Thoughts on British Maoism

by Bob Pitt

The recent publicity over the disturbing events in Brixton, among a group of people originating in a Maoist collective headed by Aravindan Balakrishnan, inspired me to take out my copy of the We Only Want the Earth CD, a collection of Maoist propaganda songs from the 1970s by Cornelius Cardew. (I would stress that Cardew can’t be held responsible for Balakrishnan’s group. His lot expelled “comrade Bala” in 1974.)

Cardew was a member of a Maoist organisation called the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), who stood in the 1978 Lambeth Central by-election under the name of the South London People’s Front. In support of their candidate, the RCPB(ML) put up posters around Brixton reading “Down with the revisionist Three Worlds theory. Victory to the revolutionary people of Albania”. They got 38 votes. (Which to be fair is 13 more than TUSC got in a recent by-election in Stoke.)

Perhaps this comes under the heading of guilty pleasures, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Cardew’s Maoist songs, not least because of their unabashed absurdity. A particular favourite is “Smash the Social Contract”, which sought to rally the working class against the agreement the TUC reached in 1974 with the then Labour government to implement a policy of voluntary wage restraint.

The final verse asserts that the social contract can be smashed only by the working class engaging in the struggle for state power under the leadership and guidance of the RCPB(ML). With the benefit of hindsight, you’d have to concede that this is one of the song’s weaker points.

Cornelius Cardew is a largely forgotten figure these days, but back in the 1960s he was a major force in the musical avant-garde, having worked closely with Karlheinz Stockhausen for several years in the late ’50s. Cardew’s most famous work from the ’60s is “Treatise”, the score of which is notable for not actually including any notes. It consists of abstract diagrams that the musicians are free to interpret as they decide. (A short – some might say, mercifully short – excerpt from “Treatise” was performed by Sonic Youth on their 1999 double CD SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century.)

However, in the early ’70s Cardew was recruited to the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) – a Maoist group that later changed its name to the RCPB(ML) after concluding that China had been taken over by revisionist elements following the death of Mao, and that the true socialist fatherland was to be found in Enver Hoxha’s Albania.

The CPE(ML) convinced Cardew that the avant-garde music he had been associated with was just bourgeois decadence. So he renounced his former musical works and those who had inspired them. In a celebrated pamphlet entitled Stockhausen Serves Imperialism, Cardew accused his former mentor of being “part of the cultural superstructure of the largest-scale system of human oppression and exploitation the world has ever known: imperialism”, holding poor Karlheinz personally responsible for the British military occupation of the north of Ireland and the US war in Vietnam.

Having rejected the musical avant-garde, Cardew composed a number of resolutely tonal piano pieces, some of which – the “Thaelmann Variations“, for example – are quite pleasant in their own musically traditionalist way. But Cardew felt the need to address the proletariat more directly. So he formed a group called People’s Liberation Music and wrote a bunch of Maoist propaganda songs for them, which they performed off the back of a lorry at demonstrations and picket lines.

The leader of the international tendency to which Cardew belonged was a Canadian Maoist named Hardial Bains, who provided the words to some of Cardew’s songs. It must be admitted that this was not one of their more impressive features. For example, “The Workers of Ontario”, which is based on a text by Bains, declares that the workers of Ontario play an important role in productive labour and are a mighty section of the Canadian proletariat. I can’t imagine what the pickets made of it.

Despite his avant-garde background, Cardew could knock out a good tune. I particularly like “We Sing for the Future”, which has a pleasant folksy melody. Again, this is not assisted by the words, which are taken from a speech by Bains consisting of boilerplate Maoist rhetoric that doesn’t even fit the tune. Still, you can join in the stirring chorus: “We sing for the future/Proletarians of all lands/We unite and fight together/For the victory of communism.”

Sadly, Cardew died in 1981 after being knocked down by a car on his way home from a political meeting. His comrades from the RCPB(ML) immediately concluded that he was the victim of a state assassination. A more sober explanation is that it was after dark and he was walking in the middle of the road.

Those of us who were around the Trotskyist milieu in the 1970s, and look back with some embarrassment to the things we said and did at that time, can at least take consolation in the thought that things might have been worse. We could have been Maoists.

