Proletarian, No. 1
Date:1974
Organisation:Communist Organisation in the British Isles
Publication:Proletarian [COBI]
Issue:Number 1
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

2nd April 2012

This document dates from and is produced by the Communist Organisation in the British Isles.  That group was formed on 1 January 1974 in the aftermath of a split from the British and Irish Communist Organisation.  This split was due to those who formed COBI believing that BICO was now revisionist.

It argues under the heading ‘Origins” that…

…The COBI, in recognising and working to promote the primacy of theory, is taking up that perspective reneged upon by the BICO and the journal Theoretical Practice. Not only do we agree whole-heartedly with Lenin that ‘without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement’, but we say emphatically with Engels that we will ‘…constantly keep in mind that socialism, since it has become a science, demands that it be pursued as a science, i.e. That it be studied’.

It continues that:

We identify the failure of the BICO to be a degeneration into liberal constitutionalist politics. This has been clearly marked by the adoption of a series of Fabian positions, the latest of which is the policy on Workers’ Control - a policy which, instead of promoting the power of the proletariat over their place of work, promotes power over the proletariat at their place of work. This can only be in the interests of the bourgeoisie and reduces the working class to a plastic object of bourgeois history. The BICO policy on Workers Control is fundamentally anti-Marxist and must be rejected. It is symptomatic of the bourgeois degeneration of the BICO.

Further on it argues that…

…since the formative influence in the development of the BICO to date has been the Irish situation, it was easy for the membership as a whole to be led by a clique of petty-bourgeois ideologies, peddling bourgeois rationality and disguising themselves as Marxists, to permeate with, and commit the organisation to , the line that not merely in the specific Irish situation but in relation to all the classes which it exploits, was the British bourgeoisie the most progressive force.

But it also argues that:

…we shall build upon, and in doing so subsume, such positive advances as the BICO has hitherto made. These are: the analyses of the problems of Ireland and Wales, the economics of revisionism, the Stalin-Trotksy confrontation, and the EEC. We regards the theory of the Irish national question as more than adequately dealt with and therefore settled. The other positions, though substantially correct, have been inadequately dealt with; so these we will develop.

It’s worth briefly noting their statement that:

The COBI will be constituted as a Marxist-Leninist organisation for committed revolutionaries of, and only of, advanced cadres. Its principal task will be the comprehensive development of operational theory for the working class to become sufficiently conscious to seize and maintain power as the ruling class by crushing the bourgeoisie. It will use the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao as bases.

They also regards themselves as ‘a core organisation of communists, not a mass organisation. Neither is it a political movement in the orthodox sense of one that, containing a spread of members of varying levels of consciousness and activism, therefore addresses itself to a fairly diffuse and changing number of tasks. We shall strive for maximum homogeneity in level of consciousness and activism so that negatively, we shall to a large degree avoid the political-philosophical-personal eclecticism which is the dominant feature of advanced bourgeois socket; and positively allow our collective attention to be focussed on a specified range of key tasks.

It also states…

We therefore now put it on record that the COBI recognises the overwhelming necessity for workers, as soon as possessed of the elements of political organisation, to begin to prepare their physical means of defence. But further, they must also prepare the means of attack, for if these are not forthcoming at the moment of upsurge, the initiate and all momentum will be lost and the bourgeoisie will be able to retain their hold.

The rest of the document considers in various short chapters aspects of the issue of Workers Control and issues of Working Class organisation and incorporates documents drafted up by those within BICO which COBI ultimately disagreed with.


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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 02 Apr 2012 18:31:00

    Not much has been written about this short-lived group, but
    David Widgery in “The Left in Britain” has a short entry on
    them (p. 482) :

    Communist Organization in the British Isles: split
    from => Irish Communist Organization believing in the
    indivisibility of the British Isles and the Socialist Labour
    Party, a sectarian precursor of the Communist Party
    inspired by Daniel De Leon. Strict conditions of membership
    include reading knowledge of at least one foreign language.
    Publish “Proletarian”.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 02 Apr 2012 19:46:54

    An amazingly low profile group, Starkadder. I love the way that they kept the initials of BICO, but in a different order.

