Tribune leader, 22 November 1991

Unless there is a last-minute upset, the Communist Party of Great Britain will cease to exist this weekend. Few win mourn its death. Of course, many good comrades went through the CP. Even disillu­sioned former communists talk warmly of the rare sense of comradeship they experienced in the party. But in its three-quarters of a century existence, the CP has caused a vast amount of harm to the British left. In the end it is difficult to think of anything worth­while it has done that would not have been done as well by others in its absence.
Indeed, even without playing the game of “what if”, the list of concrete CP achievements is short. In the thirties, it organised the unemployed workers’ move­ment and had a significant (although not dominant) role in opposing fascism on the streets and in the corri­dors of power. But it threw away nearly all its credibil­ity with its acceptance of the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939. Since then, practically all it has to boast about is some effective trade union organisation in the sixties and seventies, a certain amount of influence over Labour economic policy at the time of the Alternative Econom­ic Strategy and an almost-successful monthly maga­zine, now alas on its last legs, in the eighties.
Against this, there are the CP’s many failings. Most sickening, of course, there is its long acquiescence in the crimes of its Soviet master – Stalin’s forced collec­tivisation of agriculture, the show trials, the commu­nist suppression of the radical left in the Spanish civil war, the imposition of communist dictatorship on east­ern Europe after 1946 and its maintenance by brute force.
Only in 1968, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslo­vakia, did the British party first distance itself from Moscow; it now emerges that it was still receiving substantial subsidies from the Kremlin as late as 1979.
But other, smaller things are almost as difficult to forgive: the attempts to take over autonomous move­ments, the front organisations, the ballot-rigging, the everyday lies, authoritarianism and manipulation vali­dated by the Leninist nostrum that the end justifies the means.
Enough, however, of the ashes. What of the phoenix apparently rising from them, Democratic Left? It is cer­tainly a very different creature from the old CP. It is no longer a Leninist “democratic centralist” party, and there is much in its programme with which anyone from the democratic left – an older, larger and livelier political current than that represented by today’s “transformed” communists – could agree. The new par­ty (or non-party) looks as if it will be impressively open, democratic, libertarian, environmentalist and feminist. Perhaps, if we were starting to build British social democracy from scratch, we would start with something like Democratic Left rather than attempting to create the hotch-potch that is the Labour Party.
The problem is that we are not starting from scratch: Labour already exists, and, whatever its faults, they are not sufficient, at least in the eyes of most of the democratic Labour Left, to justify demolition and re­building. The ex-communists might be able to set up an interesting debating society and they might be able to initiate some successful campaigns. But Democratic Left is never going to attract sufficient support to be­come a significant electoral force or even to play a ma­jor role in setting the left agenda. It is difficult to see why the comrades did not simply dissolve the CP and join the Labour Party.
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