In the very first issue of this newspaper, published just a month after the formation of our party, we explained the party’s antecedents and the reasons for its formation and stated as follows:
“It is, however, surely a crime against the proletariat to form a party, which is unneeded, which is only a copy of an existing party, and which can only duplicate the work already being done by that existing party, and so we have to justify our right/duty to form a communist party when there are already several in existence bearing that title.
“Why have we, who now find ourselves outside of the SLP because of our openly communist beliefs, not joined one of the existing parties in Britain calling themselves communist? ” (‘Formation of the CPGB-ML’, Proletarian, August 2004)
In that article, and on various subsequent occasions, we addressed, in this context, the question of the two main proponents of revisionism and opportunism going under a ‘communist’ signboard in Britain, namely the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and the now almost completely dead New Communist Party (NCP.)
There are however, quite a number of other organisations in Britain claiming to be communist and Marxist-Leninist, a situation that undoubtedly contributes to confusion, and even disorganisation and demoralisation, among some advanced workers.
The struggle to build and unite the communist movement in Britain is bound to be a particularly protracted and complex one, seeing as this oldest imperialist country is particularly saturated with such an array of opportunist influences in the working-class movement.
One such organisation is the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) [RCPB(ML)]. Over recent months, our party has been asked on several occasions why we did not seek to join this party instead of forming one ourselves. This question inevitably begs a supplementary one as to the continued separate existence of our two parties.
Our party believes in speaking openly and honestly before the movement and the working class rather than dealing in gossip, whispered asides and the other stock-in-trade methods of sundry opportunists. We are therefore publishing below, in the interests of political clarity and a principled struggle for unity, an edited version of a letter sent recently by our central committee in response to a comrade who raised such questions on several occasions.
Reply to a comrade
You raise a number of questions, but they essentially concern why the comrades who founded our party in 2004, on either being expelled from or leaving the SLP, did not apply to join the RCPB(ML), but rather felt the necessity to form a new party.
In this reply, we shall try to hew as closely as possible to that central question, so this should not be taken as a definitive history or analysis of the RCPB(ML) and its antecedent organisations. Equally, it cannot fail to reflect on aspects of those questions. Moreover, the course taken in 2004 is now a historical question and the material existence of both the CPGB-ML and the RCPB(ML) have become established facts. Therefore, and we shall touch on this, too, any question of unity between the two parties cannot be the preserve or responsibility of one of the parties alone.
The starting point for our consideration has to be the brief statement to be found on the home page of our party website that the CPGB-ML “was set up in recognition of the fact that there was no existing party in Britain that carried a consistently Marxist-Leninist, anti-imperialist, anti-social democratic political line. It was, and is, the unshakeable conviction of these comrades that only such a party can develop into a genuine working-class vanguard. ”
One of the factors that led to that conclusion is that a number of our leading comrades are very familiar not only with the RCPB(ML) of today, or over the last seven years since our own party was founded, but with its whole political record and trajectory, both in its present manifestation as RCPB(ML), and its various antecedents – the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), the English Communist Movement (Marxist-Leninist) and the English Internationalists, along with innumerable front organisations – going back to the mid-1960s.
As already stated, we do not propose to provide here an exhaustive history and analysis of every aspect of the RCPB(ML), its policies, lines and practice, but rather to focus on a few key and essential points. However, these are more than sufficient to answer the question as to why our comrades could not accept that the way forward in 2004 was to apply for membership of this party, as possessing the necessary minimum attributes of a serious and principled Marxist-Leninist party, a revolutionary vanguard of the working class.
Surveying the history of the RCPB(ML) and its antecedents reveals a politically unstable record of a succession of extreme and one-sided positions, often with more in common with petty-bourgeois fanaticism, the following of the fad of the moment, and cultishness, rather than of a serious party of the working class.
With an initial background in such fields as a variety of existentialism, experimental and avant-garde music, etc, the RCPB(ML) (for the sake of clarity we shall use RCPB(ML) throughout rather than its various name changes given above) took up ‘Maoism’ in the context of China’s Cultural Revolution.
What they in fact did was to mimic and imitate some of the more extreme manifestations of that movement, and of the complicated political process taking place in China, without any regard to the vastly different conditions of China and Britain. This resulted in such risible absurdities as waving Mao’s Little Red Book on demonstrations and selling it door-to-door on working-class estates whose residents had had no previous exposure to revolutionary literature of any kind. Their own publications consisted mostly of straight reprints from the Chinese press.
