The current political culture in Britain is such that most readers, upon seeing the picture of Stalin at the top of my blog, will assume that I am sympathetic to Harpal Brar and the CPGB-ML, due to the particular zeal with which they defend Comrade Stalin. It is my personal view that Harpal Brar is far from the saviour of British anti-revisionism that his followers make him out to be, and that there are both theoretical and practical problems with the CPGB-ML which cannot be blamed on the subjective or objective conditions in Britain at large, but rather stem from the party’s own strategy and tactics. Indeed, I believe that in some ways, the CPGB-ML is now less relevant than some processes which are ongoing within Labour. I wish to discuss “entryism” and the Labour Party, and how it relates to “ultra-leftism”, with the CPGB-ML acting as a foil of sorts.
What is “entryism”? At the risk of sounding too philosophical, all of us “enter” into something when we take part in practical politics. We enter into the party, it changes us, and we change it. We enter into a trade union, or a publication for which we write. The question is not whether or not to “enter”, but what to enter and how. As an organisation, most readers would agree, one may “enter” into popular fronts. Entry into a party is, in my view, similar. One wouldn’t enter into a front or an alliance where the terms were sure to benefit the other side and possibly destroy your organisation. Similarly, the idea of working within a larger party or Syriza-esque “party of parties” for tactical reasons should be dealt with in terms of how beneficial this tactic is for the overall strategy of the organisation.
Internationally, the term “entryism” is associated with Trotskyism, hence why it may be easily used as an insult. In Britain in particular, the term is most strongly associated with the much-publicised controversy surrounding the Trotskyite group “Militant”. But it may surprise more more anti-Labour readers to learn that Lenin took a much more nuanced stance. I quote:
I cannot deal here with the second point of disagreement among the British Communists—the question of affiliation or non-affiliation to the Labour Party. I have too little material at my disposal on this question, which is highly complex because of the unique character of the British Labour Party, whose very structure is so unlike that of the political parties usual in the European continent. It is beyond doubt, however, first, that in this question, too, those who try to deduce the tactics of the revolutionary proletariat from principles such as: “The Communist Party must keep its doctrine pure, and its independence of reformism inviolate; its mission is to lead the way, without stopping or turning, by the direct road to the communist revolution”—will inevitably fall into error. Such principles are merely a repetition of the mistake made by the French Blanquist Communards, who, in 1874, “repudiated” all compromises and all intermediate stages. Second, it is beyond doubt that, in this question too, as always, the task consists in learning to apply the general and basic principles of communism to the specific relations between classes and parties, to the specific features in the objective development towards communism, which are different in each country and which we must be able to discover, study, and predict.
It must be emphasised that Lenin did not conceive of Labour as a revolutionary party. He insisted that an independent communist party be formed for Britain, as elsewhere. Whether by alliance or entry, the approach of the revolutionary organisation towards a non-revolutionary one must be based on tactics. No illusions may be held that reformism can be substituted for revolution. We must divide between serious debate by revolutionaries on the usefulness of entry into Labour on the one hand, and surrender to Labour on the other. Lest we forget: The worst scoundrels are those who entered Labour as “revolutionary” socialists decades ago and became the core of “New Labour”. (I place “revolutionary” in quotes as all evidence I can find indicates that those blamed for New Labour appear to have a background the revisionist CPGB or in Trotskyism).
Lenin repeatedly emphasised that revolutionaries ought to make tactical compromises in order to unite with the masses. A revolutionary organisation should not become so crippled by fear of liquidating itself and abandoning its revolutionary mission that it distances itself from the revolutionary masses whom it is meant to lead. The Chinese Communist Party did not liquidate itself when operating within the KMT, but did show the Chinese people that it stood on the side of national liberation. The KOE in Greece, as weak as its present position may be, continues to exist even while acting inside Syriza, and can reemerge when it is deemed appropriate. Of course, the worthwhileness of such actions can be disputed (perhaps the time to exit Syriza has already come, perhaps Labour is not worth entering because of the strength of the Blairites, although at present that would seem to be untrue), and it depends on the particular dynamics within the front or coalition or party into which a revolutionary organisation enters. There are no simple answers.
That is, unless you are an ultra-leftist who declares that everything but your own organisation is composed of reformist scum, and that the masses should wake up and flock to your obvious leadership. In this case, the answer is clear: Behave like CPGB-ML, ignore Lenin’s explicit advice, and never actually step closer to bringing political power to the proletariat. You will feel more revolutionary than anyone and have made zero mistakes, as far as your own narrow perception is concerned.
To actually make revolution, one has to get involved in some messy business, while always striving to respond appropriately to the mess around oneself. It should be clear that I think CPGB-ML has delegitimised itself in the eyes of many British workers who would be open to revolutionary rhetoric by taking such a sectarian stance against Corbyn. It seems to me that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership represents a historical opportunity, however brief and limited it may be, to push forward a genuine discussion about socialism in Britain through the Labour Party.
On the other hand, we must be serious about the limitations, and asking what is next: Is a revolutionary organisation in Britain presently moving closer to proletarian revolution thanks to the Corbyn leadership? It is difficult to say. What few Marxist-Leninist groups we can see which do not respond to Jeremy Corbyn with the jeering, unearned arrogance have even fewer masses behind them than the CPGB-ML. Whether defending Corbyn while not supporting him, or supporting him openly, it’s not clear that such groups have a future in Britain at all. Do any British communists have a long-term strategy, or do we just have our messiahs, Brar or Corbyn?
It is not enough to support Corbyn because he is, in practice, pushing back against imperialist warmongering, while recreating a much-needed space for class politics. It is also not enough to say to oneself that what is really needed in Britain is a proletarian revolution, without having any power to bring this about, as CPGB-ML does.
What is needed is an organisation with international ties aimed towards establishing a fourth communist international. An organisation that recognises that it must, like Jeremy Corbyn, take part in day-to-day politics in such a manner so as to draw the masses closer to itself. An organisation which will use its place in day-to-day politics not to advance the careers of its nominal leadership, but to build a counter-hegemony against that of the British state. An organisation that will utilise all possible tools at its disposal to struggle against capitalism-imperialism.