Communist Party at this time, while Knight argues that it was Sharkey’s probable realisation that the CPA ‘would become isolated from the fraternity of the international communist parties should its support for the Chinese position continue’.[19]

After the realignment of the CPA towards Moscow, a pro-Chinese faction broke away and formed the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1963, led by Ted Hill. In Britain, the CPGB experienced similar breakaways from anti-revisionists. In the same year that the CPA (M-L) was formed, Michael McCreery formed the Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Community Unity and led a small number of party members disgruntled with the ‘revisionism’ of The British Road to Socialism.[20] A larger group left in early 1968 when AEU leader Reg Birch formed the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).[21]

By the 1960s, the international communist movement had fractured, caused partly by the events of 1956, partly by the Sino-Soviet split and partly by the rise of the Non-Aligned Movement, which presented an alternative to both Stalinism or Maoism for the new decolonised nations across the global South. This was very different from the situation in 1945 when communists the world over looked the newly triumphant Soviet Union, the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe and the Chinese Communist Party on the verge of winning a decades long civil war. As the Cold War got underway, coinciding with the era of decolonisation, Communist Parties in the West shifted to the left and embraced this enthusiasm for socialism and anti-imperialism, including the Communist Party of Australia. The Communist Party of Great Britain, although taking a more conciliatory approach to domestic politics, was charged by Moscow with assisting anti-colonial struggles within the British Empire/Commonwealth. The CPA quarrelled with the CPGB over its reformism and alleged that this political shift had left the CPGB unable to assist its comrades in the colonial sphere. This tumultuous relationship was not repaired until the 1950s, when important figures such as Harry Pollitt visited Australia, and grew closer after L.L. Sharkey was replaced as Party leader in the mid-1960s. However the enthusiasm for Stalinism and Maoism, which had characterised the outlook of the Party in the 1940s and 1950s had given way to a proto-Eurocommunism by the late 1960s.

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[1] David Lockwood, The Communist Party of India and the Indian Emergency (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2016) pp. 10-11.

For further discussion of this division of labour, see: John Herouvim, ‘Australian Communists and Peking: New Light on an Elusive Source’, Politics, 20/1 (1985) pp. 127-129.

[2] See: ‘Exchange of Letters Between the Australian and the British Communist Parties’, World News and Views, 31 July, 1948, pp. 332-339.

[3] L.L. Sharkey, ‘Critical Comment on Harry Pollitt’s Book’, Tribune, 25 October, 1947, p. 7.

[4] Letter from CPGB to L.L. Sharkey, 16 July, 1948, CP/CENT/INT/34/02, CPGB archive, Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Manchester.

[5] Letter from CPGB to L.L. Sharkey.

[6] ‘Exchange of Letters Between the Australian and the British Communist Parties’, p. 334.

[7] Smith, ‘National Liberation for Whom?’, p. 289.

[8] Letter from Brian Pearce to CPGB Executive Committee, 7 August, 1948, CP/CENT/INT/34/02, LHASC.

[9] Copy of letter from L.L. Sharkey to Harry Pollitt, 22 October, 1948, CP/CENT/INT/34/02, LHASC.

[10] R. Palme Dutt, ‘Political Report to the Conference of the Communist Parties of the British Empire’, in CPGB, We Speak for Freedom (London: CPGB pamphlet, 1947) p. 24.

[11] Mark Aarons, The Family File (Melbourne, Vic.: Black Inc, 2010) p. 172.

[12] Phillip Deery & Rachel Calkin, ’”We All Make Mistakes”: The Communist Party of Australia and Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, 1956’, Australia Journal of Politics and History, 54/1, pp. 69-69-84.

[13] Willie Thompson, The Good Old Cause: British Communism 1920-1991 (London: Pluto Press, 1992) p. 218.

[14] Michael Kenny, The First New Left: British Intellectuals After Stalin (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1995); Wade Matthews, The New Left, National Identity and the Break-Up of Britain (Leiden, NL: Brill, 2013) pp. 1-26.

[15] Tom O’Lincoln, Into the Mainstream: The Decline of Australian Communism (Sydney: Stained Wattle Press, 1985) p. 98.

[16] Nick Knight, ‘The Theory and Tactics of the Communist Party of Australia (M-L)’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 28/2, 1998, p. 236.