62 comments on “Thoughts on British Maoism

  1. ‘…things might have been worse. We could have been Maoists.’

    I think it I think it would be difficult to decide whether for example the WRP or the sparts at times were (in fact are) less ludicrous than many maoists.

    And to be honest, some Maoists were a lot less ludicrous in their practices and presentation than this lot. The proponents of the 3 worlds theory, the RCL in particular. Then again, they were fans of the Khmer Rouge rather than Enver Hoxha, and 3 worlds was the doctrine which justified China’s siding with right wing dictatorships, US imperialism and indirectly even Apartheid South Africa on the grounds that ‘Soviet social imperialism’ was the biggest enemy.

    One of the groups that went on to form the RCL was the Communist Worker’s Movement, who produced an interesting pamphlet attacking the SWP on the basis of a critique of Paul Foot’s Why You Should be a Socialist, entitled Why Paul Foot Should be a Socialist.

    Imo while fatally flawed by adherence to 3 worlds, this pamphlet contains some valid criticism of the SWP and trotskyism in general..

    Having said that, my first experience of the RCPB ML was on a Bloody Sunday commemoration march in the mid-late 80s. The contingent (a grandiose term in the circumstances) I was in were stuck next to their’s.

    They had this big guy with a megaphone leading their chants. The idea was that he would shout a slogan and the rest would repeat what he had chanted.

    The most memorable, not for its catchiness, was, ‘The Anglo Irish agreement is a savage crime against the entire Irish people’.

    The worst thing was that it was so wordy the rest of them couldn’t remember what he’d chanted.

    Perhaps you had to be there…

  2. jim mclean on said:

    The irony being the Cardew / Stockhaussen box set vinyl goes for £700 or £800 pound with other Cardew records getting three figure numbers on the free market cesspit that is ebay. Very popular with the middle classes. The one with Free Derry on the sleeve is perhaps only £30 on a good day.

  3. Uncle Albert on said:

    “the South London People’s Front […] got 38 votes. (Which to be fair is 13 more than TUSC got in a recent by-election in Stoke.)”

    25 votes for TUSC – that’s not so bad. Wolfie Smith, as a by-election candidate for the Tooting Popular Front, only managed 6 votes – though admittedly, they were all party members.

  4. Uncle Albert: 25 votes for TUSC – that’s not so bad. Wolfie Smith, as a by-election candidate for the Tooting Popular Front, only managed 6 votes – though admittedly, they were all party members.

    A foul slander on the revolutionary impulses of the Tooting proletariat. As a member of the Tooting Communist Party I remember the redoubtable building worker’s leader Lou Lewis getting over 300 votes which was six times the size of the membership!

  5. Jellytot on said:

    Sadly, Cardew died in 1981 after being knocked down by a car on his way home from a political meeting

    Maybe Cardew was knocked down by another RCPB(ML) member running a Red Light?

    During the Cultural Revolution in China some Red Guards tried to enforce the “Red means Go, Green means Stop” traffic rule as the internationally standard “Red means Stop” was considered a reactionary slur on the colour red – Rumour has it that foreign Maoists would try and replicate this in their home countries.

    During the Cult

  6. #6 The Blair cult was welcoming to renegades from orthodox trotskyism, state cap trotskyism and orthodox pro soviet communism. Why should 3 worlds theory maoists be left out?

  7. Jellytot: During the Cultural Revolution in China some Red Guards tried to enforce the “Red means Go, Green means Stop” traffic rule

    I’ve heard the same story told of Spanish anarchists during the Civil War, and of Nantes under trade-union control in May 1968. It’s certainly untrue of Nantes (there is no reference in the contemporary press), and I strongly suspect it is an urban myth in all cases.

  8. Jellytot on said:

    Ian Birchall:

    I’ve heard the same story told of Spanish anarchists during the Civil War, and of Nantes under trade-union control in May 1968. It’s certainly untrue of Nantes (there is no reference in the contemporary press), and I strongly suspect it is an urban myth in all cases.

    Given the nuttiness that abounded back then, especially during the early phase of the GPCR, it does have a certain believable quality to it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rules_of_the_road_in_China#Stop_and_go

    My mother-in-law was a Red Guard in Beijing in the 60’s – I’ll mention it to her when I next talk her and find out if she remembers it.

