A booklaunch at Housmans, details here.
The Communist Party of Great Britain lost the will to live in 1990 – the Soviet Union had collapsed, and so it ‘liquidated itself.’ The decline had been long and painful up to that point, and despite its best intentions, the party wasn’t so much a broad church, but resembled more a Convention of Bare-Knuckled Fighters, one where the doors had been locked from the outside, and drunken mayhem ensued within.
Civil wars are always the most brutal. My mate’s family christmas was awful – the Morning Star side of the family would sit on one side of the table, and the Eurocommunists (or ‘loyalists’) would sit on the other. They wouldn’t speak across the divide: a sad story repeated across the depth and breadth of the nation every holiday during the 1980s no doubt. Thatcher has got a hell of a lot to answer for.
The Eurocommunist ‘right-wing’ were in control of the monthly journal Marxism Today, which prided itself on interviewing decrepid right-wing Thatcherites. They were keen on tailoring a certain reading of Gramsci to help fit out the embryonic New Labour suits, then just a twinkle in the eye of Neil Kinnock, who famously said that ‘Eric Hobsbawm is my favourite Marxist.’ Meanwhile the Stalinists inside the party had battened down the hatches at Rust House, home to the Daily Worker, which, in an attempt to broaden it’s appeal, changed its name to The Morning Star in the 1970s. It is hard to imagine now what life was like then: the old CP was once the backbone of the British shop steward’s movement in the 1960s, when the working class were spread out across a wide varieties of industries, not least in coal, ship building and car making. People used to jack in a job on a Friday and find a new one Monday. Work was a boredom to be endured, not something that dominated your life in every conceivable way, like it is today.
Two good accounts of the highs and lows of the British Communist party are the TV series Blood Red Roses, which charts the life of a Scottish shop steward and her husband. Their daughter gets radicalised by the post 1968 atmosphere and joins the Trots! Only scabbing would have brought more shame onto the family. Another time capsule is Trevor Griffith’s play, which was made into a BBC TV ‘Play for Today’ special called The Party. Griffith’s was another Trot, of the WRP variety, so his take is of course, that the Communists were sell out merchants. For the Trots, the British road to socialism was just a question of leadership, and so naturally the CPGB were the biggest barrier they had to overcome. All very arcane today no doubt, but the best ever moving image take on post-war British communist travails has to be Praise Marx and Pass the Ammunition, with the Sweeney’s John Thaw as communist fulltime militant. It ends with a shoot ‘em up in a warehouse, when the Maoists and the Tankies battle it out for control. Glory days.