Friday, 12 August 2016

On Trotskyism and Entryists.

I thought I’d write something on a hot topic of the moment: - whether the surge of new members of the Labour Party includes extreme left, Trotskyist members of other organisations who were expelled from the Labour Party decades ago. Or rather, as it’s pretty clear some of those who were expelled have indeed joined, or tried to join, whether they are entryists, or just honest people who see the LP taking a leftward turn for the first time in decades and feel there is now a place for them. I’ve seen a couple of articles about how ‘entryists’ operate, and it has caused me to go back to my time as a Trotskyist, prior to joining the LP, and to reappraise it. Since I re-joined the LP just over a year ago, I’ve always made it clear that I was on the left, and had considered the LP to be too right-wing since Neil Kinnock took over, pre- Blair, for me to wish to support it. So I am completely open and honest about who I am and where I come from, as I see no point in being anything else.
So- here’s my history.  

In 1977 I got a job in a hotel in Oxford, while I was trying to finish my thesis (I never did finish it). I was parking cars in the Randolph Hotel, working with one other guy. I had already done a hotel job, and had been pretty appalled by the way staff were treated and what they were paid. So when a group of chambermaids decided they were fed up with conditions and decided to join the TGWU, and came round to talk to my colleague about it, I decided to back them up by joining too. I did it because I thought it was fair. I’d never been political, although I had backed a strike by the staff in my college when I was an undergrad and had always been vaguely left-wing. When all the staff who were known to be in the Union got the sack, I came out on strike to support them. I could have just left, but I thought the right thing to do was stand by my commitment in joining the Union. Once we were out on strike, standing on a picket line every day through all weathers, for 6 months over the winter of 77-78, we got all sorts of left-wing groups coming in to support us. That was when I met Trotskyists for the first time. They were all there – SWP, IMG, other groups whose names I forget, and a local off-shoot of the WRP, set up by men who worked in the car factory up at Cowley, called the Workers Socialist League. At first I wasn’t interested in all the political talk that went on. Most of the members of these organizations- like the SWP- were students, and even though I was a student, I still shared the idea that as they weren’t ‘real’ workers, they didn’t really have anything valid to say. But I was impressed by the car factory blokes who came down so consistently to support us, and gradually began to listen to what they had to say. I thought that if they - real working class blokes, thought Trotskyism had something to say to them, in their real-life, working situation, then there must be something in it.
Of course, as a historian, I knew about Marx. No serious historian dismisses Marx’s theories about economic causes underlying social processes and so forth. But I didn’t know much else. Eventually I joined the WSL, and spent about a year or 18 months being a Trotskyist (NOT a TrotskyITE!!) . The strike had ended, with no success, and I had got a job working on a milk round for the Co-op.
As a Trotskyist, part of my remit was to be a Trades Union activist – that is, go into the local branch of my Union, the TGWU, and sort of push things to the left. In any way I could. It was all a bit vague, but the image presented by this writer,
about how Trotskyists operate, is, I suppose, accurate. It wasn’t done in the cynical way he describes. The argument, as I recall, was that it was important to address the real concerns of working people, in the organizations they had set up for themselves, but try to keep those organizations from descending into trifling, bits and pieces about their working conditions, and inject a wider, more political perspective. Or at least, that is how I understood it.  
Anyway - after more than a year of attending meetings, trudging around council estates selling the newspaper, attending meetings, standing on the street selling the paper, attending meetings, going on demonstrations and mass pickets, attending meetings, being expected to provide my car, and myself as driver, for any use to which the organization wanted, attending meetings, well - you get the picture – I just decided it was all a waste of time, and resigned.  

