Towards New Layers and the Labour Party

We considered that our main task in the period of the 1970s and also later, was to turn decisively towards the proletariat, especially to the new layers. In Britain, as we have detailed in our book, The Rise of Militant, we concentrated our work in the Labour Party and, particularly, in the youth wing of the Labour Party. We had to skillfully adapt to this milieu but we never hid our ideas. Indeed, it became a standing joke amongst our opponents that a Militant supporter would immediately be recognized by the allegedly exaggerated hand movements but, above all, if they mentioned that they stood on the basis of the ideas of “Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky”. This did not stop our “Marxist” opponents, who were usually located outside of the organized labor movement, from criticizing us for “opportunism”. While we gave critical support to the left, particularly the Benn movement in the 1980s, we always defended our own independent position.

Could the same be said for those “revolutionary purists” who did not sully their hands within the mass organizations of the working class? The followers of Mandel, in a number of countries, opportunistically cuddled up to different left reformists and in the process watered down their program. No such criticism could be made of the supporters of Militant (now the Socialist Party) in Britain. We built a solid base amongst the youth, particularly in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS). Ninety per cent of our efforts were concentrated in this field. It was not just the youth comrades, but the older comrades who participated and played a role in educating the new layer of youth who were moving towards Marxism. We won a majority in the LPYS in 1970, as we have explained elsewhere, later taking all the positions on the National Committee. This probably went a bit far but the LPYS NC members were actually elected at regional conferences. Experience had shown that unless the Marxists won the NC position in a region, the Labour Party bureaucracy would hamper, undermine and frustrate the attempts of the youth movement in that area to engage in any genuine mass work. In the future, however, where we are engaged in mass work, in general it would not be appropriate for us, even where we have an overwhelming majority, to take all the positions in the movement.

We were tolerated in the Labour Party at this stage. One of the reasons for this was the genuine rank-and-file democracy that existed in the party. Also we were energetic, most of the comrades were youth, had very good ideas, etc. A wing of the bureaucracy undoubtedly believed that the youthful supporters of Militant would, as previous generations had done, move to the right as they got older. However, these “Trotskyists” did grow up but, to the horror of the right wing, they continued to defend their ideas and some of them even became MPs. They were not the kind of MPs that the right and the bureaucracy had anticipated. The 1980s was a very successful period for the Marxists in Britain, as we have explained in The Rise of Militant. At one stage our membership rose to 8,000. Three MPs – all known Trotskyists – were elected and made a marvelous contribution to the struggles of the British working class.

Of course, the ruling class hated us and put enormous pressure on the Labour bureaucracy to weaken us and drive us out of the party. As is well known, a series of expulsions ensued in the 1980s and early 1990s. However, this did not prevent us from reaching out to workers who were engaged in struggle. Alongside of the Liverpool battle, we gained invaluable experience in leading the mass movement around the poll tax. We defeated this measure and, in the process, brought down Thatcher.