  9. Cardew’s work in the late 60s with AMM, a group of jazz musicians playing a radically free-form improvised style, is excellent;much more inspiring than the agit-prop stuff. Its telling though, I think, that even before the Maoism he was citing Chinese ideas such as Daoism as an artistic strategy. A sincere attempt to think with the East, perhaps? As for wider Brit-Maoism in the 70s, god knows what to think.

  10. Recommend John Tilbury’s biography of Cardew – excellent and well worth a read, though very very long; clearly a labour of love.

    Cardew’s stuff with AMM is essential stuff for music lovers; indeed Cardew is essential stuff for music lovers whatever one thinks of his politics – a view that perhaps chimes in with old Trotsky’s Manifesto for Free Revolutionary Art.

    I seem to remember Eddie Prevost saying that when the pro Hoxha’s Albania stuff got really heavy (playing Radio Albania as part of AMM performances for instance) he got so frustrated at the wrong headedness of it all that he did a degree course in Chinese and Oriental Philosophy to better arm himself within the group.

    Cardew’s graphic scores (not abstract diagrams for heavens’ sake!) are works of beauty in themselves.

    [Cardew will be spinning in his grave at the heresy (sorry revisionism) of all the above of my assertions.]

    All the musicians I’ve met who actually knew him or worked with him still hold him in great regard – musicians don’t generally suffer fools gladly when they have to work with them.

    Anyway this old CWI supporting Trot is still glad of Cardew in amongst the Boulez and Slade collections.

    Plus organised labour smashed the social contract – kind of….

    God bless

    Bert

    ps I think most of AMM’s stuff is still available from Eddie Prevost through Matchless Records – Eddie is the real musical genius!

  11. Recommend John Tilbury’s biography of Cardew – excellent and well worth a read, though very very long; clearly a labour of love.

    Cardew’s stuff with AMM is essential stuff for music lovers; indeed Cardew is essential stuff for music lovers whatever one thinks of his politics – a view that perhaps chimes in with old Trotsky’s Manifesto for Free Revolutionary Art.

    I seem to remember Eddie Prevost saying that when the pro Hoxha’s Albania stuff got really heavy (playing Radio Albania as part of AMM performances for instance) he got so frustrated at the wrong headedness of it all that he did a degree course in Chinese and Oriental Philosophy to better arm himself within the group.

    Cardew’s graphic scores (not abstract diagrams for heavens’ sake!) are works of beauty in themselves.

    [Cardew will be spinning in his grave at the heresy (sorry revisionism) of all the above of my assertions.]

    All the musicians I’ve met who actually knew him or worked with him still hold him in great regard – musicians don’t generally suffer fools gladly when they have to work with them.

    Anyway this old CWI supporting Trot is still glad of Cardew in amongst the Boulez and Slade collections.

    Plus organised labour smashed the social contract – kind of….

    God bless

    Bert

    ps I think most of AMM’s stuff is still available from Eddie Prevost through Matchless Records – Eddie is the real musical genius!

  12. Sorge: Cardew’s work in the late 60s with AMM, a group of jazz musicians playing a radically free-form improvised style, is excellent;much more inspiring than the agit-prop stuff.

    I’m not sure I share the enthusiasm for AMM, though I’ve got the 2-CD version of The Crypt. Maybe it was different live, when the uncompromising rejection of conventional melody, harmony and rhythm must have been quite impressive in itself. But is this really the sort of stuff you’d want to listen to regularly?

    I’m a fan of ’60s free form jazz, and in the early ’70s I enjoyed performances by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, who were influenced by AMM. However, while the other musicians in AMM may have had jazz origins, there’s no sign of any sort of jazz here.

    Apparently tensions developed in AMM because Cardew and guitarist Keith Rowe wanted the group to adopt an overtly political stance. Though how you could express a political message through such relentlessly abstract music beats me.

