Communist Party of Britain

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) is a communist political party in Great Britain committed to Marxist–Leninist theory.[8] The party emerged from a dispute between Eurocommunists and Marxist-Leninists in the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1988.[9]

Communist Party of Britain
General SecretaryRobert David Griffiths[1][2]
ChairLiz Payne[1][3]
Founded1988; 33 years ago (1988)[4]
Preceded byCommunist Party of Great Britain
HeadquartersRuskin House, Croydon, London
NewspaperCommunist Review
Youth wingYoung Communist League
Membership (2021)Increase1,435+[a][5][6]
Ideology
Political positionFar-left[7]
International affiliationIMCWP
Colours    Red and yellow
Website
www.communistparty.org.uk

Ex-members included General Secretaries of three organisations: Bob Crow of the RMT union, Ken Gill of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF) union and member of the TUC General Council, and Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Current members include Susan Michie,[10] a member of the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and Independent SAGE advising on behavioural science measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HistoryEdit

The Communist Party of Britain was established, or as its members saw it, re-established, in April 1988[9] by a disaffected section of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). This section sought to preserve the Communist Party, saving it from its forthcoming dissolution under a eurocommunist leadership.

OriginsEdit

In the period leading up to 1988, the Communist Party of Great Britain was in turmoil as the leadership fought the Marxist-Leninist tendencies inside the party. The rupture was made publicly visible in August 1982 when the CPGB-affiliated Morning Star newspaper published criticisms of the CPGB's theoretical journal Marxism Today.[11] Both publications came to characterise separate visions for the future of the party; the internal opposition rallied around the Morning Star and the reformist leadership around Marxism Today.[12] These early signs of trouble attracted international attention, notably from the East German SED which was concerned about the Eurocommunist tendency in the CPGB.[13]

At the CPGB's 38th congress in November 1983, Tony Chater the editor of the Morning Star, as well as the assistant editor David Whitfield, were both removed from their positions on the party's executive. However, they were able to keep their positions at the paper, as it is owned and managed separately by the People's Press Printing Society co-operative. The following year at the PPPS Annual General Meeting in June 1984, a majority of delegates re-elected Chater and Whitfield to the management committee of the newspaper, against the wishes of the CPGB leadership. In November 1984, the North-West District Congress elected an opposition majority to its District Committee, to which the leadership responded by declaring the district election illegitimate.[11] A similar movement was brewing in London, where the CPGB General Secretary Gordon McLennan pre-emptively dissolved the London District Congress and 11 members of the District Committee were suspended. In Scotland, 20 branches were brought under disciplinary sanctions.[14] The CPGB Executive Committee then brought the dispute to a special congress on the 18–20 May 1985, with a draft resolution condemning the Morning Star and the group around it. Over 650 amendments were submitted to the resolution, which was eventually passed after a long debate, and followed up by the expulsion of eighteen members.[15]

In June 1985, dissident and expelled members of the CPGB formed the Communist Campaign Group. This group declared itself loyal to the party programme, and stated its aim was to prevent the liquidation of the party.[16] The Campaign Group was provided an office within the premises of the Morning Star.[17] The first post-congress meeting of the new CPGB Executive Committee in July 1985 dropped the commitment for party members to support the Morning Star; it concluded with the dissolution of more branches and further disciplinary measures, such as the expulsion of Ken Gill.[18]

For two years, the Campaign Group organised within the CPGB to defend the party's Marxist-Leninist principles. However, at the 1987 party congress the Campaign Group failed to shift the leadership, and the direction of the CPGB diverted towards transformation into a social-democratic party. Kevin Halpin was invited to Moscow to discuss the possibility that the CPGB would break apart, he was advised by the CPSU that the Campaign Group should continue working within the existing party structures.[19] On 8 January 1988 the Campaign Group called a press conference to announce the formation of the Communist Party.[20] The re-establishment congress took place over the weekend of 23–24 April 1988, where one of the prominent leaders of the Campaign Group, Mike Hicks, was elected to the position of General Secretary.[21] Chater emphasised the continuity with the CPGB at the congress, explaining at the time:

"We are not creating a new Party. We are re-establishing the Party on the basis of its’ [sic] rules and programme."[22]

The first party card was issued to Andrew Rothstein, who had also been one of the founding members of the CPGB.[22] The following year the leaders of the CPGB formally declared that they had abandoned its programme, The British Road to Socialism. Many members perceived this as the party turning its back on socialism. The CPGB dissolved itself in 1991 and reformed as the Democratic Left.[23] Many members of the Straight Left faction who had stayed in the CPGB formed a group called "Communist Liaison" which later opted to join the CPB. Others remained in the Democratic Left or joined the Labour Party.

