Culture, ideology and strategy of the Communist party of Great Britain 1964-1979

Andrews, Geoff (2002) Culture, ideology and strategy of the Communist party of Great Britain 1964-1979. (PhD thesis), Kingston University,


This thesis provides a historical account of the Communist Part of Great Britain during the years 1964-1979, a period which has received very little in-depth research. It will argue that the most important context for understanding the Party's dynamics during this period is that of the major social, cultural and political changes associated with the 1960's and 1970's, and notably the important political developments, such as the student and feminist movements, the intense period of industrial militancy and the rise of Gramscism. In making this argument it therefore challenges the assumptions of much existing research into national communist parties that it is the developments within and around the Soviet Union, or the tenets of orthodox communism, that are most influential. While the 'Soviet mantra' remained an important source of identification for many British communists, predominantly it was the British factors that provide the key to understanding the Party's political direction. These were to be found firstly in the challenge to its political identity from the activities of the young communists in the 1960's which, together with the ideas and strategies adopted by feminist and student movements in the 1970's, provided the basis for the development of an alternative political strategy within the Party. Further ideological and strategic renewal came from two sources. Militant labourism enabled a closer relationship with the labour movement through the influential union networks established by Bert Ramelson, the leader of the Party's Industrial Department, while it also shaped militant opposition to legislation aimed at curtailing trade union power. On the other hand, socialist humanism helped revive a stronger role for the intellectuals in the Party, finding points of convergence with an emerging Gramscian generation (many of whom had graduated from the YCL, student and feminist movements), through initiatives like the Communist University of London, leading subsequently to a major attempt to change the Party's political strategy in the 1977 edition of the 'British road to Socialism'. The final section argues that the Party's demise had its roots in the decline of the traditional working class and the Party's failure to move beyond its labourist constraints in appealing sufficiently to new sections (as argued by Eric Hobsbawm in the 'forward march of labour halted?'). The conflict between the Gramscians and the leadership meanwhile intensified into irreconcilable positions, provoked by a debate over the Party's democratic structure in 1979. In the wake of its own decline, a further example of the Party's ability to influence the wider left was evident in the way in which the ideological and strategic dimensions of British Gramscism helped to shape the revival of the New Left in its third phase.

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