  13. That red lights story is definitely true in Dublin. I got a taxi from the airport a few years back and your man drove through every red light he came up against. I said to him “what are you at? that’s fierce dangerous”. He said “not at all, sure the brother has been driving a taxi in this town for years and he never stops for a red light and he never had an accident.” Next thing we came to a green light and your man stopped. I said “what are you stopping for, the light’s green”. He said “I know, but the brother might be coming the other way.”

  14. #13 Sadly I don’t have access as I’m sure it would have great nostalgia value, as my first political activity was selling copies of Temporary Hoardings and Rock Against Racism badges.

  15. Does anyone have any thoughts as to why Maoism was so much more of a pole of attraction for those who considered themselves to the left of official communism in some countries in Europe/ America than Trotskyism, but not in others, particularly Britain?

    The biggest success in Britain for Maoism was having Reg Birch on the NC of the then AUEW. Of course the Birchites morphed into something very different to say the least.

  16. Vanya,

    Maybe it was because there was a well-implanted Trotskyist movement in the UK, and they were the natural pole of attraction for anyone to the left of the CP.

    If you wanted student rebellion plus rank-and-file workerism there was the IS. If you were attracted to various forms of middle-class radicalism you could join the IMG. If you preferred a more traditional labour movement orientation with added Labour Party entryism, Militant was the group for you. If you wanted a hardline sectarian approach and enjoyed selling and delivering newspapers there was Healy’s SLL. All tastes were catered for.

    I think Maoism just found it difficult to find an opening in the UK.

  17. Dear Bob, and those who commented.
    I am writing for the German Taz and am intending to try to recreate a bit of the feel of the revolutionary London 70s. If any of you were about in London and also encountered the Workers Institute people, I could be interested to hear from you. I am aiming more about a feel what it was like for some of you then, politically curious and testing different flavours of counter-establishment thought. If the notion is true (we only have assumptions so far), that the WIMLM became cult like and introverse ending in this small group, how do you judge them, and how do you think you were able to manage to sail through differently (in other words, what kind of people would have gone for the hard core Maoist approach?). How much was it about charisma and how much about content in those days? If anyone would like to share a snippet of your memories from younger years in London, don’t be shy to call me. UK M. 07843630760 or email danielz@taz.de Taz is Germany’s main independent paper, held up by a co-operative not dissimilar to Le Monde Diplomatique and has historical roots in the Rudi-Duschke – Axel Springer dialectics. Willing to meet you in person if you are in London.

  18. Does anyone have any insight into the situation in a country (Nepal) where Maoists actually do get respectable votes in elections?

    I understand that they’ve lost out significantly to the other main left party and to the right. The only analysis I’ve read was by Farooq Tariq reprinted in Links.

  19. I saw Paul Foot speak to a large audience at the University of London in 1976. A small group of Maoists tried to heckle him at the end of his speech. One of them shouted, “what are you going to do, Paul, when the people’s army marches to your door?” Someone in the back of the room shouted back, “invite them in for tea.”

  20. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    A comment on the German daily TAZ: it has moved well to the right politically, even if its roots lie in 1960s radicalism, it supports the German Greens who have also moved rightward, and internationally it has an appetite for “humanitarian intervention”. This is certainly the impression I gained from reading the occasional copy while living in Germany.

  21. Daniel Zylbersztajn,

    I’m afraid I can’t help you there, Daniel. I was a Trot in north London at the time and didn’t have any contact with Maoism south of the Thames. In fact, if there’s one thing I find more alien than Mao Tse-tung Thought, it’s south London. Interesting questions you raise, though.

  22. In different ways a number of Trotskyist currents historically had/ have quite a positive attitude to certain aspects of Maoism.

    Pierre Rousset of the LCR / USFI wrote some very interesting stuff on the Chinese revolution, although Livio Maitain’s piece in the historic 100th issue of New Left Review was far more orthodox iirc.

    Socialist Appeal have produced a series of articles about the history of the Chinese revolution which may also be interesting (although that word may not seem synonymous with Socialist Appeal 🙂 ) .

    And of course there were the Posadists (as in beam me up Scottie) whose response to the Sino-Soviet split was to write to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party inviting them to join. They also put around the theory that Che had been murdered by Fidel because he was close to Beijing.

  23. Vanya: And of course there were the Posadists (as in beam me up Scottie) whose response to the Sino-Soviet split was to write to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party inviting them to join.