The party still has members who were active in the CPGB, some of whom were active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement[24][25][26] and trade union disputes such as the Upper Clyde work-in or the miners' strike of 1984–1985.[27]

In 1998, Hicks was ousted as such in a 17 – 13 vote moved by John Haylett (who was also editor of the Morning Star) at a meeting of the party's Executive Committee. Hicks' supporters on the Management Committee of the Morning Star responded by suspending and then sacking Haylett, which led to a prolonged strike at the Morning Star, ending in victory for Haylett and his reinstatement.[28] Some of Hicks' supporters were expelled and others resigned in protest. They formed a discussion group called Marxist Forum, which is now[when?] defunct.

The party is part of the Stop the War Coalition; the movement's chair, Andrew Murray was a Communist Party member until late 2016.[29] Prior to the formation of the Respect – The Unity Coalition, with the support of the Socialist Workers Party, the party engaged in a debate about whether to join an electoral alliance with Respect and George Galloway.[30] Those in favour, including general secretary Rob Griffiths, Andrew Murray and Morning Star editor John Haylett, were, however, defeated at a Special Congress in 2004.[31]

In 2009, the party was one of the founder organisations of the No2EU electoral alliance alongside the RMT and a number of other left parties. The aim of the alliance is to stand in European Parliament elections on a platform of opposition to the European Union, which it considers undemocratic and neo-liberal.

The party was a founder of the People's Assembly Against Austerity in 2013, along with a number of other political and campaign groups, to create a broad organisation in opposition to austerity policies of the major political parties of Britain and of the European Union. The People's Charter, which the Communist Party had helped create several years earlier, was subsequently voted to be incorporated into the People's Assembly.

At the 2017 general election, the party fielded no candidates and gave its support to the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The CPB said it was the first election at which neither it nor the CPGB had fielded any candidates.[32][33] In March 2018, Susan Michie, a leading member of the CPB, said that the party would no longer stand against Labour in general elections. CPB members should be "working full tilt" for the election of Corbyn as prime minister, she said.[10][34] In the 2019 general election, the party again fielded no candidates and gave its support to the Labour Party.[35]

However following the resignation of Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party and the election of Keir Starmer as his successor, the CPB again decided to field candidates in elections. In February 2021 the party's Executive Committee decided to mount one of the biggest electoral campaigns since the early 1980s.

In 2021 the party contested parliamentary seats in the Scottish parliamentary election, all regional lists in the Welsh Senedd election and seats across England in the May local elections.[36]

General secretariesEdit

General Secretary Took office Left office
Mike Hicks 1988 1998
Robert Griffiths 1998

Stance on socialist countriesEdit

The party supports what it regards as existing socialist states, and has fraternal relationships with the Cuban, Chinese, Lao and Vietnamese communist parties, as well as with other ruling communist parties around the world. It is affiliated nationally to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign[37] and the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.

The party's attitude towards the Soviet Union was historically positive. Both the party and the Morning Star approved of perestroika and processes of reform in the late 1980s, believing that these would pave the way to a more humane socialism.[38] The final assessment is summed up in Britain's Road to Socialism:

Russia and the other countries of the Soviet Union were transformed from semi-feudal, semi-capitalist monarchist dictatorships into modern societies with near-full employment, universally free education and healthcare, affordable housing for all, extensive and cheap public transport, impressive scientific and cultural facilities, rights for women and degrees of self-government for formerly oppressed nationalities. This was achieved through a world historic break with capitalist ownership and social relations, on the basis of social ownership of industry and centralised economic planning.

But the struggle to survive and to build socialism in the face of powerful external as well as internal enemies also led to distortions in society that might otherwise have been avoided. In particular, a bureaucratic-command system of economic and political rule became entrenched. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the trade unions became integrated into the apparatus of the state, eroding working class and popular democracy. Marxism-Leninism was used dogmatically to justify the status quo rather than make objective assessments of it.

At times, and in the late 1930s in particular, severe violations of socialist democracy and law occurred. Large numbers of people innocent of subversion or sabotage were persecuted, imprisoned and executed. This aided the world-wide campaign of lies and distortions aimed at the Soviet Union, the international communist movement and the concept of socialism.

