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Reforging the Party: The Leninist

Keeping it flying

By the time The Leninist - the forerunner of today’s Weekly Worker - hit the streets in November 1981 the official CPGB had already been politically liquidated as a revolutionary vanguard - long before the final coup de grâce dealt by a special congress convened by the Eurocommunist-dominated leadership in 1991.

However, the publication of this spiky, pugnacious journal did underline two features of the opportunist crisis of the CPGB.

  • First, that this was no irrelevant spat, of interest only to specialists in political esoterica. TL made an immediate and relatively large impact because despite the parlous state of the CPGB, it then still remained a substantial historic conquest for the working class of Britain. It was not some “sect which declares itself a party when its membership exceeds the dizzy heights of 100 ... it has an organic relationship with the working class, and thus organises a significant section …” (TL No3, September 1982, ‘A call to all communists’, p2). The fact that this new publication promised to “wage an uncompromising ideological struggle [that would] be open, in front of the masses, not a secret conspiracy hidden from view” immediately engaged and started to educate a far wider political audience than those left in the party’s dwindling ranks (The Leninist ‘Founding statement’, winter 1981-82, p7).
  • Second, the TL faction was a positive political resolution of the contradictions that were inherent to Stalinism itself - we were never a ‘entryist’ group, as some stupidly alleged. Today, when we watch much of the rest of the revolutionary left repeat the errors and betrayals it once blasted the CPGB for, we still fight to positively resolve these self-same programmatic crises and contradictions of the left of the workers’ movement. The ignominious demise of the millions-strong official communism of yesterday should stand as a stark warning to the stultified, isolated and tiny revolutionary groups of today.

So we have taken a consistent partisan attitude to the crises of other sections of the left, and recognise that it is not a good thing if revolutionary organisations such as the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party in England and Wales or any other viable group simply blew up, scattering cadre to the winds, spreading demoralisation and intensifying the poisonous cynicism with which many advanced workers regard the sects. The barriers between them and the Marxists would be reinforced, to the detriment of both.

This partisan method has never implied an intellectual truce, however. Comrades will see from TL that from the beginning, our understanding of democratic centralism has always be freedom of discussion; unity in action. So we have seen no contradiction in blasting the regimes of bureaucratic centralism that then prevailed in the CPGB and today’s revolutionary left (and the opportunist trends they nurtured and shielded) and calling for the democratic unity of all Marxists into a communist party formation. In a passage that speaks volumes about the state of the contemporary left, TL’s founding statement positively cited Lenin’s many polemics - “all open in front of the masses” - and asserted that “it is not open ideological struggle that is alien” to democratic centralism, “but ‘pub room conspiracy’”. We summed up: “Open struggle develops the understanding of theory in cadres, it steels them and in truth is the only way to achieve a genuinely united party. Plotting and conspiracy in matters of ideology only lead to the stultification of comrades, it isolates them from the masses and in the end can only result in bitterness and disillusionment” (TL No1, p5).

The Leninist was to make the transition from a quarterly theoretical journal, to a monthly newspaper in 1984 to meet the demands of the miners’ Great Strike, to a fortnightly in 1986 and was superseded by the Weekly Worker in 1991 when, in the aftermath of the dissolution of the official party, the tasks of our organisation broadened and the format of what was, after all, essentially a factional journal no longer fitted.