[17] Knight, ‘The Theory and Tactics of the Communist Party of Australia (M-L)’, p. 236; Mark Aarons, The Family File (Melbourne: Black Inc, 2010) pp. 172-185.

[18] ASIO, ‘Oceania: Communism’s Last Target ’, A 12388, 81 PART 2, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.

[19] O’Lincoln, Into the Mainstream, p. 102; Knight, ‘The Theory and Tactics of the Communist Party of Australia (M-L)’, p. 236; Aarons, The Family File, p. 192.

[20] Parker, The Kick Inside, pp. 45-50.

[21] Will Podmore, Reg Birch: Engineer, Trade Unionist, Communist (London: Bellman Books, 2004).

Forthcoming volume: The Far Left in Australia since 1945

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I am happy to announce that Jon Piccini, Matthew Worley and I have recently signed a contact for an edited volume tentatively titled The Far Left in Australia since 1945 as part of Routledge’s Studies in Radical History and Politics. While there is no publication date yet, here is an outline of the forthcoming book as a preview…

The far left in Australia – as has been revealed by edited collections on its equivalents in the UK, USA and elsewhere – had significant effects on post-war politics, culture and society. The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) ended World War II with some 20,000 members, and despite the harsh and vitriolic Cold War climate of the 1950s, seeded or provided impetus for the re-emergence of other movements. Radicals subscribing to ideologies beyond the Soviet orbit – Maoists, Trotskyists, anarchists and others – also created parties and organisations and led movements. All of these different far left parties and movements changed and shifted during time, responding to one political crisis or another, but they remained steadfastly devoted to a better world.

Equally, members and fellow travellers of the CPA and other far left groups instigated or became centrally involved in struggles for indigenous rights, gender equality, ending immigration restrictions, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and fostering peace—alongside continuing work in trade unions. In starting these groups, providing personnel, funding and guidance, far left activists contributed in no small way to the reforms that have changed Australian from the racist, sexist and parochial society of 1945 to one which is now multicultural, champions gender equality and is open to the world. The far left’s contribution to culture also cannot be ignored, with the CPA in particular providing a home for writers, poets, film makers and others who found their experimentation unwelcomed in an Australia in the grips of the cultural cringe.

Lastly, the Australian far left has also had a fascinating – if troubled and convoluted – career of ‘mainstreaming’ itself, whether through aforementioned cultural organisations, or through working with the social democratic Australian Labor Party, forming their own electoral alliances, or reaching out with mass market books. As such, while the far left might have never led a revolution in Australia, it has inarguably played a central role in revolutionising it.

The study of protest movements is exploding around the world. Major research and publishing projects charting the far left – particularly set around that halcyon year of 1968 – have appeared in most western nations in recent years. Yet, no such comparable body of work exists for Australia’s vibrant and exciting far left movements in the post-war era – from the Communist Party of Australia to smaller ideological groups, their intersections with broader movements for women’s, indigenous and gay liberation and broader effects on culture and society. By analysing far left movements in Australia from 1945 to the 1980s, these interconnections are explored in depth, and a light can be shone on the current state of Australia’s left and progressive movements.

As such, this book’s key strengths lie in its broad range of topics – from the politics of Australian communism in its various forms to the far left’s interactions with the women’s, gay, anti-nuclear, anti-war and indigenous groups, as well as attempts to mainstream its appeal via electoral politics, government compromises and mass media.

This work exists at the intersection of academia and activism, offering politically and theoretically informed chapters which provide both valuable scholarly interventions into key local and global debates, as well as casting light on contemporary struggles around the world. As such, its readership will be broad, encompassing activists of all ages and across a variety of causes, as well as the growing body of academics and postgraduate students studying and teaching global radicalism, as well as scholars engaged in 20th century history in general.

This collection, bringing together 14 chapters from leading and emerging figures in the Australian and international historical profession, for the first time charts some of these significant moments and interventions, revealing the Australian far left’s often forgotten contribution to the nation’s history.

Stay tuned to this blog for further information about the volume in the near future!

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Starting a discussion about self-archiving political movements and the international left

I have been in discussions with various people over the last few months about how movements ‘remember’ themselves and how they engage with their ephemeral history. I am interested in how these movements have often self-archived their materials and what they have done with these materials – are they open to researchers and people interested interested in the history of these movements? Some organisations and movements (as well as certain individuals) have donated their historical papers to various university archives or museums. These are valuable to researchers, but still privilege those who can gain access – usually academics and independent researchers who can afford to do archival research on site.

