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

This article was written to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the commencement of the 1984/5 miners' strike in the United Kingdom. This ferocious confrontation between the organised working class (led by the National Union of Mineworkers) and Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government was a momentous chapter in the history of the class struggle in Britain. The lessons of the miners' strike – and its defeat – are of great significance to the future of the workers' movement, and deserve thorough study.

An interview with Nigel Pearce, a member of the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers and working miner. He explains how the strike developed and the turning point that it represented for labour relations in Britain. In spite of the defeat he says, "We were right to fight, we had a duty to fight, and I'm proud to have fought, and I'm proud of all those I fought alongside."

On Saturday 24 January, the British TV channel, Channel Four, broadcast a documentary about the miners’ strike. Anyone who tuned in looking for an objective account of the strike was doomed to be disappointed. The purpose of this documentary was not to clarify what happened but to blacken the memory of the striking miners and mislead the present generation by a combination of lies, falsifications and trivialisation. Against all the lies, distortion and venom, the Marxists will defend the memory of this epic struggle and pass on the great lessons to the new generation that is destined to carry on the fight to a victorious conclusion.

In the Cause of Labour - A History of British Trade Unionism

There are many narrative histories of the struggles of British workers. However, Rob Sewell’s book is different. This book is aimed especially at class-conscious workers who are seeking to escape from the ills of the capitalist system, that has embroiled the world in a quagmire of wars, poverty and suffering. This history of trade unions is particularly relevant at the present time. After a long period of stagnation, the fresh winds of the class struggle are beginning to blow.

John Maclean was undoubtedly a class fighter and Marxist, but he made one important mistake, and that was to succumb to the idea that a socialist revolution would be possible in Scotland, separate from the rest of Britain. Ted Grant briefly comments on why this was.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the death of John Maclean. Maclean was an outstanding figure. He was Britain's most famous Marxist propagandist and revolutionary organiser. At great personal cost, he hailed the Bolshevik Revolution and fought hard to promote the world socialist revolution. The following article gives a glimpse of his life, commitment and contribution to the workers' movement.

Barbara Humphries looks at the conflicting tendencies within the British Labour Party on the question of war. It is clear that the rank and file members of the party have always tended towards opposition to war, while the leadership has swung the other way. At times, however, the opposition has been so strong that it has limited the ability of the Labour leadership to put all its weight behind war efforts such as the US war on Vietnam.

The killing of two Spanish reporters during the war in Iraq stirred public opinion in Spain and it increased the anger that the working class and youth feel towards the present right-wing Aznar government. Above all, the case of Jose Couso, a reporter of the Tele 5 TV channel, which is believed to have been a case of blatant murder carried out with a deliberate action on the part of an American tank, underlined the brutality of the invading forces and has put Aznar in a very delicate position. The Spanish Marxist journal, El Militante, interviewed Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the British NUJ (National Union of Journalists), on the war

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This is the first of a series of articles on the history of the British Labour Party. These articles will help workers and youth to get a greater understanding of what the Labour Party is and what the attitude of Marxists to it should be. In this article we look at how the Party emerged from the struggles of the working class towards the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.

Barbara Humphries continues her series on the history of the Labour Party with a look at the experience of the first two Labour governments. This article was originally published in Socialist Appeal, issue 49 March 1997.

Barbara Humphries continues her series on the history of the Labour Party. 1945 marked a watershed for Labour and for British society. The Labour Party won an historic victory, with a 146-seat majority over all other parties. It was won on the most radical election manifesto, before or since. This article was originally published in Socialist Appeal, issue 50 April 1997.

In this last article in her series on the History of the Labour Party, Barbara Humphries looks at how the turn to the left in the 1970s was cut across and how the present Blairite clique came to dominate the party, and draws the lessons for today's activists. The present turn to the right is nothing new in the party's history. As in the past it will be followed by a turn to the left.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of the British Communist Party. As a result we are publishing the following article on the early years of the Communist Party.

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