As a young lad growing up in Chorley I spent the hot summer of 1976 lighting fires and playing with ladybirds, little knowing that just a few miles from my door interesting developments were taking place on the far left…
Beyond a brief Wikipedia outline little remains of the Marxist Worker Group online so we are delighted to be able to publish this account by a participant, Neil Duffield.
Marxist Worker Group – my own recollections
My partner, Eileen Murphy, and myself moved to Bolton in 1971. In the same year I joined the local branch of the International Socialists (later to become the SWP). I knew very little about far left politics and even less about Marxist theory, but having grown up in a South Yorkshire pit village I’d always considered myself a socialist.
A man called Andrew Hornung belonged to the branch and acted as a sort of mentor to those of us like myself who were more or less starting from scratch. But not long after I joined, and to my great surprise, we were told one day that the entire Bolton branch had been expelled. Apparently Andrew had been part of a faction within IS, led by Sean Magamna. I didn’t know what they stood for or the nature of their differences with the IS leadership. But it seemed the rest of us had no choice – we’d been kicked out.
Following that, Andrew moved to London and, along with Magamna and others formed Workers Fight. The remainder of the old IS branch drifted off in different directions. Only one or two of us, including myself, opted to join Workers Fight. But we worked hard and were soon joined by several others, campaigning around issues such as abortion and contraception, equal pay for women, Thatcher’s ‘Fair Rents’ act (we helped organise a rent strike of council tenants), Ireland, the Shrewsbury pickets, and were centrally involved in the fight against racism and the National Front, helping to form an active Bolton Anti-Fascist Committee.
But it wasn’t long before things started to go awry. Locally we’d grown to around a dozen active members. At least half were women, most of whom were centrally involved in the Bolton Women’s Liberation Group. And several of us had young children. As a group we strove to take on board both the demands and the ethos of the women’s liberation movement, organising child care at our meetings amongst other things, and pressing Workers Fight as a whole to do the same. But the leadership of Workers Fight refused to take this on board, insisting that family life and child care must come second to ‘revolutionary activity’. For her vociferous stand for women’s rights within the organisation, Eileen Murphy was eventually expelled. The rest of us resigned in solidarity.
But by this time we were a larger group and had established a strong presence in the local trade union movement and various campaigns. We decided to form our own group – the Marxist Worker Group. Not with the aim of becoming yet another ‘future revolutionary party’, but basically to educate ourselves in the history and theory of socialism and to look for a chance to unite with other groups at some point in the future.
Throughout this period there had been a small IMG group in Bolton consisting of one or two comrades. I don’t know the details of what happened but somewhere along the line they became the Revolutionary Marxist Current (a national break-away from the IMG). We’d worked with the local comrades over a number of years and proposed a series of talks with the possible aim of joining into one organisation. The talks turned out to be longer and more protracted than we’d expected and, for a variety of reasons, eventually foundered.
We carried on as MWG for another few years. As part of the work we did in local campaigns we stood as candidates in the local elections – first as Troops Out candidates and later as Anti-Fascist candidates in wards where the NF were standing.
It must have been around the late seventies when the IMG nationally put out a call for Socialist Unity and invited organisations like ourselves to talks towards that end. We responded and eventually joined (I suspect we were the only organisation to do so), agreeing to the condition that we would join as individual members rather than as an organised group. Once again we stood in local elections – this time as Socialist Unity candidates.
I think we felt we’d achieved as much as we could as a small local group and that we’d managed to learn a great deal through our process of self-education.
We’d joined the IMG in good faith and remained in it for several years but after expressing our disagreements over a number of issues and practices, we eventually found ourselves being accused of ‘entryism’. Eventually, one by one, demoralised and disillusioned, we gradually drifted out of the IMG.
Most of us continued to work as activists in women’s groups, the trade unions and various campaigns. And many of us still do, and still consider ourselves socialists, though I suspect hardly any belong to current far-left organisations.
During the four or five years of the Marxist Worker Group’s existence, there were probably around twenty to twenty five members – about a dozen at any one point in time. Most of us lived in and around Bolton, where the majority of our activity was focussed.
Splits&Fusions now plans an archaeological expedition to the north, in the hope of uncovering issues of the Marxist Worker magazine…