However some organisations and enterprising researchers are overcoming these obstacles by scanning and digitising the materials of the various progressive and left-wing movements across the Anglophone world. Sites such as the Marxist Internet Archive have been scanning many American, Canadian, British, Irish and Australian documents from the international communist movement, including various Trotskyist and anti-revisionist groups. A number of institutions across the globe have followed, such as the University of Wollongong’s Communist Party of Australia journals, the collection of South African radical material digitised by DISA, the Anti-Apartheid Movement collection at Oxford University, and the Amiel and Melburn Trust collection of British new left journals and the CPGB’s Marxism Today. As well as these institutional initiatives, others are digitising their historical documents at the grassroots level. This can be seen with the Red Mole Rising website, which is archiving online the materials of the International Marxist Group, the Irish Left Archive, the Red Action archive and the Anti-Fascist Archive, amongst others.

The wonderful thing about these online archives is that they are democratising the research of these movements. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can now access these documents, without incurring the costs of doing archival research. This is particularly helpful for those conducting research internationally. The downside is that these initiatives are often costly in terms of equipment and labour, with individuals having to volunteer a lot of their time and effort to provide these resources for others. Also by relying on the efforts of individuals with access to certain collections, there are significant gaps in what is available online. For example, I would like to see more stuff from Militant and the Workers Revolutionary Party made available.

It is exciting to be conducting research in this era of increased digitsation, but there are limits to what we can access at the moment. More people need to get involved – either providing original documents, or offering their services in the scanning process, or by helping out with the costs of hosting the websites (particularly as Scribd and Dropbox are increasingly used to hold these large file depositories).

At the same time, many original activist documents are languishing in people’s attics, basements, garages and other storage areas. These need to be located and preserved. If you have a collection of left-wing ephemera stored away somewhere, do try to find it and think about donating (or selling or at least, lending) it to people who can digitise it and preserve this (often obscured) history.

I hope this starts a discussion about how historians and activists can work together to help ensure that the documentary history of the international left is not overlooked.

CFP FOR EDITED VOLUME ON HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN FAR LEFT

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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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‘By whatever means necessary’: The origins of the ‘no platform’ policy

Recently the concept of ‘no platform’ was in the news again when there were attempts to cancel a talk by Germaine Greer at Cardiff University. While there is no doubt that the use of ‘no platform’ has expanded since its first use in the 1970s, the term is bandied about in the media with little definition and understanding of how it was developed as a specific response to the fascism of the National Front (and later the British National Party). This post looks back at the origins of the term and how it was developed into a practical anti-fascist strategy.

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In the early 1970s, the term ‘no platform’ was first used to describe the anti-fascist strategy of denying fascist organisations the public space to organise and disseminate their propaganda. The denial of public space had been an integral part of the militant anti-fascist movement since the 1930s, employed by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), various Jewish groups and other assorted anti-fascists. Fighting Oswald Mosley’s BUF, these anti-fascists broke up meetings, occupied spaces to prevent the BUF gaining access and mobilised massive demonstrations to physically confront the fascists in the streets. This continued after the war with various groups, such as the 43 Group, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and the Revolutionary Communist Party, joining the CPGB to combat Mosley’s Union Movement. As well as physically confronting the UM, part of the anti-fascists’ strategy was appealing to the local councils, particularly in boroughs where the Labour Party was in charge, to deny the UM (or its various aliases) access to any council property. The anti-fascist movement was quite successful in its approach and Mosley fled to Ireland in the early 1950s. Until the emergence of the National Front in late 1960s, the fascist groups in Britain remained small and the anti-fascist movement gradually faded away.

Forming in 1967, the National Front brought together a number of disparate fascist and anti-immigration groups and by the early 1970s, it was making headway by attracting disaffected Conservative Party voters who felt that the Tories were ‘too soft’ on immigration. Particularly when the Ugandan Asian controversy emerged in 1972, the NF publicised its opposition to letting these British citizens into the country after the Heath government acknowledged that it had legal reason to deny them entry. The first use of the term ‘no platform’ (that I have been able to find) comes from that year. The Red Mole was the newspaper of the International Marxist Group (IMG), a Trotskyist organisation that built quickly amongst the student and anti-Vietnam War movements in the late 1960s. In the issue for September 18, 1972, the front page headline declared ‘NO PLATFORM FOR RACISTS’. It described the NF and the Monday Club (a pro-empire and anti-immigration grouping within the Conservative Party) as ‘mortal enemies of the working class’ and stated that these two groups ‘must be stopped in their tracks’. The newspaper argued that these groups needed to be confronted and were ‘not going to be convinced by rational argument’, calling for ‘a concerted counter-attack’ at meetings of both groups.

