Avtar Singh Jouhl (1937-2022)

There was a wide range of people paying tribute to Avtar Singh Jouhl  who died on October 7th at the age of 84. Avtar Singh Jouhl was a tireless leader of the Indian Workers’ Association, as general secretary (1961-64; 1979-2015) and national organiser (1964-79), briefly working in 1967 in London to work for the IWA newspaper, ‘Lalkar’ (Challenge). Described by The Times as published in Brussels, 1500 copies “printed in Punjabi, it has been flown to London at no small expense and sold to Indian immigrants in Britain as part of an effort to convert them to Maoist revolution.” [i]

Avtar had been active in the organisation since coming to Britain in 1958, a leading workplace militant and antiracist activist in the West Midlands from the late 1950s until the 1990s. He was a respected and listen too activist: as he said,

“We learned to take up the issues that related to the workers, rather than just talking to them from a Marxist viewpoint. If you organise in that manner, the workers will trust you and respect you.”[ii]

In 1958, Avtar Jouhl was instrumental in setting up the Birmingham branch of the IWA. The Association’s initial role was to support local workers, helping them to write letters and supporting any claims of unfair dismissal. One of the IWA’s main campaigns during the 1960s was against immigration legislation, in particular the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Bill.

 The Birmingham Mail reported the death of Avtar Singh Jouhl has triggered an outpouring of tributes from activists and campaigners.

It is testimony to the work and the style it was done that a tribute carried in the Morning Star, written by Avtar’s friend Paul Mackney, the former General Secretary of NATFHE/UCU, the trade union for teachers in further and higher education, noted that Avtar opposed all organisational sectarianism and threw the full support of the IWA behind united fronts such as the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF), Campaign Against Racist Laws (CARL) and the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) . [iii]

That Avtar’s life was marked across the political spectrum from the mainstream BBC, favourably featured in Radio 4’s “Last Word”, to various small leftist groups, uniting Trotskyists and supporters of Xi’s China, meant The Socialist Worker carried an obituary, stating “Avtar was a principled fighter all his life. The struggles he led made a difference to black, Asian and white workers.” But not mentioning his adherence to Maoism. Often in interviews the focus was on his lifetime of activism rather than his Marxist philosophy as evident when reflecting on a life of struggle in the IWA and the trade unions in 2019. Republished on ‘The Communists’ website, a self-attributed description from the CPGB(ML), an interview carried in the SWP’s International Socialism journal in October 2019. The article, “Lifelong class fighter against racism”, rightly describes Avtar as “part of a generation of black and Asian militants whose struggles against racism and for workers’ rights have transformed the working class and the trade union movement in Britain.”[iv]

A life-long Marxist, Avtar was awarded the Order of the British Empire (civil division) in 2000 for ‘services to Community Relations and to Trade Unionism’.  This does raise issues for others when a life time of activism, politically campaigning and welfare work within the community has seemingly eschewed a revolutionary party-building orientation.

The Guardian obituary was headline, “Anti-racism campaigner and trade unionist who successfully challenged segregation in 1960s Britain”.Like other tributes recalled thatin 1965, Avtar invited Malcom X to Smethwick, near Birmingham, to see the type and extent of racism and the ‘colour bar’ then prevalent in the area, just weeks before the African-American revolutionary leader was assassinated.

His work campaigning to end the racial segregation in drinking establishments in Smethwick, West Midlands drew the attention of Malcolm X who visited the town, on 12 February 1965, and was taken to a segregated pub, the Blue Gates, with Jouhl and Indian activists to witness where non-white customers were forced to drink in separate rooms.

There are many colourful examples of local actions and campaigns in Birmingham that illustrate that Avtar played a very full role in the life of the community. The IWA took up welfare and political issues affecting Indians living in Britain, including fighting all forms of discrimination. They also took positions on some social issues. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s the IWA held a campaign against the marriage dowry. They were active on a local and national level – swelling demonstrations in the struggle against racism, work among the industrial unorganised leading them into the trade union movement, and the struggles of the working class in Britain. Not surprisingly there was a focus on the revolutionary struggle in India, but also mobilising support for anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world, and in support of the socialist countries.

Feb 1978: IWA (GB) leaders Jagmohan Joshi (bottom left), Teja Singh (second from bottom right) and Avatar Johal (bottom right) meet members of the Communist Party of China at Mao’s birth place in Shaoshan, China. The image is indicative of the IWA (GB)’s Maoist tilt, which informed their stance on the Naxalbari insurgency as well as their anti-racism work in Britain. [i]

Besides the IWA, and the trade union movement, Avtar played a leading role in the Association of Indian Communists in Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (AICML), which guided the work IWA. Part of a triumvirate leadership with Jagmohan Joshi and Teja Singh Sahota, who was elected as Vice President of the national IWA in 1959 and served as its President from 1967-1991, the IWA and the AIC were staunch supporters of the Chinese revolution and friends of China, maintaining close comradely connections with the country, particularly through the 1960s and 1970s.

There was a danger of exaggerated expectations on the political Left of the Association of Indian Communists because of its association with the IWA, whose large membership did not necessarily exceed the objectives “to further India’s attempt to achieve independence, to promote social and cultural activities and to foster greater understanding between Indian and British people.”

There was also the added factor that curtailed the contribution of such national minority organisations like the AIC. Nationality based formations reflected the issues and divisions of evident in Indian politics and the fractious nature of the IWA is seen in the catalogue of organisational splits and creation of alternative (but similarly named) rivals.[ii]

A Unity Conference on June 9th 1990 at Smethwick, Birmingham, with the merger conference taking place 16-17 February 1991 saw   Avtar Jouhl became General Secretary of the merged Indian Workers Association (GB) and Prem Singh, General Secretary of the other Indian Workers Association, became the President.

There was a retained friendship and support for China in the post-Mao era, becoming a patron of the “Hands off China! Campaign” launched in 2008 by the CPGB-ML, who claimed Avtar as a member. Maybe that commitment to anti-revisionist politics morphed into the generic Marxism-Leninism that encompasses the mishmash of revisionist fragments and those who see socialism in action in China and North Korea?

After almost 30 years in the foundry industry, in 1987 Avtar was appointed by South Birmingham College as a trade union studies tutor at Birmingham Trade Union Studies Centre. He remained an active trade unionist. In the early-1990s, Avtar was elected to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the lecturers’ union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe) 1992-97. 

When asked in an interview in 2019, “Looking back on your life as an activist, what are you most proud of? “Avtar replied,

I am content that I have served the working class by advancing socialist policies, building trade union organisation, antiracist and anti-imperialist campaigns, as well as leading struggles for equal rights and participating in welfare work.”

For all this he will be remembered.


[i] . https://www.jamhoor.org/read/2019/8/27/the-brown-in-black-power-militant-south-asian-organizing-in-post-war-britain

[ii] Noted in The Rise and Fall of Maoism: the English Experience .

See also: Woodsmokeblog.wordpress

Jan   5, 2017 | The IWA (GB), Indian Communists & the AIC

May 2, 2019 | 100. Lal Salam! Red Salute!

[i] Quoted at https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.secondwave/uk-maoism.pdf

[ii] Avtar Jouhl: lifelong class fighter against racism | The Communists

[iii] It was reproduced on the Counterfire website Avtar Singh Jouhl (1937 – 2022): Beloved comrade – obituary – Counterfire.

[iv]   Life-long class fighter against racism • International Socialism (isj.org.uk)


The author of Downfall, Alan McCombes had been a leading member of the Scottish Socialist Party for several years, and the editor of the Scottish Socialist Voice until 2003.

Together with Sheridan, a fellow member of Militant, McCombes had played a leading role in the anti-poll tax movement. His 1988 pamphlet, How To Beat The Poll Tax, advocated a mass non-payment campaign. With Tommy Sheridan, he was also author of Imagine: A Socialist Vision for the 21st Century [Canongate Books 2000]

In 1992 McCombes was a leading figure in persuading Militant in Scotland to organize openly independently of the Labour Party resulting in the creation of Scottish Militant Labour. Throughout the 1990s, he challenged the traditional “British Road to Socialism”, arguing for the left to champion the idea of an independent Scottish socialist republic.  In 1995, he promoted a Scottish Socialist Alliance to unite the left that laid the basis for the emergence of the SSP in which McCombes held the position of policy co-ordinator.

The events recalled in Alan McCombes’ Downfall seem both sadly realistic and depressingly common. Published in 2011, it is an intensely individual story, obviously partisan in the telling, and immensely political in its message. One can read it as a narrative of a flawed individual who made some bad decisions, but it is not a morality tale; it is more a statement of record of a contested account that split the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) over Tommy Sheridan’s defamation action against the News International.

The background

The Scottish Socialist Party was formed in 1998 to contest the first elections of Scotland’s new parliament.

It was created after a number of left-wing organisations which made up the Scottish Socialist Alliance aligned to form a single party which allowed various fractions or platforms to operate within it. Former Militant members – organized as International Socialist Movement – were the largest group but the Alliance contained other representatives from the Trotskyist Left as well as non-aligned Scottish socialist members.

The roots of this development lay organisationally in the break-up of the entryist Trotskyist organisation Committee for a Workers’ International better known south of the border for the Militant Tendency organised within the British Labour Party. [Read more about the origins of the Militant tendency in Ted Grant’s opinionated account  History of British Trotskyism.]

There had been the sanctioned division of the CWI’s British section into two organisational units in the mid-1990s. In England and Wales, following a series of exclusions from the Labour Party, Militant Labour changed its name to the Socialist Party after a somewhat fraught internal debate during 1996-97. In Scotland, the organisation retained the name, Scottish Militant Labour. It advocated a broader socialist alignment in the Scottish Socialist Alliance. Their English-based comrades disagreed.

Between them was a bitter row over the transformation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance into the Scottish Socialist Party in September 1998. In 2001, the International Socialist Movement – formerly Scottish Militant Labour – finally completed its break.

The SSP advocated proportional representation, abolition of the monarchy and an end to the union through the creation of an independent, Scottish republic.

The SSP achieved electoral success almost instantly when one of its founders, Tommy Sheridan, was elected to Holyrood as a list MSP for Glasgow in 1999. Tommy Sheridan was central to the initial success of the party.

