The departure of Ross Longhurst (aka Harry Powell), on 28th September 2020.was an inconsolable loss to the Communist Movement. Ross till his last breath unfurled the flag of Communism and proletarian internationalism when many others rejected it it in favour of tailing nationalism of all kinds. One of the finest students of Marxism-Leninism in Imperialist countries, who in many junctures resisted the counter-revolutionary tide. with the relentless spirit of a boulder weathering a storm.
Ross was born in Hastings, Sussex in 1941. In 1959 he moved to London, living in Streatham where he was a member of the Streatham Hill ward Labour Party and was also active in anti colonial and anti racism campaigns and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Here Ross received his baptism ’ with “Marxism” which was presented in the form of Gerry Healy who was the ward secretary of his Labour Party branch in Streatham and the Trotskyite Socialist Labour League (SLL) that he led. The antics of Healy and the SLL made Ross demarcate from Trotskyism. Later his involvement in the movement against the imperialist war against Vietnam, sowed the seeds for his induction into Marxism-Leninism.
Ross worked at the time in a type face setting factory in Merton. Later he returned to Hastings and worked as a labourer on the building of Dungeness A atomic power station. By this time he was disillusioned with reformist Labourite politics and left the Party. Ross got a place at the London School of Economics in the mid sixties and studied Sociology. He integrated in the student occupations and the campaigns against the Vietnam War. This experience enabled Ross to understand that Marxism Leninism and its further development by Mao Zedong paved the only road to shaping a society towards Communism. This time coincided with that of the Cultural Revolution in China where the masses orchestrated the greatest revolutionary upsurge to confront the sprouting capitalist class in Socialist China and pave the path towards communist relations of production. This inspired progressives around the world but compared to France, Italy, Scandinavia and Germany had less impact on leftists in Britain which remained under the influence of Labourism, revisionism and Trotskyism. Ross therefore was among those who swam against the tide.
While being active in various campaigns and working with comrades of other anti revisionist Marxist Leninist groups, Ross did not join any of them until 1974 when he became a member of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist Leninist) led by trade union official Reg Birch which he described as “the best of a bad bunch”. Ross found many of the other groups vitiated with idealism ,depicting religious outlook and style. The CPB (M L) appeared the most materialist in outlook. At this time Ross was working in education as a lecturer in Sociology in Liverpool and then Nottingham.
In 1976 Ross spoke out at the CPB (M L) congress against the Parties political trajectory into nationalism and economism. The Nottingham branch left and formed the Nottingham Communist Group (NCG). This group developed theoretical defence of revolutionary communism against the new manifestations of revisionism such as the ‘Theory of the Three Worlds’ and upholding the Cultural Revolution and the necessity of violent revolution to bring about the proletarian state.
The NCG attended the founding conference of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) in 1984. The NCG and Stockport Communist Group would later merge into the Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent in Britain, Ross would be a leading member and while others dropped out over the years Ross was consistent in political activity and upholding Maoism, carrying out solidarity work for the Peoples Wars in Peru and Nepal when many British leftists paid them a deaf ear.. He travelled to Nepal in 2009 to observe for himself the struggles in Nepal. He conducted solidarity campaigns against Operation Greenhunt in India.
Ross was a founder member of Revolutionary Praxis after the collapse of the RIC. He promoted organised educational studies in Marxism and undertook frequent street activity including book sales to propagate communism. Inspite of being painfully aware that we are currently in very difficult times with bourgeois ideology on an ascendancy in imperialist countries, he did not meekly surrender as many of his contemporaries did and remained undeterred. He never capitulated to the tailing of nationalism and reformism as so many on the left have done especially when Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party. He also believed that to project e a political point or protest you had to be bold. During the Iraq War he and another comrade went to Wootten Bassettto protested against it. They portrayed the crimes of British imperialism against the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan during one of the macabre imperialist publicity exercises of repatriating dead British soldiers by parading the coffins through the town. This protest endangered their lives from attack by zealous right wing thugs and onlookers but he never caved in.
Ross would often try to set an example hoping to encourage other leftists to undertake more direct actions, but rarely did they imbibe them which made him detest them. Ross’s last major act of defiance at the age of 72 was to withhold payment of council tax in protest at austerity cuts implemented by the local city council, again he was the only one in his local anti cuts campaign to take this stand which led him to court and a month long prison sentence. In prison he found much support his action and gave advice to other prisoners.
