The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain (CPB) issued a set of social-media protocols to its members in August 2021. These warn CPB members, in line with the ‘democratic centralism’ (in fact, bureaucratic centralism) of far-left organisations, that they cannot “undermine well-established party positions” in public. Included in such undermining and harmful endeavours is “adulation of Stalin and support for the substantial abuses of state power which occurred under his leadership”. Such endeavours are “not compatible with our party’s judgment of these matters” as set out in the CPB’s Britain’s road to socialism (BRS) programme. Indeed, in that document last issued in 2020 we find the following lines: “At times, and particularly in the late 1930s following the rise of fascism, severe violations of socialist democracy and law occurred in the fight against external threats and internal subversion. Large numbers of innocent people were persecuted, imprisoned and executed. This aided the worldwide campaign of lies and distortions aimed at the Soviet Union, the international communist movement and the concept of socialism.”
As one can imagine, this hasn’t gone down at all well among some sections of the CPB, which has always been a generally pro-Stalin organisation, even though, in recent years, this hasn’t been pursued in the more cult-like manner of rivals such as the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML) founded by Harpal Brar in 2004. Ioannis Michalopoulos, a CPB supporter from Yorkshire, opines in his organisation’s current pre-congress discussion that the “CPB’s criticism on Stalin merely resorts to bourgeois/Trotskyite/Khruschevite phraseology and clichés”. He adds: “It is ironic that defending Stalin’s legacy is not considered [by the CPB’s social-media protocol] compatible with the judgment of the BRS, the first draft of which was approved by Stalin himself.”
This latter point is perfectly true and was commented upon by general secretary Rob Griffiths at the CPB’s 2008 congress. He said: “In the post-war world, as the Labour government aligned Britain with US imperialism, NATO and the Cold War, our party drew up its new programme The British road to socialism, endorsed at the 22nd congress in 1952. Today, we know much more about the role of Stalin in proposing some of its contents. This is not an embarrassment for us, although it might be for those ultra-revolutionaries [an obvious reference to the CPGB-ML] who seek to revive a Stalin cult – and find that he broadly endorsed a programme they have been denouncing for years as reformist class treachery.”
Now it seems as if the CPB’s leaders are partly embarrassed at their links to Stalin. Last year, the CPB produced a history of the CPGB that included a bizarre chapter by Kenny Coyle on the gestation of the BRS that failed to mention Stalin’s role in overseeing the first drafts, even though this had been publicly admitted by the CPGB as far back as 1964. So, this is definitely a case of the disappearing Stalin.
Some CPB members, such as the oafish ex-Straight Leftist Nick Wright, have a long history of showing off on internet forums about the repressive aspects of Stalinism, which, now, would be in contravention of CPB protocols on such matters. In 2016, Weekly Worker writers documented an intervention on the now-defunct Socialist Unity website applauding Trotsky’s assassins. Wright wrote: “The assassination of Trotsky was the task of the security unit under the command of Pavel [Sudoplatov]. It was exceptionally well planned. As one would expect from professionals with long experience of combatting counterrevolution and subversion.” But this unreconstructed strand of idiocy has been partially combatted by people in and around the CPB such as Andrew Murray (also an ex-Straight Leftist as it happens) who has referred to Stalin’s purges as a “horrifying operation”. Back in 2014, ex-Morning Star editor Richard Bagley became somewhat notorious for spiking a half-page advert celebrating Stalin’s birthday.
But it is one thing spiking an advert in what is promoted as a ‘broad-left’ newspaper but quite another prohibiting CPB members voicing their support for Stalin on social media. It is clear why the CPB is attempting to downplay the issue of Stalin: he is an incredibly divisive historical figure on the left and the CPB is fundamentally a soft organisation intent on playing down its differences in the cause of broad alliances. It is also probably to establish some clear blue water between itself and the CPGB-ML; the CPB clearly views the CPGB-ML as an embarrassment to the label of ‘British communism’ but simply cannot discount Brar’s group, which has recruited from similar circles and has come to relative prominence due to its alliance with George Galloway and the Workers Party of Britain (the CPB, historically, has itself had some cordial relations with Galloway).
However, an important part of the CPB’s identity is pro-Stalin. For example, its programme argues: “During its 70-year existence, the Soviet Union showed how socialist state power, planning and public ownership could transform society in the interests of the mass of the population.” This, of course, includes Stalin’s leadership over some 30 years of those 70. The CPB’s argument in this section of its BRS is, essentially, an extended rationalisation of Stalin’s bureaucratic faction coupled with some criticism of certain abuses. And, unless something has radically changed in the CPB internally that I am unaware of, it still supports the Stalin faction’s ascendancy to power in the mid-1920s. That would certainly become apparent if one were to spend large amounts of time in the pub with CPB men over the age of 50. I would humbly suggest that the CPB’s social-media protocol on the non-adulation of Stalin will be a bitter pill to swallow for some.
 See K Coyle ‘The British road’ in M Davis (ed) A centenary for socialism: Britain’s Communist Party 1920-2020 Croydon 2020 pp218-231. See also J Gollan ‘Which road?’ Marxism Today July 1964. The correspondence between Harry Pollitt and Stalin over the BRS was eventually published in the September 2007 issue of the Revolutionary Democracy journal. It can be accessed at revolutionarydemocracy.org