He had been the face and the voice of the anti-poll tax demonstrations in Scotland in the 1980s, and was jailed three times over protests against warrant sales, poindings and nuclear weapons. And he was more media savvy than most.

And at the end of 2000 the party’s campaign to have warrant sales and poindings abolished paid off when Mr Sheridan’s members’ bill made it through parliament.

The SSP leader caused a stir in parliament from the start, when he swore the oath of allegiance to the Queen with a clenched fist raised to signal his protest. He was in parliament for four years before being joined by five of his party colleagues in 2003 – making the SSP the largest left-wing party in Scotland. At its height, as well as six MSPs, the SSP boasted 3,000 members, scores of branches and the support of important trade union organisations. In 2003, at its annual delegate conference, the Labour-affiliated Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) trade union voted to allow its branches to affiliate to the SSP. It secured more than 245,000 votes across the country.

Six MSPs were elected on the regional list: Carolyne Leckie in Central, Colin Fox in the Lothians, Frances Curran in the West of Scotland seat, Rosemary Byrne in the South of Scotland and Tommy Sheridan and Rosie Kane in Glasgow.

The facts

In November 2004 the News of the World ran a series of stories, smutty allegations and innuendoes claiming a married MSP had visited a swingers’ club and had committed adultery.

Shortly afterwards, Tommy Sheridan resigned as convener of the SSP, citing personal reasons, and announced his intention to sue. When Sheridan stated he was going to sue the newspapers over the allegations, SSP MP Caroline Leckie said: “There is no official backing behind any legal challenge.” Alan McCombes, the SSP’s policy coordinator and one-time close friend of Sheridan’s, casually said: “The executive committee does not want to go down a road where we are helping Tommy Sheridan build a tower of lies.”

The Workers’ Weekly, a reporting source for any confrontation within the British Left (while continuing to relentlessly criticise their failings) stated it understood that

“the executive committee of the SSP urged Sheridan not to fight the thing out in the courts. It voted unanimously to tell him to fight using other, political, methods. Events so far have tended to indicate this would have been the best course.” 

Weekly Worker Issue 628 07.06.2006   Defend SSP’s Alan McCombes

Scottish Socialist Party official Alan McCombes was jailed for refusing to hand over party documents to the Court. The now-closed News of the World had requested the internal minutes, which it claims would help defend a defamation case brought by former SSP leader .  McCombes was jailed for 12 days after he ignored a deadline to release the papers. SSP offices and comrades’ homes were search in a vain attempt to find the required document, minutes of the November 9 2004 SSP executive meeting which forced Tommy Sheridan to resign as convenor.

Four SSP MSPs gave evidence against their former leader during his legal action against the newspaper, which Sheridan won in 2006, along with £200,000 in damages.

He was later retried and found guilty of perjury, and was jailed for three years in 2011. The investigation and subsequent perjury trial were estimated to have cost £4 million to £5 million, which shows the State has deep pockets when its interests are involved.

His former comrades said while this outcome had vindicated them, the socialist movement in Scotland had been very badly damaged in the process. In the midst of the saga, in the 2007 Scottish elections, the SSP’s vote slumped and the party lost all its MSPs.

Sheridan left the SSP after he won the first court case and formed another party, Solidarity. He failed in his bid to return to Holyrood as a Solidarity MSP in 2007. The group failed to make any progress and in 2020, he joined Alex Salmond’s Alba Party.

Accusation & charges

Throughout the whole episode the reporting on the Left was posturing and the sectarian left’s condemnatory vocabulary was given full expression. The political analysis shaped by an understanding of what caused the internal crisis within the SSP. Beside political disagreements, hostile to the “opportunistic and abject surrender to nationalism” of the SSP, there were differences as to where the emphasis was placed: the central issue being mistakenly presented as Sheridan’s alleged personal behaviour or the News International’s attacks on a leading socialist.

After the first court case, Sheridan described his former colleagues as “scabs” in a tabloid interview, and those who had given evidence against him reportedly faced threats and attacks by his supporters. Sheridan did not explain he had wanted the Executive Committee for political expediency to lie in defence of his personal interests. The first case saw him victorious, awarded a cash settlement.

In the second case he was later found guilty of perjury, and was jailed for three years at the start of 2011. Sheridan spent a year in prison.

A false argument was raised that the conviction of Tommy Sheridan for perjury was the result of a political vendetta, waged by Rupert Murdoch’s News International in a de facto alliance with the Lothian and Borders Police and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). However, McCombes did observe that “Like Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, two top Tory politicians who served lengthy jail sentences for their actions, Tommy Sheridan took out a libel action based on a fraud: at least some of the material published in the trashy tabloid News of the World was substantially true.”

Sheridan’s former comrades had said while this outcome had vindicated them, however their movement in Scotland had been very badly damaged in the process.

Far from joining forces with The News of the World in bringing Sheridan down as critics claim, McCombes’ explanation is the more believable:

He declared himself a hostile witness, describing the case as a “squalid little squabble” but was ordered to answer questions by the judge. He said: “I am here under the strongest possible protest. […] Your client, I have to say, the News of the World, symbolises everything that as a socialist I have stood against my whole adult life. […] It should have been settled by one of both parties before innocent people were dragged into this bizarre pantomime.”

McCombes published account does provide a detailed, convincing rationale for why the SSP members who testified ‘against’ Sheridan did what they did. On 7 July 2006, McCombes gave evidence in the defamation proceedings launched by Tommy Sheridan against the News of the World stating that Sheridan had admitted to him that he had visited swingers clubs. His version of events was supported by ten other people who were present at the meeting and matched the minutes of the meeting presented in court, though these were naturally disputed during the court case.

August 2006, in the aftermath of the Sheridan defamation case, McCombes publicly released an all-members bulletin addressed to SSP membership, entitled “The Fight for the Truth” in which he said Tommy Sheridan’s libel victory over the News of the World “could set back the cause of socialism by years if not decades” because of the divisions that had occurred within the party and went on to give his view of the events leading  up to the trial. 

Downfall reads well, with a few jarring exceptions and Tommy Sheridan’s implosion recounted with insider perspective could not resist a few incidental snipes about Sheridan, understandable given the personal enmity, and consequences of the anger at the selfish actions of the man who wrought destruction on the SSP. Some might describe Downfall as a forensic indictment of a man who sold out his comrades for ego. Along the way is an insight to a fraying strand of early 21st century Scottish political radicalism.  Tommy Sheridan should be commended for his anti poll tax stance, but like so many others somewhere along the way he was twisted by his fame; Yes victimised by the press, but also losing traction with the political service as too often the Left lauds the individual rather than the movement and its aims.

In August 2022 the disgraced former MSP Tommy Sheridan was declared bankrupt over an £82,000 legal bill after his failed bid to prove he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

When McCombes left the SSP employment he moved to central Scotland to work engaged in environmental activity. With Roz Paterson, he co-authoured the 2014 publication, Restless Land: A Radical Journey Through Scotland’s History. Glasgow: Calton Books.

Alan McCombes, Downfall. Glasgow: Birlinn Ltd

more than an internet thing

Mayday 2022 saw a return to the streets in London, with assembly at Clerkenwell Green for now traditional march and rally in tourist town, Trafalgar Square. The London May Day organising Committee set the slogans




As the Morning Star describes it “the one day of the year that celebrates workers’ achievements and battles.”

Leading up to this Mayday, confined to isolated bed rest by Covid inflection – so much for it being the tailend of the pandemic – thoughts turned to what is needed for the future.

Research note:  More than an Internet thing

Ever since 2008, there has been attempts to stimulate interest in creating an appropriate UK Marxist Leninist Maoist organisation to move forward. This tenacious fifteen years of encouragement and support to re-spark organised Maoism in Britain has involved the same few activists, either veterans of the Maoist movement or new young converts, with the fraternal internationalist aid of likeminded co thinkers.

Back in December 2008, an evening meeting at Conway Hall London was convened to address the question of «The Present International and National situations and the tasks of creating a revolutionary communist party in Britain».


Revolutionary Collective Britain (Formerly RVM) signed May Day Joint Declaration, Long Live Red May Day!

Literature List: UK Anti-Revisionist Material

The pdf shared is not a catalogue of British-related material drawn from the online archive provided by the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line.

It contains other material produced around, and within the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist movement, and a listing or related material that provides background reference information to that movement without being an exhaustive bibliographical guide (or for bibliophiles, a checklist).

 However, even given those limitation it provides a signpost to the literature produced, and a springboard for any research on the origins and developments within Britain’s anti-revisionist movement from the 1960 to the new century.

Literature List

Sandra spies on the Women’s Liberation Front

The Undercover Policing Inquiry, UCPI, led by retired judge Sir John Mitting, has through the evidence put online inadvertently begun an archive on the Women’s Liberation Front, one of the infiltrated groups target for undercover police operations that also supplied British internal security agency MI5 with information. [i]

These previously secret police reports provide a partial account of the activities of the spied upon group, that could supplement other sources and accounts (such as leading member Diane Langford[ii] ) and as the spy in the midst reported:

“The WLF produced their own literature. I think it [“Women’s Liberation”] was printed at a bookshop that had a printing press, although I never visited it myself. It may have been “Banner Books”.“

The Women’s Liberation Front, was a small London-based feminist group with Maoist leanings. its meetings hosted at one of the member’s homes. Its leading members were closely associated with the Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League under the leadership of Abhimanyu Manchanda, previously known for activities in the British-Vietnam Solidarity Front, and subject to a separate undercover assignment.[iii]

Reports were file by an undisclosed Undercover Police officer given the designation HN 348, and active in the early 1970s.[iv]  While no full cover name is known, now in her 70s, she recalled using the cover name ‘Sandra’, and having seen some documents listing members of the Women’s Liberation Front that name ‘Sandra Davies’, she conceded this may well have been her. The evidence seems conclusive, yet she still wouldn’t completely confirm it was her.

She said it was “made clear that my role was just to observe and report back.” [v]

As part of her undercover profile, HN348 Sandra, established a cover address (a shared house in Paddington to which she went only occasionally) and pretended to be a Goldsmiths student.

Assessing her work infiltrating women’s rights groups in the 1970s, she does not believe her undercover work was worthwhile.

 “I stand by what I say – I could have been doing much more worthwhile things with my time than my work with the SDS.”

