“I believe in change, I believe in the Environment, I believe in Community, I believe in Human Rights and I believe in Freedom. Generally those are all things that the Left could and should believe in”
-Dave Cook, 1983
“We have gone far away from the Vulgar Marxism that started us off”
-Nina Temple, 1989
“We live in a time when all elites, whether on the left or the right, believe in rigid rules that say there is no alternative to the present political and economic system. We seek to change that.”
-Adam Curtis, 1993
The Washington Post - 16 March 1978
Former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro escaped a kidnapping plot by the far-left Red Brigades. An anonymous tipster relayed the information to law enforcement, who swiftly apprehended the terrorists in Via Fani. The attack came after the murder of German industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer by the Red Army Faction.
In spite of the attempt on his life, Moro was able to attend the Chamber of Deputies as a vote of confidence took place against the government of Giulio Andreotti. The Communists withdrew their “vote of non-no confidence” and guaranteed the fall of the third Andreotti cabinet. Extending a hand in cooperation, the PCI backed the return of Moro, allowing him to form his sixth cabinet. The Historic Compromise, a political dream between Moro and Enrico Berlinguer, had finally been actualized.
Berlinguer was a communist, yet one who realized the realities of the Cold War. Ever since their defeat in 1948, the Communists were frozen out of national power by the catch-all nature of Christian Democracy. Like any communist, Berlinguer saw the news about the juntas in Greece and Chile and knew that the Americans would never tolerate a leftist government in Italy. All the PCI could do was ensure Italy maintained a stable democracy by sharing power with the establishment. With a Marxist revolution out of the question, a social democratic government was far preferable to an Italian Pinochet.
Holding this position in a time of American containment and the Soviet Brezhnev Doctrine wasn’t easy. On a trip to Bulgaria, Berlinguer cheated death in what was likely an accident staged by the KGB. He walked away as one of the few survivors, deeply scared. Aldo Moro was just as frightened. Who wouldn’t be when Henry Kissinger’s deep, monotonous voice told him he would “pay dearly” for compromise with the Communists? In March of 1979, suspicions deepened when journalist Carmine Pecorelli was killed after publishing a report of ties between Operation Gladio and Moro’s attempted kidnapping. It wouldn't be too long after until General Dalla Chiesa and his wife laid limp in the seats of a Fiat Ritmo. Once a close friend, Giulio Andreotti now failed to maintain eye contact when Moro spoke to him. The poker face of Il Divo hid the dark truths of a nation built on secrets.
The reaction across the Communist World was mixed, to put it mildly. From Moscow, a rather pickled looking Leonid Brezhnev denouncing the move of ‘bourgeoises social democrats who have taken over the proud Italian Communist Party.’ Other pro-Moscow parties like the French Communist Party and Irish Workers’ Party took this line, often with the addition of denouncing the Italian Communists as ‘Trotskyist Wreckers’ which inevitably angered Proletarian Democracy, who as the main Italian Trotskyists were rather shocked and disgusted by the deal.
However, in the burgeoning EuroCommunist movement, parties in places ranging from Spain to Finland offered support to Berlinguer’s decision (often with the cavity that Berlinguer should have joined up with fellow progressives in social democratic parties instead of allying with the Christian Democrats).
The one place that didn’t offer any support, condolences, or white hot rage was the Communist Party of Great Britain. Far removed from it’s heights in the Mid 40s, the party had atrophied over time, as numerous other Far Left movements managed to outpace the sluggish CPGB. Unlike many other Communist Parties in Europe which slavishly followed one form of thought or the other (Moscow or Milan), due to the peculiarities of First Past the Post, the CPGB had contained both strains of Communist thought.
On one side you had the EuroCommunists, lead mainly by Dave Cook, a Rock Climber, a childhood friend of Shakin Stevens, feminist, and CPGB’s National Organiser since 1975. He was up against the Anti-Revisionists lead by Sid French, who had been musing just a year before about starting his own Communist Party due to his belief that the EuroCommunists had taken over the Party and were taking the revolutionary aspects out, but had decided to secretly organize inside the party instead (his efforts supported by Moscow after the Historic Compromise).
The middle of the gaggle was the General Secretary Gordon McLennan, who whilst siding more with the EuroCommunists on matters, had to present the illusion of a functioning party. It was this broken shambles of a party that was to enter the 1978 Congress and create history. Sid French had spent much of time organizing amongst the Old Guard and Members who whilst supporting Gordon McLennan thought that the EuroCommunists were a step too far. When the matter came of what line the Party should take on the PCI, Sid French launched his offensive. The Party overwhelmingly voted to support Moscow’s line.
Gordon McLennan’s reaction was to resign, fearing French’s influence in the party. Immediately afterward it was decided to oust any EuroCommunists, with Dave Cook being one of the many forced to resign and leave the party.
And so EuroCommunism in Britain would have vanished into the ether if Dave Cook wasn’t visited by John Peck. Despite being a long time member of the CPGB and having contested numerous elections under their name, Peck’s eccentricities and Pro-EuroCommunist outlook had led to him being ousted by his local party. However, instead of joining Labour (a party in the throes of its own chaotic battles and too right-wing for Peck’s taste), he decided that the Left needed another party and enquired with Dave Cook about forming one with him.
“The Party will be one enshrined in the beliefs of Democratic Socialism, Feminism, Environmentalism, and Freedom” Cook would later say as the pair set out about getting members, funding and support.
By the end of 1978, as Britain lurched into the Winter of Discontent (which would mark to many as the beginning of the Long ‘80s), Democratic Left was born.