Bland, William “Bill” (1916-2001)
Bill Bland was born in the North of England, into a middle class home. He spent his politically formative years in the army of New Zealand, where he was active in the Communist Party as an educator. He returned to Britain in the post-war years as an ophthalmic optician. In the 1950’s Bland witnessed the Communist Party of Great Britain embracing the “Peaceful Road to Socialism”, and Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin. Bland believed these “revisionist” stances were incorrect and anti-Marxist-Leninist.
Bland therefore became a member of several anti-revisionist formations in Britain. He soon joined forces with Mike Baker in the Marxist-Leninist Organisation of Britain (MLOB). Shortly thereafter, the ‘Cultural Revolution’ occured in China, and prompted by a barrage of questions, Bland undertook a systematic study of Mao. He found that he could not agree with Mao’s theory of the ‘New Democratic State’; and penned within months, the first refutation of Mao from the point of view of a pro-Stalin supporter. At that time, the MLOB rapidly dwindled in size as many members retained affection of Mao. This was to be the first of Bland’s many un-popular analyses in the pro-Stalin wing of the Communist movement.
Bland spent the rest of his life trying to answer the question: “How had revisionism become ascendant?”
Bland came to the conclusion that Stalin had been in a minority position in the Politburo, surrounded by hidden revisionists too clever to openly attack Marxism-Leninism; further, they had straight-jacketed Stalin by means of erecting the “Cult of Personality,” which was then used as a weapon against him. Bland felt that Yezhov had subverted the secret services, who had been replaced at Stalin’s behest by Beria. Bland pointed for example, to the release of many thousands of wrongly imprisoned Bolsheviks. Bland then argued that by the 18th Party Congress Stalin had been excluded from the highest echelons of the party decision making apparatus, and had counter-attacked with his pamphlet “Economic Problems of the USSR.”
Stalin’s essay was a seminal attack on Nikolai Vosnosensky, who was linked to Khrushchev. Cosequently argued Bland, the later economic changes re-establishing capitalism in the USSR had been fought to a standstill by Stalin. Bland therefore argued a special significance for Stalin’s last work. As Bland saw it, once Stalin was dead, the capitalist “reforms” of Vosnosensky were enacted by Khrushchev and his successors. He formulated these views in articles that culminated in the book ‘Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR’, published in 1981.
Following his analysis of Maoism as ‘left revisionism’, Bland began to question his own long-standing support for the then pro-Chinese Party of Labour of Albania, but concluded that the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania remained socialist. Before the 20th party Congress of the CPSU, Bland had founded the Albanian Society of Britain, at the invitation of the PSRA. Despite now being officially ostracized by Albania, Bland continued his work running the Albanian Society, and organizing an enormous education on this isolated solitary socialist country. In those years, he became an acknowledged authority on all things Albanian. He published an English-Albanian dictionary and he fielded any manner of queries upon arcane features of Albanian life, history, music, foods, geography, customs and mores etc.
While China was supported by the Albanian party, some of the Maoist parties had run an explicit party front Albania Society, resisting Bland’s call for one single, united front Albania Society, regardless of ‘narrow’ party affiliation. Following Hoxha’s open attack on Mao, some of these Societies split and some died. Their remaining members were correctly advised by the foreign Liaison committee of the PSRA, to join with Bland’s organisation to form one United Front of support for the PSRA. But they launched attempts to remove Bland’s leadership, charging that an emphasis on all aspects of life – such as music etc – was “anti-Marxist-Leninist,” and “insufficiently political,” and that Bland should be removed. The membership rejected this attempt to remove Bland. The Society continued till the revisionist take-over of the PSRA by Ramiz Alia, at which point Bland resigned from the Albania Society.
It was primarily differences over Bland’s analysis of Albania as Socialist that precipitated the split in the MLOB in 1975, following which, the Communist League came into existence. The Communist League from its inception always supported the Peoples Socialist Republic of Albania as a solitary socialist state. Those that stayed with the MLOB, including Mike Baker and his supporters, rejected that position.
One specific aspect of modern revisionism, to which Bland paid close attention, was the subversion of the second stage of socialist revolution, into a static national democratic deviations. For Bland, this represented a distortion from the Marxist-Leninist theory of the nation. Into these categories, Bland placed the pseudo-‘socialist’ revolutions of China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Tanzania. He argued that all of these had ignored Lenin’s injunction not to build a ‘Chinese Wall’ between the first (national democratic) stage of revolution and the second (socialist) stage. Bland also argued that other, phenomena such as the “Black Nation” in the USA, “Black Racism” and “Scottish, Welsh and Cornish Nationalism”, in Britain, represented national deviations away from socialist revolution.
These views led him to challenge fundamental Stalinist premises: If the Soviet Union had been permeated by a class war involving the highest echelons of the Party, was the Comintern any different?
Bland puzzled over several related matters: Why had the Comintern performed so many about-turns on key questions such as the nature of the United Front? Was Stalin really ‘in control’ of the Comintern? Why had the Peoples Front governments been supported beyond any credible point by European communist parties, especially in France, in assisting a fascist take-over? And why did the ultra-left rejections of a united front of the late 1920’s swing suddenly into ultra-right distortions of a correct United Front policy? Etc.
Bland argued that the first ultra-left deviations in the Comintern, in the period from about 1924 to 1928 had allowed fascism to take power in Germany. In the same period, under the cover of this ultra-leftism, Manuilsky and Kussinen had destroyed the Indian revolution by sabotaging Stalin’s line of the Workers and Peasants parties. Bland thought that the second right deviations, from about 1930 onwards had prevented the masses of Europe taking power under Communist Party direction.
Bland now further argued that Stalin had not been in a leadership position in the Comintern since around 1924; as follows: Initially Zinoviev had exercised the leadership, and thereafter Bukharin. When both were exposed as “revisionists” they were purged from further influencing the Comintern. Both were later shot. Thereafter Dimitrov, Otto Kuusinen, and Dimitri Manuilskii exercised the Comintern leadership. Bland argued they had perverted a correct implementation of Marxism-Leninism. Dimitrov had been sprung from the German Fascist prisons thanks to a rather dubious, and surprising “leniency” of the German fascists. “Why?”, asked Bland, replying that a pact had been struck; as shown when Dimitrov went on to subvert United Front tactics into the right deviation of supporting “Popular Front” governments beyond Marxist-Leninist principles of the correct United Front tactics.
It was for these reasons, argued Bland, that the Comintern was dissolved by Stalin. Stalin then created the Cominform under a completely different leadership, led by his most trusted lieutenants such as Zhdanov. It must be remembered, said Bland, that it was the Cominform that had exposed the Western Communist parties plans for implementing right deviationist policies, and the Titoites for allying with the USA. During this latter historic confrontation Stalin overtly supported Albania and Hoxha against Tito.
Apart from his theoretical works, Bland wrote a number of plays, directed two films, and created a ballet. A life-long intense love of the arts – especially cinema and the theatre – led him to re-affirm the principles of Socialist Realist Art. He wrote widely on theatre and film, and on the history of theatre.
In Britain he led the Communist League to urge the principled unity of all Marxist-Leninist forces, hence Bland’s role in the early stages of the National Committee for A Marxist-Leninist Unity (NCMLU). Bland also formed the Stalin Soicety in the UK. But the pro-China factions within the Stalin Society that ensured Bland’s later expulsion. He was a key figure in the formation of the International Struggle Marxist-Leninist, and is cited as a major influence by Alliance Marxist-Leninist (North America).
Written by Hari Kumar, 2005