    Anyone who knows more about them from direct personal experience your input would be very much appreciated.

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  • By: LeftAtTheCross Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:00:04

    The piece on Workers’ Control is interesting enough. Has the B&ICO document, which it opposes, been put up on the Left Archive? The piece reads from another time entirely, not to mention from another planet. The assertion that workplace democracy is a ploy of the bourgeois class has a ring of truth about it for sure, but in the present context, and very different from the industrial workplaces of almost 40 years ago, it is less clear that the possibility of such democracy should or would be dismissed.

    On a slightly related theme, I’ve just finished reading The Red Flag, Communism and the Making of the Modern World by David Priestland. It’s a short and fairly unsatisfying account of the history of Communism (it’s on special offer in Books Upstairs in Dublin). From the perspective of 2012 it’s easy to overlook that the world of the early 70’s was one where Communism was everywhere on the rise, from the battlefields of SE Asia to the industrial workplaces of Western Europe. In that context, and the Wilson government’s flirtation with industrial democracy, the piece COBI piece has a relevance to the debate which is unfortunately missing from the situation today.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:22:45

    I don’t think the BICO doc is in the archive. I take your point re issues about workplace democracy, I guess as ever the detail is crucial.

    That’s also very true re changed contexts.

    Re Priestland thats a pity, I’ve go It on my to read list. One thing,it can’t be worse than Robert Services tome on the same subject, surely?

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  • By: LeftAtTheCross Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:38:03

    Yes, the devil is always in the detail. I have to say I found Olin Wright’s chapter on the potential of workplace democracy in Envisioning Real Utopias far more convincing than the COBI dismissal of it, but then there is that different perspective from the eras in which those conflicting views are framed, the objective analysis of historical and contemporary actually existing workplace democracy versus the polemic.

    I read Service’s Comrades a year or two ago and apart from a vague memory of not liking it much I have to say I don’t remember much else about it. Which perhaps says it all.

    Priestland isn’t quite dismissive of the Communist project, but his treatment is very superficial and at times amlost borders on spoof. In fairness it’s a huge subject and the tendency to gloss over areas which are in themselves worth of lenghty studies had to have been a factor when writing it. Or else it left him as a 20 volume work and his editor cut it down to size, badly.

    Have you read Hobsbawm’s How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism? It was also on special offer in Books upstairs at the same time that I got Priestland’s book (and still is), and was worth reading.

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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:39:59

    COBI member C.K. Maisels, also known as “Chic Maisels”, worked on the issues of the New Edinburgh Review which
    helped popularise Gramsci’s thought in Great Britain
    (see Gwyn A. Williams’ book “Proletarian Order” ).

    Former COBI member posted some info on the
    organisation here:

    https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2008/07/14/the-left-archive-socialists-against-nationalism-campaign-leaflet-c197980-socialist-party-of-ireland-british-and-irish-communist-organisation-the-limerick-socialist-organisation/

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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:43:36

    I’m not sure, but I think the document COBI took
    issue with might be Nina Stead’s “The British
    Road To Socialism” :

    http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.firstwave/index.htm

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  • By: LeftAtTheCross Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:52:28

    Thanks for that link Starkadder.

    Would it be this: http://sites.google.com/site/ninafishmanarchive/works/workers-control

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:55:04

    Hobsbawm yes, and Olins piece in Real Utopias is great. Good to hear Priestland isn’t a total wash out.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 02 Apr 2012 20:55:30

    +1

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  • By: The Weekly Archive Worker (minority) « Entdinglichung Thu, 05 Apr 2012 09:36:54

    […] Proletarian – Journal of the Communist Organisation in the British Isles – No.1, 1974 (eine Abspaltung der […]

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  • By: Left Archive Index now updated to October 2012 to March 2012 – and some items of particular interest « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 09 Apr 2012 02:54:08

    […] The last six months, which had to be updated, have seen a range of particularly interesting materials. For example, our first document from BICO splinter group, the Communist Organisation in the British Isles posted last week. […]

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  • By: Paul Cockshott Tue, 10 Apr 2012 21:36:22

    Yes it was the British Road by Stead that provoked the split, it seemed a return to the policy of the CPGB

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