[Marxism] Wow! Someone worse than Jack Barnes

Paul Flewers trusscott.foundation at blueyonder.co.uk
Mon Dec 2 07:47:39 MST 2013


This story has certainly been doing the rounds in Britain, and, because I
was one of the first to speculate that the Workers Institute of
Marxism-Leninism-MaoZedong Thought was involved and rashly put this on
Facebook, I have been thrust into the position of being an expert on the
ways and means of bizarre left-wing organisations, being contacted and
subsequently quoted (not always accurately) by several British newspapers
and the Malaysian Star <
http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2013/11/28/Maoist-group-moved-from-activism-to-paranoiadriven-cult-mentality-say-British-leftists.aspx
>,
and having an interview on the BBC World Service to boot. Last week,
therefore, was a little strange.

The origins of this little group are covered in the NYT piece that Lou P
forwarded. My experience of them, as was the experience of many
left-wingers in South London in the late 1970s, was that they provided the
comic relief. I, as a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Tendency
(later Party), would be selling our papers in Brixton market, as would
members and supporters of various other groups. The WI people would turn
up, their headquarters was a shop in Acre Lane, just down the road (it
sported a big picture of Mao on the corner), and they would offer their
leaflets to all and sundry. I don't have any of them now (I foolishly gave
them to someone years ago), but examples of their work can be found here <
http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.hightide/index.htm#wimlmzt >.

The group, led by 'Comrade Bala', originally from Singapore, was considered
by everyone else to be politically insane; it held that Britain was a
'fascist' state, it confidently expected the British working class would
soon be freed by the Chinese People's Liberation Army, and after a while it
assured us -- and I remember reading this at the time with astonishment --
that the Chinese Communist Party had established in a clandestine manner
the dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain. The group, about two dozen
strong, seemed to be composed mainly of foreign students, I only saw a few
young men and women from South or Eastern Asian backgrounds, although the
news reports show that they did recruit some people of European and
Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. Their disruptive behaviour led to their being
barred from most people's meetings. They had a habit of making things worse
for themselves by courting arrest and then denouncing the local magistrate
as an 'agent of the fascist state' when he fined them a fiver for
obstruction or some other minor charge.

The group was raided by the police. This is a very rare occurrence in
Britain, and was rather odd as the WI was a politically irrelevant
organisation. I suspect that, having had several members arrested and
noting that most of them were from abroad, it was noted that some of them
had dubious immigration status (probably overstaying their visa-time), so,
as the authorities do when finding undocumented workers, it looks around
for others in that position; hence the raid. Several WI members were
deported. This, I suspect, led Comrade Bala, who already considered Britain
to be a 'fascist' state, to think that we were in a similar situation to
Germany in 1933, and they went into clandestinity. He was always a
suspicious person, suspecting the motives and integrity of anyone who
disagreed with him; the WI's parent group was very hot on 'security' and
intolerant of dissent, and the WI took it further in line with his personal
traits. By the early 1980s, they were not to be seen, they had just
disappeared, and over the intervening three decades one would occasionally
be asked or one might ask someone: 'Whatever happened to the Workers
Institute?'

We now know that they did have a clandestine life, so successful that
nobody ever knew of their continued existence. Of the three women who were
found 'in slavery', I feel that the two older ones went voluntarily with
Comrade Bala into hiding, following the party's line. The youngest woman,
now aged 30, would have been born to one of the party members already in
hiding, and it seems to me that she was educated at home as she is fully
literate. It is entirely possible that, having lived for three decades in
hiding, the women concerned came to the conclusion that Comrade Bala's idea
of the world did not exactly coincide with reality. Even a shopping trip to
Brixton that was closely chaperoned by Comrade Bala's wife would show them
that Britain, whatever its faults, was not Hitler's Germany. The youngest
woman would have had all the joys of growing up in an austere Maoist
household, and probably would have liked to have been playing with other
kids, doing what teenagers do, etc, and jibbed against the house rules.

My take on the 'slavery' business is that we do not have a case of
kidnapping and imprisonment, as in the recent case of the three girls
pulled off the street in a US city and kept locked away and sexually
abused. Whether Comrade Bala physically prevented his comrades from
entering into contact with the outside world other than through
carefully-chaperoned shopping trips, I don't know, and nobody will know
until a full investigation takes place, and even then one can only
speculate on what truly happened, taking into account the personal dynamics
within the group, the long-term impact of self-imposed isolation upon one's
consciousness, and so on. Comrade Bala seems to have had quite some
charisma, and people can be influenced by charismatic people to do more and
go further than they would normally do or go, but one has to be amenable in
the first place to the ideas of the charismatic figure to act in such ways.

Some of the coverage of this affair is consciously aimed at discrediting
the left, making out as if we are all as barking mad as the WI, or at least
halfway there. In my interviews I have been careful to emphasise the
overtly weird behaviour of the group, and indeed, despite some odd traits
and at times unacceptable behaviour within other left groups, the WI was
way out on a limb as far as its ideas and behaviour went. Another recent
attempt to tar the left by association was the scandal of the 'Crystal
Methodist', the former head of the Cooperative Bank, Labour Party activist
and prominent Methodist vicar Paul Flowers (a name rather too close to mine
for comfort!) who was exposed in the right-wing press as an avid consumer
of hard drugs, including crystal meth and ketamine (horse tranquilliser),
and other behaviour unbecoming in their eyes for a man in his position,
with the implication that he typifies the mainstream Labour Party, or at
least its close friends.

Paul F



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