    Cracking! Even more audacious than ‘red means go’.

  24. Vanya: Does anyone have any insight into the situation in a country (Nepal) where Maoists actually do get respectable votes in elections?

    Not really insight, but more an aside: It might be useful to consider the question as, why wouldn’t Maoism have considerable influence in Nepal?

    Given the preponderant position of (a progressively more) bourgeois nationalism in South Asia, communism has traditionally exercised a considerably greater appeal than in developing countries where labour movements have been monopolised by reformist working-class leaderships.

    In areas where industrial centres are absent, the combination of radical intellectuals’ alienation from the mainstream (owing to the increasing bankruptcy of nationalism’s hegemony), and the existence of ill-organised but deeply pissed-off rural masses, created the perfect conditions for Maoist political activity.

    In that sense, I don’t think there is any qualitative difference between the Indian red corridor and Nepal, except that the bourgeois polity is significantly weaker, and there exists no substantive ‘orthodox’ communist movement to limit the state-building ambitions of the Maoists.

    Of course, the Nepalese Maoists seem to have failed to meet even the most elementary democratic or social aspirations of their supporters. So in that sense, the greatest enemy of ‘Maoism’ might well be Maoist government participation. Respectable votes (and respectability itself?) seems to equal the death-knell of their movement.

  25. #26 But my understanding is that the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), which is supplanting the Maoists is precisely an “orthodox” Communist Party. I may be wrong of course.

  26. Vanya:
    #26 But my understanding is that the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), which is supplanting the Maoists is precisely an “orthodox” Communist Party. I may be wrong of course.

    True, but only to the extent that the modern-day CPI (at a national level, anyway) could be considered ‘orthodox’ (or rather, ‘communist’) either – like them, the CPN-UML has consistently acted as a junior partner of nationalism, using its partnership with Congress in the pro-democracy movement to justify abandoning an actual revolutionary strategy.

    Hell, it even adopted the traditional pro-Indian attitude of the Nepalese Congressmen! Given the ongoing authoritarianism of the Nepalese state even after the supposed collapse of the absolute monarchy, this has been seriously problematic in its affect on the party’s attitude towards the ‘semi-democracy’ of the civil war period.

    Obviously the situations are not exactly comparable – the CPI has a tradition and a social base which both allow a considerable internal life despite the stultifying attitude of its leadership towards the Indian ruling class. But overall the differences are of degree rather than kind: the CPN-UML and its antecedents were weaker, and therefore more pliable when nationalism came calling. That they have a significant popular appeal does not necessarily mean they present a serious revolutionary challenge to the status quo.

  27. jock mctrousers on said:

    jim mclean,

    Are you serious? I’d take a lot of convincing that Yemen and Albania have overthrown imperialism, but unfortunately I can all too easily imagine an independent Scotland soon matching these countries for the wretched condition of their people.

  28. jim mclean on said:

    jock mctrousers,
    Am I serious, my main fear in the Scottish Referendum debate is that I am mistaken for somebody that gives a fuck. No, I’m not to serious, but apparently the Workers Party of Scotland (Marxist – Leninist) were.

  29. jim mclean on said:

    jock mctrousers,

    The WPS(ML) were a breakaway from the Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity (CDRCU) and who basically created the MYTHS in relation to John MacLean wrapping up nationalism, Maoism and anything else they could get their hands on. MacLean, or the modern concept of MacLean, was created by these Maoists and the guys on the folk circuit.

  30. Vanya: ‘Does anyone have any thoughts as to why Maoism was so much more of a pole of attraction for those who considered themselves to the left of official communism in some countries in Europe/ America than Trotskyism, but not in others, particularly Britain?’

    Al Richardson used to say it was because Britain has not had a peasant class for 500 years.

  31. daniel young on said:

    One of these brainwashed people was oops is 70 odd.Has human trafican been happening all that time.Time to lose the party colours,get together and say enough of this usury,72,12 going to a better world.Food a bed and a roof that don!t leek.Is this the cost.

