Sid French's speech

September 30 2008 at 6:28 PM
Kim Philby 

Response to perhaps

Not sure what speech you're talking about Jeremy. Do you mean at the public meeting in Merton in the summer of 1977, the one at the decision to form the NCP in July 1977,the speech he gave at first provisional congress or the opening of the first Congress of the NCP later that year?

I don't suppose there's any record of the Merton speech and the meeting in London which went for the formation of a new party was closed and no records were kept. The records of the first congress of the NCP were published as a supplement in the New Worker at the time and a copy is available at the Marx Memorial Library.

But I doubt whether Sid ever talked about a "mass" party then because by the time of the first Congress he would have known that what he'd got was all that he was going to get in the wake of the CPGB Congress.

Sid French, as I recall, was not prone to exaggeration and he never held out any hope of building a "mass" party at the "factional" discussions held in the spring run up to the 1977 Congress. I don't know what district you belonged to in those days but you may recall that the Surrey District which was his base was the smallest in the country with a paper membership of circa 650. I guess half went into the NCP. A small band of loyalists (literally about a score or so) remained in the CPGB and the rest didn't recard at the end of the year. The rest of the NCP's membership initially came mainly from groups in Sussex, Yorkshire, North East and the Black Country. In London (District) there was only a handful, mainly from Hackney, as Fergus Nicholson retained the support of most of the anti-BRS opposition in the capital.

Originally the proposal was for a "mass" walk-out of delegates at Congress when the revised BRS draft was passed. This changed, as I recall, when Sid French discovered that was that he was going to be expelled prior to the 1977 Congress anyway and that in any case the revised BRS would be passed whatever happened because the combined number of delegates that Nicholson's proto-Straight Left and the Surrey District could mobilise would easily be defeated even if the Congress wasn't rigged.

He was interviewed in the Guardian in the summer of 1977 soon after or just prior to the split in the CPGB and that may be what you're thinking of. I haven't got a copy and I doubt whether it's on the Web. What I do recall is that Sid talked about some five thousand leaving the CPGB. In one way he was proved right as I believe the CPGB's membership fell by some six to seven thousand in 1977 but most of them did not join the NCP.


H A R Philby

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