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Book Review A Centenary for Socialism: the new Communist Party history

The Communist Party has had an influence on the achievements of the British labour movement far more diverse way than was previously realised

A Centenary for Socialism
Edited by Mary Davis
Manifesto Press
£9.99

THE Communist Party has had an influence on the achievements of the British labour movement in far more diverse ways than was previously realised

This thematic analysis of the Communist Party’s first 100 years of revolutionary struggle is an honest and thoughtful account. It will be of great value to everyone from the party’s longest-serving activists to the many new members who have joined over the last 12 months.

Aligned as a companion to Red Lives, which biographically highlighted the extraordinary contributions of many less well-known comrades from previous generations, A Centenary for Socialism is helpfully clear as to what it is and is not.

In her introduction, editor Mary Davis makes clear that this is not an academic follow-up to James Klugmann and Noreen Branson’s history of the party up to 1951.

Rather, it is a multi-sourced account by dozens of party activists reflecting on the main platforms of revolutionary work identified by Engels, encompassing the political, economic and ideological struggle for socialism as executed by the party over the decades.

Of course, the distinction between these three is blurred in real life and it is a strength not a weakness of this book to host slightly different accounts of various key aspects of the Party’s history. Such overlaps ensure that the reader has an active role in interpreting what is before them and a duty to apply such learning to the current needs of the hour.

What is clear from A Centenary for Socialism is that the party has had an influence, and a sustained one at that, on the achievements of the British labour movement far beyond the number of its members and in a far more diverse way than most of us previously realised.

It would be invidious to pick out only a selection of the 24 contributions here, as all are essential reading.

Yet I found it useful to start with Robert Griffiths’s account of the party’s various crises and recovery from those crises.

Understandably the focus of this chapter is very much on the last and most existential one during the 1980s. Significant sections of the party leadership disavowed the class struggle and engaged in prolonged purges of rank and file members who stayed true to Marxism-Leninism.

Griffiths adroitly combines a detailed recording of who said what and who voted which way during each, crucial juncture with a pacey approach which makes this a compelling and fascinating read.

Elsewhere, there are equally well-researched and revealing accounts of the party’s central role in everything from the anti-colonial struggle (Harsev Bains), industrial organisation (Ann Field and Jonathan White), cultural development (Christine Lindey and Andy Croft) and, of course via the Morning Star, working class awareness-raising and propaganda (Ben Chacko).

There is not a wasted paragraph in these or any of the other accounts here.

The absolute value of this work is that it gives British communists, for the first time in a long while, the chance to reclaim their party’s history, both its achievements and its shortcomings and in a way that is relevant to today’s struggles.

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