— Socialism – the lessons so far[39]

SymbolismEdit

Under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998, which regulated the use of symbols on ballot slips and electoral material, the Communist Party is the only British political party entitled to use a stand-alone hammer and sickle in such cases. The party tends to use the hammer and dove[40] (adopted when the party was re-established in 1988) in conjunction with the hammer and sickle in publications and on other material, with the hammer and dove normally taking primacy. The party's official flag consists of a golden-outlined, five-pointed red star above and slightly to the left of a hammer and sickle design in red with a golden outline in the flag's canton. The words "Communist Party" appear in gold along the bottom of the flag.

OrganisationEdit

The Communist Party describes itself as a "disciplined and democratic organisation" and operates on a model of democratic centralism.

The basic party body is the branch. These are normally localities (towns or counties, for example), although workplace branches also exist. In England, branches are grouped into coherent geographical areas and send delegates to a biennial District Congress which elects a District Committee for its area. Similarly, the Welsh and Scottish branches send delegates to their own national congresses where each elects an Executive Committee. These congresses also decide the broad perspectives for party activity within their districts and nations.

The all-Britain national congress is also held biennially. Delegates from districts, nations and branches themselves decide the party's policy as a whole and elect an Executive Committee (EC) that carries out a presidium-like function, including decision-making and policy-formation whilst congress is not in session.[41]

The EC also elects a Political Committee (PC) to provide leadership when the EC is not meeting. Advisory Committees also exist to provide in-depth information on an array of subjects, including committees dedicated to women, industrial workers, pensions, public services, education workers, economics, housing, rails, science technology and the environment, transport, Marxist-Leninist education, LGBT rights, anti-racism, anti-fascism, civil service and international affairs.

Young Communist LeagueEdit

 
Logo of the Young Communist League as it appeared in 1923.

The YCL is the autonomous youth group of the Communist Party, with its own internal organisation. It carries out work alongside the party, while maintaining its own branches, activities, and events such as an annual summer camp. Young members of the party are automatically enrolled into the youth wing, however membership of both organisations is not synonymous, as it is possible to independently join the YCL without joining the party.

Coordinating Committee of Communist Parties in BritainEdit

The CCPiB is a bureau within the Communist Party which meets with overseas communist parties that have significant memberships in Britain.

These include:

The Committee meets regularly to exchange political assessments, to organise joint theoretical discussions and to plan events of international commemoration.

Size and electoral informationEdit

Membership numbers over time. See or edit source data.

From 2006 to 2014 the party held a membership of over 900 members. In 2015 this figure dropped significantly to below 800 members, although it has since recovered with significant growth in the Young Communist League. At the 56th party congress it was reported that the party had grown to over 1.200 members.[42] The party maintains branches in most major cities.

The statement of accounts submitted to the Electoral Commission following the 55th congress in 2018 reported a total annual income of £151,045.[2]

General election resultsEdit

House of Commons of the United Kingdom
Election year # of candidates % of overall vote # of total votes # of seats won
1997[43] 5 0.0% 639 0
2001[44] 6 0.0%   1,003   0
2005[45] 6 0.0%   1,124   0
2010[46] 6 0.0%   947   0
2015[47] 9 0.0%   1,229   0
2017 Supported Labour[48]
2019 Supported Labour[49]

At the 1997 general election, the party ran five candidates whose combined vote came to 911.[50] At the 2001 general election, the party ran six candidates whose combined vote came to 1,003.[51]

In 2005, the party fielded six candidates whose combined vote came to 1,124.[52][53]

Summary of 2005 General Election results
Candidate Constituency Votes %
Robert Griffiths Pontypridd 233[54] 0.6
Glyn Davies Alyn and Deeside 207[55] 0.6
Martin Levy Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend 205[56] 0.6
Monty Goldman Hackney South and Shoreditch 200[57] 0.6
Geoffrey Bottoms Crosby 199[58] 0.5
Elinor McKenzie Glasgow Central 80[59] 0.3

In 2010, the party fielded six candidates whose combined vote came to 947; it also supported John Metcalfe and Avtar Sadiq who stood as part of electoral alliances. Metcalfe stood on behalf of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in Carlisle[60] and won 365 votes, or 0.9% of the total vote.[61] Sadiq stood on behalf of Unity for Peace and Socialism in Leicester East[62] and won 494 votes, or 1% of the total vote.[63] Unity for Peace and Socialism is a domestic alliance between British domiciled sections of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of which Sadiq was a member, the Communist Party of Bangladesh and the Communist Party of Greece.

