Life after the Party?

May 28th, 2012

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.


7 Responses to “Life after the Party?”

  1. David Black Says:

    “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.”

    Grfffith was never in the WRP and the play, set in May 1968, ends with the sell-out of the Gerry Healy character (originally played by Laurence Olivier in the stage version). There are no CP characters in the play, just Cliffites, Healyites and IMGer etc.
    The script was published and is probably still available.

  2. Says:

    Didn’t Griffiths do a ‘follow up’ to The Party in the late 1980s? Set at a middle class dinner party, with an insurrection being violently supressed in the streets outside, and through the elision of language, the guests manage to have a perfectly civilzed evening despite the trauma they can hear in the streets….?

    Can’t remember what it was called tho

  3. David Black Says:

    You’re probably thinking of the TV version of the same thing.
    Plot: It’s May 68 and there’s a trendy London party attended by various Trots. The news is coming in of the street-fighting in Paris, and they are all discussing it and trying to justify their various ideas in relating to the seemingly unfolding revolution. One of the characters is based on David Mercer, Trevor Griffith’s playwright friend; he plays the role of the working class jester.
    John Tagg (thinly disguised Healy) is in telephone contact with his ‘French section’. Because Tagg insists that you can’t have a revolution without a properly-led vanguard party (spoiler alert) the play ends with Tagg ordering his French section to stay off the streets in case they get massacred.
    There is definitely a case for reviving this play.

  4. Says:


    Don’t forget Morgan, a suitable case for treatment , with David Warner, Vanessa Redgrave..David Mercer who wrote the script had been in the WRP.

    V. Redgrave did not understand the mordant critique of that trot org in that film, since she remains a WRP member. INCREDIBLE , SOME NEVER LEARN.

  5. David Black Says:

    Morgan, written by David Mercer is indeed a fine film Junius. And Mercer had been a Healyite (in the Socialist Labour League).
    Vanessa is no longer in the WRP (such as it is now), partly because she is now pro-monarchy (quote from Frost on Sunday: ‘I’m very pro-Prince Charles”) and little better than the spoilt liberal Sloane she always was. Camelot? She never really left it.

  6. Saturn Nautilus Says:

    Best story I know about the Daily Worker is the one about the comrade who was hugely successful at selling the paper outside the tube station on a Friday after work. This was just during or after the war.
    He used to sell hundreds of copies.
    One day he fell ill so another comrade took over the spot. As usual, commuters were rushing up for their paper, with a nod and a wink, and many thanks, which the new comrade thought was slightly odd.
    Soon people began coming back, angrily demanding their money back. They weren’t putting up with this! The puzzled comrade was at a loss to know what the problem was.
    Only later did he learn that the regular seller had a nice line going in black market prophylactics, one with every issue of the paper!

  7. Says:

    There is another film/play that we ought to mention to back up Praise Marx and Morgan, a suitable case for treatment, and that is David Halliwell’s Little Malcolm’s fight against the Eunuchs, done in 1974 and produced by George Harrison with John Hurt in the role of Malcolm Scrawdyke. It is bitting satire of vanguard parties.

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