Some of those sceptical and critical of the undercover police deployment would agree with her:

“she appeared to have had about as minor a deployment as is possible for a spycop – long ago, not for long, deployed into one group that doesn’t appear to have warranted spying on even by the police’s standards.

As it turned out, this was the point; her testimony demonstrated the lack of guidance given to officers, and the seemingly total absence of any consideration of the impact of this intrusion on the lives of those targeted.”  [vi]

Indeed, that ’Sandra Davies’ was a full-time spy on them for near-on two years, producing no intelligence of any value demonstrated the generalised, hoover-up approach to information gathering, checking on people who pose no threat. The group had come to public attention for its role in the disruption of the Miss World event live on television in November 1970 – a year before Sandra HN348 joined it.

Sandra Davies’ own statement says the activists she spied on were not breaking any laws, just hosting meetings, leafleting and demonstrating – ‘all within the bounds of the law’ – and that she did not witness or participate in any public disorder during her entire deployment. So what was the point?

‘I was tasked to observe them because Special Branch did not know much about them’

The inquiry heard how women’s groups including Women’s Voice, Greenham Common, Spare Rib collective, Brixton Black Women’s movement and others were infiltrated – leading Philippa Kaufmann QC to ask “what possible justification could there be for infiltrating such organisations other than a deep hostility to women’s equality?”

In another report from November 18, 1969, officer HN336 filed, the subject of concern was a postgraduate who had begun “involving herself to some considerable extent” with the Tufnell Park Women’s Liberation Front.

“Aged about 23 years, height 5 foot 2 inches; long dark brown hair; oval face, attractive features; sometimes wears a fawn woollen dress, brown knee-length boots and a brown herring-bone patterned overcoat. It is understood she had just completed a degree course at [redacted] University.” [vii]

Sandra HN336’s target, the Women’s Liberation Front, which later became known as the Revolutionary Women’s Union [viii], campaigned for equal pay, access to contraception and paid maternity leave. The undercover officer, Sandra, claimed the group was of interest to Special Branch because of possible links with “more extreme groups” such as the Angry Brigade and “Irish extremists.”

The monitoring group ‘Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance’ noted in relation to


The Inquiry was shown a report [UCPI0000026992] of a WLF study group on 11 March 1971, comprising of seven people meeting in someone’s home.

Davies reported that one woman present praised the recent actions of the IRA, which she described as ‘a good way to start a revolution’. She’d put the words in quote marks.

We should note that, at this time, the IRA was only attacking British military targets in Northern Ireland. It is extraordinary that this comment on current affairs, made in a private home with no intent for action of any kind, was deemed worthy of reporting and filing by Britain’s political secret police. So much for ‘you are free to express your opinions’.

There seemed to be little else in the way of Davies reporting on the Irish situation she’d suggested as one of her true targets.” [ix]

There was a pattern of weekly WLF meetings held in the evenings at people’s private homes. They were mostly study groups, reading political texts and discussing them. Some of Sandra Davies’s reports were on meetings of the six person WLF Executive Committee. Women’s Liberation Front AGM minutes 1972, records spycop ‘Sandra Davies’ elected as treasurer.

Reports were filed on a talk by Leila Hassan from the Black Unity and Freedom Party (BUFP), ‘general discussion’ of a ‘The East is Red’ –described as a ‘Chinese Revolutionary film’, meeting of the Friends of China, and document UCPI0000027026 was a report of a WLF meeting, dated 8 December 1971. The speaker had returned from a trip to China and ‘was clearly very impressed by the Chinese system’. This developed into a group discussion about all aspects of everyday life in China, including the use of acupuncture.

Other topics of reports to Special Branch were on the Black Unity and Freedom Party asking the WLF to contribute home-made sweets and cakes to a children’s Christmas party in 1971, a jumble sale being organised by the WLF, and idle personal gossip about individual circumstances or relationships. There were reports on a school strike organised by the Schools Action Union in May 1972, running to 13 separate numbered paragraphs of intelligence – with a lot of detail. It named several of the children who’d been arrested.

Tom Ford noted, Sandra’s report included the “subversive” activity of wanting better child-care:

“Members would also be visiting Chapel Street Market each Saturday and Sunday, 840 signatures had been collected. It was hoped eventually to deliver the petition to Islington council with a demand for a nursery in the area.”

A copy of the petition, included in the police report, said: “We demand that day nurseries be set up wherever there is a need. They should be cheap, open all year round and staff should be fully trained and well paid.”

Sandra HN348 did not see any of the WLF members she spied on acting violently or committing crimes. Instead the purpose of spying on the group was to know whether it was “worthwhile” to infiltrate it, she said. She described the group as vocal but aspirational only and taking part in demonstrations with placards and banners. Its membership was “No more than 12” was her count.

One of the meetings HN348 Sandra spied on that concerned the possibility of setting up a national movement of socialist women was only attended by two activists. She reported that attendees of one such meeting in Guildford, Surrey, in June 1972 were “a group of fairly moderate women with no particular political motivation who have recently been campaigning for nurseries in the Guildford area”.

It is not surprising that her own assessment of her deployment was, “I do not think my work really yielded any good intelligence, she said in self-defence in her written evidence, “but I eliminated the WLF from public-order concerns,” [x]

Diane Langford, who is named in relation to various reports on the WLF, raised the issue of homophobic, sexist and racist language in reports from the SDS, which included “racist, anti-Semitic, sexist and judgemental descriptions of people’s appearances that fill police officer’s notebooks”.

Diane Langford told the inquiry how “discovering the groups I was involved in and the Women’s Liberation Movement as a whole were secretly surveilled has been a traumatising experience”.

She explained how it was “harrowing to find out about the pernicious attitudes of officers, masquerading as comrades and friends and sisters, who inveigled their way into our homes, meetings, families and lives” and that “the betrayal of trust is unforgivable”.

Describing the intrusion, Langford noted how the SDS “hoovered-up our data”, with reports providing individuals’ names, ages, physical appearance, family relationships, social security status – “even a sample of a woman’s handwriting”. [xi]

She told the inquiry how in the reports “we find the work of people working in good faith in the hope of creating a future free of oppression, distorted by the grubby lens of officers who cannot understand what they are spying on”.


Sandra’s testimony to the Inquiry, on events of 50 years previous, stated, [xii]

“the women’s movement was really growing. The Angry Brigade were linked to the women’s movement and so were lots of other left-wing extremist groups that were latching onto it. This was before the Equal Pay Act 1970 had come into force. There were certain jobs even then where you had to leave when you got married. I did not understand the logic of that: it seemed unfair. Even in the police service, women had the same powers as men but I was only paid 90% of what the men were paid. I was interested in women’s issues, such as contraception and nurseries. I was genuinely interested when those topics were discussed in the bigger meetings, but not the extremist activities.”  

 “The activities the groups I infiltrated were involved in were hosting meetings, leafleting and demonstrations. They were all within the bounds of the law. The political ideology they were promoting did not spill over into what they were doing. They were just very vocal. Of course. the MPS were concerned about whether it would spill over. The Irish situation was very bad at the time and there were links between Ireland and some of the groups we were infiltrating.”

I considered one of the main aims of the SDS to gather intelligence to draw links between different groups and individuals.

Reported on what the WLF were saying and the literature they were distributing, focused on what they were going to do. I would also pick up leaflets and report on the Chinese revolutionary films that were shown.

I simply reported the location of any meetings, the numbers at that meeting, the start and finish times, and what was discussed. I reported any future plans and the likely numbers if there was a demonstration. For example, I reported that “a rally would commence at 1 pm in Trafalgar Square and four RWU members would attend” in the Special Report dated 28 September 1972 (Doc 7, Tab 56 UCPI0000011758.) which would help with police preparation.

“At the time, I felt quite detached from the activists and that I was not in any particular danger, especially at the public meetings which were open to anyone. But it was always in the back of my mind that someone would point a finger at me and accuse me of being a UCO, which would have been embarrassing at the least.”

Frequently when asked about specific reports, Sandra’s standard reply was “I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included”.

“I have seen the Special Report dated 22 January 1971 written by HN45 (Doc 9, UCPI0000011740) I note that, at paragraph 3, HN45 states the meeting was to plan activities for the WLF, British Vietnam Solidarity Front and Friends of China. This makes it look like a much bigger movement, but there were only fourteen people present at that meeting and very often these groups had an overlap of the same people. I note also that, at paragraph 5, he refers to the start of a new branch of the WLF in North London being run by <retracted> and <retracted> I was not aware that intelligence from HN45 prompted my recruitment to join this group, although this possibly could have happened.

I agree that the WLF/RWU was revolutionary in terms of their Maoist ideology, which was opposed to democratic values. The way they talked suggested they would have liked to have overthrown Parliamentary democracy, but “overthrow” is a huge word and this was a small group, so it was not something that they could have done in reality. I was not even aware of the WLF being involved in any criminal activity apart from putting up posters (if that would be considered criminal) and there is no record in the reports of any WLF member committing any act of public disorder or being arrested at any demonstrations.

I did not say much at these meetings. This did not arouse suspicion as many of them were very vocal and glad to have a passive ear sitting there listening to them.

The WLF was much more talk than action. I was tasked to observe them because Special Branch did not know much about them and wanted to find out what was really happening.

Her judgement was that the Police “did not really know very much about the smaller groups and wanted to know more to see if they were of significance to state security or any real threat to our democracy. It was not until the SDS got involved that we knew if it was worthwhile to infiltrate a group. I do not think my work really yielded any good intelligence, but I eliminated the WLF from public order concerns.”

I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know the sums of contributions being made by members present at the meeting held on 25 November 1971, as stated in the Special Report dated 1 December 1971 (Doc 1 7, UCPI0000010923 1). I have found this document very difficult to read as it is of poor quality. It is not clear to me what the contributions related to except that they may have been to cover running costs for a Centre in Leamington Spa. It may have been for the Nurseries Campaign, which is mentioned a few lines above. The availability of free nurseries in the community and attached to places of work was a key issue for the women’s liberation movement at that time. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. As far as I recall, my reports covered as much as was necessary so my senior officers and others could understand the tone of the meeting and the types of things they were discussing. The activists were talking about nurseries at the larger meetings as well, so it was a prominent issue and relevant to the right for women to work as the nurseries would support that right.

