British Far Left Grapples With Soviet Collapse
PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev's suspension of the Soviet Communist Party may have been hard luck for Kremlin hard-liners, but alone among Britain's array of far-left political organizations, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) sees it as good news.Nina Temple, its general secretary, says the way is open to rename the party the Democratic Left at its annual congress in November, rewrite the constitution, and begin canvassing for new members. "What Gorbachev has done is the logical result of the policies he introduced six years ago. The Soviet party is deeply discredited. We can now bring our own movement up to date," Miss Temple said. Like many British Communists, Miss Temple, who took over the CPGB leadership early last year after hard-liners had run it for half a century, is attempting to reconcile the tenets of Marxism-Leninism with the latest developments in the Soviet Union. Temple says she hopes to be able to preserve the ideals, if not the ideology, of communism's founding fathers. But her approach differs markedly from that of members of some other far-left groups. For editorial writers of the communist Morning Star, the Kremlin coup and subsequent suspension of the Soviet party required repeated intellectual gymnastics. In only a week, Tony Chater, the newspaper's editor since 1974, ordered the writers to denounce the coup, condemn the "right[wing]-radicals" responsible for the counter-coup by Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin and his supporters, and insist that the Soviet Union would still need a communist party. "Here in Britain, the Morning Star will continue to be a thorn in the capitalist side for a long while yet," Mr. Chater says. The paper may have its work cut out. Last December Chater received unwelcome news from Moscow that the Soviet party had canceled an order of 12,000 daily copies of the Morning Star. This halved the paper's circulation, reduced its income by 40 percent, and obliged the management to cut the workforce. An issue now costs roughly the same as London's mass-circulation dailies. Like the Morning Star, the CPGB has steadily lost supporters during the years of glasnost and perestroika. Temple hopes that with a new logo and image, a renamed CPGB will be able to build its membership beyond the current 4,600. But the rival Communist Party of Britain (CPB) has no plans for refurbishment and renewal. General Secretary Mike Hicks said his party, which broke from the CPGB in the early 1980s and is thought to have under 1,000 members, regards Yeltsin as a demagogue. "As far as we are concerned, the Soviet working class will need a party of Marxism more than ever," he said, warning of the likelihood of a "new Russian dictatorship." Eric Trevett, general secretary of the still smaller New Communist Party (NCP), known as "tankies" because of their previous support for tough repressive measures in the former East Bloc, first applauded the removal of Mr. Gorbachev as "a welcome development and a setback to American imperialism." Later he regretted the coup's failure. While British communists of various stripes struggled to find a firm footing amid the news flowing from the Soviet Union, past supporters of the Soviet party came in for a magisterial drubbing from Norman Stone, professor of modern history at Oxford University. Writing in the London Sunday Times, Stone assailed many distinguished commentators for their sympathy toward the Soviet system when it oppressed people. "One persistent theme," Mr. Stone wrote, "was to persuade readers that the Soviet system was much like our own, with the same problems. We were, went the claim, wrong to assume that it overspent on defense, and that it bossed people around."