British Communism, Lost & Found
Just watched the BBC4 doc My Dad was a Communist, courtesy of the invaluable Sphaleotas. It has its moments: nice footage (Cable St soundtracked by the Pixies), a rueful Alexei Sayle revealing his Oedipal Maoism and declaring his relief that the likes of him were never given any political power...but there was one very big elephant in the room, which I'll get to later. I admit an obvious personal interest (as it's confessional month over at SDMYABT). My Grandparents were Communists - in fact they met through the Party, so I owe my very existence to the Communist Party of Great Britain. My Mum's adolescent rebellion took the form of Trotskyism as much as T Rex and cider. So I suppose I share all these talking heads' (David Aaronovitch, Wesker, etc) ambiguity about the genus English Tankie. I've always been torn between admiration of them as uncompromising socialists and asking over Scrabble 'but, erm, why on earth did you stay in the Party after Hungary?' (an event was covered fulsomely in the documentary in question).
Maybe this was in part down to the instrumental reason despised by all pomo-types - the belief that the Motor Of History was the Kremlin and any brutalities or hypocrisies had to be forgiven. The documentary ends with either dimwitted platitudes of left (admiring their 'idealism') and right ('no-one should believe themselves to be in possession of the absolute truth' etc). So we end up with a kind of 'what were we thinking'/I love 1956 post-politics. But this really isn't good enough - not everyone had a post-1989 revelation that they'd devoted their lives to a lie. What I most admire about my Grandparents is that they never gave up, never went off into a rightwing sulk, as so, so many other Communists did. My Grandad, who died last month, actually spent the last 5 years of his life in a Trotskyist organisation, arguing with my Grandma, who'd joined Labour in the early 80s, about the 'scab' party she belonged to...
But what this documentary ignored was just how influential the British Communist Party has been over the last 25 years. Totally unmentioned here was the role the CPGB played as, essentially, the co-creators of New Labour. When Trots, Anarchists and Labour Bennites were fighting back in the class war Thatcher kicked off, much of the CP was claiming that the class war no longer existed. Bea Campbell attacked the miners, Hobsbawm (admirable as a historian, a disaster as a political thinker) applauded the expulsion of Marxists from the Labour Party. People trained in apologias for the embodiment of the march of history in tanks rolling into Hungary and Czechoslovakia were to become rather adept at transferring that march to Capital, laying the groundwork for Market Stalinism. That's not even mentioning the John Reids and the Mandelsons who started in the CP before destroying the British Labour movement. We still live with the legacy of British Communism, not as a tragicomic memory of gauchely confrontational politics, but as that post-political reality itself.
(red star for whoever guesses what the building at the top is...)