Eventually he bid farewell to the local campaigns around nuclear disarmament, the health service and anti cuts because of the pacifism and timidity of the other campaigners. Throughout his life under the name Harry Powell , with great consistency he made additions to the treasure house on Leninism in his writings on setback of revolutionary movements in Imperialist countries, ‘Is this the End of Maoism in Britain” , Chinese Communist Critiques of Soviet Society’, ‘Mao Tse Tung Revisionist or Revolutionary’, ‘Outbreak of Election’, Fever,” “ If voting changed anything ‘.He asserted that communists must listen and rely on the masses and not adopt an elitist attitude towards them. During elections he would campaign against voting and expose the hypocritical nature of capitalist democracy. He would hold Revolutionary Praxis campaign stalls in run down areas of Nottingham which other leftist groups avoided. He continued until August of 2020 to hold stalls with communist literature and propaganda from Revolutionary Praxis at local Black Lives Matter protests and anti fascist protests.”.
Ross produced some of the most dialectical and cogeal writing son Marxism-Leninism. His writings on imperialism were most insightful and lucid. Powell strived to extricate mechanical approach towards Marxism.In ‘Is this th end of Maoism in Britain “ Harry most surgically delved into what sunk the Maoist movement into a morass .In his essay in 1993 on why revolutionary movements had subsided in Imperialist countries, was a manifestation of Marxist clarity and insight. His essay comprised of The New Left Movement of the Sixties, Maoist Movement in the Imperialist countries, the problem of party building, and the future course of action.
Powell threw light on why the parties of the Communist International became revisionist and why the first wave of socialism in the world has been defeated. He felt that there were big questions which remained unanswered. He felt want should be researched is why the New Left movements which arose in the 1960s, and especially the Maoist current, have also failed given that they did recognise at least some of the limitations and failures of the international communist movement which arose after the October Revolution of 1917.
He elaborated on the student movement, beginning in America in the 1960s and quickly spreading to Europe, provided most of the subsequent membership of the New Left political movements. The initial impulse behind student activism was growing discontent with the conditions under which students were studying and living during a period of rapid expansion of higher education. The phenomenon of student activism started to disappear almost as soon as it appeared. Many of the immediate demands students made for the abolition of petty restrictions, improved facilities and representation in the administrative apparatus of educational establishments were conceded and this took the sting out of the student movement. Also it should be remembered that it was only ever a fairly small minority of students who were at all involved in the movement. The great majority of students had carried on going into the library, writing essays and taking exams just as they always had done. Among the minority who had revolted and dropped out or become deeply involved in political activity it was quite easy to drop back into study or petit bourgeois jobs..
Another very important factor contributing to the Sixties upsurge was the intensity of the national liberation struggles being fought in many countries oppressed by imperialism, especially Vietnam. Obviously this had its greatest impact in the USA but sizeable, militant Anti-Vietnam War movements were formed throughout the Western world. Many young people were drawn into this struggle on a liberal anti-war basis but as a result of their participation gravitated towards a more revolutionary, Marxist outlook. Young people who were not inspired by the Soviet Union and its East European satellites, indeed rejected these as desirable models for social change, were more willing to embrace movements drawing upon the thoughts of Mao Tse-tung and Ché Guevara..
Perhaps the boiling point of the upsurge in national liberation struggles was in 1975 when the Vietnamese finally defeated US imperialism and its local puppets. However after that the revolutionary credentials of these movements began to come into question. Almost immediately relations between the Hanoi regime and the Kampuchean Khmer Rouge deteriorated resulting in armed conflict, the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea and a border war between China and Vietnam. As the Sixties radical upsurge in the Western countries waned during the nineteen seventies some New Left radical elements pinned their hopes for revolutionary breakthroughs and advances on various national liberation movements. In Britain and other Western countries the Sandinista Movement in Nicaragua, which gained state power in 1979, attracted a lot of interest as did the FMLN in El Salvador.
Powell analysed how The Maoists have not been without their failings on the national liberation front. In most countries back in the late sixties and early seventies Trotskyites managed to rob the Anti-Vietnam War movements even though these elements denounced the North Vietnamese regime as “Stalinist”. The Maoists did not prove themselves very adept at handling the contradictions within these popular movements and thus had less ideological and political influence than otherwise might have been the case. This was particularly the case in Britain where it was Marxist-Leninist elements who started the anti-war movement only to have it robbed by Trotskyites. More serious was the capitulation to revisionism of a major national liberation struggle which had been inaugurated and led by Maoists.
National liberation struggles and solidarity movements with them were an important element in the Sixties upsurge. However by the early nineteen nineties the considerable radicalising influence upon people within the imperialist countries which they once had is largely spent.
He recalled in the late nineteen sixties conjuncture was growing working class industrial militancy in the West European countries, most spectacularly the general strike and workplace occupation in France in 1968. Hopes were raised that the industrial working class and, perhaps, newer middle strata elements were developing in a way that would enable them to fulfil the historic mission ascribed to them by Marx and Engels. In retrospect it is easy to see that these hopes held by revolutionaries were largely founded upon economist illusions. Most of the large scale industrial actions of the late sixties and early seventies were initially occasioned by employers and states becoming less ready to concede demands for improvements in wages and working conditions. Their growing reluctance to do so turned imperative by the fading out of the post-World War II economic boom and the consequential falling rate of profit. As the depression took off in the mid-nineteen seventies workers found it necessary to take militant action to defend their position and by the early nineteen eighties the very same sections of the working class – dockers, steel workers, car workers, miners, etc. – wage a battle to prevent their jobs disappearing. One of the most illustrative instances of this reversal in working class fortunes was the coalminers in Britain. In the mid-nineteen seventies their national strike had actually brought down the Conservative government of the time but by the mid-nineteen eighties they had been led, by a subsequent Conservative government, into the trap of striking, (and splitting within their own ranks), in a desperate attempt to prevent mass redundancies. The defeat of the miners exposed the weakness of trade unionism in the midst of a world economic depression and cleared the ground for the enactment of a succession of ever more restrictive industrial relations laws.
The final ingredient in the Sixties upheaval he went on to mention was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976. This great revolutionary upsurge seemed to illustrate that socialist regimes were not doomed to degeneration and eventual capitalist restoration. In China the communists led by Mao Tse-tung seemed to have found a way of combating and defeating the revisionism which had triumphed in the Soviet Union. What is more, young people, especially the Red Guard students, were playing a key role in this revolutionary process
Powell recollected how in the late nineteen seventies in Britain the Nottingham Communist Group proclaimed that “as a conscious, organised revolutionary movement Marxism Leninism in Britain is in real danger of extinction This analysis specified “the failure of the Marxist Leninists to effect a genuine unity of revolutionary theory and practice” as the fundamental reason why a flourishing revolutionary communist movement had never at any time really taken off in Britain The fundamental error of the Marxist-Leninist movement during the 1960s and 1970s was the failure to achieve any sort of true unity of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and practice. Instead there was a massive gap between the professed theory and the actual practice of the movement.
Harry recounted how some revolutionaries, including Maoists, who argue that there is little likelihood of revolutionary developments in the imperialist countries until their economic and social stability has been considerably undermined from without by anti-imperialist upsurges in the rest of the world. While it is true that such revolutionary developments in the oppressed countries would help destabilise the imperialist countries it is also true that ultimately imperialism must be destroyed from within. The rule of the bourgeoisie in countries such as Britain is not going to automatically collapse as a result of external pressure but has to be consciously overthrown by proletarian revolution. What is true is that capitalism is intensifying on a world scale; it is indeed becoming a world system..
Harry was critical of the weakness in criticism undertaken by the CPC on the Soviet Society.
- Class analysis. There is no clear class analysis of Soviet society in the Chinese critiques. At best some sort of implicit analysis is present with the use of terms such as “new bourgeoisie” but no overall outline is presented.
- The material basis. The Chinese critique of Soviet society offers very little in the way of concrete analysis of its material basis. In his writings on Soviet economic policy, gathered under the title A Critique of Soviet Economics, Mao attacks what came to be called the “forces of production theory”, namely the position which claims that socialist economic transformation is primarily a question of acquiring advanced technology and applying this to production under the direction of technical and managerial specialists. The work of Charles Bettelheim goes into this matter in some detail and should be carefully studied.
- The ideological superstructure. The Chinese communists did examine this aspect of Soviet life but not in great detail. Some works of art were criticised for their revisionist content.
- The dictatorship of the proletariat. An important omission in the Chinese analysis of the Soviet Union is that there is no explanation as to how the dictatorship of the proletariat could be overthrown so easily by the “Khrushchovite clique”. There is no evidence at all that there was any sort of conscious, mass resistance to the revisionist regime from 1953 onwards. The Khrushchev clique and their successors could not have seized and consolidated power without the support of the military. Certainly the Red Army never opposed the revisionist seizure of state power. Clearly the Red Army had long since ceased to be a people’s army. The same was true of China in 1976 when the Hua-Deng group staged a military coup d’etat. No sections of the Chinese PLA actively opposed this move.
In my view it was Powell’s ideological weakness in his assessment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and red army in eras of Stalin and Mao. and failing to assess the reformist nature of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. Beginning in 2009, the London based Co-ordination Committee of Revolutionary Communists of Britain formation sought to knit the remaining Maoist and anti-revisionist groups in the UK that led to co-ordination of solidarity statements, embassy pickets and small organisational activities to flash the Maoist spark in Britain. However the marginal existence of the pre-party building grouplets that compose it demonstrates its diminishing influence that a previously vibrant movement once expressed.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance writer who has undertaken extensive research on the International Communist Movement