Of course, it was correct to support and defend China in its epic struggle against modern revisionism, led by the post-Stalin leaderships of the CPSU, and in the building of socialism, but the infantile practice of the RCPB(ML) did more to discredit China and hold it up to ridicule among advanced workers and others than anything else.
Following the death of Comrade Mao Zedong, hitherto largely private disagreements between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Party of Labour of Albania (PLA) became both public and magnified. Despite (or perhaps because of?) having spent around a decade engaging in the most slavish imitation and sycophantic flattery of the CPC, the RCPB(ML) had never been accorded even the smallest degree of recognition or fraternal relations by the CPC.
Accordingly, with differences between China and Albania out in the open, and a split in the Marxist-Leninist movement, the RCPB(ML) grabbed at the chance of recognition from the PLA. Thenceforth, the RCPB(ML) adopted the same sycophantic caricature of Albanian political positions, culture and forms as they had of Chinese ones practically the day before. Quite literally, where once they had sung Chinese songs they now sang Albanian ones.
Moreover, this drastic change occurred practically overnight, with little or no explanation, and no evidence of discussion, debate or inner-party struggle. Those who the day before had ludicrously proclaimed that “China’s Chairman is our Chairman”, simply switched this embarrassingly slavish devotion to the Albanian comrades. Not only did they declare post-Mao China to be a “social imperialist” country, but also that China had never been a socialist country, that the CPC had never been a Marxist-Leninist party, that Comrade Mao Zedong had never been a Marxist Leninist, and even, on occasions, that he had been a “fascist”.
Then, when, a few years after the death of Comrade Enver Hoxha, the PLA began to openly abandon Marxist-Leninist principles in both its domestic and foreign policies, the RCPB(ML), which had dogmatically insisted that not even Cuba and the DPRK were socialist, denied that anything was remiss and continued to echo whatever nonsense came from Tirana, including its condemnations of Iraq at the United Nations.
This sycophancy continued even after the leadership of the PLA had liquidated the party by transforming it into the openly social-democratic Socialist Party of Albania and was only discontinued after the coming to power of the rabidly anti-communist Berisha.
At this point, the RCPB(ML) performed another of its great and instant flips. Just as Mao’s name was once expunged from their literature, so it was now Hoxha’s turn to be forgotten, although admittedly he was not maligned as Mao had been.
With the collapse of socialism in Albania more or less coinciding with the final collapse of the USSR and the socialist states of central and eastern Europe, the RCPB(ML), despite clinging to the incorrect view that the USSR and its allied countries had not been socialist (despite decades of revisionist corrosion), then hastily adopted a political outlook that in certain crucial aspects was little different from that of the traitor Gorbachev, essentially replacing the Marxist line of the class struggle leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat with what Gorbachev notoriously called “universal human values”, or what the RCPB(ML) call “the necessity for inviolable rights simply by dint of being a human being. This must be the starting point. These rights cannot be given or taken away.” (Draft Programme for the Working Class)
Throughout this draft programme (which apparently remains a draft after more than 16 years) and elsewhere, the RCPB(ML) continuously frames the struggle as being for such nebulous and amorphous concepts as “democratic renewal”, “political empowerment”, “making the people sovereign” and so on. We are told that the struggle that has to be waged is one against “absolutism”, “medievalism” and for the “establishment of sovereign states”.
But we are not living in an epoch where the key tasks to be taken up for solution are rebutting the concept of the “divine right of kings” or dealing with the unfinished business of the civil war of the 1640s. Leninism teaches that this epoch is that of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. Despite paying perfunctory lip-service to this essential formulation of Leninism, in reality it is that fundamental characterisation of the nature of the epoch that the RCPB(ML) now denies.
From this brief account, therefore, we would submit that neither in terms of its present programmatic standpoint, nor from its whole history, does the RCPB(ML) qualify as a serious Marxist-Leninist party, such that our comrades could have simply applied to join it in 2004 rather than embarking on the long and difficult road of building our party from scratch.
It is not simply that the political positions have been and are incorrect (although the errors have been and are serious); nor that the positions have changed (we accept that parties and comrades make errors, and we welcome their correction), although the radical and extreme flip flops referenced above do indicate, to put it politely, a certain political immaturity. Rather it is above all a question of the attitude taken to those mistakes and changes of line.