  32. daniel young on said:

    Anyhow!s.I liked Mao,for the man of our last century.He had massive walls to break down in his peoples knowing and cultured indenture.He hard lined his control,yet better than the previous rules justice.Yep he made some monumental fuck ups.But heh! all in all,had a socialists understanding.

  33. lone nut on said:

    It’s perhaps understandable that some British Trotskyists are riffing off the Maogate allegations in order to have some fun at the expense of one of the few political currents which is more marginalised and irrelevant than their own, but I would issue some caveats:
    1. in the eyes of the masses, standing at street corners bellowing about things you know nothing about is pretty weird behavior anyway, whether you are denouncing Thermidor or running dogs. At least most people know what a dog is. As regards clunky slogans, “workers must break with two stage theory of revolution” is quite a doozie, but the South African Trotskyists who raised it were lauded by their confreres over here. Indeed we were told these people were probably as popular as the ANC, and should be given equal status on solidarity platforms. So crazy behavior is most certainly not a Maoist monopoly.
    2. We can note that even the craziest Maoist cults, like the RCPB(M-L) or for that matter the Workers’ Institute, seem a lot more congenial to non-white people of immigrant origin than their Trotskyist equivalents. It might be worth pondering over the reasons for this.
    3. Of the mainstream British groups, for all its quirks the CPB(M-L) built a stable trade union cadre which did some respectable work. Birch was universally regarded as the best union negotiator in his field, and there aren’t many Trotskyists who would win such accolades. I confess I was always struck by the contrast between the quality and intelligence of their cadre and the general dreadfulness of their newspaper (especially given that several said cadre have gone on to successful careers in the national media). The RCL was a small but eminently sane group basically aligned on the positions of Klassekampen in Norway. Whatever one thinks of groups like B&ICO, they certainly had a vigor and originality which was reflected in the intellectual influence they had much beyond the circles of the revolutionary left. In Ireland, the Ripening of Time Collective also embarked on a project of developing an understanding of the specificities of Irish capitalism, rather than parrotting slogans imported from Britain as the Trotskyists did.
    3. If we extend the concept of “British Maoism” to academia, and stretch it to include those of a general Althusserian disposition, the work of Hindess, Hirst, Husain, Tribe, or Gregory Elliott, Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer, Graham Lock etc. stands up to the test of time pretty well in my view, especially in key areas like economic history and state formation. Turning to Ireland again, the contributions of Gibbon, Bew, Patterson, Macdonald etc contribute much more to an understanding of modern Irish state history and class formation than the scribbling of the Trotskyists, who are generally still trying to work out why the Limerick Soviet failed.
    As to the relative failure of the British anti-revisionist movement, I think we can dismiss Richardson’s typically crass remark, since European Maoism had no significant peasant support outside of Spain and Portugal. Building red bases in the countryside wasn’t part of the programme. Bob’s idea that there was simply too much existing Trotskyist competition has more plausibility, although the same would be true in France and the United States. I suppose you could say that M-L movements emerged either through oppositional groupings in the CP (which would be the origin of most “Mao-Stalinist” movements) or hyper-intellectual student coteries in elite universities (Gauche Proletarienne, the MRPP in Portugal, the PTB in Belgium, AKP (M-L) in Norway). For whatever reason, neither happened in Britain.
    There are few revolutionary currents in western Europe with any electoral significance or social weight, and it’s worth noting that of that few, two are of M-L origin – the Socialist Party in Holland and the PTB in Belgium. With respect to that, Peter Drucker has written somewhere of the connection between lapsed Catholicism and Maoism – another fruitful avenue to explore, though presumably not for those who think all Catholics are Nazis.
    Finally, I would not two traditions within western Maoism which are of genuine value. First, the tradition in the French M-L movement, derived from classical French sociology, of having an “enquete” before launching major interventions – ie finding out what is actually going on in the sectors in which you wish to intervene. And secondly, the tradition, of simply liquidating your organisation when it is no longer going anywhere or achieving anything. Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if British Trotskyism was to adopt that approach?

  34. jim mclean on said:

    lone nut: of having an “enquete” before launching major interventions – ie finding out what is actually going on in the sectors in which you wish to intervene.

    As it should be.

