Bill Landles: 65 years a revolutionary

Yesterday was Bill Landles’ 85th birthday. He is an active supporter of the Socialist Appeal in Britain and the IMT. His activity goes right back to the days of the RCP during the Second World War, where he played a role in the apprentices’ strikes. He is a living link to those early pioneering days of our movement.

Comrade Bill Landles is 85 on October 26th. By coincidence, in the old Russian calendar that is also the date of Trotsky's 130th birthday, and the anniversary of the Russian revolution. This is highly appropriate because Bill has devoted the whole of his thinking life to the cause of the October Revolution and the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.

2009 also represents another important anniversary. It is exactly 65 years since Bill joined the Workers’ International League, founded by Ted Grant and a small group of supporters in 1944, during the Second World War.

Bill's history is the history of our tendency: the tendency of Ted Grant that is today embodied in Socialist Appeal in Britain and the International Marxist Tendency on a world scale. At this year’s World School of the IMT, comrades listened fascinated to a speech by Bill, in which he related his experiences in the Trotskyist Movement since the 1940s. It is vital that the young generation of Marxists understand where we come from, and which ideas, methods and traditions we defend.

Bill Landles was born in Wallsend in 1924. He was an apprentice engineer at Reyroll, and was one of a truly remarkable generation of young proletarian revolutionaries in that working class bastion, Tyneside (the North East of England), with its coal mines, factories and shipyards. Among these were Heaton Lee and Ann Keane, as well as Ken Skethaway, T Dan Smith, Jack and Daisy Rawlings, and of course Herbie Bell.

Bill used to go selling the old Socialist Appeal with Herbie in the pit villages around Wallsend. I am not surprised that Bill found that selling papers with him quite a daunting experience! As a young comrade in the 1960s I remember that formidable old comrade who put many young comrades to shame in selling the Militant house to house in the mining villages on a Sunday morning. Everybody knew Herbie and so he had record paper sales. Nobody else had the same luck!

Bill was recruited into the Workers International League in 1944 by two worker comrades. He was at the Tyneside branch meeting where Jock Haston announced the formation of the RCP, in a broad Scottish accent: "we have a name, we are the Rrrrevolutionary Communist Parrrty".

The branch used to do an open air meeting in the Bigg Market every weekend. Bill regularly spoke at these meetings and one day was asked to speak at a meeting in Glasgow. When he arrived at the venue, he was ushered through a side door and onto the stage where about 1000 people were waiting to hear him speak. A real baptism of fire for a 20 year old lad!

One of the most outstanding activities of the RCP was its participation in the 1944 Tyneside Apprentices strike. Bill was a leader of the strike, and was, together with Bill Davy, a member of the strike committee. 2009 is the 65th anniversary of the strike, and I believe the Tyneside comrades are going to produce a pamphlet on it. This was a very significant event, because it took place during the War, when all the Labour and trade union leaders were opposed to any strike action.

The Stalinists were particularly rabid in their hostility to strikes, denouncing the Trotskyists and worker militants as “agents of Hitler”, allegedly betraying our soldiers. However, the soldiers did not share this view. The Eighth Army published a reply to the Daily Worker, with the title: “It’s the right to strike we are fighting for.” The leaders of the strike and the RCP were put on trial, and Bill was called as a defence witness.

The comrades had a lot of problems with the Stalinists, who even resorted to fist fights. The RCP stood in a by-election in Neath, in South Wales. Bill didn't go to but he attended the meeting when the comrades came back and reported on their fights with the Stalinists.

Later Bill took on the role of Herbie Bell's election agent in the Buddle Ward by-election in 1945. In the same year Bill was called up into the RAF and lost contact with the RCP. He joined the Labour Party and has been active ever since. But he never changed his views or wavered in his loyalty to Marxism and Trotskyism. In the late 1970's he came back into contact with the tendency when a comrade in Blyth sold him a paper and he was heard to say: "Ted Grant... I know Ted Grant!" Bill joined the Militant and was particularly active in the anti poll tax movement, representing people in court.