The IMG proposed that groups like the NF could not be afforded ‘free speech’ because ‘their racist campaigns are a means to destroy the organisations of the working class which defend such bourgeois democratic rights’. The same issue claimed:

the only way to deal with fascist type organisations like the National Front is to break up their activities before they grow to a size where they can begin to smash the activities of the working class.

While acknowledging that ‘[w]e are nowhere near a threatened Fascist coup yet’, but said ‘the methods necessary on preventing such a threat must be explained and demonstrated in practice now… We must begin to adopt the right tactics right from the start.’

The IMG was one of the most influential leftist groups amongst the student movement in Britain in the early 1970s, but competed with the International Socialists and the CPGB (who were part of the Broad Left group with students associated with the Labour left). The NUS in 1974 was under the leadership of Steve Parry, a member of the CPGB and the Broad Left, and were in agreement (in principle) that a policy of ‘no platform’ should be applied to NF and other fascist organisations attempting to recruit students on university campuses. At the Liverpool conference in 1974, the policy of ‘no platform’ was devised as part of a wider stance against racism. Amendment 4 of the resolution on the fight against racialism stated:

Conference recognises the need to refuse assistance (financial or otherwise) to openly racist or fascist organisations or societies… and to deny them a platform.

However conference believes that in order to counter these groups, it is also necessary to prevent any member of these organisations or individuals known to espouse similar views from speaking in colleges by whatever means necessary (including disrupting of the meeting).

Student unions were called upon to ‘prevent any racist or fascist propaganda being displayed, sold, distributed, or propagated through meetings by whatever means may be necessary’.

Although agreed in principle the concept of ‘no platform’, the Communist Party, the IMG and the IS differed on the details of the resolution and how the strategy should be applied. The IMG felt that the joint action suggested in the resolution would not transfer into practice and declared that the other left-wing groups were unwilling to be involved in such joint practical action. Steve Webster wrote in Red Weekly (the renamed paper of the IMG):

The fascists will not be defeated by resolutions or statements alone. There are three specific issue which face us immediately: the activity of the right in the colleges, the campaign against the reactionary anti-abortion group, SPUC [the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children), and the fight against racism. The other groups of the left rejected joint action around these issues. But it is only by such joint mobilisations, by confronting the right wing head-on, that the fascists and racists will be routed.

The LSE branch of the International Socialists put together a newsletter called The Red Agitator which stated that they believed that the policy was ‘fundamentally correct’, but took issue with the lumping together of racists and fascists in the resolution as there was a difference in approach to fascists and those in the mainstream who promoted racist ideas. The IS raised the point of the racist claims made by the psychologist Hans Eysenck who toured universities in the early 1970s, espousing the idea that there were significant differences in mental capacity between the races. Eysenck was a racist, but not a fascist, and the IS suggested approaching his meetings in a slightly different way than the employment of the ‘no platform’ strategy:

To debate with Eysenck, to treat him as a genuine scientist, is thus to indirectly legitimise Powellism. This is not to say that we should go out to break up meetings which he addresses – the real threat lies in organised fascist groups – but rather that we should picket them and organise counter-meetings in order to show up the real nature of his ideas.

But dealing with the openly fascist NF, the IS agreed with the IMG. The Red Agitator newsletter finished with this:

The racists and fascists of today are not something that we can ignore. They are a growing menace. The liberties we have today are worth defending, small though they are. Fascism aims to smash, racism creates the conditions for their destruction. We cannot allow the open fascist, or the concealed fascist working in the Monday Club or some similar organisation to gain a hearing. Every meeting that they hold gives them confidence. Every apologist for racism lends them comfort. Every liberal who debates with them gives them aid – much against their will.

Every time they are stopped from meeting, every time their meetings are broke up, their task becomes harder and harder. The moral of the fascists fall. People turn away from them as a miserable and pathetic group with nothing to offer. Every success that we have demonstrates to the waverers that we are a better solution. That is the only way to fight fascism and racism.

The Communist Party’s National Student Organiser Dave Cook also took exception with the broad nature of the ‘no platform’ resolution devised by the NUS. Cook, writing in the CPGB’s Morning Star, argued that the second part of the resolution calling for the prevention of those speaking who espoused ‘similar views’ by any means necessary endangered support for the NUS policy because of its broad interpretation and could have potentially isolated the more moderate and centrist elements in the NUS. Cook proposed that there should not be all-applying response set at the national level, but allow each individual student council to decide whether to implement the policy of ‘no platform’. Like the Party’s wider anti-fascist strategy in the 1970s, Cook also warned against the vanguardist approach of breaking up meetings by a minority of students, writing ‘It is important that direct action does not become a substitute for the often more difficult task of winning the majority.’

In the Party’s internal documents, the broad and all-applying response of ‘no platform’ was criticised further. The Communist Party was particularly concerned with making the distinction between the fascism of the National Front and the racism of the Conservatives (and other right-wing groups), which nonetheless operated within a democratic framework. The Political Committee stated:

It is important to state from the start that the resolution is not a threat to the right of the Tory party to politically operate in the colleges. The resolution clearly and correctly differentiates between the expression of a Conservative viewpoint and organisations whose declared objective is racist. This is not to say that racism is an attitude that stops at the boundaries of the Conservative Party. On the contrary. Certain Tory leaders are more potent symbols of racism than anyone in the National Front… However it id important to draw the distinction between individual Tory racists, and organisations that are part of the Tory party like the Monday Club on one hand; and organisations whose declared objective is to further race hatred on the other – not because our opposition to them is any less intense, but because they are often best fought in different ways. It is so that it can more effectively fight them that NUS policy must hinge on this distinction. (‘The Fight Against Racism and Fascism, 22 May, 1974, CP/CENT/PC/13/05, LHASC)

The Party also felt that the resolution could be used to enact the ‘no platform’ policy against individuals, rather than organised fascist groups, and that this went past necessary anti-fascist activism and contravened the idea of ‘free speech’. Another internal document made this clear:

No matter how nauseous we find the views of individuals who are not members of such [fascist] organisations, e.g. [Hans] Eysenck and [William] Shockley; or the views of the right wing of the Tory Party, e.g. the Monday Club; the fact is that both of these differ significantly from organisations whose aims is declaredly fascist. (‘The Fight Against Racism and Fascism, n.d., CP/CENT/PC/13/05, LHASC)

While the NUS resolution, as well as the IMG and the IS, all saw the Monday Club to resemble a proto-fascist organisation that should be barred from meeting and organising on university campuses, the CPGB stressed that the Monday Club (from which there was a conveyer belt of recruitment into the NF in the early 1970s) was merely a group within the Conservatives and thus should be allowed to organise publicly.

Furthermore, the CPGB was worried that the phrase ‘by any means necessary’ could be interpreted in a number of ways and was concerned about physical violence at public events involving sections of the non-fascist right wing, such as Eysenck’s university tours. This had already occurred the previous year when the tiny Maoist group the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) (featuring the future leader of the Workers Institute for Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, Comrade Bala) broke up a presentation by Eysenck at the LSE.

The resolution was heavily criticised in the mainstream media, with even The Guardian’s John Fairhall describing the move as a denial of free speech, voted for by student ‘under the spell of Mr Parry’s oratory’ (April 9, 1974). Fairhall predicted that ‘[t]rouble and violence seem inevitable’ and warned:

Students should perhaps remember that frustration which leads to a denial of the right of one section of society is not something new. It is classic pattern of fascism.

Parry replied in a latter to the newspaper (April 16), arguing:

Our members overseas have been singled out for abuse, threats and outright economic attack by powerful extreme right-wingers during the time of the last Government. All our conference agreed was that at least they should not be subject to that abuse in our own student union.

Parry further addressed his critics in the press in an article in the journal Labour Monthly (June 1974) which had been run since the 1920s by CPGB stalwart, R. Palme Dutt. Unlike the position taken by Dave Cook, Parry saw the Monday Club and the National Front as very similar and posed the question, ‘What is the difference between the ideologies of the National Front and the Nazi party?’ Responding to the claim that the notion of ‘no platform’ put restrictions on ‘free speech’, Parry answered at length:

One must accept that to deny racists and fascists a platform is to ‘limit freedom of speech’ but one cannot see this freedom as something which exists in the abstract. It is a freedom which is already limited by such laws as the Race Relations Act and the law of libel, and must also be seen in the context of a class society in Britain which limits the freedom of speech for the vast majority of people… In refusing to assist the spread of racism the NUS is fighting for a freedom of even greater importance: the freedom to live without discrimination on the basis of race. It is only in relation to reality that principles of freedom can be seen. It is not an abstract intellectual exercise.

Because of the controversial nature of this resolution, the NUS held a special emergency conference in London on 15 June, 1974. This was the same day that the NF attempted to hold a meeting at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square and a counter-demonstration was held by Liberation and other anti-fascists, including the IMG. The resulting melee between anti-fascists and the police led to the death of Warwick University student Kevin Gately.

At the June conference, the debate was over the application of resolution. Dave Cook, writing again in Morning Star (21 June, 1974), said that the IMG and the IS wanted to maintain the resolution as it was passed, ‘which dictated a common response to all racist and fascist organisations in all situations’. The Communist-affiliated Broad Left group opposed this arguing that ‘the best way to implement national policy was for decisions to be made by each individual union in accordance with its local situation’. Put to a vote, the amendment suggested by Broad Left failed to get over the line and the resolution remained as it was, despite the Federation of Conservative Students seeking the opportunity to defeat the resolution in its entirety. But the death of Gately at an anti-fascist demonstration bolstered the argument made by the Trotskyist groups – if fascism was not countered ‘by any means necessary’, then people on the left were to become targets of violence.

By this time, the National Front were starting change tactics. For most of the early 1970s, the NF had played up its ‘respectability’ and tried to attract disaffected Tory voters (and members) who were anti-immigrant, pro-empire and anti-Common Market. ‘No platform’ was probably at its most controversial, but also very necessary, during this period, when a determined anti-fascist movement was needed to break the respectable veneer that the NF was putting forward while trying to woo the Tory right.

It reached its highest membership during this period and concentrated on electoral politics. The NF continued to contest elections from 1974 to 1977, but switched to an attempt to siphon off right-leaning Labour voters. However the small electoral fortunes of the NF kickstarted the anti-fascist movement against them and the years from 1977 to 1979 saw increasing confrontation between the NF and anti-fascists on the streets. By the late 1970s, the idea of ‘no platform’ seemed fairly straightforward – occupy the streets and the places where the NF seek to publicly assemble. Colin Sparks, from the SWP, explained in a 1978 pamphlet, Fascism and the National Front:

We do not engage in this sort of activity because we like violence or because the NF are reactionary. There are many other reactionary organisations around, for instance the Tory Party, which we do not attempt to smash up. The National Front differs from the Tories because their aims are precisely to control the streets, to build a mass fighting movement. In this, they need the marches and rallies. (p. 41)

The Communist Party, which was largely critical of the SWP’s ‘adventurist’ approach, also recognised the need to confront the NF, but argued that this needed to be done on a mass scale. But they also advocated using the Race Relations Act to combat the NF and their ‘claim to have a democratic right to flaunt their racism’. In the 1978 pamphlet, A Knife at the Throat of Us All, Dave Cook, now the CPGB’s National Organiser, wrote:

Communists support, and will defend to the utmost, the right of people to freely speak their mind. But to attack people because they are black is not a political argument. People form their political views on the basis of conviction. They are born with their colour. That is why to attack someone because of his or her race is to attack that person as a human being. Their political views can change, colour cannot.

To permit the NF the ‘freedom’ to be anti-human can end up destroying the freedom of us all. That is why incitement to racial hatred must have no place in a civilised society. (p. 28)

Even the Labour Party accepted a form of ‘no platform’ for the National Front, when the Party’s National Executive Committee in 1978 declared:

Labour candidates should not share platforms at meetings or appear on constituency programmes on radio or television with candidates or other members of the National Front.

