UK Left

wdrb at siva.bris.ac.uk wdrb at siva.bris.ac.uk
Fri Apr 28 17:19:00 MDT 1995


The British Left:

This is a brief account of what has happened to the British
Left since the collapse of the USSR. It reports mainly on
the revolutionary Left....the Labour Party is widely reported
in the press.  I'd be  interested in similar reports from other
countries...and corrections and observations on this.

The Labour Party: the Left of the party around Tony Benn
was smashed in 88/89 around the Poll Tax struggle.
 The leadership has moved to very moderate policies and has moved away from the unions. At the same time the Tories  are
in a profound crisis and Labour has a massive opinion poll
lead which they've sustained for two years.

Communists: the communists were already splitting in the mid
80's into a Euro wing around the Marxism Today journal and
a traditional wing around the Morning Star paper. The first
tended to be younger, more middle class and emphasised
cultural politics, the second were older, more working class, and
emphasised working class, union politics and support for the USSR.
Both groups seem to have splintered and collapsed. The Euros
have formed the Democratic Left which has no impact or presence.
The 'tankies' have split into several smaller groups and have
withered acrimoniously.

Trotskyists: back in the mid 70's the Trotskyist left flourished.
Militant with 10,000 members were a powerful force committed
to long term entryism into the Labour Party. In the 80's
they captured Liverpool City Council but were attacked by the
Tories and Kinnock, the Labour leader started to throw them out
of the Labour Party (for being a party within a party which was
an accusation to which they were vulnerable because it was true).
They were very involved inorganising the anti-Poll Tax movement
particularly in Glasgow where they built a big presence. Their
strength was always their very working class composition,
they could never be accused of being student politicos. Their
credibility was dented during the landmark anti-poll tax riot
in London (1990?) when their leadership appeared to offer police
help in identifying rioters! Their weakness for respectability and
fetish of 'discipline' had got the better of them. The victory of the
Poll Tax campaign robbed them of their best vehicle and they
have since bitterly split on the question of standing candidates
against the Labour Party. There membership is perhaps 3,000,
a shadow of their former glory. The other, once substantial
trotskyist groups (Workers Revolutionary Party, International
Marxist Group and the Revolutionary Communist Party) have
all split and collapsed to nothingness.


Socialist Workers Party: the only party to the Left of Labour
that has held its own. Perhaps 8,000 members and 30,000
papers sold a week. Classical 3rd Camp position "Neither Moscow
nor Washington but International Socialism" based on the
heresy of guru Tony Cliffe. Their position on the USSR helped
them survive its collapse. Also, their more middle class
membership (teachers, social workers etc) has not been smashed
by the 80's to the degree that the blue collar membership of
Militant were attacked. The big question is whether the SWP
will be able to use their new found hegemony to the Left
of the Labour Party. Their "know it all" vanguardism has
given way  to some real debate in their paper.
Will they survive the death of their guru and can a party
based on a bolshevik model of organisation answer the needs
of the working class in the year 2,000?

Anarchists: although there is much support for anarchist
attitudes and ideas amongst the young and dispossessed
(punks, animal rights people, new age travellors) the anarchists
have not created a visible political presence since the demise
of Class War in the late 80's. Although no more than 1,000
strong they produced the funniest and most militant magazine
seen on the Left and their areas of interest (attacks on royalty
and the police and attempts to gate-crash upper class functions)
have since  struck a  popular chord in the
working class. Nothing has emerged to fill the gap they've left.

Post-Lenninism: there have been the stirrings of groups
that are attempting to move past the demise of the USSR.There are a number of discussion groups loosely linked
with publications such as New Interventions, Trade Union News,
Open Polemic and The Somerset Clarion. These groups hope
to move beyond the Trotsky/Stalin split, they question
the value of forming yet another neo-bolshevik party,
they emphasise the importance of non-sectarian debate
and they try to bridge the devide between leftwing
intellecuals and working class activists.

Will Brown   Bristol  UK


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