 I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know that some of the group would be making homemade sweets and cakes for the Children’s Christmas Party on 18 December 1971, as stated in the Special Report dated 13 December 1971 (Doc 18, UCPI0000010932 I). I note that paragraph 5 of that report states that the Children’s Christmas Party was being run by the Black Unity and Freedom Party (“BUFP”), who had asked the WLF members for contributions. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. But as stated above, I think some of the main things the senior officers were interested in were the links between groups. With this in mind, the information might have been included to support the link between the BUFP and the WLF.

This report also refers to an Irish woman coming from Dublin at a time of troubles in Northern Ireland and being arrested for her links to the Angry Brigade. I knew very little about the Angry Brigade, even at the time, except that alarm bells rang if they were mentioned as they were very active and had links with the IRA. The report states that this information had come from <<retracted>>   via <<retracted>>  I do not recall the connection between  <<retracted>>   <<retracted>>  . or <<retracted>>   and the Angry Brigade. I assume it was mentioned in the hope that somebody would have been able to make a connection somewhere along the line. This is another example of how the reporting could attempt to draw links between these people. In the 1970s, direct action in Ireland was affecting so many people’s lives.

I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know that one of the members had been accused of having an affair with the husband of another member, as stated in the Special Report dated 4 January 1972 (Doc 14). The report refers to this accusation being made by <<retracted>>  “of Banner Books” and prompted <<retracted>>   to end her employment at that bookshop. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. But I recall that this bookshop was quite significant: there was another Maoist group involved with them and they had a printing press there. I do not recall if they were printing “Women’s Liberation” at Banner Books, but they may have been. This information once again shows the links between organisations, in this case the breakdown in the relationship between the WLF and Banner Books. It also gives a flavour of the meetings and the level of things that were discussed. The accusation of an affair would also have been a potentially major event in the history of the WLF. The Maoist philosophy is quite purist and they would frown upon things such as affairs. In Maoist China, they even had a lot of strict rules about their style of dress and how they presented themselves because the clothes they wore depended on their status.

I have been asked about reports recording meetings in the homes of private individuals. The WLF meetings I attended were often in the homes of <<retracted>>  I was just invited to the meetings, I told my senior officers, and there was no suggestion that I should not attend because the meetings were held in people’s homes.

An event like a jumble sale might reveal links between different people and different groups that attended, all under the auspices of a fundraising sale. It was something the WLF was doing, as opposed to ideology and rhetoric, which I would not have recorded. This report would put a flag in the diary on that date so someone could be directed to attend. I cannot recall the sale itself, but it might have been something I attended.

My recollection is that the Marxists hated the Trotskyists and the Trotskyists hated the Marxists, but everyone hated the Maoists.


[i] https://www.ucpi.org.uk/infiltrated_group/womens-liberation-front/

[ii] a more rounded political memoir of the WLF comes in ‘The Manchanda Connection’
by Diane Langford, Manu’s partner from 1968 till 1982.


Also see her Opening Statement to the Undercover Policing Inquiry at


[iii] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.secondwave/index.htm#bvsf

[iv] https://powerbase.info/index.php/HN348

[v] https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MPS-0741698.pdf

[vi] http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/2020/11/19/ucpi-daily-report-18-nov-2020/

[vii] Tom Ford, Revolutionaries? Undercover cops spied on mums calling for better day care. Islington Tribune November 20, 2020

[viii]  The Women’s Liberation Front held their AGM on 6 February 1972. They agreed to adopt a new constitution (that meant only women could be members) and new aims and a change of name, The Revolutionary Women’s Union.

Its new list of aims said it sought:

  • ‘To organise women in general, working class women in particular, to fight for the elimination of all exploitation and oppression and for a socialist society.
  • ‘To expose the oppression suffered by women and to relate this to capitalist society and to oppose those who confuse the effects of women’s oppression for the real cause, ie the private ownership of the means of production.’

The group wanted to achieve these things as a path towards things that sound largely moderate and desirable to modern ears:

  • To demand equal opportunities in employment and education.
  • To fight for equal pay for work of equal value.
  • In order that women have real opportunities to take part in social production, we demand that crèches and nurseries are installed at the place of work, education and in the community, wherever there is a need.
  • All women should have the right to have children or not. In order to make this right effective, alongside child-care facilities, adequate contraceptive and abortion information and facilities should be made available free on the NHS.
  • To demand maternity leave for a definite period with no loss of pay, in the pre-natal and post-natal periods, and the right to return to the same job, guaranteed by law.
  • To fight against all discrimination and injustice suffered by women in all realms of society, in laws as regards marriage and divorce, in the superstructure; customs and culture.
  • To fight against the discrimination suffered by unmarried mothers and their children.
  • To wage a consistent struggle against male chauvinism and to strive to educate and encourage men to participate in all our activities.
  • To take our full part in the struggles against the growing attacks on our standard of living and our democratic rights and against the growing racism and fascist policies of the ruling class.
  • To mobilise women to support the anti-imperialist struggles of all oppressed peoples for the realisation of our common aim, the ending of the system of exploitation and oppression.’

 [ix] http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/2020/11/19/ucpi-daily-report-18-nov-2020/

[x] https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MPS-0741698.pdf

[xi] Sian Norris, ‘A Deep Hostility to Women’s Equality’ More Accusations of Police Misogyny in the Spy Cops Inquiry. April 23rd 2021

[xii] Scoured out from https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MPS-0741698.pdf

Ivor Kenna (1931-2021)

In a one line acknowledgement, The Actuary  noted, Mr Ivor Kenna, an Associate based in the UK, passed away aged 89.

The Oxford graduate (St Catherine’s 1949) had a richer life to tell as a veteran activist as his partner in life and politics describes it:

 “He always said he did not want to seek idle fame. He never wanted to be famous. But he attended meetings and spoke up for issues he believed in. He was so good at remembering all the facts. He worked all his life for emancipation for the working class.”  — Flo Kenna, Islington Tribune 25 June, 2021 

They were the first to start a union at the Prudential Assurance Building in Holborn where he worked as an actuary. Called the Guild of Insurance Officials, it was later absorbed into Unite. While a Trojan like expenditure of energy and effort could be said to mark his life, and any historical account of the anti-revisionist movement in London would be peppered by references to Kenna’s presence, the actual legacy is harder to discern.

If you live long enough there is an emblematic respond to you: early on, heart-felt sighs would greet the sight of Ivor rising to his feet in a public meeting; a tolerated sectarian irritant would be the most charitable attitude. Forever on the periphery of the political fringe, temporary alignment and relationship were always being made ever since he broke with the Communist Party of Great Britain in the early 1960s when Secretary of the Finsbury branch. Ironically The New Worker, weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain, reported “This week’s postbag brought in £608 including £200 in memory of Ivor Kenna which pushed the running total up to £2,851.”[Week commencing 25th June 2021]. In the past their politics were polar opposites.

The CPGB(ML), associated with fellow veteran, and past sparring partner, Harpal Brar, were overly generous in their assessment that “Ivor did everything he could to halt the decline of the movement caused by Khrushchevite revisionism.” Ivor and Flo was there at the beginning of the struggle initiated by Michael McCreery, who issued a statement denouncing both Khrushchev and the revisionist leadership of the CPGB. The Kennas were involved in the Committee to Defeat Revisionism , for Communist Unity (CDRCU) and were expelled from the Communist Party in 1964. His disruptive, anti-leadership stance within CDRCU was duplicated throughout his attendance of other ML group meetings. (Research Note: Fracturing of the CDRCU). Despite its longevity the two=person Finsbury Communist Association was described years later by the Communist Workers’ Movement as not being

”a serious ML organisation; it has never offered much constructive criticism, has concentrated on circulating gossip and producing articles which discredit Marxism-Leninism (struggle against the Albanian line is not helped, for example, by silly remarks about how dusty Albanian bookshops are).” (CWM, Letter to Marxist Industrial Group in 1979)

The FCA survived around a fractured anti-revisionist movement populated by more notable outliers and small groups who equally failed to move beyond their petty-bourgeois obsession and seriously engage in the party-building commitment.

For their part, Ivor and Flo pride themselves on looking “unpleasant facts in the face with a view to finding a solution …it is necessary not only to tell the truth oneself but to attack those who are peddling lies and deceit.” (Finsbury Communist 49 Feb 1969)

FCA’s main charge, consistently maintained regardless of who they were criticising, is that ultra-leftism had held back the ML movement. To prove their point they were contend to emphasis what they characterise as much of the irrelevance of ML activity in Britain.

In 1978, the FCA judged that “the British ML movement has two outstanding features at present (1) substantial ignorance of, and disagreement about the actual situation in Britain (2) almost compete ignorance of what to do about that situation.” (Finsbury Communist 161 June 1978)

Time had jaded that enthusiasm of the FCA. In 1966 it had been of the opinion that” There are now organised ML groups in most parts of the country and some degree of unity in action has been reached.

All that is holding us back from forming a party is the lack of theoretical unity.”

In that year, FCA did contribute to the theoretical struggle over what constituted a class analysis of Britain. There were some criticisms of McCreey’s “Notes on the Lower Middle Class and the Semi-Proletariat in Britain!’ and Peter Seltman’s more substantial “Classes in Modern Imperialist Britain”. But it was the production of a 17-paged duplicated contribution, “Class and Party in Britain” that gave the true flavour of the FCA.

Coming from the revisionist CPGB, the FCA had constituted part of the District Committee so spoke of the “past 20 years of revisionist betrayal”. There was also involvement in the CDRCU and Ivor was thrown out of McCreery’s flat after one argument. However the FCA did correctly identified the need for and anti-imperialist and internationalist perspective within the anti-revisionist movement by calling for “complete identification with the cause of the workers and peasants in the colonies and neo-colonies”.

The hostility towards the Labour Party and the revisionist CP had not lessened, nor the conviction that higher prices had to be paid for Third World products. Self-determination for Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall had been, adopted as FCA policy. Individually both Ivor and Flo were involved with the Celtic League. And self-determination for the Celtic nations, including Cornwall and the Isle of Man has been a basic principle of the FCA.