Despite the original NUS resolution targeting specifically openly fascist and racist organisations, such as the NF and (perhaps controversially) the Monday Club, there were fears that the policy could widened to be used against any political organisation and individual that fell foul of the NUS leadership. In their 1974 pamphlet, Fascism: How to Smash It, the IMG gave instances where ‘no platform’ had been applied to political ‘enemies’ who were not fascists:

Racists like Powell or Harold Soref – who are not fascists – have often been driven off university campuses. This is because the effect these people can have is similar to fascists – that is, terrorising black people or others chosen as scapegoats for capitalism’s social ills, and encouraging social violence, legal or otherwise, against them…

‘No Platform’ has been applied to many people by the workers’ movement. Trade unionists, for example, would generally expel employees who attended their meetings. Print workers sometimes censor by blacking a newspaper editorial attacking the unions. When Mr. Godber, Tory Minister for Agriculture, [was] sent to Birmingham one day last year to do a public relations job for Tory price policy, he was mobbed off the street by angry housewives. All these actions are against ‘free speech’ and sometimes involve a physical struggle.

Throughout the 1970s, the ‘no platform’ policy was challenged at the NUS annual conference. At the 1977 conference, concerns were raised about demonstrations against Sir Keith Joseph speaking at Essex University. In The Guardian (March 23, 1977), John Fairhall wrote that the NUS Executive Committee felt that actions, such as the one against Joseph, were ‘against the interest of the union, and damage an anti-racialism campaign’. Alan Elsner, a member of the Union of Jewish Students, wrote in the New Statesman (May 13, 1977) that the Joseph incident ‘heightened the fear that “no platform” policy could be used as a means of silencing people whose views might be controversial or unpopular’. Elsner also raised the controversy over the use of ‘no platform’ against organisations that were explicitly Zionist or supporters of Israel.

Fairhall reported that some on the NUS Executive Committee wanted to change the policy from ‘no platform’ to ‘no invitation’, allegedly supported by the Communists in the Broad Left coalition, but this was defeated, 182,333 to 154,033 (with 33,948 abstentions) (The Guardian, April 1, 1977). Future Labour MP Charles Clarke was, at the time, NUS President and a member of the Broad Left, but after the vote, defined the existing policy of ‘no platform’ as:

A student union would do anything it could physically – such as picketing and demonstrating – to prevent people whom the student union decided by a general meeting vote were racists or fascists from speaking on a campus. But prevention would stop short of violence.

The Times’ Ian Bradley stated that the policy was dropped by the NUS in December 1977 but reinstated at the 1978 NUS conference just four months later (April 7, 1978). Although the moderate NUS leadership opposed it, the far left, including the National Organisation of Labour Students, managed to get the policy reinstated. Trevor Phillips, the incoming NUS President and who was personally against the policy, maintained that the policy would be used against the National Front, but ‘would oppose any attempt to use it against Mrs Thatcher or other members of major political parties’. The outgoing NUS President, Susan Slipman added, ‘The new policy will not mean the infringement of the democratic right of any members and it will definitely not mean reraising the question of banning Jewish student organisations.’

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By 1979, the NF had fallen into disarray, marginalised by the growing anti-fascist movement from one side and by the right-wing shift of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher from the other. However the ‘no platform’ policy was maintained and many would argue, succumbed to the newly developed interest in ‘identity politics’. Writing in Socialist Worker Review in 1986, Lindsey German said:

the policy often means little in confronting racism and sexism on more than an individual level. But what is more, it broadens the definition of no platform to an almost unworkable degree. The original no platform went for stopping organised fascists and racists, because their organisation was such a threat. That is not the case with individual members of the rugby club, however noxious they might be. Those people have to be defeated politically, in open and hopefully large union meetings.

German defended the policy, but argued that it needed to be limited to its original intent – against the National Front and other fascist organisations, such as the emerging British National Party. She warned that there were two things that were to be avoided if the NUS was to maintain the policy:

The first is to widen the policy far too far, and therefore allow the right wing to make capital from particular issues. The second is to get trapped into allowing the right to pose as defenders of free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It seems that student activists at British universities have not heeded German’s warning and that the strategy of ‘no platform’ employed against political opponents far removed from the original targets, the organised fascist far right. ‘No platform’ was developed as a specific tactic to prevent the encroachment of the National Front (and the Monday Club) onto university campuses in the mid-1970s. However it seems that almost from the time of its implementation, it has been open to misinterpretation and abuse by certain student groups. This post has sought to show that before it became a widely used tactic by various student groups, ‘no platform’ had a discreet and specific context to be used in an explicitly anti-fascist framework. Contemporary discussions in the media of the tactic often ignore this origin story, but do so at their own peril.