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There were, naturally, disagreements within the Communist Party: they were just expressed in secret or in code, and were not for outside ears. What divided the British Communists, astonishingly, was that the party “opposition” thought the leadership was insufficiently pro-Soviet. In 1956 the Communist Party supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary — and lost one third of its membership. In 1968 the Soviets asked the British party to endorse their invasion of Czechoslovakia. The leadership refused, and instead offered the Soviets some criticism, albeit of the mildest of mild sorts. Even this criticism was too much for many party members, and an opposition faction formed. Its leading lights were Fergus Nicholson, the party’s student organiser, and Sid French, strangely its Surrey organiser and nicknamed by some “the Stalin of suburbia”. In his forthcoming memoir of growing up Communist, Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists (Jonathan Cape, £17.99), the Times columnist David Aaronovitch writes: “One of the peculiarities of party life was that the most hardline, pro-Soviet, and ‘proletarian internationalist’ members of the party were to be found in places like Oxford, Hampshire and Surrey.”

For French and the Frenchites, the party’s “revisionism”  became too much and his band of 700 followers went off to found the New Communist Party in 1977. This party — with now, surely, a tiny membership — is still going, mainly as a fan club for the North Korean regime and as unambiguous, unnuanced worshippers of Stalin.

Milne got involved with Nicholson’s wing of the “opposition”. Their views did not greatly differ from those of the Frenchites; however, they remained within the party as they had an unshakeable faith in democratic centralism and believed it was essential not to split the vanguard.

Jack Conrad, the nom de plume of a Communist involved in the disputes of the time who went on to form his own revolutionary faction, wrote last year in the Weekly Worker, a publication supporting his far-left group: “The opposition was pro-Soviet and to one degree or another pro-Stalin. It should be emphasised that for many Stalin served as a totem; an expression of extreme anti-capitalism . . . Not that political talent was entirely lacking. Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne were counted among the opposition’s cadre.” The paths of Murray and Milne remain entwined. Murray is now chief of staff of the Unite union and was central in swinging its support behind Corbyn’s leadership bid. He was chair of the Stop the War Coalition and remains deeply involved in the politics of Soviet nostalgia and revivalism.

Nicholson and his supporters formed themselves into a faction called Straight Left, the name apparently partly chosen to differentiate the true believers in the Soviet future from the reformists, who were seen as too interested in gay rights and other peripheral bourgeois concerns. Nicholson and his supporters, however, had a problem: as keen believers in democratic centralism they could not admit to being a party faction, something that was prohibited. They found a solution in copying the methods of their Trotskyist rivals on the far left, most notably the Militant Tendency.

Militant, or to give its then title, the Revolutionary Socialist League, had decided that its brand of Marxism could best be promoted within the Labour party rather than working outside it. This would not, however, be possible as long as it openly proclaimed itself to be a revolutionary, vanguardist party; after all, no party will tolerate another party with different aims openly operating within it. It thus came up with the wheeze of claiming simply to be a weekly paper, Militant.

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amcdonald
January 5th, 2016
2:01 PM
All the tories lovin` it with the Chinese Communist/Stalinist Party ? Cameron and Osbourne as the stalinised epigones more like. There are more and more reasons to vote for Jeremy Corbyn not less and less.

Barry Cohen
December 2nd, 2015
11:12 AM
Our good friend, Seamus Milne

Observer
November 29th, 2015
2:11 PM
Most commentators seem to assume that Jeremy Corbyn's extreme left Labour party is a national joke and will soon be consigned to the dustbin of political history. I am not so sure about that. Corbyn's gang are bringing extremist views into the world of mainstream politics where they come up for discussion on the mainstream broadcast media. When Ken Livingstone can appear on QT telling us all that the 7/7 bombers gave their lives for what they believed then that opinion becomes just a little less extreme and no longer beyond the pale. As for McDonnell's "outrageous" Little Red Book joke: quoting one of Mao's innocuous pseudo Confucianisms at a Tory will probably appeal to the young middle class rebel and add to the drip-feed de-toxification of extreme left politics.

Anonymous
November 28th, 2015
1:11 PM
This article dredged up a name from the distant past - Fergus Nicholson. Part of my National Service, in the Royal Artillery, was with Fergus (we were not friends). The army put him in a clerk's job, on a base in the UK, where he could do no harm.

Jeremy Poynton
November 27th, 2015
11:11 AM
"It is odd for a senior figure on a respected national newspaper to have the whiff of Stalinism about him" Respected? Only by the decreasing number of people who read it; it is now the clarion call of the Liberal Left, those who hate everything that has made the West what it i; our culture, our beliefs, you name it - they loathe us.

Exsuburbanmaoist
November 26th, 2015
11:11 PM
I was at school with Seumas. He was an arrogant shit. He had more reason than most to be arrogant. But he was a shit.

Twinkle
November 26th, 2015
4:11 PM
Some say that slapstick is dead but they are utterly wrong. It is not just alive and well but flourishing in Corbyn's new Loony Labour party. Every week presents new opportunities including for prat-falls. The highlight of this week has to be reading the little red book. Every week will present new opportunities to exercise your chuckle muscles. Parliament closes for Xmas so another way will have to be found for exercising Chuckle muscles for the festive season.

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