British Labour movement

Clause4 700Ever since the formation of the Labour Party in 1900, there has been controversy on the left over whether or not to participate in the party. To develop a correct understanding of this question, it is important to look at the experience of the past. Our task is to learn from history in order to avoid unnecessary mistakes. History, after all, is littered with the wreckage of small sectarian groups who attempted to mould the workers’ movement into its preconceived plans and failed.

Different “Marxist” groups have made one mistake after another on this key question. Towards the end of the 1960s, a number of left groups abandoned work in the Labour Party in disgust at the counter-reforms of the then Labour government. They wrote off the party and set about building their own independent revolutionary parties, ignoring everything that had been written on the importance of the mass organisations. The more isolated they were, the more ultra-left they became. Rather than connect with the real movement, they continually sought to tear the advanced workers away from the mass. They saw their prime task as to “expose” the leadership through shrill denunciation. This has been the hallmark of all these different sectarian groups. With such antics they end up playing into the hands and reinforcing the position of the right-wing leaders.

— From Britain: Marxism and the Labour Party – Some important lessons for today

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.

1922 was a watershed in the struggle for a mass Marxist Party in Britain. Under the direction of the Leninist Comintern, the young militants of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) grappled with the task of transforming an essentially propagandist group into the foundations of a genuine mass Bolshevik organisation.

"Where there is discord may we bring harmony..." said Margaret Thatcher  30 years ago this May when she was elected as British Prime Minister in 1979. Some politicians are remembered for their achievements, in Aneurin Bevan's case the founding of the NHS; others like Tony Blair will be remembered as warmongers and traitors to the ideals of the Labour movement. Meanwhile John Major will be remembered, if at all, for his ineffectual personality and his blandness. But very few will have been hated by working people with such intensity as Margaret Thatcher.

Today, almost 25 years since the miners’ strike began, the industry has been decimated, with only a few thousand jobs left. The proud traditions remain and many miners have taken their fighting traditions into the wider labour movement but many of the pit villages are crumbling. The main lesson of the Ridley Plan for the labour movement and the politically active layers of the youth is that a Tory government would be forced to move against the working class, to deal with the crisis that the capitalist system clearly faces.

Winston Churchill is one of the most famous figures in British history and the official approach is that it would be unpatriotic not to admire him. The purpose of this article is to draw aside the veils of myth and legend which establishment historians and fawning admirers have spun around him and look at the real Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. The facts reveal a different man altogether.

Back in 1976 the Lucas Aerospace Company in Britain was preparing to sack 20% of its 18,000-strong workforce. The Shop Stewards approached their members for technically viable means of using the existing equipment and human expertise to make socially useful products instead of weapons. The result was a 6-volume document which revealed that workers have the know-how to run industry. What was lacking was the capital. For that you need to expropriate the capitalists.

The British National Health Service was set up sixty years ago, officially on July 5th 1948. It was the result of years of struggle on the part of the working class for a free universal health service. At its height it was as close as you could get to a communist principle under capitalism. Over the years the capitalists have been working hard to drag us back to the dark days when the poor could not afford decent healthcare.

At the University of East Anglia recently Rob Sewell of the Socialist Appeal gave a talk on the Miners strike in Britain 1984-5. The strike was a culmination of the inevitable build up of tension between the ruling and working class. In the post-war period the decline of British imperialism had occured. The Tories of the 1980s were a rabid reaction to that phenomenon, determined to destroy the organised labour movement by taking on its most militant section, the National Union of Miners.

It is 100 years since the Labour Party first emerged as a force in parliament, and 100 since the Trades Dispute Acts granted British workers some basic rights against prosecution by employers in case of strike action. Today workers have fewer rights than they did then. Since 1906 the British ruling class have attempted to break the link between Labour and the unions, but have systematically failed.

Eighty years ago an earthquake shook the very foundations of British capitalism. In the greatest display of militant power in its history, the British working class moved into action in the General Strike of 1926. For 9 days, from May 3, not a wheel turned nor a light shone without the permission of the working class. In such a moment, with such power, surely it ought to have been possible to have transformed society? How can such a position have ended in defeat? (by Phil Mitchinson, originally published in May 2001)

Twenty years ago this month, the heroic twelve-month long struggle of the British miners to defend their jobs and their communities came to an end. The BBC drama Faith broadcast on February 28 on these events was like a breath of fresh air, an antidote to that earlier filth masquerading as ‘impartial documentaries’. For the first time in the national media the role of the state – its specially created national police force, its media, its secret services, and all the weapons employed by the ruling class to fight the miners – was vividly exposed.

We republish this article on the referundum on the EEC Common Market, written by Ted Grant in 1979. The article explains that the struggle against a capitalist common market needs to be linked to the struggle of changing society on socialist lines, as the struggle against the European Constitution today must also be.

The key role played by women in the 1984-1985 miners' strike has been an inspiration to working class women everywhere. Many other issues affecting women have yet to be fought. Cuts in education, housing, transport and health just to name a few. Originally published in 1986.

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