The Dirty War….


Operation Kenova, an ongoing operation scheduled to last five years, was launched in June 2016 to investigate a range of alleged activities including murders, kidnaps and tortures dating back to the 1970s and into the activities of ‘Steak Knife’ , ‘the alleged British Army’s highest ranking informant within the Provisional IRA. Named in the media, originally from west Belfast, Freddie Scappaticci has denied the allegations. is the website of the investigation led by Chief Constable Jon Boutcher of Bedfordshire Police. He said, “I do not underestimate the huge task of establishing the circumstances behind how and why these murders occurred during those dark days.” Publically his objective “is to bring those responsible for these awful crimes, in whatever capacity they were involved, to justice.”

Such sentiments were also expressed by fellow leading police officers in the investigations that saw to the Stalker report, and with the Sampson report which took over from Stalker. It is hard not to be skeptical. The inquiry is not the first into the secret intelligence war. It is not hard to be skeptical that it will publish evidence that implicates too many senior members of the British intelligence services, or the Republican movement. Boutcher counters this concern, saying “if any of this perceived resistance happens, I will challenge it”. However the prognosis is that a secret inquiry, held in private will produce a report which will be said to be so sensitive that its contents will not be divulged, possibly a short, sanitised summary will be produced, and the British authorities will be able to say that they did something about the Scappaticci scandal. 

Below FRU at dinner

Vested interests

It has all been seen before: Stalker, Sampson and Stevens. Of all the previous inquiries into Northern Ireland’s undercover war that have taken place over years, none has the potential to threaten as many vested interests as Kenova. Press speculation was that Kenova’s sights are also targeted on members of the IRA’s provisional army council who sanctioned the murder of agent/informer suspects as required by the IRA’s rule book. And what about IRA members executed as informers by the IRA? It has been pointed out that Michael Kearney in 1979 and Anthony Braniff in 1981, for example, who have since been exonerated by former comrades.

Former IRA member McIntyre, who knew Scappaticci, said that the Provisional leadership had “behaved disgracefully” after the spy had been unmasked. He said:

Like the Catholic Church hierarchy in sex abuse cases, the IRA leadership acted to protect themselves and their own reputations by covering up the truth about Stakeknife, rather than reaching out to help those who had been wronged. Stakeknife sent dozens of people to their deaths as alleged informers. Surely the IRA leadership is not going to continue to rely on the evidence of a British agent? Any case he was involved with is tainted beyond salvation. The evidence can’t be relied upon.”

In January 2018 the Kenova investigation team confirmed that a 72-year-old man had been arrested in England and questioned. The BBC reported the man being questioned was Fred Scappaticci. He was released later that week on bail after being questioned by detectives investigating 18 murders. The arrest of Scappaticci came 15 years after the Sunday Herald first named him as “Stakeknife” in May 2003. It was an ex-British soldier, a former member of the Force Research Unit, Ian Hirst who, using the pseudonym ‘Martin Ingram’, exposed the Scappaticci story to daylight. Efforts by the British Ministry of Defence to silence Hirst led to a court injunction forbidding him to use or promulgate Scappaticci’s code name, ‘Steak Knife’. So instead he called ‘Scap’ ‘Stakeknife’ and the media followed suit in its initial reporting. ‘Scap’s’ real code name though was ‘Steak Knife’. [The Sunday Herald also named Brigadier Gordon Kerr as the head of the Force Research Unit in November 2000.]

Scappaticci is pictured bottom left with dark moustache at funeral of Provisional IRA member Larry Marley

Broadcast on April 11th 2017, Scappaticci was the subject of John Ware’s BBC Panorama investigation, The Spy in the IRA, allegedly working for the British intelligence services while running the IRA’s internal security unit. It was claimed he was Agent 6126 – codenamed Steak Knife’ – who had worked as an agent for the FRU since 1979.

Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist, succulently explains that Scappaticci’s story

“covers what was probably one of the darkest and dirtiest chapters of the British state’s secret war against the IRA in which the republican movement’s top spycatcher was in an ideal place to subvert his own comrades while giving British intelligence an unprecedented opportunity to manipulate IRA policy and personnel. During that enterprise it is more than likely that British intelligence allowed Scappaticci to kill people and may even have connived at others’ deaths in order to promote their intelligence goals. It is hard to understand how Scappaticci was employed by the British without at least a blind eye being turned to what he did. In that capacity he was in a position to help British intelligence advance the careers of other informers, halt or divert the careers of those who were not and, arguably, help shape IRA military and political policy.”

According to John Ware’s reporting, thirty people were killed during Scappaticci’s time as IRA interrogator. Not all were registered agents such as Frank Hegarty run by military intelligence’s Force Research Unit (FRU), “but the majority provided information to the security forces. Yet they were not saved from interrogation and death, sometimes even after being tortured. In defence, the British army said Stakeknife’s intelligence could be credited with saving some 180 other lives… the 180 figure is partly the army’s “guesstimate” of lives that would have been lost had Stakeknife’s intelligence not led them to recover weapons from various dumps.”

It leaves the question who benefits? Who instigates the action?British ministers from every prime minister down always emphasised that the Northern Irish conflict was not a war and that the state maintained the rule of law. Yet Steak Knife’’s handlers were acquiescing in, tolerating, colluding – call it what you like – his involvement in preparing fellow agents/informers for death as the price of keeping him in place.if allegations were true that “Scappaticci was killing people at the behest of those in charge” then the question was not “who pulled the trigger, it’s who pulled the strings. It’s something that isn’t going away no matter how much the British government wants it to”.

Pat Finucane, a prominent human rights lawyer who represented republicans, was killed in 1989 after alleged collusion between FRU officers and loyalist paramilitaries, including Brian Nelson, a former Black Watch soldier who became head of intelligence for the terror group the Ulster Defence Association. Nelson was FRU’s man in the UDA. In December 2012, a report by Sir Desmond de Silva QC said he had found “shocking” levels of collusion involving the army, police and MI5. It said the state had facilitated the killing and made relentless efforts to stop the killers being caught. But demands for a public inquiry remain rebuffed.

The stonewalling phraseology often employed: A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are assisting the police in their investigation. As the investigation is ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Stalker: Ireland, Shoot to Kill And the Affair (Penguin 1988)

A reasonable point was made by an Amazon reviewer: When someone of John Stalkers rank with an unblemished record can be kept in the dark and treated so badly by his superiors for no reason other than being too professional, too thorough and digging too deep and asking questions that they would rather he didn’t, what chance have lesser mortals have?

John Stalker was a straight up law and order copper.In 1984, when he was Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, John Stalker had been asked to go to Northern Ireland to investigate the alleged “shoot to kill” policy by RUC policemen of suspect terrorists. With a team of six experienced policemen he spent two years conducting three murder enquiries. Just as he was about to complete his inquiry he was called back to Manchester, suspended from duty and subjected to an intense investigation for alleged improprieties. It ended his career.

Journalist Peter Taylor, author of numerous well-received studies on the conflict, covered the investigation into Stalker himself and not so much his investigation into Northern Ireland. The focus of this book [Stalker: The Search for the Truth (Faber 1987)] is how his loose links with criminals in Manchester through a friend of his meant he ended up being taken off the investigation. Stalker was replaced by Sir (now Baron) John Stevens, Commissioner of the Met (2000-2006), producing three reports of increasing exposure of collusion by state forces leading to the murder of nationalists.

The Stevens Inquiries found that elements of the British Army had used loyalists as “proxies”. His secure inquiry offices within RUC headquarters suffered an arson attack. The extensive evidence he gathered remains secret. The report released in April 2003 states that members of the security forces in Northern Ireland colluded with the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) over the loyalist murders of many innocent people in the 1970s and 1980s, including the solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. The government forces involved include the Force Research Unit of the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), in particular its Special Branch.

The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday stated that British paratroopers “lost control”, fatally shooting fleeing civilians and those who tried to aid the civilians who had been shot by the British soldiers. The report stated that British soldiers had concocted lies in their attempt to hide their acts. Saville stated that the civilians had not been warned by the British soldiers that they intended to shoot. The report states, contrary to the previously established belief, that none of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers, and that the civilians were not posing any threat. It rejected the findings of the tribunal set up under a former army brigadier, the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Widgery, that had reported on 19 April 1972 and long been regarded as a legal cover-up.

It is clear that during Operation Banner, the British Army longest continuous deployment, state security forces often dispensed with judge and jury, selected candidates for assassination, managed collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, on the streets exercised a shoot to kill and reckless use of plastic bullets against civilians, extracted false evidence from suspects, forced confessions from innocents and tortured citizens detained without trial. In the covert war each of the three agencies running agents – the RUC Special Branch, the Army’s Force Research Unit and the Security Service – operated under their own separate regimes. The result was that: the RUC SB had no workable guidelines; the FRU were subject to Directives and Instructions that were contradictory; and the Security Service received no effective external guidance to make clear the extent to which their agents could be permitted to engage in criminality.

The picture painted of continuous internecine warfare between the various bureaucracies, and covert operations and counter-terror completely out of political control sidesteps the contextual contingencies that they were defending the state and the status quo in the manner they thought acceptable. Given the extent of the accusations and that it was indeed routine and systematic in Northern Ireland, and that the British state acted on all levels, but to varying degrees, illegally in their counterterrorism strategy, can they all be rogue operations?

A library of material has emerged with writers like Martin Dillion regularly publishing on the subject of The Dirty War (Arrow 1991) that started in 1973 with the Penguin Special Political Murder in Northern Ireland. From a variety of viewpoints, and critical reception, the literature on the subject has grown

Ten-Thirty-Three: The Inside Story of Britain’s Secret Killing Machine in Northern Ireland (Mainstream Publishing 2000) by Nicholas Davies reveals the conspiracy between British Military Intelligence and the gunman of the UDA who targeted and killed both Republican terrorists and ordinary Catholics.

State Violence, Collusion and the Troubles: Counter Insurgency, Government Deviance and Northern Ireland (Pluto Press 2012) by Maurice Punch

Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland (Mercier Press 2013 ) by Anne Cadwallader.

A State in Denial: The British Government and Loyalist Paramilitaries (The Mercier Press 2016 ) by Margaret Urwin

In Search of the Truth: British Injustice and Collusion in Northern Ireland (The Collins Press 2017 ) by Michael O’Connell

Everyone wants to put their part

The RUC Special Branch have their champion in Secret Victory: The Intelligence War that beat the IRA (2016) by Dr William Matchett who served in the RUC. Likewise a former police officer, Colin Breen, tell their own stories in their own words. A Force Like No Other: The real stories of the RUC men and women who policed the Troubles (2017) covers overt and public aspects of police work, from handling informants and conducting interviews with criminals to dealing with the aftermath of bombings.

Ever since Contact by A.F.N. Clarke’s account of a paratrooper in Northern Ireland during the mid to late ’70s, there has been the British Army memoirs, even the secret covert bits – Fishers of Men – The Gripping True Story of a British Undercover Agent in Northern Ireland (John Blake 2017) by Rob Lewis. Mark Urban’s Big Boys’ Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle Against the IRA (Faber & Faber 1996) and Ambush: The War Between The SAS And The IRA (Pan 1988) by Anthony Bainbridge Robin Morgan, & James Adam contributed to a British narrative of “The Troubles”. The quality of the research seldom matches the sensationalist claims with central allegations coming without any substantiating material and are thus impossible to evaluate, such as The Nemesis File: the true story of an SAS execution squad (Blake Publishing 1995) by Paul Bruce.

Although Fred Holroyd’s revelations did not receive the widest distribution – see the long out of print War without Honour: True Story of Military Intelligence in Northern Ireland (Medium 1989) by Fred Holroyd and Nick Burbridge.

There is even the niche account for army buffs from Pen & Sword Aviation: Steven Taylor’s Air War Northern Ireland: Britain’s Air Arms and the ‘Bandit Country’ of South Armagh, Operation Banner 1969 – 2007 (2018).

Increasingly the subject for academia there is Liverpool University Press’ microscopic investigation, An Army of Tribes: British Army Cohesion, Deviancy and Murder in Northern Ireland (2018) by Edward Burke. An article titled “The Influence of Informers and Agents on Provisional Irish Republican Army Military Strategy and British Counter-Insurgency Strategy, 1976–94” by Thomas Leahy of King’s College, London, pretty much demolishes the myth of British “super spies” in the ranks of (Provisional) Irish Republican Army.

From the introductory abstract:

This article investigates the impact of British informers and agents on Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) military strategy and British counter-insurgency strategy in Northern Ireland between 1976 and 1994. The importance of this topic was highlighted by revelations in 2003 and 2005 concerning two senior republicans who had both been working for British intelligence for decades. While acknowledging other important factors, various authors believe that these intelligence successes were vital in containing the IRA, and significantly influenced that organization to end its military campaign in the 1990s.

Yet after cross-referencing new interview material primarily with memoirs from various participants in the Northern Ireland conflict, this article reveals that the nature of many rural IRA units, its cellular structure in Belfast, and the isolation of the IRA leadership from the rest of the movement, prevented it from being damaged to any considerable extent by informers and agents.

In fact, by the 1990s the resilience of the IRA was a crucial factor encouraging the British government to include Provisional Republicans in a political settlement. The IRA’s military strength by the 1990s also points towards the prominence of political factors in persuading the IRA to call a ceasefire by 1994. The role of spies in Northern Ireland and the circumstances in which the state permitted negotiations with paramilitaries such as the IRA, are key considerations for those interested in other recent and current conflicts.”

British Spies In The IRA, Myth Versus Reality

And there are others who speak for themselves:

Out of the Ashes: An Oral History of the Provisional Irish Republican Movement (Merrion Press 2017) by Robert W. White

Ed Moloney’s Voices from the Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland (Faber & Faber 2011) draws upon the interviews with Brendan Hughes of the IRA and David Ervine of the UVF.

A number of IRA memoirs have emerged, amongst them Insider: Gerry Bradley’s Life in the IRA (2009 ) by Gerry Bradley & Brian Feeney which is not the normal apologetic reformed terrorist memoir that gets printed.

Will Kenova produce a best seller or do a widgery?

MLM Line Struggle USA


Line struggles involving American Maoist collectives


   Documentary material on radical themes & occurrences

Returning to a subject explored in America’s Maoist Mushrooms, not just Facebook entities as with the impression given by third Worldists trend, but small activists group, network building involving Maoist pre-party formations. They have drawn some local media comment along the line of Red Guards and the Modern Face of Protest and varying degrees of criticism from the Left:

  1. Reply Austin red guards CONTERPRO attacks and slanderous attack against the PSLThe Party for Socialism and Liberation, a Marxist–Leninist group formed in 2004 as the result of a split within the ranks of the Workers World Party.
  2. The ecumenical Communist Labor Party, a multi-tendency political organization founded in 2015, compared RGA to the ultraleft Bordigist elements
  3. Black Red Guard is a native of Ferguson, Missouri, and became involved in political organizing as a result of the 2014 uprising. He runs a YouTube channel and asks: Why do People Continue to Take the US Red Guards Seriously

However summarized here is a  Recent History of US MLM Movement  before a selection of documents from their polemical engagement in line struggle.

“Our political development mirrors that of the entire contemporary Maoist movement” – RGLA-4-year-summation  (2017)

cropped-red-guards-pgh-cityscape-wide-copy-e1537219980144The contemporary Maoist movement began roughly around 2012/13 mainly in the east coast, particularly in New York City – with the NCP-OC’s first congress being held in 2013. But the Maoist movement back then – with its centre in student organizing – only now exists as a memory and contains valuable lessons on not repeating those errors. Today the U.S. Maoist movement is an integral part of the countrywide antifascist and anti-gentrification movements. U.S. Maoism, as it is now, sparked in the heart of the proletarian urban centres, mostly populated by oppressed nationalities.

RGLA – Red Guard Los Angles -was founded in October 2014 as a Maoist pre-Party cadre/ the first Maoist collective to start up, was immediately followed by our comrades-in-arms RGA – Red Guard Austin -, and then followed by and under their leadership Red Guards Philadelphia (now defunct), then Red Guards Pittsburgh, Red Guards Kansas City and most recently Red Guards Charlotte. While no summation as of yet exists for the liquidation of Red Guards Philadelphia, the Red Guards principally Maoist movement continues to be growing. This network of like-minded autonomousfile_327ff2a1de_400w collectives remain ideologically connected whilst organisational independent. The publishing programme of Fourth Sword publications reflective of their define Maoism, the Maoism brought to the world principally by the Communist Party of Peru (In Spanish, the acronym is PCP) and Chairman Gonzalo. There was a lot of struggle within the 2018 inaugural Maoist Conference for Line Struggle held in Kansas City and by the end of the conference it was eventually agreed upon by all collectives that it is not yet the appropriate time to form a National Organizing Committee.

In the aftermath of the conference there has been intensified polemical interventions that have taken on an international dimensions on websites. They sided with criticism that emerged of Sison, founder-leader of the Communist party of the Philippines. They took sides in the split in the Canadian RCP. They repost the joint statement from various parties and groups in defence of the life of imprisoned PCP Chairman Gonzalo which appeared on the website Dem Volke Dienen . Organised co-ordinated protests in November 2018 against the disappearance, Dr. Sernas—a professor of constitutional law at Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca—in the midst of defending twenty-three Maoist militants of Corriente de Pueblo Sol Rojo, a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organization based in Oaxaca.2018 coordinated protest at mexican consulates

The RGA Summation tagline includes a reference to the forthcoming protracted people’s war. This was the topic of an earlier collection of documents focused on an element in the construction of what constitutes “Maoist” amongst the fragmentary groups who self-identify as such, and the physiology of twenty-first century Maoism, by identifying arguments and positions attempting to shape the political strategy for the decades to come.

 Dissenting View

 Mass Proletariat

Document 1  | “A Course Correction for Maoism in the US

Document 2   |   On correcting mistaken ideas in Boston

Document 3   |   RGA Is Not an MLM Organization

Document 4   |   One More Time for Those in the Back . . .

Document 5   |   Once Again on Red Guards Austin: Lackeyism and U.S. Empire

Deterioration Relations

 Document 6 |Red Guards Kansas City | 2018 A Critique of the KC Anarchist Milieu

Document 7   |The New Line of Red Guards Kansas City

Document 8 | 2017 Deterioration in Relations

Document 9 | Statement on the History of the Tampa Maoist Collective and its Dissolving: If You Don’t Dare to Struggle, You Don’t Deserve to Win. 

Document 10 | A Critical Reading of the Tampa Summation


Document 11   | the-chicano-national-question

Document 12   | Updated position on the Chicano Nation



We recognize the PCR-RCP and its historical leadership based in Montreal as the sole representative of the Canadian proletariat, and as the only Maoist Party in North America.”

Document 13   |   2018 Communique on the veiled “criticism” from the phony-Maoists in Canada

Document 14   |  2018 RGA LA Maoism from below On the right opportunist, revisionist, and liquidationist, theory of J. Moufawad Paul

Document 15   |   Sided with criticism that emerged of CPP from a small German group which was defended in the Joint declaration of the Red Guards Collectives from the USA. 2018 Regarding the class combat of left and right lines in Germany and the incidents following May 1


Left Counting

The joint editor of two studies on the British far left since 1956, academic Evan Smith[i] posted an interesting thread on MI5’s assessment dating from the mid-80s on the state of the far left in Britain.


Estimates of membership numbers of communist groups in UK in December 1984 [ii]

From the anti-revisionist viewpoint one might rankle at the description of the CPGB as “the largest single subversive group in the UK” but in terms of membership even a terminal declining CP for most of its existence outnumbered the rest of the far left. It was frenetic activism that created an impression that Trotskyists – the dominant force outside of the CP – were prevalent. There was quite a variety to choose from.

The Far Left remains, to use Tariq Ali’s accurate description, and appears “even to its sympathisers, as a welter of competing factions, divided on minor and somewhat obscure doctrinal points and engaged in a continual battle against each other.”[iii]

Trotskyists have not been in a unified body since the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which was founded in 1944 but rapidly became a victim of the factionalism that has dogged Trotskyism in Britain and elsewhere. Despite their shared characteristics, they tended to be in competition with each other and rarely worked together. A recent study of British Trotskyism by John Kelly [iv] recounts much of the splits and realignments that has marked that history. However, when the author compares the size and influence of the CP with the plethora of Trotskyists groups – of whatever 4th international – and their achievements (even if Militant managed to control Liverpool local council and had three MPs elected in 1987), it is the despised revisionists/Stalinists that emerge as more successful, in no small part to their presences in the trade unions. The failure to develop any real mass base has accentuated its weakness and imparted a certain element of artificiality to the Trotskyists movement.

Assessing the size of the far left is largely an estimate, it does sustain a range of papers and journals (of undisclosed circulation) however this is not a case of meeting market demand but the creation of a product in search of an audience. And today an online presence is expected. In the production of a paper there is fidelity to the Iskra recipe of a publication serving many strands to building a revolutionary movement as organiser, propagandist, agitator and recruiter. The flaw in using this yardstick to assess effectiveness or strength of an organisation is illustrated by the one-time Socialist Labour League that metamorphosed into the Workers Revolutionary Party. It still produces a daily paper – a challenge to the Morning Star claims to be the daily paper of the left no doubt – however the achievement of a daily newspaper is not in itself a major breakthrough in political influence. Members spend a great deal of time as newspaper-sellers. For many far left groups the paper represents the organisation and every effort made for its publication even as a group declines in number. At best newspaper frequency is a lagging indicator of a group in decline and, in the case of the WRP’s Newsline at least, ability to produce the paper far outstrips the ability to sell or distribute it!

A recent example where membership figures can be flattering until considering what the ratio of active members is, was provided in the SWP’s Party Notes (January 9 2018) declaring:

“Our total party membership currently stands at just under 6,000, with just under 2,000 paying a regular sub. During 2017, 511 joined the party, with 128 of those taking out a regular sub by direct debit.”

That is declaring that only around one third of SWP current ‘members’ pay a subscription – the minimal expectation for an active contribution – anecdotal evidence is that a “majority never attend a meeting or take part in local actions, such as selling Socialist Worker or helping to run a stall. They are ‘paper members’ – comrades who have usually done no more than fill in an application form.”[v] The retention of activists – outside the core leadership – has been a perpetual problem for all political and campaigning organisations.

Weekly Worker, newspaper of the self-styled the Communist Party of Great Britain , largely online, devoted to left sectarian quibbling [vi], provides an example of a factional group having a couple dozen members with a canny approach surviving in the political marketplace. They are talked about more than the larger Croydon-headquartered Communist Party of Britain, the membership of which is less than 1,000 mostly elderly pale male nostalgic members, and are truer claimant to the tradition of revisionism.

This is not the picture of dedicated, tireless subversives, organised in secretive cells, ceaselessly plotting to implement tried and tested Leninist tactics and strategy to overthrow parliamentary democracy, a picture beloved of some sections of the mass media. The reality is that todays organised far left is aging, more divided and smaller even with a revival of a Labour Party that has lost twice in the midst of economic crisis to an unimpressive Conservative government partly engaged in its own Brexit civil war.

Should we take the MI5 positions seriously? Far Left is a bit of a misnomer given their actual activity which so often revolved, like the CP, around involving Labour Party activism. But generally anything to the left of Labour falls within its embrace including the anarchist mileu. The largest Trotskyist organisation at the time, the Militant Tendency (or for those in the know, Revolutionary Socialist League) worked within the Labour party, as did a number of much small groups, and both the Socialist Workers Party and Workers Revolutionary Party had campaigns that tried to draw upon a “broad front” support base that sought Left labour personalities.

The revolutionary left is also a misnomer in describing the activities of those groups who disdained from focusing on parliamentary power. Despite the rhetorical flourishes, apart from occasional civil disobedience and minor flyposting offenses, their activities were exercised within the confines of democratic rights and political lobbying. Come the General Election most far left groups are encouraging its audience to support Labour critically which is largely what they were already doing.

Economical with the truth.

Stella Rimington – who went on to lead the organisation – in her 2001 memoir, Open Secret, describes how she was appointed as assistant director of one of the MI5’s counter-subversion sections in 1983. “We worked to the principle that the activities of organisations or individuals with subversive intent was of concern to us; the right to set up and join pressure groups and to protest was not.” [vii]  

MI5 estimated that in August 1985

MI5 estimated

However the aging nature and fragmentation of all tendencies on the Far Left was noted by MI5 and allegations of sections of the radical left infiltrating and influencing the Labour Party is hardly new. A study by Jeremy Tranmer looked at what increasingly seems a golden age for the Far Left in terms of campaigns and membership, when amidst the crisis the left saw opportunity that was cruelly appropriated by a resurgent monetarist cabal by the end of the decade. [viii]

The ‘official’ Communist Party of Great Britain (had dissolved itself in 1991, survived by two early splits the New Communist Party (1977) and aforementioned CPB aligned to the Morning Star. The SWP, weakened by its own rape apologist scandal survived, the Healey-led WRP (which had not) although fragments kept the organisational name (and newspaper) alive. Whilst the Militant Tendency expelled out of its Labour Party nest became the Socialist Party of England and Wales (the unfortunately acronymed SPEW), Maoist adherents disappeared off of the political radar. The MI5’s estimates for membership of Maoist groups around 1985 – when the allegiance of two of the larger parties had been aligned to Tirana away from Beijing – should be halved to be a more realistic estimate.

It was thought that “the membership of all the Leninist groups at the turn of the millennium totalled no more than 6,000 – of whom perhaps one-third were active.” [ix]

There was a post- millennium bloom but despite the short-lived activism in the last decade of Stop the War Coalition, attempts at building the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), in existence since May 1996, Respect and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, the Scottish Socialist Alliance and even Ken Loach’s Left Unity, and with splinters like Counterfire, Commune etc appearing on the scene, the shrinking Left outside the Labour party continued.

The continual existence of last century’s Left is not unusual; momentum can be built (not meaning the pro-Corbyn group). Consider an organisation often overlooked in any consideration of the state of the far left, the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Probably the oldest active group, founded in 1904, based in Clapham High Street and, according to the BBC reports “has 300 members, has cash reserves of £452,250 and property worth £900,000.”[x]

The question is not whether the numerous groups will survive, even the CPB (ML) has celebrated fifty years, more usefully asked is what can the old left offer the next left that is now emerging.

In the assessment of one veteran who has done the rounds in IS, RCT, RCP and Spiked, Michael Fitzpatrick:

“Under Corbyn, the Labour Party has increased its numbers through offering cut price membership, but there is little evidence of an increase in radical activity or commitment. There were no apparent successors to the numerous campaigns that once mobilized tens of thousands under the umbrella of the Left, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, third world solidarity campaigns, even the women’s and gay liberation movements. Whereas the Left once supported a flourishing culture of newspapers, magazines and journals, most have now disappeared or are available only to online devotees. The Left, in short, has ceased to exist as a significant force in British politics.” [xi]

Is Fitzpatrick’s view – who wrote as Mike Freeman when he was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party –  far too pessimistic – without the optimism required to sustain the coming struggles?


[i] Smith E. & Worley M, Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956. Manchester University Press (2014) & Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956 Manchester University Press (2017)


[iii] The revolutionary left in Britain. London: Jonathan Cape 1972

[iv] Contemporary Trotskyism. Routledge 2018

[v]  Weekly Worker #1186, 18.01.2018

[vi] As explained by Peter Manson, Editor: “Our paper is aimed at its membership and periphery and constantly criticises its failings and inadequacies. Does that make us sectarian? Not at all. The aim is not to do down the others for its own sake, but to point to what ought to be.

To that end the Weekly Worker is a champion of open polemic. We regularly and willingly open up our pages to those with whom we strongly disagree – not just in our extensive letters columns, but in the main body of the paper. Only through rigorous, no-holds-barred debate can ideas be tested and if necessary amended, qualified or corrected.

That is what makes the Weekly Worker different from the rest.”


[viii] A force to be reckoned with? The Radical Left in the 1970s. French Journal of British Studies 2017

[ix] Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey 27/12/2015


[xi] Michael Fitzpatrick, The fatal embrace of the Left and the Labour Party: Ralph Miliband’s changing positions on Labour Platypus Review 97 | June 2017