However its analysis of classes in Britain, the FCA talked of “a peasantry and a pretty well-subsidised peasantry it is”‘ as existing in Britain seemingly oblivious to the conditions of farm labourers and land ownership patterns in rural Britain. There were references to “non-imperialist capital” which was questionable given the nature of monopoly capitalism and the actual operation of British Capital.

Further ‘theoretical insights’ resulted from the occasional public meetings held at the Sekforde Arms (London EC1) in late 1972. These were on the subject of Marx’s Labour theory attended by Arthur Evans, Mike Earle and Harpal Brar. Evans and Earle excused themselves from a follow-up meeting at which a transcript was produced concluding that everyone in Britain including the working class benefited from imperialism. The FCA claimed this as their contribution to the ML movement:

” Our chief claim to fame was in showing 1) that the British people benefit from imperialism 2) just how exactly they benefit 3) And therefore the British workers much less the Middle Class, are not revolutionary.” (Finsbury Communist 121 Feb 1975)

The FCA were never on the wagon-train of ‘revolution is just around the corner’. They maintained the plodding pace of churning out the Finsbury Communist, attending other people’s meetings, making interventions and keeping up their correspondence file.

The attitude to China was complete agreement with whatever China’s policies was at that time, as he was reported to have explain it : “ I don’t think the Communist Party of China can be said to have ever made a mistake because whatever it did seemed like the best thing to do at the time.”

The FCA always qualified as a small group in ML terms: an organisation with fewer members than initials in its name. There was once an attempt in 1976 to join with various local people in, Finsbury in setting up the grandly named’ Working Class Party ‘ but complaints that FCA maintained a separate existence led to a break-up in the project. Later they persisted and worked with the local Islington branch Independent Working Class Association, set up by people from Red Action, but again the working relationship broke down.

  The view that they were a flea-like irritant for most of the ML movement,  Chairman of the RCLB describing their politics as ” a bourgeois game. They have contempt for the revolutionary struggle of the working class and their organisation is a mere excuse for the most self-indulgent individualism …Their stand is an insult to and an attack on the cause of building the Revolutionary Party of the working class.”  (Letter to Cde Hickey  (CWM) dated 22.2.1979)

There were attempts at joint work by the FCA in the late 197Os on the subject of building a movement to oppose Soviet Social-Imperialism. FCA co-operated with the Marxist Industrial Group in a number of meetings, participating for a while in the Interim Committee but such ad hoc enterprises wilted in the face of reality.

It was not until January 1989, twenty-five years after it came into existence that Finsbury Communist contained a reader’s letter asking “what do you stand for?”

As far as the ML movement was concerned the FCA favoured “some form of unity between the FCA, the Marxist Industrial Group and the Revolutionary Communist League and various individuals who appear to have a lot in common.” (Finsbury Communist 288  Jan 1989)

Unfortunately for the Kennas, the RCLB simply failed to acknowledge the existence of the FCA.

But the FCA remained’ steadfast and true’ as the old Boy Brigade motto has it. They organised Sunday evening discussion sessions at 72 Compton Street (near Farringdon Underground) as another ritual to the FCA’s existence.

The self-assessment the FCA gave of the ML movement applied as much to themselves,

“Briefly, the Marxist Leninists did not succeed in working out how they should function in imperialist society; a society which, for all its inner contradictions, seems likely to continue for many years yet.

The results is that the movement is now obviously reduced to a few small groups and individuals, generally without roots anywhere and with not the slightest ideas where they are going. Unity conferences programmes and manifestos become redundant within: a few months, when faced with reality. At times like this it is useful to remember one’s achievements. But these achievements are only in the realm of ideas. Ideas cannot survive outside the human brain. And so the movement has a duty to consider how best it is to survive and grow.” (Finsbury Communist May 1981)

In all of its existence, the FCA did not contribute to the growth of that movement. In: 1970 the FCA claimed that they owed “its existence partly to the correct criticism levelled at the Western Communist Parties by the CPC in 1963” (Finsbury Communist 66  July 197O) unfortunately the FCA never took those criticisms to heart, and remained largely irrelevant, on the fringes of the ML movement, opportunistically tolerated by some sections, shunned by others.

The FCA found new opportunities and associates were made of old opponents ,when it became active in the political conglomerate that united self-described Stalinist, Marxist-Leninists, pro-Soviets and the odd maoist in the  Stalin Society.

Organisationally, Ivor kept busy as London Branch secretary of Celtic League and the friendship organisation Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding – SACU, and the anti-revisionist Finsbury Communist Association. In later years he was a stalwart of the Stalin Society and spoke at the CPGB (ML) meetings. Compiler of online China Eye’s “Sinophile by Flo and Ivor Kenna”, he maintain a record of postal contributions going back to SACU’s foundation and SACU News in the 1960s. Ivor was a constant letter writer, his name attached to many missals to a wide range of publications from the local Islington Gazette, Camden New Journal, to less mainstream outlets like Morning Star and Weekly Worker.

And over the years, he would churn out the Twitter equivalent The Finsbury Communist and maintained the production of this four-paged duplicated monthly since February 1965, as the vehicle for a running commentary on life and politics in Islington’s Finsbury ward, the Left movement and the world.

Ivor Kenna died aged 89 on June 3 2021

Samples of his contributions……

Letter to What Next? No.14 1999

Police Spies and Madmen

THERE ARE probably police spies and certainly mad people in the left movement. However, calling a comrade a police spy or a madman effectively blocks discussion. May I offer an alternative explanation? Some of us believe that the objective situation is ripe for revolution or, at least, for radical change. These I term the instant revolutionaries. Others on the left believe that it will be a long haul.

The instant revolutionaries keep themselves in a state of continuous alert. But still revolution or radical change does not happen. They try every means that they can think of to convince people to rise up. Still nothing happens.

The first explanation that occurs to them is that people are being misled. It is but a short step from there to a belief that they are being deliberately misled. Who would deliberately mislead people? Agents of the ruling class, of course.

I was in an organisation once where one of the members was convinced that the leadership was a ruling class fifth column and circularised all and sundry accordingly. The leadership over-reacted and the comrade was expelled. The real explanation for the comrade’s conduct is that he is an instant revolutionary who was disappointed with the organisation’s progress. This does not just happen with those of us who are, like John Maclean, on the left of the left. When the Socialist Labour Party was formed, Ken Livingstone as much as asserted that Arthur Scargill had been put up to it by MI5. Ken Livingstone has plans for the Labour Party which entail keeping the left within the party.

So, please, let’s stop throwing round labels such as police spy, madman, or even stalinist, trotskyist or maoist, etc, in order to avoid reasoned analysis of other comrades’ arguments and of the objective situation.

Ivor Kenna

Letter to Labour Affairs , part of the former B&ICO stable of publications

JULY 9, 2021

Ivor Kenna’s Last Letter

It is with great regret that we learn of the death in London of Ivor Kenna, an Anti-Revisionist and campaigner for national rights. He died on Thursday, 3rd June. As Flo Kenna has told us: “He really enjoyed your publications”. Ivor was born on 28th July 1931, so he just missed his 90th birthday. Flo and her husband were true comrades: they were married for sixty years. A sad loss.

The Anglo-Saxons

I was very interested to read Brendan Clifford’s quotation from Sir Charles Dilke: “The Anglo-Saxon is the only extirpating race on earth” . The Anglo-Saxons extirpated the Maoris, until the Maoris stopped them, the Australian aborigines to some extent, the Tasmanians complete, the North American nations, to some extent.

New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania and North America are in temperate climes, suitable for Anglo-Saxon settlement.

Nearer home there were white Christian nations to deal with. If the inhabitants were prepared to become English-speaking they would play a useful role in the British Armed Forces alongside Englishmen in conquering as much of the world as possible.

The Cornish were to be treated as English (see John Angarrack’s book Our Future Is History).

The Scottish and Welsh languages were banged out of their speakers by such devices as the Welsh Not.

Ireland was more of a problem. Seventeenth century English population experts such as Petty seriously discussed getting rid of the Irish out of Ireland by any means necessary and settling English people there.

Later on in the 1840s, potato blight spread remarkably quickly to Ireland and North-West Scotland, leaving England untouched.

The Penal Laws did have some success in turning Catholics into Protestants.

Henry of Navarre, who turned Catholic to become King of France said “Paris is worth a mass”.

Irish people who turned Protestant were of the opinion that material possessions and higher social status are worth not having a mass.

Ivor Kenna

Spycop providing details of the principal contact of the RCLB

“Michael James” was the cover name used to protect Covert Human Intelligence Sources, an undercover police operative designated HN96 by the official Undercover Policing Enquiry [UCPI]. Towards the end of a five year deployment (1978-1983) that targeted the East London Troops Out Movement and IS/SWP, James filed a report providing details of the principal contact of the Maoist RCLB. Like most of the information and gossip supplied by these “spy cops” it was mostly in the public domain as the organisation’s contact was a north London bookshop address freely given out, and printed in its paper, Struggle/Class Struggle since 1974!  Perhaps the added value element was the observation that the name individual [JB] was also a member of East London TOM where no doubt “Michael” had conversed with JB. (see UCPI0000018423 dated 13th July 1982)

 ‘Michael James‘ (HN96, 1978-83) infiltration record:

Newspaper organiser, SWP Clapton branch
SWP Hackney District Committee
Membership & Affiliation Secretary, Troops Out Movement
Chair of Steering Committee, Troops Out Movement

That spy cops have been infiltrating political organisations, activist groups and trade unions is not news. That these spies have reported on campaigning activities as well as on the personal lives of group members and their contacts has been frequently disclosed.  Michael James was part of a wider domestic spying operation targeted at democratic participation in politics as the UCPI disclosed in 2017 that more than 1000 groups were targeted by spycops . The inquiry gives a glimpse of scale of state infiltration examining the activities of over 130 undercover officers, who spied on more than 1,000 mostly left-wing political groups over more than 40 years. Not just radical left-wing groups engaged in legal protest, infiltration targets included social justice campaign groups, anti-racists groups, environmental campaigns and animal rights activists.  There are hundreds of victims who become friends with undercover officers. They have trusted them, let them into their homes, and allowed them to spend time with their families. And there are more than thirty women who have been deceived into romantic relationships with undercover cops, some fathered children and then abruptly disappeared. Other unsavoury incidents saw reports on children sent to Special Branch, and individuals reported on at specific requests from Box 500 [MI5].