Summary of 2010 General Election results
Candidate Constituency Votes %
Marc Livingstone Glasgow North West 179[64] 0.5
Martin Levy Newcastle upon Tyne East 177[65] 0.5
Robert Griffiths Cardiff South and Penarth 196[66] 0.4
Ben Stevenson Croydon North 160[67] 0.3
Steve Andrew[68] Sheffield South East 139[69] 0.3
Gerry Sables Devon North 96[70] 0.2

In 2015 the party fielded 9 candidates, whose combined vote came to 1,229.[71] Laura-Jane Rossington stood for the party in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport; at just over 18, she was the youngest candidate to stand in the general election in England.[72]

Summary of 2015 General Election results
Candidate Constituency Votes %
Robert Griffiths Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney 186[73] 0.6
Andy Chaffer Birmingham Hodge Hill 153[74] 0.4
Mark Griffiths Torfaen 144 0.4
Zoe Hennessy Glasgow North West 136 0.3
Mollie Stevenson Newcastle upon Tyne East 122 0.3
Steve Andrew Sheffield Central 119 0.3
Gerry Sables Devon North 138 0.2
Ben Stevenson Croydon North 125 0.2
Laura-Jane Rossington Plymouth Sutton and Devonport 106 0.2

In the 2017 general election, the party fielded no candidates.[32]

Other election resultsEdit

The party runs candidates in elections on the local, national and European level.

Position Year Votes % Misc.
London Assembly 2000 7,489 0.4% London-wide list[75]
London Assembly 2004 1,378 1.1% North East constituency only.[76]
Welsh Assembly 2007 3,708 0.4% [77]
London Assembly 2008 6,394 0.3% As "Unity for Peace and Socialism", London-wide list .[78]
Mayor of Hackney 2010 2,033 2.2% [79]
Scottish Parliament 2011 256 1.1% Only contesting Glasgow Anniesland
Welsh Assembly 2011 2,676 0.3% [80]
Welsh Assembly 2016 2,452 0.2%
Scottish Parliament 2016 510 0.2% Only contesting North East Scotland
Mayor of the West Midlands 2017 5,696 1.1%
London Assembly 2021 8,787 0.3% London-wide list
Scottish Parliament 2021 1,142 0.2%[81] Contesting Glasgow (0.2%) and Lothian (0.2%) regional lists, and Motherwell and Wishaw constituency (0.6%)
Senedd 2021 2,837 0.3%

In local elections in 2008 the party gained one councillor, Clive Griffiths, a former Labour councillor who joined the party and was re-elected unopposed to Hirwaun and Penderyn Community Council as a communist.[82]

In the 2009 and 2014 European Parliament elections the party supported the No2EU alliance led by the RMT union. The party also ran in the Welsh Assembly elections in 2007[77] and 2011.[80] In the 2011 Scottish Parliament election the party stood Marc Livingstone as a candidate.[83]

In April 2019, the party called for a "People's Boycott" of the 2019 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom, which was the first time in its history that the CP had called for a boycott of an election in Britain.[84]

PublicationsEdit

The party publishes a wide variety of literature and material.

Communist Review
A theoretical and discussion journal published on a quarterly basis.[85] It takes its name from the old journal published by the CPGB[86] and is edited by Martin Levy. The content of the journal covers book reviews, feature articles, letters and sometimes poetry.
 
Communist Review Number 76 Summer 2015
Challenge
The magazine of the Young Communist League. It mainly covers news, feature articles and political reports. Each issue typically features 'Back 2 Basics', a series which explains the basic foundations of Marxism-Leninism in an accessible way. Occasionally it publishes music, film or video game reviews alongside other light content such as comic strips. It's aimed at young people and is intended to be easier to read than Communist Review.
Communist Women
The bulletin of the Women's Commission, edited by the Women's Officer of the party. It features some content from SISTERS - the quarterly journal of the National Assembly of Women.
Communist News & Views
An irregular email bulletin which summarises the party's recent statements, resolutions, reports and policies. It also brings attention to campaigns and events being promoted by the party. The name is a reference to World News & Views - the internal newsletter of the CPGB.
Country Standard
A newspaper for rural communities, produced since March 1936.[87] It is run by an editorial collective of Communist and Labour members, environmentalists and trade unionists. The paper supports the Countryside Charter. It is published annually, often to coincide with distribution at the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival. Otherwise it appears as an insert in the Morning Star.
Manifesto Press
The party publishes books under the Manifesto Press imprint.[88][89] As of June 2019, it has a total catalogue of 25 titles and also sells 2 titles which are published separately by Hetherington Press. The books cover historical, political and social topics and are edited by Nick Wright.[90] The party maintains another book publisher in Scotland called Praxis Press, which operates out of the Unity Books office in Glasgow.
Unity! and Solidarity
Unity! is a short booklet focused around labour issues and often distributed for free at trade union events. Solidarity is a bulletin published by the international department of the party, it covers the party's foreign policy and the activities of the Co-ordinating Committee of Communist Parties in Britain.[91] The editor is Anita Halpin.[1]

