Gordon McLennan, Former Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) general secretary, died of cancer on Saturday May 21 at the age of 87.
He was born in Glasgow on May 12 1924, shortly after the very first Labour government took office.
He joined the Young Communist League as a 15-year-old, serving on its executive committee from 1942 to 1947.
During this period, as McLennan became an engineering draughtsman, Clydeside was at the centre of two strikes by apprentices in the engineering and shipbuilding industries.
His skills as a capable organiser and an expressive public speaker soon marked him out for full-time Communist Party work.
Those talents flourished as he became the party's Glasgow city organiser, then city secretary, Scottish organiser and in 1956, Scottish secretary.
The following year, McLennan was elected to the executive committee at British level.
Always a keen advocate of independent Communist Party participation in elections, he contested Glasgow Govan in the 1959, 1964 and 1966 general elections, the West Lothian by-election in 1962 and St Pancras North in the general elections of 1970 and February 1974.
As the party's national organiser between 1966 and 1975, he contributed to an upturn in membership and influence inside the labour movement.
However, his responsibilities also included relations with the Young Communist League (YCL) and he failed to caution the new revisionist leadership of the YCL against its enthusiasm for unelecting, suspending and expelling political critics.
He succeeded John Gollan as Communist Party general secretary in 1975, continuing the party's tendency to elect leaders from a skilled working-class background.
Initially, McLennan's reputation was as a force for party unity.
He had not been prominent in the inner-party debate about such contentious issues as the 1968 Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia.
He agreed with the party in opposing it, albeit with reservations, but had said little while Bert Ramelson sharply condemned the Soviets and Rajani Palme Dutt condemned the condemners.
Upon learning from Gollan that the Soviet party provided its British counterpart with secret funding, McLennan claimed to have asked for it to cease, although assistant general secretary Reuben Falber continued to take annual delivery for another four years.
Nonetheless, under McLennan's leadership Britain's Communist Party aligned itself with declarations from the Spanish, French and Italian communists arguing the necessity of a democratic, constitutional transition to a socialism that would bear little if any relation to the Soviet model.
At the same time, he disavowed the term "Eurocommunism" which this approach came to be associated with, insisting that the label was neither accurate nor useful.
Rather, it was "intended to create differences in the communist movement."
But with McLennan's patronage, the doors to senior positions in the party were thrown open to self-styled Gramscians, Eurocommunists and revolutionary democrats.
Certainly, changes in the economy, society, the working class and the labour movement were throwing up new questions and challenges or older ones in new forms, but, instead of making a Marxist analysis of new realities, the leadership majority headed by McLennan handed the intellectual baton to a faction congealing around Marxism Today, which was nominally the party's theoretical and discussion journal.
Like many good orators, McLennan wrote very little himself of analytical quality.
The Eurocommunists however launched a concerted offensive against class-based conceptions of political struggle, democracy and state power.
Trade union militants and working-class intellectuals were marginalised or excluded from the party's intellectual work.
When party members, especially in the trade unions, began to resist, the self-proclaimed "anti-Stalinists" led the call for disciplinary action.
Tragically, general secretary McLennan sided with those he regarded as bringing fresh ideas and dynamism into the party, while basing his stance selectively on party rules rather than on Marxist-Leninist politics.
Yet evidence was there - in the sharp decline of the YCL and the disintegration of the once powerful national students committee - that the Eurocommunists were driving the party towards the swamp.
Nevertheless, McLennan proceeded to preside over the biggest purge in the history of the Communist Party in Britain.
At the Party's London district congress in November 1984, he intervened personally to oppose the election of a new district committee, leading a minority walkout with the words "All those who support the Communist Party of Great Britain, follow me."
Elected district committees were dissolved. Hundreds of party members, including Morning Star editor Tony Chater, PPPS secretary Mary Rosser and leading trade unionists Ken Gill, Derek Robinson, Terry Marsland and Ken Brett were expelled, deregistered or excluded.
As more communists and their left allies came to realise the extent of this liquidationist danger, the Morning Star was kept out of Eurcommunist clutches.
Even so, many longstanding communists stayed with McLennan and the leadership majority, sure that he would steer a middle course between the "left sectarians" and the Marxism Today faction.
In 1987, he was persuaded to continue holding the ring as general secretary of the CPGB. It proved to be of no avail.
The following year, many of the expelled and excluded comrades convened a congress to re-establish the Communist Party of Britain on the basis of its existing Marxist-Leninist principles and programme.
When McLennan eventually stood down in 1989, the liquidationists took full control of the remaining section of the CPGB.
They rejected Marxism-Leninism in 1990 and changed its name to Democratic Left in 1991, as counter-revolution spread across eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
A few years later, Democratic Left dissolved itself into the now defunct New Politics Network.
Few noticed the death of the heavily subsidised Marxism Today.
By then, many in the previous leadership had abandoned ship, having allowed others to occupy the bridge and set course for the rocks.
As an emigre in London, McLennan aligned himself with the Communist Party of Scotland, which had sailed away from the wreckage. He undertook a short speaking tour under its auspices in 1992.
He had long championed the national, democratic rights of the Scottish and Welsh peoples, urging the party to redouble its efforts after 1979 to help convince the labour movement of the case for devolution.
His main political activity was carried out in the Lambeth Pensioners Action Group.
He was still able to deliver a stirring speech and he once led a lie-down protest near Westminster Bridge in protest at new Labour's betrayal of pensioners.
Also active in the anti-war movement, he supported Respect candidate George Galloway in Bethnal Green and Bow in the 2005 general election, posing for photographs with Galloway and veteran anti-fascist Harold Rosen in front of the Cable Street mural.
McLennan remained a keen Morning Star reader to the end, which followed a long battle against cancer.
His most recent contact with the paper was in February 2008, when he wrote in to the letters page to congratulate PCS leader Mark Serwotka on his support for fair voting.
"At last, at last! A leader of our present-day labour movement comes out publicly for 'proportional representation in all elections,' as William Gallacher Communist MP for West Fife advocated over 60 years ago in his evidence to the speakers conference on electoral reform. Well done Mark Serwotka," he wrote.
He is survived by wife Mary - with whom he often shared a memorable duet at social events, singing Robert Burns's My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose - sons Tom, Gregor and Johnny and daughter Fran.
Gordon McLennan will be remembered by many as a modest, polite comrade with a lively sense of humour.
Critics and adversaries will also recall his heavy, personal responsibility for the liquidation of the old CPGB, in a period when the British and US ruling classes were intensifying their anti-working class, anti-people offensive on a global scale.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.
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