The spy cops hovered up information: personal names, addresses, relationships, commitment to mental health institutions – basically any gossip going along with the mundane organisational tasks involved in the mechanics of protest or arranging a conference. They would copy the attendance sheet, and pass on speculation about speakers, and other administrative detail hardly being secret when blazoned on posters and adverts to get people along!   The quality of what was gathered was supposed to create a picture and understanding of the activist’s concerns, and “potential threat”. Actually, the British Left were exercising their democratic legal rights; it was the unethical, unregulated and unadvertised activities of the state’s agents that has been exposed by the evidence submitted to UCPI. Generally, the evidence illustrates undercover officers as engaging in behaviours and practices including:

• Dishonesty;
• Unauthorised accessing of records;
• Emotional manipulation;
• Abusing positions of trust;
• Sexual offences;
• Other conduct related issues.

The Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) was established in 2015 in response to evidence brought to light through the Ellison Review of “appalling practices in undercover policing” during the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Allegations made by former-spy, Peter Francis, included that he had been told to find information that could be used to smear the Lawrence family. The current abuses were disclosed in the spring of 2021 when the “independent, judge-led” UCPI examined the activities of the Metropolitan Police’s secret political unit, the Special Demonstration Squad, from 1973-82.

The inquiry announced that the next set of hearings, which will continue to cover the period of 1968-1982, won’t take place until 2022. For the victims who were spied upon in the 2000s, this means it will be 2025 before they give their evidence: a full decade after the inquiry began.

Mainstream coverage of the Inquiry has been sporadic. Proceedings are monitored by civil activists concerned at the abusive practices of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch since 1968, and by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPIOU) controlled by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). They record and publicise and examine police infiltration into political and activist groups over a period of four decades. 

Undercover Policing Inquiry: Official Website







106. Still on the British Road to Socialism?

Readings on the programme of the Communist Party of Great Britain

Sometimes unimaginatively referred to by its critics as the ‘The British Road to Nowhere’, the programmatic publication of the Communist Party of Great Britain was first published in 1951 as The British Road to Socialism.

It superseded the previous programme titled For Soviet Britain that was published for the party’s 13th Congress in 1935. The publication of Communist Party programmes in Britain began in the 1920s with the release of Class against Class, the General Election Programme of the Communist Party of Great Britain published in 1929.

At its heart, since the end of the Second World War, the CPGB’s political stance has been on “the leading role of the organised working class in a broad democratic alliance directed against state monopoly capitalism.” Often translated in practice to fighting the Tories. How this has been understood and presented has undergone modification and revision as subsequent editions of The British Road to Socialism were issued and criticised from within and without as essentially a left social democratic and reformist programme.

Thanks Stalin

Rumours that the first edition of the document received the personal approval of Joseph Stalin have been largely substantiate which led some Stalinist to distinguish between the first edition and the revised 1958 edition – seeing evidence of the reformism and revisionism evident in the post-Stalin publication. However the first edition was explicit that

“The enemies of Communism accuse the Communist Party of aiming to introduce Soviet power in Britain and abolish Parliament. This is a slanderous misrepresentation … British Communists declare that the people of Britain can transform capitalist democracy into a real People’s Democracy, transforming Parliament, the product of Britain’s historic struggle for democracy, into the democratic instrument of the will of the vast majority of her people.”


First Edition The British Road to Socialism, https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/1951/51.htm

1950 Stalin On_the_British_Road_to_Socialism

Ray Jones Stalin &  The British Road to Socialism

Andy Brooks Stalin & The British Road to Socialism

Parker No word on Uncle Joe

Vijay Singh 1951 A Programme of People’s Democracy

Subsequent editions of BRS were issued in 1958 – https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/1958/58.htm

The anti-revisionist inner-opposition,  that had criticism of the strategy inherent in the British Road to Socialism, drew inspiration from the disputes in the International Communist Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to organise and coalesce their forces.

The crisis around the Communist Party was an intricate affair, however the groups that supported the anti-revisionist position championed by the Albanian and Chinese parties in the early 1960s had little support within the CPGB. From the anti-revisionist viewpoint one might rankle at the state’s view 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 the organisation, with its roots in the labour movement that others often revolved around or responded too. Its debates, as around the Alternative Economic Strategy, seeped into the general left agenda. The CP remained the dominant organisation on the Left even when others (particularly following the outbursts of the ’68 activism) were attracting the media headlines. An early break away from the party, the Action Centre for Marxist-Leninist Unity, argued against the revisionist leading clique of the CPGB, explained:

“It has been the extremely protracted and long – standing character of the degeneration of the C.PG.B., dating as it does from at least the year 1943 and the dissolution of the Comintern, that has been a most decisive factor in the development of our Movement .”

The early criticism of the British Road to Socialism from the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists included:


Opposition Inside the Party [Chapter 6 from What’s Left? What’s Right? by Muriel Seltman]

Destroy the Old to Build the New! by Michael McCreery

The Way Forward – The need to establish a Communist Party in England, Scotland and Wales by Michael McCreery

The Road to Nowhere  FORUM for Marxist-Leninist Inner-Party Struggle, Supplement, October 1964.

Editorial Comment: Back To Square One? The Marxist, No. 3, March-April 1967

The Communist Party No Longer Exists in Britain Action Centre for Marxist-Leninist Unity

A New Surface on the British Road by W. B. Bland

The ’British Road’: An Opportunist Path to Counter-Revolution CFB(ML) Revolution issue 5. May 1977


Revisionism: The Politics of the CPGB Past & Present   RCLB Briefing


9781909831056Warring camps had emerged within the party, those critics of the BRS that remained in the party were mainly associated with those less critical of the Soviet Union and traditional orthodox practices of the party. There is an intricate history of interminable manoeuvring and struggle to be written on the factional life within the decaying party as no single authoritative account has emerged from the literary out pouring and polemical material of the time.

CPGB Bibliography

Another edition of the British Road to Socialism was produced in 1968


1968 BRS ed

The British Road to Socialism by Nina Stead [Nina Fishman]

The British Road to Socialism – A Reply to Criticisms by Nina Stead [Nina Fishman]


Since the 1960s a secret faction known as the “Smith Group” and later as the “Party Group” had operated within the CPGB based around the theories of the Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci. This provided the political base for the emergence of an open Eurocommunist faction in the early 1970s. The John Gollan leadership sought to prop itself up by aligning itself with the Eurocommunist forces further to their right. Within that camp was an active faction that called itself the “Revolutionary Democratic Current”. (see: Evan Smith & Matthew Worley (2014) Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 . Manchester University Press)

By the late 1970s the tensions and contradictory positions within the party were reflected in the pre-Congress discussion period that saw furious arguments within the party – with the majority saying that the British Road to Socialism new programme was about building a broad alliance for revolutionary social change, though implicitly or explicitly agreeing that the proposals broke with the Leninist tradition.

BRS draft 1977The proposed revisions in the 1977 draft and the leadership’s intention to stamp on its disloyal critics saw the premature breakaway by oppositionists members of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1977, centred on the Sid French-led Surrey district, who disagreed with the direction that party was taking, perceiving that it had abandoned Marxism-Leninism in favour of social democracy. This was heavily linked to the New Communist Party’s support for the Soviet Union and the CPGB’s more nuanced critical stance on the policies and actions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.


1977 The Crisis in the British Communist Party

1977 Sid French The British Road to Socialism

Pete Cockcroft Australian Left Review 61 September 1977

1978 Cook the BRS and the CP

1978 Smith the BRS and the CP

1978 Ward the BRS and the CP


 The factional universe that revolved around the CPGB

The internal crisis 1980s saw a deep rift appeared amongst what many had assumed to be an ideologically united minority in the C.P.G.B. On the one hand those who believed it correct to stay in the C.P.G.B., and continue the fight against Eurocommunism from within, regarded the NCP ‘breakaway’ as betrayal and desertion in the face of the class enemy. On the other hand, those who join the New Communist Party, (reportedly some 700) believing the struggle in the C.P.G.B. to be a lost cause, regarded those who refused to leave as misguided people who naively clung to the notion ( like the anti-revisionists Marxist-Leninists before them) that the revisionist stranglehold on the party apparatus could be broken.

Internally there were two oppositional groupings: Straight Left led by former CPGB student organiser Fergus Nicholson and the Communist Campaign Group (supporting the Morning Star newspaper since 1945 owned by a readers’ co-operative, the People’s Press Printing Society) against the leadership’s Eurocommunist faction aligned to the magazine, Marxism Today. These groupings were as equally opposed to each other; the CCG explicitly excluded from membership fellow oppositionists within the party:


On the fringes were groupscule publishing ‘The Leninist’, the NCP and an expelled group from the NCP – Proletarian (hardly to be confused with the publication published since 2004 by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist)).

The Leninist, noted for their polemical zeal, (and criticised as semi-trotskyists by CP members who questioned their political pedigree) made no reference to the British Road in its founding statement however observed that:

“The leaders of the NCP and the vast majority of the rank and file fought over many years in the Communist Party to defeat what they call the ‘revisionism’ of the party. In this fight, ideological struggle was reduced to the almost ritualistic incantation of the ‘holy trinity’. Proletarian Internationalism, Democratic Centralism, Dictatorship of the Proletariat they chanted, as if that was enough to exorcise the devil of ‘revisionism’.”

[Founding Statement of the Leninist: The Communist Party, the crisis and its crisis. The Leninist No.1 Winter 1981/2 p6]

The group had its roots as a section of the NCP’s youth wing that decided to re-enter the CPGB in the early 1980s under the auspices of The Leninist, which in turn became involved in further factional disputes before being expelled in the mid-1980s. It survived the liquidation of the CPGB and metamorphosed in name to publish the Weekly Worker, “a paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity” published under the reclaimed (vacant) name of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee).

Likewise, the Proletarian group emerged from a split in the New Communist Party (NCP). The Proletarian faction around Keith Nelson emerged in 1981, expelled from the NCP in 1982 and dissolved in 1988 following a domestic abuse incident that split the leadership. It briefly spawned ‘Partisan’ that, against the reality of contemporary experience, advocated the united front of communists in the early 1990s.