  35. #40 You’re right about the RCL. I was very impressed by a number of their activists and by their paper. I was less impressed when I realised that they supported the Khmer Rouge even after their nature became apparent, although they perhaps didn’t believe it. Henning Mankel when he lived in Norway was a member of their sister (or mother) group, and some of his books show a continued interest in and reference to Maoism, particularly The Man From Beijing.

    As for intellectuals, you seem to have left out the late Gwyn Alf Williams who was involved in BICO as well as the mainstream CP.

  36. georgier on said:

    I am surprised there has been little/no reference to the Progressive Labour Party in the USA. I first heard of them in relation to the SDS and there was a ‘fear’ among the established groups (IS, IMG etc) that their brand of Maoism would ‘infect’ the student movement in the UK. The Solidarity Federation reproduced one of the PLP’s impressive pamphlet on the Flint motor strikes of the 30’s but was told by a leading member of the CPB(ML) in Liverpool that the SF had gutted the politics. I have looked on their website and they are still active and have evolved pursuing a self critical approach to their practice but I have no idea of their strength or orientation. Anyone?

  37. Daniel Zylbersztajn: Taz is Germany’s main independent paper, held up by a co-operative not dissimilar to Le Monde Diplomatique and has historical roots in the Rudi-Duschke – Axel Springer dialectics. Willing to meet you in person if you are in London.

    The “Taz” interestingly has published a few articles on “slavery in South London”, each of which failed to mentioned anything about Maoism or politics at all. This could be related to the fact that the “Taz” was set up by, amongst others, a load of ex-Maoists, and is now the house paper of the right-wing of the German Green Party, which also includes a load of ex-Maoists, some of which were government ministers, and in particular the Taz is a fan of the current Prime Minister of the German state of Baden-Wüttermberg, Kretschmann, who is a very conservative-rightist Green, and a former hardline Maoist.

    It really is a despicable little rag. It’s axis is more towards Axel Springer than towards Rudi Dutschke these days.

  38. lone nut: If we extend the concept of “British Maoism” to academia, and stretch it to include those of a general Althusserian disposition, the work of Hindess, Hirst, Husain, Tribe, or Gregory Elliott, Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer, Graham Lock etc. stands up to the test of time pretty well in my view

    While lone nut makes an interesting case for the positive features of Maoism, I don’t buy this bit. I mean, just try re-reading “Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production”. And there was that journal Hindess and Hirst used to edit. What was it called? Theoretical Practice, I think. It was completely unreadable.

  39. Mark P on said:

    Evan

    If he does is a quite unjusifiable assertion. ‘Politics and Power’ was an absolutely excellent journal, I;ve stoll got all 4 editins and very, very good. Knocks spots aff the so-called ‘academic Marxism’ of the Historical Materialism lot, now that stuff is truly unreadable tho’ their conferences admitedly attract a biggish crowd.

    Mark P

  40. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    The German Verfassungsschutz regards Junge Welt, a daily with a smaller circulation than taz, as the most important daily in the German “left-wing extremist scene”. Which implies they do not see taz as “left-wing extremist”.
    At a tangent, on the issue of radical poachers turning into system gamekeepers, I was reading Lenin’s Brother, by Philip Pomper, which is a biography of Alexander Ulyanov, hanged with others for plotting against the Tsar in 1887. The chief prosecutor, Nikolai Neklyudov, was himself a radical student in the 1860s who spent time in prison. He went all out for convictions and death sentences, yet had a kind of collapse towards the end of the trial – guilt feelings over hanging people for being now what he had once been?

  41. Evan,

    No, I just checked, and the Hindess-Hirst journal was indeed called Theoretical Practice. It was an odd-looking publication, with the pages in landscape rather than portrait format. And it was filled with incomprehensible Althusserian gibberish.

    (The concept of “theoretical practice” was taken from Althusser. It demolished the distinction between theory and practice by asserting that theory was itself a form of practice. So you could engage in the most abstract theorising, completely divorced from any practical application, secure in the knowledge you were engaging in political practice. This had an obvious appeal for academics.)

  42. dagmar on said:

    Mark Victorystooge: Which implies they do not see taz as “left-wing extremist”.

    They’d be seriously misguided if they were to.

    It would be nice if the Verfassungsschutzbericht had a section on “ex-left wing turncoats”, because then they could list the “Taz” under it.

  43. I remember back in the ’70s composing a spoof obituary of Barry Hindess. It went something like this:

    Contacts in Liverpool have alerted us to the sad death of leading Althusserian theorist Barry Hindess, as the result of a recent road accident. A witness to the event has sent us the following account:

    “Professor Hindess and myself had just stepped off the pavement to cross the road to Liverpool University when a juggernaut lorry swept round the corner and headed towards us at high speed. ‘Look out Barry’, I shouted as I jumped back onto the pavement, ‘there’s a lorry coming.’

    “But Barry refused to heed my warning. ‘I’m sorry’, he replied, ‘but your statement is theoretically incoherent, based as it is on an untenable empiricist epistemology that posits an unmediated identity between the Thought Object and the Real. Furthermore ….’ But at that point Barry’s words were cut short as he was flattened beneath the wheels of the oncoming lorry.”

    Colleagues of Professor Hindess, who warned him of the potential dangers of embracing the philosophy of Louis Althusser, had been fearing a tragedy of this sort for some time.

  44. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    dagmar: They’d be seriously misguided if they were to.

    It would be nice if the Verfassungsschutzbericht had a section on “ex-left wing turncoats”, because then they could list the “Taz” under it.

    Such a list would be quite a long one. But the Verfassungsschutz objective is to pillory radicalism, not the return to the bourgeois fold.
    I find the mechanics of apostasy interesting – the most frequent explanation must be self-interest pure and simple.

  45. lone nut on said:

    As the Old Codgers used to say in the Daily Mirror, “call a truce folks, you’re both right”. Hindess and Hirst did indeed briefly edit a pretty incomprehensible journal called Theoretical Practice which represented a kind of high point of the Althusserian/Maoist fusion in Britain, but they went on to produce the eminently more accessible journals “Economy and Society” and “Politics and Power”. And Hirst’s later work on themes like globalization or the law is very readable.

  46. John Grimshaw on said:

    Given the latest news on Camerons prostitution to the Chinese government does it mean he’s a crypto Maoist?

  47. Some Maoist organisations have broken from their past and moved towards the Fourth International.

    The Communist Party of Bangladesh (Marxist-Leninist) has come from a Maoist history to establish permanent observer status with the FI, a prelude to becoming a section. The Revolutionary Workers Party – Mindanao has been the Philipines section of the FI since 2003 and also comes from a Maoist background.

    http://socialistresistance.org/3445/fourth-international-grows-rapidly-in-asia

    Within Europe, the Portuguese FI section (PSR) works closely with the Maoist UDP within the Left Bloc and the Netherlands’ section of the FI (SAP) has members active in the ex-Maoist Socialist Party.

  48. dagmar on said:

    Harry Blackwell,

    And the old German KPD/ML merged with the old-“Official” German section of the Fourth International (USec), the GIM in 1986 or so, to form the VSP, but the merger fell apart very quickly indeed, as the ex-Maoists hadn’t just dropped their Maoism, but most of their socialism and Marxism as well, most of the ex-KPD/ML people dropping out very quickly. The VSP spluttered on until the mid 90s, a number of the “serious” USec-ers left to form their own USec-affiliated organisation, the RSB a few years beforehand.

    The VSP’s paper, the SoZ still exists (and often is a reasonable read) – http://www.soz-plus.de . The USec-people around the SoZ have these days a group called the isl, which, together with the RSB, publishes Inprekorr, which unlike International Viewpoint is still available in printed format.

  49. caroline powell on said:

    Nick Wright,

    You are correct about lou lewis, sadly he died on the 16th decks 2013 aged 95.he continued to campaign throughout his life and was a prolific artist we wI’ll miss him. Any photos or stories welcome .so nice he has been remembered here. His great niece caroline 🙂

  50. caroline powell: You are correct about lou lewis

    I well remember Lou Lewis from the 1960s. He was a highly respected militant. My recollection is that he was on very friendly terms with some of the young building workers in the International Socialists. I think he was involved with the mass pickets at the Barbican site in around 1966 or 1967. Also I think he was involved in the founding of the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions. My condolences to his family.