10 December, 2015


What is to be Done: I
The essential tasks for the Marxists of today

Epiphany, Activism, Election and Expulsion

Having become a sort of Marxist on purely intellectual grounds, aged 19, while a student at Leeds University, it was clearly immediately necessary for me to learn a great deal more, and, of course, to actually find out what such a conversion, and indeed commitment, would entail politically. It wasn’t immediately evident what I should do as I was totally unaware of what politics was, and did not arrive at my decision for political reasons, but as I have said, for purely intellectual ones. I considered that I had merely “found” a means whereby I could begin to understand the World, and commence the necessary ascent to make full sense of things, and why these were the way they were.

I, of course, read crucial texts such as “The Part played by Labour in the Ascent from Ape to Man” by Engels; “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” by Lenin, and “Ten Days that Shook the World” by John Read, and anything else that seemed appropriate. I was hooked! But what then must I do?

I joined the Communist Party!

Where rather surprisingly, I wasn’t asked to DO anything! There were discussion groups and votes in the Students’ Union, but little else. It didn’t seem to be a very active sort of commitment. So, off my own bat I persuaded the local “Librarian” of the Party to supply me (on sale or return) with some books to sell on a weekly stall within the Union Building. After a slow start the interest began to pick up, and assuming most political people were like me, I filled the stall with whatever I thought would interest my fellow students.

In a very short time the stall had expanded and was doing good business. I obviously had read what I was selling, and could advise potential customers as to what they may read. A typical example was “A Painter of Our Time” by John Berger, which had been remaindered, but of which I spoke so highly that I was able to sell all the stock that the Party could supply. But as to real political activity, there was none!

Now, the clients for my stall were by no means all Party members. Indeed, there wasn’t that many among the students. The majority were Socialists and many professed to being Marxists, but they certainly had differences with the Party itself. I’m afraid I was in no position to either inform them, or to argue with them, so the conversations around my stall were mostly about the books available there.

Among my “customers”, another tendency began to take my eye. They were also Marxists, through and through, but insisted that they were the true inheritors of Marxism. They were Trotskyists. And it soon became clear that there was no shortage of political activity within that Grouping, though it was still limited to the Student Body only.

At an important Debate in the Student Union, which was, as they say, “totally packed out”, the speaker for these Trotskyists trounced all other participants with his arguments and political position. This was more like it. I, thereafter, went around saying that I was a Trotskyist. Please remember I was only 19 and had never come across any of these things before. My parents never mentioned politics (but voted Labour), and not a word was mentioned by anyone at the Grammar School that I had passed my Scholarship to attend.

My idea of political activity was to support these Trotskyists on votes within the Union, but I didn’t join! No body even asked me to, and I knew no-one among my fellow students who even professed to be a member.

The surprising thing was that though activity within the Union was prodigious it was also remarkably limited in scope– so much so that any Tories that were about had to hide, or pretend that they were some sort of Socialist. [It was, after all, the first generation of Working Class youth to get to University in any sort of numbers, and Leeds was an obvious place for these “new students” to be accommodated. And they certainly dominated proceedings there. What had been the sole privilege of the Middle and Upper Classes was now open to the “cream” of the Working Class and they grasped it with both hands. The Vice President of the Students’ Union was a Communist, and he had been elected by the Student Body, and captured their support, so Left Wing Politics were everywhere and seemed to include everybody. This was 1959.

But, not a single worker was in sight.

On finishing my Degree and moving to Leicester to do what was termed a Cert. Ed. (after which I would be able to work as a teacher), I was pleased to have two political friends from Leeds there along with me. One was a close friend who had been in the same “digs” as myself for the last two years at Leeds, and the other, it turned out, was a committed, and well informed Trotskyist. He KNEW what had to be done.

His group had developed a position to recruit working class youth into politics, and the method had been worked out as the so-called Entry Tactic. This involved entering the Labour Party (as the usual party of the British Working Class) and there to build its youth section – the Young Socialists into a Marxist and Revolutionary Youth Movement.

We quickly joined him in this endeavour, joined the Labour Party AND became members of the Trotskyist tendency – the Socialist Labour League.

Starting initially with tiny meetings at Labour Party Headquarters in the City, we soon moved out to where the Youth were situated. The tactic was extremely successful, and how could it be other? We worked exclusively on the working class estates and provided facilities that no-one else would. We were soon running Youth Club type meetings all over the city, providing Dances and Football matches, but with a clear unapologetic anti-Tory standpoint, and obviously commitment to the Working Class.

By 1964 we had grown nationally to have as elected members of the National Committee of the YS, 10 out of 12 of the country’s Regions, and the National Secretary was also one of us. And a General Election was nigh!

In the Election Campaign we gave the Tories hell. We followed them about the city disrupting their meetings and condemning their policies. They couldn’t get a word in edgeways. We regularly sold our newspapers outside Factories at the crack of dawn, and spent most evenings doing the same in Working Mens’ Clubs and in pubs.

Within a short time we were all expelled from the Labour Party, for such reprehensible and underhand activities. But they were too late! We took the bulk of the Young Socialists with us. Interestingly, all other Trotskyist tendencies were not expelled, neither did they join us outside the Labour Party, they remained in what had to be renamed as the Labour Party Young Socialists. Of course, you can see why. The Young Socialists was now clearly the Youth Movement of the SLL, and the other tendencies were not going to subordinate themselves to that organisation.

Within a short time the SLL became the WRP (Workers Revolutionary Party) and managed to produce a Daily paper – the Workers Press, while continuing to build the Young Socialists. By 1968 we had organised a major intervention in the International Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Liege, Belgium, and even raised sufficient money to hire a ferry and a train to take a large body of youth to this significant Demonstration.

But, in spite of so-called Education Classes, little or NO further development in Marxism took place. A same-age peer of mine from Leeds University soon came to the fore as the Economics expert, but he had had the same “education” as I and though he was a great bloke, you could not say that he was advancing Marxism (just as I wasn’t of course!).

On the other hand, the theoretical preoccupations of the Party were understandable, but deadly. They were essentially retrospective and defensive against Revisionism. The failures of the First, Second and Third Workers’ Internationals had been due to this middle class cancer, and were just too pernicious to allow to flourish yet again. So in the Fourth Trotskyist International, there was no doubt that the latest variety was in danger of repeating the demise of that organisation too. The biggest party in the world was the American Party, and it had focussed in on a “Hands off Cuba” Campaign, which left most of the crucial tasks unattended. Single issue politics were rapidly growing and they decided to join the rush.

But, internecine fights could NOT be the answer to the necessary theoretical developments of the Party in the UK....

This post is the first in a new blog series entitled "What is to be done?" on the crises in both Marxism and Science, and how a revolution is necessary in both. This body of work is AVAILABLE NOW as a Special Issue. Read it all here!

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