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In Defence of British Maoism: mostly harmless

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2013 by kmflett

In Defence of British Maoism: mostly harmless

Blimey, British Maoism is getting a bad press, which considering how few adherents it had even at its peak is quite an achievement.

Of course part of that is the media trying to conflate Maoism with anyone much to the left of Blair, which is silly enough to warrant a re-make of the Life of Brian.

It is true that the first issue of the Socialist Register in 1964 [edited by Ralph Miliband and John Saville] carried an article by the orthodox Trotskyist Isaac Deutscher on Maoism. It is very critical and it is available free on-line via Google.

To quote the late Senator I am not now and nor have I ever been, and I am not expert on British Maoism. The detail for those interested can be found here :

http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/erol.htm

Still I think before matters get entirely out of hand we had better rescue the vast majority of British Maoists, those who preferred the pub to allegedly keeping slaves, from what EP Thompson called the enormous condescension of posterity.

British Maoists from Reg Birch [who wrote an introduction to a rather good book about incomes policy in the mid 1960s] an Engineering union official who was the leader of the first UK Maoist organisation the Communist Party of Britain Marxist Leninist [CPB-ML] were largely good activists in trade unions and the wider movement and the few who remain active today still have that characteristic.

Whether it was their rather idiosyncratic brand of Marxist politics or other motivations that kept them going most who have been active on the left over the past few decades will testify that most were good fighters for the cause.

Of course, and particularly at the wilder shores, there were issues. Unlike official Communism based in Moscow China was not over bothered [at best] about what its adherents elsewhere thought and did. There were many doctrinal disputes and some British Maoists preferred Hoxha’s Albania to China.

The point was, there was no easy reference point to suggest where someone with Maoist politics should sit on the left. Some, for example the adherents of the Ernest Bevin Society, were arguably more on the right of the left than the left as it were.

Then, and this is perhaps what is seizing the media at the moment, there is the question of the behaviour of sects, small groups cut off from reality who form their own, sometimes other worldly, perspectives on life.

Nick Cohen has blogged on Tim Wholforth’s book on the left and sects. I read a draft of this before it was published a while back now [given to me by an ex-member of the WRP]. Its point is that the sect, whether political, religious or other, succeeds by keeping its members engaged in mindless activity and off the realities of reality.

Well, up to a point Lord Copper. As Cohen himself notes the behaviour of obsession is hardly confined to small left wing groups or odd religious sects. Any organisation has to inspire some degree of belief amongst its members or it won’t work. Yes, even Spurs football club. That can go further and when it does as Cohen and myself would no doubt agree it is neither desirable or pretty. If people can’t act and think for themselves then there are problems.

But by that criteria the biggest cult going are the neo-liberals not the Maoists. A sort of Gradgrindism on speed for the twenty-first century, that means, so many tell me that they can’t tweet their actual views in case their employer finds out.

So in summary British Maoists, mostly good comrades and mostly harmless

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3 Responses to “In Defence of British Maoism: mostly harmless”

  1. The first UK Maoist organisation was in fact Michael McCreery’s Committee to Defeat Revisionism and For Communist Unity. McCreery was an old Etonian and the son of a general.
    I well remember the Workers Institute from the 70s. Their main slogan was “Did tunnels deep, store grain and never seek hegemony”. It didn’t seem terrible relevant in 1970s London (though it was rumoured one of their members worked on the tube. I am mystified by claims that they had 20+ members – we always reckoned there were three of them, At the time of the 1976 Right to Work march they issued a leaflet saying hundreds of workers had marched “spontaneously” from Manchester to London. When i challenged them they said “spontaneous” meant without correct Marxist leadership. The RTW march didn’t have that so it was “spontaneous”.

  2. Funnily enough the Maoists that I knew at Sussex included an Old Etonian too. And Roy Greenslade, subsequently of The Sun, and An Plobacht, and The Grauniad. Steve Hewlett of the BBC’s Media Show is also an (ex?) CPB-MLer. Clearly it’s no bar to a glittering media career.

  3. […] Flett, from the London Socialist Historians Group, posted a defence of the ‘mostly harmless’ Maoists in Britain who were being lumped in with the extreme […]

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