When differences developed in Militant between the supporters of Ted Grant and the ultra left Majority, Bill Landles immediately sided with the opposition and has been active with us ever since. Now, when many young comrades are joining Socialist Appeal, Bill is as enthusiastic as ever, giving lectures on Marxism and explaining the history of our tendency to the new generation.

Bill is by far and away the most enthusiastic comrade. He regularly sells Socialist Appeal and this year attended the World School for the first time. Bill attends the weekly meetings without fail and he is a stickler for discipline. He told the comrades: "during the War anyone who was late for a branch would be told off by the chairman". Recently was able to give a firsthand account of how the WIL branch in Tyneside used the Transitional Programme in their work.

In order to build the Marxist tendency it is necessary to build strong roots in the mass organizations of the working class. Bill has always worked in the Labour Movement, and has recently taken over as Labour Party Branch secretary in Blyth, he is also a member of the GC and CLP executive. He is looking to renew his trade union membership with a view to playing a role on the trades council.

Bill avidly reads the papers, and is particularly interested in economics. He has two children and four grandchildren including Emily aged 3 who he looks after while Amanda is at work. This year, in fact, three generations of the Landles family attended the World School of the IMT. But above all he insists on comrades giving him the details of how capitalism affects the working class.

Ted Grant always spoke of the Unbroken Thread that connects our tendency to the ideas and traditions of Marxism, which we can trace through the RCP and the WIL, right back to the International Left Opposition, the Third, Second and First International. Ted stressed that, while this or that detail might have to be changed, the fundamental ideas of our movement remain the same as they were when the young Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto – that most modern of all documents.

As we celebrate Bill’s birthday, we can take his life as a model to follow, a life of selfless dedication to the cause of the working class and socialism, a model of consistency, hard work in the mass organizations of the working class and a firm and unwavering defence of the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. We will celebrate these anniversaries in a manner of which Bill would be proud: by continuing his work to build the Marxist tendency that can guarantee the victory of World Socialism.

On his 80th Birthday as well as flying an aeroplane, he received a phone call from Ted Grant. He was absolutely delighted by this because Ted Grant had been his hero for 60 years. He has informed his doctor that he intends to live for at least another 20 years so that he can see world socialism.

Dear comrade Bill, on behalf of all the comrades of Socialist Appeal, and the International Marxist Tendency we wish you a happy birthday, and many, many more, until that dream is finally made reality through our common work and struggle!

Alan Woods

Here are some transcriptions from Socialist Appeal from that period.

Socialist Appeal vol. 7 no 13, September 1945


The Newcastle comrades have chosen Comrade Herbert Bell as their candidate for Wallsend Municipal Election. Comrade Bell has behind him a life time of service to the working class movement. He played a primary role in the building of the Labour Party and I.L.P. in several areas being the founding member. He was one of the first Labour councillors at Newbiggin. At Scarborough in 1929 he was Labour Party agent and increased the vote from 800 to 7,600. Today he is a leading member of the R.C.P. in the North East. Having lived and suffered on Tyneside as a worker between the two world wars he is familiar with the problems of the Tyne workers.

In their first leaflet to Wallsend workers, our Newcastle comrades state: “During the General Election, the R.C.P. threw its organisation into the fight for a Labour Government, while reserving full rights of criticism of the Labour Party policy. Now we fight side by side with the workers to endeavour to ensure the full implementation of the Labour Party policy, and to prevent sabotage by the capitalist class.


We shall do this in the coming weeks in leaflet form, and while throughout the whole of the North East the R.C.P. will urge support for the Labour Party against moderate and other Tory candidates, in this Ward we have decided to place our programme before the electorate in order (a) to popularise it, and (b) to test the feelings of the electors.”

Socialist Appeal Supplement Mid-September 1945

Trotskyist Contesting Wallsend Election

The publication of the election address of Herbie Bell marks the first important step in the campaign of the Tyneside R.C.P. in the coming municipal elections.