In Left-Wing Communism, Lenin pointed out:
“The attitude of a political party towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it in practice fulfils its obligations towards its class and the toiling masses. Frankly admitting a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions which led to it, and thoroughly discussing the means of correcting it – that is the earmark of a serious party; that is the way it should perform its duties, that is the way it should educate and train the class, and then the masses.”
Viewed from this Leninist standpoint, the RCPB(ML), throughout its history, has failed abysmally.
There is one further important political point that we cannot refrain from making and that concerns the Labour party.
Whilst it is true that in words the RCPB(ML) rejects the imperialist Labour party in a way that the CPB and NCP do not, in fact and in political practice their repudiation is confined to the leadership of the Labour party and is therefore not after all qualitatively different from the CPB’s and NCP’s revisionism.
The agents of the bourgeoisie that are actually active in the working-class movement largely escape the RCPB(ML)’s critical attention. In a word, the party’s members and its practice have become as liberal as they were once sectarian. Both in their press and in their practice in such organisations as the Stop the War Coalition and even the petty-bourgeois pacifist CND, far from exposing the antics of ‘left’ Labour, the revisionists and Trotskyites, they sit quietly alongside them, aiding and abetting them, conciliating, supporting and promoting them.
Therefore, whilst we do not deny that the RCPB(ML) expresses its support for various anti-imperialist movements (as indeed do a whole gamut of opportunist organisations to one extent or another), their stand and practice is far from that set out by Lenin with regard to the relationship between the struggle against imperialism and the struggle against opportunism.
In ‘The military programme of the proletarian revolution’, Lenin pointed out: “Struggle against imperialism that is not closely linked with the struggle against opportunism is either an empty phrase or a fraud. ”
And in Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, he noted: “The only Marxist line in the world labour movement is to explain to the masses the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism, to educate them for revolution by waging a merciless struggle against opportunism. ”
We do not deny that there are some good and sincere comrades in the RCPB(ML) who have devoted their lives to the cause, but communist unity has to rest on more than good intentions and subjective desire. As Lenin noted in ‘Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra’: “Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. Otherwise, our unity will be purely fictitious, it will conceal the prevailing confusion and hinder its radical elimination.”
This standpoint of Lenin’s is crystal clear, but it is a world away from the idealist position taken by a leading comrade of RCPB(ML) in email correspondence with you, that: “On the issue of communist unity: in a sense, it could be said that there is communist unity, in that since the fall of revisionism in power in the Soviet Union and the end of the Eastern bloc, when the dust had settled there was in fact one communist movement.”
To quote Lenin in What Is to Be Done? :
“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity. Yet, for Russian social democrats the importance of theory is enhanced by three other circumstances, which are often forgotten: first, by the fact that our party is only in process of formation, its features are only just becoming defined, and it has as yet far from settled accounts with the other trends of revolutionary thought that threaten to divert the movement from the correct path. On the contrary, precisely the very recent past was marked by a revival of non-social-democratic revolutionary trends (an eventuation regarding which Axelrod long ago warned the Economists). Under these circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an ‘unimportant’ error may lead to most deplorable consequences, and only short-sighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades of opinion inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian social-democracy for very many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other ‘shade’.”
To exchange this standpoint for an idea that “in a sense, it could be said that there is communist unity” is indeed, in Lenin’s words from the same article, a bad case of “wishing mourners at a funeral many happy returns of the day”.
Having stated all this, we need also to point out that in those areas where agreement does exist, or can realistically be built, between the RCPB(ML) and ourselves, we have consistently held out the hand of comradely cooperation to them.
We initiated the Friends of Korea and sought to work and cooperate with them in that forum. We invited them as speakers and honoured guests to our celebrations of the Great October Socialist Revolution in 2009 and 2010. We reported at some length their contributions at both Korea and October Revolution meetings, in either our party newspaper or the fraternal journal Lalkar, as appropriate.
Unfortunately, our comradely overtures have not been reciprocated in any sincere or meaningful way. We have never been invited to address an RCPB(ML) function, for example.
To take another, very recent, example, following the Nato aggression against Libya (and not for the first time) the RCPB(ML) initiated a joint statement with the NCP (an organisation that is not only hopelessly revisionist but which has long since been effectively dead and which certainly has no presence or activity of any kind within the anti-war movement) but made no attempt whatsoever to contact our party.
The vague expressions of a desire for unity (not to mention the frankly bizarre proclamation that unity already exists) as contained, for example, in the email correspondence referred to above, are meaningless in real terms unless they are backed up with actual and sincere initiatives.