In addition to this the party publishes many pamphlets under its own name.[92] The Classics of Communism series are reprints of classic works such as The Communist Manifesto or "Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder. The Our History series aims to re-tell 'history from below' and covers historical events from a working class perspective. This series is a continuation of the work of the Communist Party Historians Group The party also publishes congress reports, the party programme, briefing notes and other documents.

HeadquartersEdit

At the beginning of November 2004, the party and its youth organisation, the YCL, moved out of its temporary headquarters in Camden, North London after receiving notice to quit because of redevelopment. The building was owned by AKEL, the Cypriot communist party. Ruskin House in Croydon was chosen as the new party headquarters, with its long history in the progressive movement as centre of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and also local Labour Party and co-operative groups. The party rents the top floor of four offices at Ruskin House which also allows it plenty of room to hold its congresses and other important meetings, including an annual industrial cadre school and the Communist University of Britain. In Scotland, the party also makes use of an office in Glasgow.

Conferences and festivalsEdit

 
Executive Committee group in the 2016 Tolpuddle Martyrs' Rally

CongressEdit

The party holds a biennial congress with delegates from districts, nations and branches. The last congress as the Communist Party of Great Britain was the 43rd congress and was held in 1991. The 44th congress, as the Communist Party of Britain, was held in 1997. Since 2000 the congress has been held every two years apart from a special congress held in February 2004. The 29 member governing Executive Committee (EC) of the party is elected at congress.

EventsEdit

In November 2004 the party organised Communist University events in Wales and England, these were further developed to form a national three-day event which ran annually from 2005 to 2010. This was accompanied by regional weekend universities in Wales,[93] Scotland and the Midlands. Among the speakers at the Communist University at Ruskin House in November 2006 were Labour MP John McDonnell, RMT general secretary Bob Crow, CND chair Kate Hudson, Communist Party USA vice-president Jarvis Tyner, French Communist Party economist Paul Boccara and Palestine Liberation Organization ambassador Dr Noha Khalef.

21st Century MarxismEdit

In 2011, the national Communist University event was renamed to "21st Century Marxism" and the format was changed slightly from a festival to a conference. The style of the event has changed widely over the years as the organisers experiment with different venues and speakers.

Date Venue
26 to 27 November 2011 Bishopsgate Institute[94]
21 to 22 July 2012 Bishopsgate Institute[95]
2 to 3 November 2013 Marx Memorial Library[96]
26 to 27 July 2014 Marx Memorial Library[97]

The party's political education strategy also includes trade union and political cadre schools, party-building schools and dayschools.

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Membership number includes members of the Young Communist League.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c Peoples Printing Press Society (12 January 2015). "Communists slam Western hypocrisy over terror". Morning Star. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b Martin Graham (23 April 2019). Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 December 2018 (Report). Communist Party. p. 2.
  3. ^ Peltier, Elian (10 February 2020). "Even in Death, Marx Can't Escape Surveillance". New York Times. p. 11.
  4. ^ "Communist Party of Great Britain – History Section". marxists.org. Marxist Internet Archive. Retrieved 5 March 2021. A period of intense factional struggle saw the Party’s membership drop astronomically over the period from 1984. A phase of mass expulsions of many hundreds of Morning Star supporters saw many of them ‘re-establish’ the Communist Party in 1988, taking the name Communist Party of Britain (CPB).
  5. ^ Communist Party of Britain: Report and Accounts for the Year Ended 31 December 2020 (Report). Electoral Commission. 31 December 2020. p. 2. ST0023302.
  6. ^ Hunter, Johnnie (12 September 2021). "New YCL Central Committee elected". Young Communist League.
  7. ^ Barberis, Peter; McHugh, John; Tyldesley, Mike (2000). "Far Left". Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century. London: A&C Black. p. 145. ISBN 0826458149.
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  23. ^ The End of the Party. 22 November 1991. Event occurs at 4:22.
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  25. ^ Ken Keable (2012). London Recruits: the secret war against apartheid (video). Communist Party of Scotland. Event occurs at 1:37. Retrieved 23 February 2013. the main body of the London recruits were members of the British Young Communist League... a few of them in the Communist Party as well
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External linksEdit

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