But I had become politicized by the whole experience, and rather than giving up in disillusionment, I joined the Labour Party.  In my brief experience of Trotskyism, ‘entryism’ consisted of Trades Union activity. Joining the LP was considered a cop-out. But this was around the time when the Militant Tendency were openly advocating entry to the LP, so I can only speak for the lot I was mixed up with (and reading the Wikipedia entry on the WSL I see their policy on joining the LP changed around the time I left them ).  I’m not sure about the description of Trots as deliberately disrupting meetings and tactically using points of order and such like to scare off any moderate members in order to take control of local branches, but I think it is true in some cases. What I noticed was that all left-wing groups seemed to hate each other more than they ever hated Tories. I can certainly remember going to a Trades Council meeting in London where Jack Dromey was speaking, sounding pretty good, to my mind, but the attitude of my fellow Trotskyists was that he was some kind of lackey of the state or something.

Anyway - once I had left the WSL and joined the LP, I did indeed find that I was too left wing for the then leader of my local branch. This leader then left to join the newly formed Social Democratic Party, complaining that his local branch had been infiltrated by Militant Tendency entryists - meaning me and my husband.  My husband was not as left as me, and was really a floating voter, but he had rashly called this guy a fascist. It weren’t me, honest! Once he’d left, the rest of the Labour Party group became very enthusiastic and started producing a regular newsletter which we distributed free in our area. It was a lot more fun that what I’d done in the WSL, and really, the politics were better, although I had to learn that the LP generally doesn’t see itself as a Marxist organisation, which was a total shock to me. We canvassed the whole area during the election when Michael Foot was Leader, and also opposed Neil Kinnock as leader because we wanted the more left candidate. I suppose the reason why we didn’t get disillusioned by Foot’s defeat was that we were in such a strongly Tory Constituency that we knew we’d never win in our own area anyway.  I find the same spirit in the LP branch I am in now, in Theresa May’s constituency.  

My husband did accidentally get himself elected to the Town Council, rather in the way Jeremy Corbyn has accidentally got himself elected as Leader of the Labour Party. He put himself forward as the token LP candidate, because he was the only one available to do it, believing that we lived in such a Tory area that he’d never win, only to find that people voted for him because he looked honest and they couldn’t stand the other chap.  Some of them told him this as he stood outside the polling booth on the day. Of course it was quite boring and un-political on that town council, but he did his bit for the few years he had left to live. He died in 1984. After that, I moved to Wales and decided that none of this politics stuff was for me.

Now I’m back in the Labour Party, because of Jeremy Corbyn. The LP is shifting to the left for the first time in decades, and is finding itself attracting hundreds of thousands of new members for doing so.  It always describes itself as a ‘Broad Church’ but in reality the hostility of the right wing of the party towards the left has always been absolute, in the time-honoured tradition of the left always fighting amongst themselves. There is nothing new about this, it was the same when Foot was leader, and the reasons given by this generation of right-wing-Labour (I don’t like to call them right wing as I reserve that for Tories, but I have to call them something) – that Corbyn has no leadership qualities, that the British public will never vote for a left wing government, etc etc, are the same reasons they gave under Foot.  Corbyn has plenty of leadership qualities but too many of the PLP just don’t want to follow him. Their views were summed up perfectly by Tony Blair when he said he’d rather see Labour defeated than win on a left platform.  They really would rather destroy the party than work together with a left-wing leader. Even if they have to put up a fake leftie like Smith, to get Corbyn out. And they will never ever ever see themselves as the ones who are destroying the party. Or as the ones who can’t compromise, or co-operate.  Or as the ones who aren’t realists.

Having said that – I don’t want the Labour party to expel anyone who joins them, whether on the right or left of the party, just for having the wrong politics.   Obviously anyone who is a member of any other party that opposes the principles of the LP has no place in the party – that includes other parties of the right and left. But if people have joined the LP recently who used to be in other parties of the left, then they should be allowed to stay. A lot of them might be people like me. If they do proceed to behave in the way described in the article linked above, then they should be expelled because of their behaviour, not their politics. If they persistently disrupt meetings and prevent the business of any local group being attended to, then, yes, they have to go.  But that applies as much to those on the right of the party, within the PLP, who are disrupting the business of the Party and preventing it doing its work as Opposition and Government-in-waiting. 

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