The Post-1956 Failure of Pro–Moscow Communism

Undemocratic left-overs

by Gwydion M. Williams

The Communist Party of Great Britain, with a singular lack of judgment, has decided to vanish by renaming itself the Democratic Left. Anyone who has had dealings with the CP over the years will know what a total joke that name is. Back in the days before Khrushchev the CP were the local representative of the crude, repressive but often highly effective World State that Stalin & Co. were trying to build. There was a real popular link between this growing World State and large numbers of working people, as well as any number of disaffected intellectuals. It was a democracy of sorts, and one that looked set to remake the world along the lines originally envisaged by Lenin.

Khrushchev destroyed this democracy in 1956. He created as much confusion among Communists as the Pope would create among Catholics if he were to say that Jesus was not after all the Son of God. In no sense did Khrushchev encourage the rank and file of World Communism to start thinking seriously about their own past. Some people mistakenly saw him as meaning this – the Hungarians, for instance, whom he crushed with tanks later on in I 956. The reality was that Khrushchev threw the movement into chaos by arbitrarily changing the beliefs that millions of ordinary people had built their lives around.

After 1956, there was no logical reason for the Communist Party of Great Britain to go on existing. It had based itself on the notion that correct ideas came from Moscow. Changes of line like the Nazi-Soviet pact had caused problems, but they could be understood as cunning manoeuvres that had ended up both saving the Soviet Union and enormously expanding its power. But for Moscow in 1956 to suddenly say that it had been telling a complete pack of lies for the past 30 or more years created an intolerable dilemma for believers in the Moscow Line. Some True Believers went on considering all of this as another subtle manoeuvre which would be justified by history. But events were to prove them wrong. 1956 was actually the peak of World Communism’s power. Successes like the first ventures into space and the Cuban Revolution could not make up for the realisation that truth was whatever the ruling clique in Moscow might choose to consider truth, without either traditions or popular will counting for anything.

Other options were open in the 1950s. Instead of trying to cosy up to the Pope and to the United States, the post-Stalin leadership could have tried seriously to heal the split between Communists and Socialists that Lenin had created. I’m not suggesting that Lenin should have been denounced, although a move away from Lenin-idolisation would have been a good idea. In any case, a lot of the success of Western European socialists was based on the visible and menacing presence of the Communist alternative that led serious conservatives to see reforms as unavoidable. It could simply have been said that the conflict had been ‘superseded’ and that the two political traditions could now reunite.

Sadly, both Khrushchev and the various CPs throughout the world preferred to condemn their own history but hang on to everything that had been accumulated during the Stalin era. It was bound to end badly. Left politics since 1956 have been blighted by the power and presence of a confused and disintegrating Communist movement. Hopefully, the ‘Democratic Left’ now lacks the power to do any more blighting.

[‘Democratic Left‘  dissolved in 1998.  It is separate from the Morning Star, the former party newspaper that was previously the Daily Worker.  Morning Star remains a useful left-wing paper published from Monday to Saturday]


This article is from Newsnotes for May 1991.  It appeared in Issue 23 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at