BOOK REVIEW / Back to the dustbin: The Good Old Cause - Willie Thompson: Pluto Press, pounds 12.95

Share
Related Topics
IN NOVEMBER 1991 a majority of the delegates to the 43rd congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain voted to dump the organisation in what Marx called 'the dustbin of history'. It was a sorry end to the only party to have been created on the direct instruction of Lenin himself.

This is the most revealing study to have emerged from the wreckage. Willie Thompson admits the sheer horror as well as utter failure, moral and material, of the Soviet model of Communism. He is equally honest about the grovelling sycophancy that typified the British party's treatment of its Moscow masters and the ill-judged arrogance of its behaviour at home.

Perceptively, Thompson likens the party in the Stalin years both to 'a secular church . . . a community of the elite', with internal bonds similar to those of 'fervent religious groupings' and to an underground 'political army'. He stresses that involvement in secular religions demands self-sacrifice and nobility of character, while offering the elect an excuse to suspend conventional morality.

Even so the limitations of this work are manifold, and say much about the subject. For example, the 71-year-old party was reconstituted last year as a loose association of like-minded people. The change was supposedly made with humility, following the collapse of Communism and the revelations about the scale of the destruction that it had caused. But the name selected for the new grouping, Democratic Left, expressed the arrogance, self-righteousness and exclusiveness that had characterised the Communist Party from the start.

To imply that this handful of Marxists, ex-Marxists and post-Marxists somehow constituted the British left was silly. For all its weaknesses, the Labour Party and its affiliated trade unions continue, overwhelmingly, to represent left-wing opinion - as they did through the lifetime of the CPGB. As for 'Democratic', it ill behoved the survivors of what they now admit to have been a Soviet-subsidised, foreign-dominated, centralist and secretive organisation to lay claim to the word.

For all his struggle to break free, Willie Thompson, a senior lecturer in history at Glasgow Polytechnic, remains part of the 'too little, too late' brigade of revisionists who gradually came to dominate the CPGB following Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin and the subsequent, morale-shattering Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

The response of the party leadership to those events was, as Thompson records, dishonest, 'unbelievably stupid' and 'corrupt'. What he does not say is that it was typical. After much breast-beating they issued a revised version of the party's statement of aims, The British Road to Socialism, stressing their independence from the Kremlin and their commitment to the democratic process both nationally and within the party.

Then they took off to Moscow and arranged for secret subsidies of up to pounds 100,000 a year. Payments continued until little more than a decade ago, and were still being denied in London when Soviet party files began to leak.

Although much of this work rings true, there are two areas badly covered by Mr Thompson. The first involves the role of David Springhall, the Comintern representative in this country in the Thirties, in espionage and the running of agents, and in the provision of instructions and funds to the British party. To claim that Springhall and company were 'hopeless amateurs', who engaged in 'espionage of a sort' and were soon apprehended, is simply ludicrous. They were key players.

Second, to suggest that there was no significant conspiratorial Communist presence in the trade union movement during the Wilson and Callaghan years is nonsense. The constant encouragement of strikes in support of unrealistic wage demands, the destruction of Barbara Castle's union reforms and the co-ordinated attempts to capture positions of power in order to influence Labour Party policy, did much to destroy the credibility of that party - more than Mr Thompson is prepared to admit.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions