Some of the best people I have ever encountered in the labour movement — or anywhere else, for that matter — were CPers, that is, Stalinists, in one degree or another.
These were people who had dedicated themselves mind and limb to a cause which in its broad points of reference and ultimate goals is our own cause, the cause of socialism, and who had given everything they had to it.
They were not “selfless” in any narrow ascetic sense, but people who rejected the values and concerns of the bourgeois world around them with disdain, and who had organised their own lives around the working-class struggle for socialism. Or so they thought.
In fact they were people — they, and millions like them throughout the world – who had been utterly fooled and misled, whose work and dedication, whose very lives, did not at all serve the goals they wanted to serve. Served, in fact, other goals, opposite goals.
They were people so miseducated and corrupted by Stalinism that they would in certain circumstances — because of their ideas, the model of “socialism” they took as their guide from Stalin’s Soviet Union, and because of the military discipline of their organisation – have played the role their counter parts played in Eastern Europe, that is, help set up and staff an anti working-class Stalinist tyranny.
Erich Honecker, the East German dictator, was also once a “good militant”, an activist from early youth who spent 12 years in Hitler’s jails and camps; so were most of the others who staffed the East European tyrannies at various levels for 40 years.
It is a tragic story — the British chapter of “The Great Betrayal” of the hopes and sacrifices of God knows how many millions of would-be revolutionary socialists by the agents of the rulers of the Soviet Union.
It is also the story of the self betrayal, the semi-religious self hypnosis, of people who should have known better, and who with some part of their minds, at least some of the time, must have known better. It changed, corrupted, and destroyed them, in almost all cases, completely.
People who set out to fight for socialism found themselves instead serving Russian foreign policy. People who set out to be revolutionaries found themselves instead far to the right of the right wing of the Labour Party.
In the 1930s, the Communist Party’s Popular Front meant Liberal-Labour coalition, and, as Trotsky pointed out, even the Labour Party right wing were not as right wing as that. In the ‘40s the Popular Front was broadened to include “Progressive Tories”.
People ignited by injustice to fight capitalism at home and abroad found themselves defending injustice all across the world wherever Stalinists ruled.
People who were propelled to fight capitalism because they could see the grotesque capitalist social authoritarianism at the core of formal parliamentary democracy were trained to call black white, totalitarian dictatorship democracy, and the fight for democracy in the Soviet Union a “petty bourgeois deviation” or “Trotsky-fascism”.
People who revolted against the hypocrisy and mental compartmentalisation which is so prominent a part of capitalism learned to live by an all-pervading set of double standards which allowed them to condemn wholeheartedly and sincerely in Chile or South Africa what they justified and endorsed wholeheartedly and sincerely wherever the CP ruled.
In Britain for 60 years their “central organ” in this work has been the daily paper started on 1 January 1930, known as the Daily Worker until 1966, and as the Morning Star since. It is a paper that has always depended on Russian subsidies, open or disguised. And it has usually been the voice of those who paid the subsidies.
Even when it condemned the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and later, in 1979-80, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (which is more than most Trotskyists did, come to think of it), the Morning Star has always, in a thousand ways, day in and day out, promoted the interests of the rulers of the Soviet Union, lying and misrepresenting things to the labour movement, doing public relations work for those who savagely exploited and oppressed the working class in the USSR and Eastern Europe.
But now the Russians have pulled the plug on the Morning Star. In the ‘70s and ‘80s it used to sell more copies to East European governments than to people in Britain. Today, there are different governments in Eastern Europe, and the Russians have cancelled most of their quota of Morning Stars.
Gorbachev has all the friendly press coverage he needs, thank you, Mr Chater [then MS editor], from the Sun to the Financial Times; he doesn’t need your wretched little paper any more.
A surprisingly large number of respect-worthy labour movement people have given their support to the Morning Star’s appeal for money to put itself on a new and independent basis. Are they right? Should socialists try to rescue the Morning Star?
Arena (BBC2) surveyed the Morning Star’s 60 year history. The reporter was Beatrix Campbell of the Marxism Today faction, which split with the Morning Star some years ago and is venomously hostile to it.
Campbell — whose politics are more SDP than anything else – presented a sloppily dishonest and ignorant survey of the last 60 years. It included a characteristically dishonest, but surprisingly romanticised, account of the CP of the 30s, and a tendentious and one sided account of the faction fight — in which she was prominent — which split the CP in the ‘80s.
The worst of Arena’s account of the CP and the Daily Worker was the selectiveness and fuzziness of the general history. Campbell talked about the Bolsheviks establishing “People’s Power” in 1917. And then they formed the Communist International under that grand old slogan, “People of the World Unite!”, didn’t they, Ms Campbell?
The left wing mobilisation to stop the fascists marching into the East End that led to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 was presented as the CP’s work. In fact the decisive role was played by the local Independent Labour Party and others, and the Daily Worker initially called on its readers not to try to stop the fascist march!
You’d think that the ‘30s was all “anti-fascist”. Not only was the fact omitted that the German CP, in its ultra-left period of the early ‘30s, sometimes collaborated with the Hitlerites against the Social Democrats (the “social fascists”), but also the fact that the CPs, and the British among them, made pro Hitler propaganda during the Hitler-Stalin pact (1939-41), presenting Hitler as the peace-loving victim of Anglo-French imperialism.
Both Tony Chater (Morning Star editor/ CPB) and Arena’s “reporter” Campbell (Marxism Today) called each other Stalinist when it came to discussing the split in the early 80s. Both are right.
You could see it in Campbell perhaps most clearly, despite her SDP politics. There was a great deal of sloppy ignorance, but also a pervasive desire to prettify the awful history. One reason why so many of these people all over the world — have become liberals, or worse, is that they can’t confront the real past of their own movement and critically re-evaluate it.
Stalinism was, to them, something working-class, a sort of party sectarianism, a “class-ist” narrowness. Campbell defined the 1980s debates and split in the CP as a matter of devotees of class struggle versus people who wanted to base themselves on “all human life”! Like millions in Eastern Europe, but with no comparable good reason, they see liberalism as the alternative to Stalinism – to themselves.
Stalinism was socialism. They were “socialists”, now socialism is utopian nonsense! They move away from their history, rejecting it, while continuing to prettify it.
So should socialists help, and maybe rescue, the Morning Star? Tempting as it may be to side with the Morning Star faction, which has at least a pretence of some sort of working-class concerns, it would be a mistake.
There was a Russian revolutionary called Helphand, known as Parvus, who worked with the Bolsheviks, Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky before 1914. Then he became a shameless war profiteer, accumulating vast wealth.
After 1917 he wanted to help the Russian Revolution, and approached Lenin and his one-time close friend Trotsky. Hard-pressed, they still refused to accept his “help”. “Clean hands are necessary”, they told him.
The British labour movement needs a daily paper — but a clean paper, not a paper that has swum in filth and, yes, blood, for over half a century. There is no way to wash the Daily Worker/Morning Star clean.
The best contribution the Morning Star can make to the renewal of socialism is to stop publishing and disappear.
• Socialist Organiser 450, 31 May 1990