The programme outlined in his address should receive the warm approval of all those who voted Labour in the General Election in the belief that the time was ripe for making a break with capitalist policies and for the introduction of basic socialist changes in the economic and social structure of the nation.

During the last few weeks strong under-currents have been rising throughout the Labour movement due to the increasingly evident tendency of the Labour Government to placate and appease the capitalist class.

Comrade Bell emphasises that any such attempt to compromise with vested interests would spell disaster for the working class and can only end in a return to the old days of poverty, mass unemployment and wage cuts.

In the years between the two wars, Tyneside was transformed into one huse derelict area by the policy of Big Business. Nationalisation, says the manifesto, should be acrried through without compensation to the capitalists, without any appeasement of Big Business and the running of the industries should be placed, not under the control of the old managements, but in the hands of the workers themselves.

Making no phoney promises, Comrade Bell points out that it is impossible to have any real planning whether in industry, or houses or social services, without full control of the financial resources. He pointsb to the inadequacy of Dalton’s proposals which do not touch the big financial institutions which run the country.

On the Tyneside, where industry is so intimately connected with the world markets, the foreign and international policy which figured so largely in the General Election, must play an equally important part in the municipal elections. Here Comrade Bell underlines the urgent necessity for the unity of the workers of this country with those of the European and other countries, victors and vanquished alike.

The workers can march forward to a better world not by copying the methods of their imperialist masters, but by waging a struggle against the capitalist class. “In raising these issues before you”, says Comrade Bell, “I do so knowing that when you ousted the Tories, you did so demanding sweeping changes. If returned to Wallsend Council, I shall support the Labour Party in every step they take against the capitalists and the Tory Party, but will condemn every step the Labour leaders take along the road of appeasement of Big Business. Let us together press the Labour Party forward in order to ensure a solution to our problems.

The problems confronting us are terrific; we can only solve them by bold measures; the people are demanding such. Vote for the R.C.P. candidate. Vote for Herbert Bell.

Socialist Appeal Supplement Mid-October 1945


[Systematic canvassing reveals] …a wide circle of unexpected sympathisers who were attracted to the R.C.P. policy during the General Election.

[When workers say that the LP has done nothing yet, but ‘give them time’] Our comrades are able to point out that while the Labour leaders have “done nothing” for the workers they have done much for the boss class [using troops to break strikes, urging miners to work harder, etc.]

The positive statement of Comrade Bell’s case which is an elaboration of the 12 point programme of the R.C.P. and an explanation that all the local problems, whilst important in themselves, must nevertheless be fought for within the framework of our general programme, is receiving a good hearing.

Once the comrades get their loudspeaker apperatus into play, every voter in the district will hear the case of the R.C.P. put by leading comrades in the district including Comrade Bell himself.

Socialist Appeal Supplement Mid-November 1945

RCP Election Results

The Revolutionary Communist Party is on the political map in Wallsend-on-Tyne as a result of the magnificent election fight conducted in the Buddle Ward by Comrade Herbert Bell…

Even the Town Hall staff commented on the fact that the only real electioneering was carried out in the Buddle Ward, and the local Kemsley press grudgingly admitted that it was the best and most interesting contest in Wallsend. Our candidate polled over 10% of the winning vote, which was 2,149. Comrade Bell polled 265.

[The contest led by the candidate and 20-year old election agent Bill Landells (sic)]

[The local party threw itself into campaign. “…the amount of propaganda work done was terrific”]

The Stalinists had originally intended to run a candidate but withdrew when the R.C.P. put Comrade Bell into the field. The reason they withdrew was to be seen during the campaign. Our organisation literally swamped them! The local Communist Party, on their own initiative, got out a leaflet attacking Comrade Bell on the usual slanderous lines employed against the Trotskyists. They started delivering it one evening, the following evening Comrade Bell had a leaflet out in reply, and to the chagrin of the Stalinists, our Comrades completed the canvass of their “reply” before the Stalinists finished distributing the original!

[each home canvassed four times; 1,100 copies of Socialist Appeal sold on the doorstep. Several militants won over from CP. Sales of Socialist Appeal up; a number of supporters won]