From International Socialism, No.72, October 1974, p.23.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
In his article on the Communist Party in your mid-October issue, Chris Harman writes:
‘The 1971 congress decided that members who did not register at the beginning of each year remain members unless they die or are expelled.’ (IS, No.63, p.28, Note 2)
The source for this truly incredible statement is given as ‘Townsend, in IS 62, p.26.’ Townsend did indeed make such a statement there. Unfortunately however it was a complete fabrication, no decision even remotely like this having been taken in 1971 or at any other time. In fact, every year the Communist Party carries through a full re-registration of its membership and publishes the resulting figures down to the last unit. When will IS have the political courage to do the same?
I respectfully request that in future Chris Harman should appraise his sources more critically. As editor of International Socialism he should know better than to rely on it.
THERE IS no doubt that the 1971 Congress did give the executive of the Party carte blanche for altering the rules over registration. The resolution on Unity, the Communist Party and the Struggle for Socialism, said that
‘size of districts, role of area and borough committees, periodicity of membership cards and dues stamps, these and all other relevant organisational/political questions need to be regularly examined and changes made to accord with new circumstances. Congress instructs the executive committee ... to initiate any necessary changes in accordance with rule.’
Nor is there any doubt that the executive had already made clear its desire for a relaxation of the registration procedure. As Gordon McLennan noted in his report to the executive in January of 1971,
‘We have already expressed ourselves in favour of the two-year card.’ (Comment, 23 January 1971).
The important thing, of course, is that over the years the discipline and activism expected of Party members had declined – and this is expressed in the attitude towards the annual registration of members. The tendency now, encouraged by the Party leadership, is to leave members on the books even if they never do anything for the Party and never pay dues. That is why the first half of 1970 dues payments were below 50 per cent.
The attitude of the Party leadership was summed up in an article by David Ellwood, the national treasurer, in Comment in March 1972:
‘... I think that the basis of our Party’s conception of membership is that everyone who joins our party and thus expresses a wish to be associated with our fight for socialism is entitled to be taken seriously ... Every member is entitled to be kept in touch with in this way ... Inevitably this must imply personal contact ... Whether you call it regular or not ... I think that the main thing is Branch Committees should ensure in one way or another every member is seen reasonably frequently ... Periodically, say once a quarter, special steps should be taken to overcome any gaps that have arisen in contact with members.’
It does not seem to me to be an ‘incredible’ interpretation of this to say that members are only struck off the books if ‘they die or are expelled.’
Last updated on 13.3.2008