Sunday, January 13, 2019

Tactics for a socialist revolution

By John Maryon

Capitalism is a cruel, unjust form of society based upon the exploitation of the masses by a powerful, privileged elite who own most of the wealth and means of production. It profits from wars, prevents people from reaching their full potential and leaves homeless people to die in the gutter whilst wealthy parasites live in luxury. The strategy for change must be revolutionary. Socialism will never be achieved by modest reforms, gradual improvements or meek acceptance of a few crumbs from the master’s table.
The correct tactics to use in support of a revolutionary strategy will depend upon contemporary circumstances, and vary to reflect the social and political climate at that time. It is important to debate tactics and remember that just because Lenin, Stalin or Trotsky had success with their actions, those tactics may not work today.
The victory of the 1917 Russian revolution no doubt sent shock waves around the world. By 1919 the Communist International, known as the Comintern, had been established. Its aims were to build parties and support growing anti-colonial movements. The intention was to be scientific in its analysis and provide the discipline of democratic centralism, as the New Communist Party does today. Let us examine how and why it's tactics changed over the years.
The tactics were to assist smaller parties, oppose opportunism and lead the working class away from reformism into revolution. In Britain the Comintern encouraged groups of activists to come together and form the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1920. This period of struggle became known as the First.
Following the First World War the revolutionary tide in Europe ebbed quickly and by 1922 the Comintern were forced to adopt new tactics to meet the changed situation. The Second period of tactic was an initiative whereby Communists proposed to join with workers of all parties and unaligned groups in a common struggle to defend the urgent basic interests of the working class. Most workers still supported social democratic movements rather than revolutionary ones. It was realised that the struggle would be lengthy and the overall aim was to build unity. The tactic became known as the 'United Front from Below' as attempts were made to expose the reformism and opportunism of the social democratic leadership.
By 1928 the Comintern had moved left again, in a dramatic shift to become known as the Third period. The policy was 'class against class' and was attacked by the right-wing as ultra-leftist and by Trotskyists as Stalinist. It was neither. It advocated a more active revolutionary struggle to take advantage of the capitalist crisis. A key element involved the creation of militant trade unions, to organise the workers and confront reformism head on. Little regard was taken of different forms of the bourgeoisie state. Its most important thrust was to expose the treachery of social democratic leaders whose actions had caused setbacks in several. European countries, including in Britain where the General Strike had been defeated.
The time prior to the Second World War was one of intense imperialist rivalry. Fascist governments, due in part to social democratic treachery, had taken power in a number of countries. Communist parties, although small, were leading the struggle against fascism and gained great prestige. Experience of reality when the Nazis took power prompted the Comintern to change tactics once again. The new tactic was championed by the Bulgarian anti-fascist Georgi Dimitrov and became known as the Popular Front. The seriousness of the situation had prompted all parties to unite in the fight against fascism.
The Popular Front was to be an alliance between Communists and other parties, and formed the basis of the international alliance against the Axis powers. Communists and Social Democrats found themselves sharing the same cells. Lenin had earlier made alliances with right-wing organisations and Anarchists. What should have been a short-term tactic however, was seized upon by those communist parties who saw the parliamentary road as the preferred strategy. The result was to postpone the revolution until some time in the future whilst propping up capitalism when it was at its weakest.
Following the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943, because of the growth and influence of a number of mass parties, individual communist parties followed their own roads to socialism. But it was obvious that some were not mature enough. Once the Comintern was gone tactics became opportunist. In Britain the only strategy offered was the parliamentary road. Bourgeois elections change nothing because the power and wealth remain in the hands of the elite whilst the government becomes reliant upon bourgeois institutions.
Whatever successes or failures occurred with the Comintern it was a period during which communist parties grew strong both in size and ideology. All that experience was wasted after the Second World War. Many parties embraced social democracy. The CPGB produced the {British Road to Socialism}, which turned its back on revolutionary change and negated the principles of proletarian internationalism. Many communist parties became reformist and soon fell from the positions of ideological and organisational strength that they had had before the war. Their strategy was doomed as people decided to support social democrats rather than reformist Communists who offered little more. The reformists did not want to be seen to be associated with the Soviet Union (USSR), which had been given an undemocratic image by the western media. Ironically, when the USSR collapsed it was not long before they passed into oblivion.
People turn to revolutionary parties when there is a revolutionary situation. Communists should stick to what they are meant to be doing – fighting the class struggle and making revolution. Of all the successful revolutionaries, from Lenin and Stalin to Kim Ill Sung and Fidel Castro, none were candidates in pointless bourgeois elections.
Times can change quickly. A working class that is defeated can be radicalised again. Social Democracy has abandoned all pretence of a commitment to socialism. Communists must be seen at the sharp end of the class struggle, leading the fight against poverty, unemployment and fascism.
The Popular Front is a policy full of danger and can only be effective when extreme conditions, such as war or conquest, occur. There can never be a successful or permanent alliance between communists and social democrats in a bourgeois parliament. Communists can be used to prop up a capitalist state as in 1945, when they joined social democratic governments only to be dumped once the immediate crisis was over and the revolutionary situation had passed. Workers are left confused and unable to distinguish between left-wing and right-wing policies.
An alliance also transfers the front line of the class struggle from the streets and workplaces to a bourgeois parliament, which renders it ineffective. Communist parties can lose their independence and become reliant upon the apparatus of the capitalist state. A Popular Front alliance government can be in parliament but not hold state power. An alliance also implies that the bourgeoisie no longer has the ability to rule alone and so then it should be the time for revolutionary change instead of dead-end parliamentary intrigue.
The 'United Front from Below' remains an important tactic today and is the only viable policy until a revolutionary situation develops. It is a real alliance between revolutionary and rank-and-file workers. The parliamentary Euro Communists only proposed the United Front from Below as a way of achieving a Popular Front in disguise because they were social democratic themselves.
It is important to find an open, honest way of working with social democratic workers whilst remaining revolutionaries. Communists take the struggle to where it matters: to the streets, factories and trade unionist Social Democratic workers, whose support we require for transforming society. We need to always see the party where the battle is hardest and committed to a fighting working class.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Knight of the Secret Police