The Proletarian faction argued that the NCP’s newspaper, The New Worker, should be aimed at raising the level of politically advanced workers. Specifically they looked towards CPGB which they believed was corrupt but had to be saved as it was the largest party for the politically conscious members of the working class. (See: “Economism, Tailism and the New Communist Party” Proletarian No.1 1982)

The group went on to produce a journal, Proletarian: Two issues appeared, the first in 1983 and the second in 1984. Selected articles and correspondence was published in 1987. The specific political stance taken by the journal was clearly its pro-Sovietism as its basic credo, a policy pursued out of genuine loyalty to the Soviet Union and an opportunist hope that they would gain Soviet recognition.

[In the 1990s another expulsion from the NCP later formed the short-lived Communist Action Group.]

Pyrrhic victory

After the arguments, expulsions and splits the victorious the Euro-communists dissolved the Party and transformed themselves into the short-lived and never lamented Democratic Left. When the CPGB’s leadership abandoned The British Road to Socialism in 1985, elements in the party that remained loyal to the programme, including the then editorial board of The Morning Star, form the Communist Party of Britain in 1988.

Discussion around the new draft of the British Road to Socialism “is a vital step in the fight to restore the damage done to the Party by revisionism, to build the Party and to resume the struggle for socialism in line with the proud traditions of broad-based working class struggle that have always characterised our Party throughout its history” wrote Tony Charter, editor of the Morning Star (in Communist Review Number 3 Spring 1989).

However the former members of the CPGB (re)established the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), not on the revolutionary ideology of the CPGB at its height in the twenties and thirties but on the basis of the 1978 British Road to Socialism.

1989 40th congressPrior to the first Congress, following the re-establishment Congress in April 1988, a commission of nine was established to prepare a redraft of the 1977 edition of the British Road. The draft programme attracted 367 amendments along with 69 policy resolutions provided the main business of, what was labelled to claim the legacy of continuity, the 40th Congress of the Communist Party of Britain. The final version of the programme was to be published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of a communist party in Britain. Still at the Congress , held on the 18th/19th November 1989 in Islington , north London, Mike Hicks, NCP General Secretary, described BRS as “a strategy for advance” and that the party’s “relationship to the Labour Party are crucial questions for this whole strategy”. 1989 Hicks Congress Speech

Noted in an earlier posting ‘Left Counting’: Far Left is a bit of a misnomer given their actual activity which so often revolved, like the CP, around involving Labour Party activism. Come the General Election most far left groups are encouraging its audience to support Labour critically which is largely what they were already doing.

In essence, a political position that is waiting for the historic election of a left-led Labour government while trying to explain that there should be no illusions that social democracy can ever bring about socialism.

Affiliation has been the longstanding position of the CPGB/CPB since the 1930s but without the slightest chance of it since around 1945. There is not the slightest chance of any organisation with “communist” in its title affiliating to the Labour Party. The CPB may have adopted the NCP line of ‘Vote Labour Everywhere!’ but if CPB members want to become part of the Labour Party, they simply leave the former and join the latter. The Labour Party did away with the old proscribed list in the early 1970s. Instead it relies on this catch-all clause in its Constitution:

“Political organisations not affiliated or associated under a national agreement with the Party, having their own programme, principles and policy, or distinctive and separate propaganda, or possessing branches in the constituencies, or engaged in the promotion of parliamentary or local government candidates, or having allegiance to any political organisation situated abroad, shall be ineligible for affiliation to the Party.”

The CPB took no chances and was sole copyright holder for 6th edition of “the British Road to Socialism.”

Jeremy Corbyn MP welcoming the delegates to his consistency

The 40th Congress report pictures Jeremy Corbyn MP welcoming the delegates to his constituency.



1985 Communist Campaign Group1985 CCG_crisis in the CP

1989 Communist Review Number 3 Spring 1989

Adereth A Consistent class policy

Bellamy Revisionism and the 1977 BRS

1989 Hicks 1989 Hicks Congress Speech

1989 https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/1989/

2006 New Communist Party,  2006 NCP The Case for Communism,

2008 Lalkar 2008 Lalkar The British Road to Socialism

The CPB at its 41st Reconvened Congress in November 1992 decided to amend sections on the world situation in the light of the enormous changes which had occurred in the former countries of Eastern Europe. This is the revised and amended version of The Present World Situation based on the decisions of that Congress. https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/1989/ch1rev.htm

BRS 2001Two subsequent editions of the programmatic document have been produced with further revisions and the 7th edition in 2001 was renamed Britain’s Road to Socialism.


The political message was consistent from those nominal opponents that remained in the NCP: NCP leader Andy Brookes at the 15th Congress of the New Communist Party of Britain, at the Marx Memorial Library in London on the weekend of 2nd / 3rd of December 2006:

“We believe that the working class can never come to power through bourgeois elections but that doesn’t mean that we turn our back on working class demands for social justice and state welfare. We believe that social democracy can never lead to people’s democracy but that doesn’t mean that we turn our back on social democratic movements that represent millions upon millions of working people in Britain in the unions and in the Labour Party.

“We believe that the class collaborationist ideas of social democracy must be defeated within the working class but not by imitating it in the countless variations of the British Road to Socialism upheld by the revisionist and Trotskyist movements in Britain today. The fact that these platforms do not work; that they are rejected time and time again by the same working class these programmes claim to advance never deters these pseudo-revolutionaries who believe they can change the consciousness of the masses through rhetoric and wild promises.

“Now we can all play that game and call upon imaginary legions beyond the British working class to advance along the revolutionary road. We can all invent a class that is seething with anger and mobilised for revolutionary change that is just waiting for the correct party with the correct formula to lead them to victory. Unfortunately as communists we have to work with the working class that exists and not the phantom of romantic leftism.

“Running left candidates without mass support against Labour divides the movement and the class and ignores the obvious fact that the only realistic alternate governments are those of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats that would be much worse than any Labour government.” http://www.newworker.org/congressdocs/index.html

An 8th edition was adopted by the CPB Executive Committee in July 2011. https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/2011/toc.htm

In this programme, the CPB explained its view that:

  • Capitalism is a system of exploitation that generates crisis, inequality, corruption, environmental degradation and war; and is innately incapable of solving the most fundamental problems of humanity.
  • The capitalist monopoly corporations and the state apparatus which serves their interests are the main obstacles to progress on every front: economic, social, cultural and political.
  • Socialism is the only form of society that offers the potential for solving humanity’s problems in conditions of individual and collective freedom.
  • Because the working class has the most direct and immediate interest in putting an end to capitalism and replacing it with a socialist society, its own class interest also represents the interests of society as a whole.
  • In Britain, the potential exists to pursue an alternative economic and political strategy that challenges and ultimately defeats the ruling class.
  • More specifically, a popular democratic alliance can be built, led by the labour movement, to fight for a left-wing programme of policies that would make inroads into the wealth and power of the monopoly capitalists.
  • Through an upsurge in working class and popular action, a left government can be elected in Britain based on parliamentary majorities of Labour, socialist, communist and progressive representatives, and strengthened by the election of left majorities in Scotland and Wales.
  • In striving to implement the most advanced policies of a left-wing programme (LWP), the mass movement and its left governments will have to engage in a decisive struggle for state power and win.
  • Ensuring a united challenge to British state-monopoly capitalism will require a high level of working class and progressive coordination and unity, maximising the democratic potential of national rights in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall and minimising the scope for division.
  • Achieving state power and minimising the opportunities for counter-revolution will create the conditions in which capitalism can be fully dismantled and the foundations laid for a democratic and peaceful future in a federal, socialist Britain.
  • A socialist society can then be built in which wealth and power are held in common and used in a planned way for the benefit of all, with the working class and its allies liberating the people generally from all forms of exploitation and oppression.
  • Putting an end to British imperialism – the exercise of monopoly capitalist exploitation and power in other parts of the world – is the biggest contribution we can make to international human liberation and socialism.
  • A Communist Party that exercises mass influence will be essential if Britain’s road to socialism is to be realised in practice, through political class struggle.

This programme is based on the study, analysis and assessment of concrete realities, tendencies and trends. It is intended to be a guide to action, not a speculative prediction or a dogmatic blueprint. It is a living, developing programme to be constantly tested in practice and reassessed in the light of experience.

Above all, it is subject to the Marxist insistence that the liberation of the working class and the emancipation of the people can only be achieved by the action of the working class and the people themselves. Freedom cannot be imposed from outside or above – it has to be fought for and won by the overwhelming majority of the population.

It proposes that socialism can be achieved in Britain by the working class leading the other classes in a popular democratic anti-monopoly alliance against monopoly capital, and implementing a left-wing programme of socialist construction. Part of this strategy involves winning the labour movement with a left-wing position, through struggle in the existing democratic bodies of the working class, such as trades unions, trades union councils and tenant’s associations.

A draft of an updated 8th edition of the Communist Party’s programme was issued on International Workers Day, May 1 2018, by the CPB’s Political Committee for wider discussion before an Executive Committee decision on yet another edition of the British Road to Socialism .

Robert GriffithsPresent chairman of the CPB, former welsh republican, Robert Griffiths spoke  that June at a conference in Shenzhen, China, on Marxism in the 21st Century and the Future for World Socialism on Mapping an updated road to socialism for today’s world


2018 Robert Griffiths Mapping an updated road to socialism

2018 draft BRS

The present BRS  is actually far weaker than the 1978 CPGB Edition.

It talks of a “left government”, but, unlike the 1978 BRS, cannot define what a “left government” would be, and then seems to assume this government will first try and implement the Left Wing programme (a modest list of mildly reformist palliatives), and will then have to progressively democratise the state until it is so democratic it becomes the state of the working people and we have arrived in socialism. This incremental path to socialism is one of the problems with the British Road to Socialism. In all its editions is the unrealism and mechanical progression in depicting the evolution of more and more left and then socialist governments, in the attempts to set out a credible scenario of societal transformation there is a binary position that seems to have faded from the scenarios of political transformation : This can only end one way or another; either in revolution where the working class takes control of the state and ownership of the means of production for their benefit as a class, or the ruling class carries out a counter revolution and snuffs out the workers struggle, if only temporarily. It’s only temporary because capitalism needs workers to produce surplus value and the class struggle is always a product of capitalism. No one can plan out how a revolution will take place, not least because it will be the working class who makes a revolution rather than any individual or any party. All the same it is Leninist ABC that the revolutionary party would have be so much a part of the class that it would be able to take a leading role in bringing about a revolution.

