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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Coordinator

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: How much difference does the wording of a referendum question make?

John Rentoul
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent