Gordon MacLennan RIP

Gordon MacLennan RIP

Francis King
Francis King

May 22nd, 2011, 9:19 am #1

I'm sorry to inform this list that Gordon MacLennan, CPGB General Secretary from 1975-1989, died yesterday. He had been unwell with cancer for some time. I knew Gordon both as a colleague at St John Street and as a fellow member of the Brixton CP branch, and always had the greatest respect for his honesty and integrity.
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Mediaman
Mediaman

May 22nd, 2011, 12:59 pm #2

London Socialist Historians obit here:

http://londonsocialisthistorians.blogsp ... ennan.html
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Harsanyi_Janos
Harsanyi_Janos

May 22nd, 2011, 8:55 pm #3

I'm sorry to inform this list that Gordon MacLennan, CPGB General Secretary from 1975-1989, died yesterday. He had been unwell with cancer for some time. I knew Gordon both as a colleague at St John Street and as a fellow member of the Brixton CP branch, and always had the greatest respect for his honesty and integrity.
He was a good and honest man and I mourn his death.
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Joined: February 7th, 2011, 7:26 pm

May 22nd, 2011, 9:17 pm #4

I'm sorry to inform this list that Gordon MacLennan, CPGB General Secretary from 1975-1989, died yesterday. He had been unwell with cancer for some time. I knew Gordon both as a colleague at St John Street and as a fellow member of the Brixton CP branch, and always had the greatest respect for his honesty and integrity.
Chalk flew up !!
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Mediaman
Mediaman

May 23rd, 2011, 8:12 pm #5

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Mediaman
Mediaman

May 24th, 2011, 10:27 pm #6


Rob Griffith's tribute in today's Star:

http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/inde ... ull/105060

and the Daily Telegraph notes McLennan's passing:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituar ... ennan.html
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Harsanyi_Janos
Harsanyi_Janos

May 25th, 2011, 12:58 am #7

Both somewhat disappointing; Griffiths uses his as a platform to (somewhat misleadingly) rehash the 1980s while the Telegraph's is largely mean-spirited and snide.
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Guy Burgess
Guy Burgess

May 25th, 2011, 9:38 am #8

That's my view as well Janos but for slightly differening reasons. While I suspect Rob Griffith's tribute in the Star was limited by space he skips over Gordon McClennan's role in the run-up to the 1977 Congress altogether.

While "Eurocommunists", "Gramschians" and "revolutionary democrats" are mentioned in passing there's no reference to the opposition to the '77 draft BRS by Sid French and the Surrey District (which left the CPGB en masse in July 1977 following reports that McClennan & Co were moving to expel Sid before the Congress met). There's no mention of Fergus Nicholson's group in Hammersmith which later evolved into Straight Left (which remained in the Party and had an ambivalent attitude to McClennan) or the loss of 5,000-odd members who did not recard in 1977 following the rows -- then the biggest slump since Hungary.

Griffiths does note McClennan's latter role in the Communist Party of Scotland but nothing is said about the Scottish District which was essentially the power-base of Gollan and McClennan.

All obituaries are, in a way, personal statements and perhaps Griffiths can be forgiven for missing the significance of 1977 because he wasn't a player at the time as he didn't join the CPGB until 1984.

That doesn't excuse the anonymous Telegraph obit,full of Cold War sniping, that was clearly written by someone who knows very little about the inner politics of the CPGB.
While there's little point in taking it apart, I for instance, cannot recall, McClennan ever being dismissed as a "bourgeois degenerate" by Sid French's supporters or Straight Left.

I suppose the fundamental problem is that none of the key players at the time, including Gordon McClennan, had ever thought of recording their own opinions and memories for posterity. The history of the CPGB has consequently been written by authors who come from a right-wing or Trotskyist perspective, know little or nothing about the reality of Party life and whose research rarely goes beyond sifting the dusty publications and records of the CPGB.

Guy Burges
Eton & Cambridge
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Francis King
Francis King

May 25th, 2011, 10:36 pm #9

Guy writes:

"I suppose the fundamental problem is that none of the key players at the time, including Gordon McClennan, had ever thought of recording their own opinions and memories for posterity. The history of the CPGB has consequently been written by authors who come from a right-wing or Trotskyist perspective, know little or nothing about the reality of Party life and whose research rarely goes beyond sifting the dusty publications and records of the CPGB."

Not quite so. The communist prosopographical project, organised from Manchester University about 10 years ago, did interview quite a number of former CPGB members, including some leading ones, and the tapes of those interviews are, I believe, kept at the National Sound Archive. There is quite a considerable primary source base for anybody who cares to use it.

Many of the authors who have published on the CPGB over the last 20 years, far from being right-wing or Trotskyist, have been broadly sympathetic, although not uncritical. What is more, there are generally co-operative relationships between the people actively researching and writing on the CPGB, not least through bodies like the SHS. The field is not particularly factionalised. Communist and non-communist researchers all know each other and often help each other.

Of course, it is much easier to criticise other people's efforts at writing history than to write it yourself. But the archives are open - we have made it easy for you to do the primary research. People are still around who can be interviewed. So to anyone who thinks that the historiography of the CPGB is not on the right line, all I can say is: stop complaining and get writing.
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Guy Burgess
Guy Burgess

May 26th, 2011, 12:57 am #10

Fair comment Francis though i wouldn't be as charitable as you towards some of the popular histories of the CPGB that have been published since the end of the Cold War.

My particular regret is that McClennan and the others in the leadership never published any papers or memoirs that could shed light on what went on beyond the minutes and records held in the archives that are, as you say, open to all scholars.

This is a particular problem when looking at the inner-party struggles of the 1970s. How can one assess the relevance of Straight Left in the absence of a contribution from Fergus Nicholson? What was the purpose of the "revolutionary democratic tendency" or the "Gramscians" Rob Griffiths talked about in his McClennan obit? Can the subsequent rifts in the CPB really be reduced to a clash of personalities (as suggested in a recent thread on this site)?

I appreciate the work of the SHS and former Communist History Network as well as the numerous short autobiographies produced by veteran communists over the past 30 years but there's still a lot more research to be done.

Reuben Falber and George Matthews have taken their secrets to their graves along with a host of others from top to bottom in the British communist movement. But people are still around, as you say, who need to be interviewed and papers published (by comrades far more qualified than me to do it, I should add)to preserve their memories for future generations.


Guy Burgess
Eton & Cambridge







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