The programme recognised the aim and the need of having a socialist government in power. However you cannot somehow ‘snowball’ democratic, peaceful extra parliamentary activity and then in some way convert that into a movement for revolutionary change. Class struggle is a part of the contradiction of capitalism and if you elect a left reformist government you will inevitably get a left reformist policy, which is then dramatically reversed as the left government is forced to face up to the ebb and flow of capitalist realities. All the workers struggles are reformist – an attempt to improve or reform capitalism to their benefit and as such, they can’t change the system. The British Road to Socialism had long abandoned the notion that only by destroying the bourgeois state can you liberate the working class and only by creating a dictatorship of the proletariat can you build a socialist society.

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)

[ii] pic.twitter.com/KVgOqVX4QB

[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.”

[vii] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/24/subversive-civil-servants-secretly-blacklisted-under-thatcher?CMP=share_btn_tw

[viii] A force to be reckoned with? The Radical Left in the 1970s. French Journal of British Studies 2017 http://journals.openedition.org/rfcb/1728

[ix] Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey http://littleatoms.com/left-their-own-devices 27/12/2015

[x] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-33478400

[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


71. The CPB (ML) on revolution and British Trade Unions

~ Research Note ~

mayday meeting

In a celebratory article of Socialist Albania’s 35th anniversary of its founding there was praise for, what was increasingly the main theme of the CPB (ML)’s own politics, the historic struggle “for national independence and for socialism, because the two are ultimately inseparable” [The Worker #45 November 22nd 1979]. For the CPB (ML) the lessons were learnt: a historical-proven common sense one of self-reliance

“As in Russia, the successful revolutions there demonstrated how socialism in one country depends on understanding our national contradictions…..” The conclusion is that “All this means that socialism can only develop in one country- it cannot be exported or imported…. We can’t turn to a united international communist movement for aid, which is no great handicap really. We have to rely on our resources in any case.”   [The Worker #45 December 21st 1978]

This conclusion matched their recent experience that saw the end of fraternal relations with the Communist Party of China, sliding with the Party of Labor of Albania, but then becoming estranged from Tirana’s line that fraternal parties ought to organise the class in independent red union formations separate from the existing trade unions in their country. This line had not been favourably regarded by the CPB (ML) and it curtailed the political alignment with Albania, reducing coverage in the party’s paper and abruptly closing down the New Albania Society it dominated. In 1979 Albania almost disappeared from the pages of The Worker. Drawing upon all this the Fifth Congress of the CPB (ML) set itself a phenomenon task:

The survival of socialism and or the future of communism depend on the proletariat of the advanced industrial countries moving to revolution. The British working class and our Marxist-Leninist Party must each accept the responsibility which falls upon it, arising from its own particular historical development.

The abandonment of socialism in China and the aggressive assault on a neighbouring country is the same kind of setback for the world working class as the Soviet Union’s defection with socialism twenty years ago. [Editorial, The Worker #16 April 26th 1979]


While referencing the experience in China and the Soviet Union, but pointedly not mentioning the Socialist Republic of Albania, the CPB (ML) argued that what had not yet been proven was the capacity of a working class, having made the revolution, succeed in building and consolidating that socialist society. It asked,

“Where were the independent organs of a working class capable of challenging the emerging revisionist apparatus which was seizing hold of the socialist state to transform to transform it into capitalism?”

It had an explanation in that up till now socialist revolutions have occurred in countries where the industrial aspect has not been dominant, where the proletariat has been in the minority. It saw a solution in drawing upon the tradition of autonomous working class organisations – that is the British trade unions. The history and functions of trade unions as seen by the CPB (ML) was documented from its foundation in speeches, history notes and internal educational piece e.g. Notes on the Struggle of the Working Class in Britain, The Working Class, Past, Present & Future? and The Special Nature of British Trade Unions a speech by Reg Birch. With its specific class analysis codified in The Definitive Statement on the Internal Polemic, 1972-1974 [on classes] that there were only two classes in modern capitalist society, a dominant role was ascribed to the organised working class that is workers in trade unions. There is a narrow focus that is pale and male reflective of the organisation’s binary understanding of, and what constitute, class struggles. Intersectionality is not a concept to be found in the understanding or writings of the CPB ML. Revolution in Britain would come about through the ideological clarity gained through the kinds of struggles others denigrate as “economic”; trade unions were “schools for revolutionaries”, organs of mass struggle. The “two-class analysis” adopted by the Party in 1971 argued that in “Britain the oldest and most proletarianised of capitalist countries, all the intermediate classes left over by feudalism have been absorbed into the proletariat.” White collar workers were workers, none of this middle class fiction, please. As a class analysis to guide revolutionaries it had no use value, instead the explanation was that the class had chosen its organic form of organisation.

Union Day of Action 1977

“Over 200 years of class struggle have given British workers a tradition of organisation, democracy, discipline, knowledge, an accumulated experience, all this the property of their mass organisations. Within our class we have all the abilities and skills required to run our country in a socialist way. The character of the British working class is such that if once convinced of the need to discard social democracy and embrace its own natural ideology, revolution, it will pose new questions and formulate new solutions to the whole challenge of retaining control in a workers’ dictatorship.”

The Congress ’79 document made clear that “Weird notions such as ‘three worlds’ and ‘social imperialism’ are discarded. Proletarian internationalism is seen as an important practical matter, (already a reality embodied in various international bodies of the labour movement)” [Congress 1979]

Mayday 74

But to reassert the right of collective bargaining as a revolutionary act in contemporary imperialist countries raises the basic issues of the nature of the organised working class, the role of the unions today in the survival of (bourgeois) democracy, the stature of the labour movement “and how its Party works” . The answers supplied was one that explained the actual circumstances of the CPB (ML) as a minority force, and also its role in the protracted struggle in the ebb and flow of class struggle.

“The working class needs its own political party, a revolutionary party, as an expression of this class political consciousness, not to direct the struggle but to help make that struggle a consciously organised, united and protracted struggle whose end is the overthrow of the system that exploits us.” [Editorial, The Worker #12 March 22nd 1979]

The CPB (ML)’s singular compulsive focus on trade union work was on the misapprehension that: “They are more than just defensive organisations to protect workers from the excesses of the profit grubbers — they are an expression in organisational form of working class ideology.” [Editorial, The Worker #24 June 14th 1979]

That the CPB (ML) had seen itself as the “Party” of the organised working class because it was so embedded in the trade union bureaucracies reflects more on their political perspective than their marxist understanding. They argue:

“Ironically, some calling themselves Marxists and Leninists have wanted to import, even for Britain, the very features of the revolutionary movement in other countries which reflect the lack of a long continuous development of an organised working c lass: our own. Not until eleven years ago was there established for the first time in Britain a revolutionary party growing directly out of the organised working class here, having no other interests but those of that working class fully aware that the only revolutionary force is that same working class and that the revolutionary party serves the class and does not try to command or rule in its name.” [Editorial, The Worker #24 June 14th 1979]

They based their assertions on a simplistic observation of the time: the CPB (ML) argued, as if the empirical context was a permanent, that

“The consequent growth of bureaucratic capitalism has gone so far in a country like Britain that over 50 per cent of the working class are more or less directly employed by the state and any class struggle over the right of collective bargaining tends to become a conflict between workers and the state.” (Editorial, The Worker #10 March 8th 1979)

There is no differentiation between conflict with the state as employer at whatever level and capacity and the state as the coercive integrationist agent of a status quo ideology. Disputes with the bosses over “fair pay” are not regarded as challenging the imperatives of management but, for the vast majority of participants, more part of the corporate game. Recognition of the social relations dictated by the workers’ dependence on capital for the sale of their labour power can awaken a powerful awareness however for most it is about doing a job to earn the necessities and luxuries of life. If it was otherwise then talk of revolution would be unnecessary because it would have occurred.

aeuw march

The oblique critique publically given of Albanian criticism of trade unions can be seen in the passage contained in The Worker’s editorial:

Marxism and Unions

Ironically, the very ideas Lenin developed in applying Marxism to a situation different from that of capitalism’s home, Britain, have often been imported back into Britain as the only way forward to revolution. Since the day-to-day class struggle was assumed to be “economist”, without political significance, would-be Marxist theoreticians have called trade union activity “spontaneous”. Thinking of themselves as bringing Marxism to the workers from outside the class struggle between workers and capitalists they have said of such struggle, “since it is not what I think, since my thoughts, my plans for progress are not adopted, then it is without thought, that is ‘spontaneous’.” These ‘theoreticians’ have even wanted to write off altogether the trade unions developed by the working class over many decades as a defence to minimise the degree of exploitation and replace them with “red unions” of their own devising.”[Editorial, The Worker #35 September 13th 1979]

In the schematic approach drawn upon by the CPB (ML) is the rationale that:

“There must be an unqualified acceptance that the class struggle is waged most effectively, solely so, through the trade unions who are the most advanced section of their class … class struggle, which within capitalism goes on daily and continuously, is not synonymous with revolution, which is the accumulation of all forces within the contradictions gathered by the class in one fell blow to seize power and rule; but it need not and must not be separate.” The problem of the relationship between the two which is also the problem of the relationship between the trade unions and the communist party has never been solved because “no capitalist country has achieved a revolution.”

The rich development in Marxist investigation and understanding of the function of capitalist state within imperialist societies by-passed the certainties of the CPB (ML)’s apocalypse politics.

“Left to itself there is only one direction in which capitalism can be led by these contradict ions – to fascism and war. The working class in Britain has no alternative but to make revolution to prevent war and to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to put an end to capitalism’s contradictions by socialism….. it may well prove to be the case that the oldest capitalist country will also be the birthplace of socialism a s a permanent alternative to exploitative systems. From a revolutionised Britain a proletarian way of life, thought and action could spread to the rest of the world.”

After all, in the CPB (ML)’s universe:

1976 Reg at Belham Books speaking

“It is not a mere personal nor historical accident that the founder of our Party, presently attending the TUC conference as a member of the General Council, is an industrial worker and life-long trade unionist.

So much for any idea that in Britain today revolutionary theory must or could “come from outside the economic struggle”

The Worker, #35 September 13th 1979

1971 Kill the Bill