by Robin McGregor

Maxwell Knight: MI5’s Greatest Spymaster by Henry Hemming, 2018. Arrow Books: London. Pages xiv, 400, 16 illustrations. £9.99. ISBN: 978-1-784-75204-0.

Older readers might be familiar with Charles Henry Maxwell Knight (1900–1968) in his capacity as a popular television natural history presenter and author of such books as Tortoises and How to Keep Them. This not, however, the main reason for him earning a biography worth reviewing in these pages.
In this biography Hemming argues that Knight’s life-long interest in keeping all sorts of animals made him an ideal spymaster in that the patient observation of animals helped to make him an ideal observer of the human species.
By any standards Knight was a strange character. After leaving the Navy at the end of the First World War he took up jazz, much to the displeasure of this family. Bored with a lowly civil service job his spying career began under the auspices of Sir George Makgill, who ran a private intelligence service that sold information to industrialists worried about communists and trade unionists. Makgill cast his net widely; he sent Knight into the British Fascisti in 1923 where he was told to observe and obtain information, but not disrupt the organisation to which both Makgill and Knight would feel at home. One of his tasks was to kidnap the future Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) General Secretary Harry Pollitt at Liverpool in 1925. His career with Makgill was an apprenticeship for a career in the official intelligence services.
Throughout his career, anti-communism came first for Knight. In the British Fascisti he met William Joyce, the future Lord Haw Haw, whom he later tipped off when he was threatened with arrest, allowing him to flee to Germany.
Knight could be described as an anti-fascist fascist in that he only saw the British Union of Fascists (BUF) as a threat to the British Empire when he finally and reluctantly accepted that the BUF was dependent on Mussolini.
In 1940 he played a leading role in the discovery and arrest of a clerk at the US Embassy who was planning to send secret correspondence between Churchill and Roosevelt to the Germans through a Russian émigré associated with right-wing Tories.
For New Worker readers the most interesting parts will be those relating to spies within the CPGB, some of whom are identified for the first time. Hemming has done this by referring to their initials and addresses in the files, and type of information they were supplying. So far as I am aware, none of these identifications have been challenged since the book’s first publication nearly two years ago.
Using declassified MI5 files, Hemming claims to have identified one as Graham Pollard, an antiquarian bookseller and historian of the book trade who held membership card No One of the Young Communist League (YCL) and who edited the party’s magazine for shop workers: The Distributive Worker. At the time Pollard was briefly married to Kay Beauchamp, who was for a time the theoretical owner of the Daily Worker and later the party’s international secretary. At least in those days the British ruling class had standards and ensured that a spy had the decency to marry his target.
Knight could be held up as a pioneer of feminism of a certain sort. Despite opposition from his seniors he was very keen on using women agents. In particular, female typists and secretaries were important sources of information. As a result of placing a respectable middle class woman, Olga Gray, in the Friends of the Soviet Union, she was able to secure a job as Secretary to CPGB General Secretary Harry Pollitt because of her efficiency, which was in short supply. From this position she was able to keep her handlers informed about party work and contacts until the strain of leading a double life led to a nervous breakdown. Microphones at the King Street offices later replaced her.
Hemming is no lefty, he applauds Knight’s cunning and thinks he was correct in targeting the CPGB on account of its Soviet links. Entertainingly written, and well indexed for later reference, this book need not be too depressing – the fact that the treasurer of the Bolshevik party was a Czarist spy did not prevent the storming of the Winter Palace.
Younger readers who, after the revolution, will be responsible for running spies into counter-revolutionary organisations should read this book for useful tips on running and handling spies.