the morning star and the PPS: was the paper stolen?

June 5 2011 at 10:49 AM
paul fauvet 

Response to you stole our paper

John Haylett argues that nobody could have stolen the Morning Star from the CPGB, because the Party didnt own the paper in the first place, the PPPS did.

In formal terms, John is quite right the PPPS and the CPGB were separate bodies in law. But in political reality they were not at all separate.

The PPPS, whether we like it or not (and I didnt like it at all), was a classic front organisation, which flimsily disguised the Party control of the paper. Was there a single trade unionist in the country who really thought, prior to the split in the Party, that the Morning Star was anything other than the CPGB paper?

Communists always referred to the Star as our paper, or the Partys paper and not as the PPPS paper. The editor of the Star was chosen by the Party, and was always a member of the top party leadership.

The content of the Star, and the performance of its editor and its journalists, were discussed by communists at all levels, right up to the Congress. We discussed them because we thought we could influence them, because it was our paper.

And who sold the paper? Some friendly trade unionists who were not members of the party may have ensured that their branches subscribed to the paper but the people who sold the Star on the streets and round the housing estates were always CPGB members. At least that was my experience. I dont recall seeing anybody who wasnt a party member selling the paper outside the supermarkets on frozen Saturdays in February.

So of course Party members were outraged when Tony Chater and Mick Costello referred to the CPGB as an outside body, and used the Star unscrupulously in an inner-party battle. The confrontational posture that John mentions came, not from the Party leadership, but from those who opted to use the PPPS as a battering ram against the Party.

The opponents of the Party leadership, those who had lost battles in congresses, took over the Star because they were very good at packing PPPS meetings. This was the point at which the strategy of using a front organisation to own the paper blew up in the leaderships faces.

In retrospect, it would have been much more honest to have kept the Star openly under party control, as the organ of the Executive Committee of the CPGB. Would this really have damaged circulation?

John is, of course, right to note that the Star has outlived Marxism Today and he, as editor, and his team of journalists, are entitled to be proud of their achievement in keeping a left wing daily afloat, and in adapting to the rapid technological changes in printing and publication. But this cannot retrospectively justify the damage that Chater and Costello did.

John (and Unite member) object to my use of the term Stalinist. Like most political labels, it does not do justice to a complex political reality not everybody who opposed Gordon McClennans leadership did so for the same reason, and I dont imagine that Tony Chater kept a portrait of Stalin over his bed.

Nonetheless, attitudes to the Soviet Union and its blood-soaked history were a key dividing issue in the CPGB. Those who romanticised existing socialism, even if they had misgivings about the crushing of the Prague Spring, by and large lined up against the Party leadership.

On the issue of socialist democracy, history has given a resounding answer, which condemns the fan clubs of Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev to ever dwindling numbers. But by the time that answer came, the CPGB was already in ruins.

Finally, I applaud Johns decision to write under his own name, rather than using the pseudonyms so common on this site (and throughout the blogosphere). It makes for healthier, more honest debate, if we know who were talking to.

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