I have just finished reading "The Kick Inside - Revolutionary Opposition In The CPGB, 1960 -1991" by Lawrence Parker.
Parker has given a skilful analysis of the various groups inside the British Communist party who attempted to push it into (in their view) more revolutionary directions. Six chapters cover the different developments, with a brief concluding chapter where the author stresses his surprise that anything revolutionary was to emerge from the CPGB at all.
The Thoughts of Chairman Mao
Writings on British Maoism are few and far between, and whilst I was familiar with Reg Birch's move towards the Chinese side of the Sino-Soviet split, Michael McCreery was a new name to me.
In the early 1960s key Chinese texts began to emerge in the UK, and McCreery was eventually to establish the snappily titled Committee to Defeat Revisionism For Communist Unity, which gives us the utterly dyslexic acronym (CDRFCU). We can only assume that McCreery, an old Etonian, did not spend his evenings spraying CDRFCU on too many walls in Tufnell Park!
Calling All Leftist Trainspotters
Anyone interested in the political lineage of contemporary organisations such as the New Communist Party (NCP) and Weekly Worker/CPGB will find Parker's book essential, although I suspect even the author would recognise that this is very much a publication for the connoisseur rather than the activist new to socialist or communist ideas.
Whilst Parker does not hide his clear distaste for the Marxism Today, Nina Temple types that were to finally destroy the CPGB (think New Labour before New Labour was invited, and you will get an idea of how bad they were) this book succeeds because it keeps its eye on the ball - it is about the opposition within the CPGB, not what the CPGB was, could have been or perhaps even should have been.
Indeed Parker is clear that those looking to critique the "British Road To Socialism" need to remember not just that Stalin is believed to have helped Harry Pollit draw up the CPGB's core reformist programme, but that ultimately the idea of a revolutionary CPGB linked to a reformist Communist Party of the Soviet Union was a nonsense.
What No Spooks?
No history of Communist groups in the West during the Cold War should be without reference to the cold war machinations of the security services. Sadly this book is. We know from Francis Beckett's history of the CPGB that the UK security services knew all about the 'Moscow Gold' - it was seemingly kept in Reuben Falber's loft, and the authorities were quite happy for the arrangement to continue.
MI5 may well have had a whole raft of reasons for encouraging dissension within, and indeed splits around British Communism, whilst MI6 would surely have been interested in any attempts by the Chinese and Albanian governments to develop links with like-minded individuals in the UK.
Sadly Parker does not go down the road of examining such issues. It is not as if he did not have the opportunity - we are told in one footnote that Michael McCreery was the son of a leading General, and was himself a former military intelligence man, but nothing more.
One of Parker's key sources in Chapter 5 is NCP member Daphne Liddle, who has spent a generation working for 'anti-fascist' magazine Searchlight, a publication with declared links to the security services. Indeed its publisher, ex-CPGB member Gerry Gable, has at times taken paid remuneration from the Metropolitan Police training centre at Hendon, and boasts of his links with MI5. What a tale Ms Liddle could tell!
However, this is not to criticise Parker's sources per se, indeed the range of interviews and dusty old publications given in the footnotes is exhaustive.
What Else Is There?
If this little book has wetted your appetite for Communist history, Lawrence and Wishart have published what come closest to 'official' histories of the CPGB. One of these, John Callaghan's history of the CPGB from 1951-68, is used extensively by Parker. Having been taught by Callaghan myself I have no doubts as to the scale of his knowledge in this area, but note his ability to come a cropper outside of it - witness his ludicrous attempt to link Class War to the National Front a few years ago.
A visit to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford is also recommended - just make sure you spit on the sign for Hazel Blears MP as you go through the front door!
The Kick Inside can be ordered for £5.15 (postage included) from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org