Trotsky & the old CPGB

October 19 2015 at 5:44 PM
Kim Philby 

Response to Trotsky & British Trotskyists...

Well in the early 1970s the answer was very little as far as I was concerned.

In my branch the "57 varieties" as they were called in those days, were only mentioned when they interfaced with local CPGB campaigns (and to be fair this wasn't very often because the Trots were few and far between in the localities outside the student movement at the time). Remember, in those days the old party towered far above all the Trot groups put together with a membership (on paper at least) of around 30,000. The other reason is that few, if any of the Militant or SWP leaders or activists had come from the CP tradition. The one exception was the WRP, perhaps the most sectarian of the lot, which was led a number of former communists (like former Daily Worker correspondent Peter Fryer)who were dismissed as "renegades" or "turn-coats" by one or two comrades who had actually met them.

In those days the bourgeois media promoted Trotsky in a way which would be unthinkable now. As the Cold War hotted up again in the 1970s Trotsky's life was dramatised on British TV. Sympathetic features on Trotsky would appear in the colour supplements of the Sunday papers (as their magazines were called then) -- all to provide further ammunition to the barrage of anti-Soviet propaganda that was the daily staple of all the mainstream media of the 1970s.

The CPGB's lead was given by a King St pamphlet on "ultra-leftism in Britain" (which included the Maoists) by Betty Reid which focused (if my memory serves me well) on their sectarian and disruptive positions which, universally, were all hostile to the CPGB. At the same time the CPGB promoted a number of Soviet anti-Trotskyist and anti-Maoist pamhlets through the national lit network. The general line was that they were all "splitters" and "factionalists" drawn mainly from the petty bourgeois strata whose idealistic programme couldn't possibly unite the class to advance to socialism. Certainly their view that socialism could not be built in one state, which they claimed was the kernel of Trotsky's thinking, was clearly utopian. Their inability to agree with each other. their refusal to accept agreed decisions in broad movements they participated in (under their supposed right to factionalise), their dismissal of the the peace movement and the national liberation movements as irrelevant to struggle and their endless attacks on the Soviet Union and the people's democracies meant that they were, indeed, seen, as the "enemy".

The growth of the Militant movement within the Labour Party and within a number of white-collar unions together with the rise of the SWP through the "Rank-and File" movement and the rise of the Anti-Nazi League in the mid-1970s led to some discussion about their programmes -- if only to prepare answers to their arguments.

Amongst the anti-revisionist trends that revolved around the Surrey District and what later became "Straight Left" (particularly within the YCL) there was a more serious approach -- though this was largely in the context of defending Stalin and obliquely attacking both the 20th Congress and the BRS.

But Trotsky himself was rarely, if ever, discussed in any depth at a national level. Largely, I believe, because it would have meant re-opening debate on Stalin (and as far as the CPGB was concerned Krushchov and the 20th Congress had said the final word on Stalin and what they called the "cult of the personality"). Stalin and Trotsky's works were unobtainable from the party bookshops and even reading the Trotskyist press was frowned on in my branch.

This meant that comrades (like myself) who were active in unions with a strong Trotskyist presence, or working with the ANL in the anti-fascist struggle, had to scour other left-wing bookshops and hunt through the second-hand books at Star bazaars to find material to combat the arguments from the Trot camp.

Whether this was typical of the old party as a whole I cannot say. I wasn't in the London or Scottish districts (the two biggest in the CPGB) and perhaps other regular "formers" can shed some light on their experiences to answer your questions.


H A R Philby

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