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Splits and Fusions- an archive of Trotskyist publications in Britain

This is the post excerpt.

Welcome to Splits&Fusions.

Here we will showcase documents from the various tendencies of what can broadly be described as the Trotskyist movement in Britain (with a nod to Irish, US and other publications in the English language).

In most cases items will be presented without much in the way of editorial, beyond a brief (and hopefully factual) description of the group. Continue reading “Splits and Fusions- an archive of Trotskyist publications in Britain”

Socialist Youth- paper of the 1950s Labour League Of Youth

Thanks to Keith S for this…

Splits and Fusions is pleased to bring you some more material from the work of Trotskyists within the Labour League of Youth in the early 1950s.

We have previously highlighted the work of Keep Left.

Here we bring you the first issue of Socialist Youth dated mid-December 1950. John Rudge, a good friend of this site, has written:

“The Healy Group published the first issue of its own youth paper Socialist Youth at the end of 1950. It was professionally printed and in newspaper format. Of interest, but no particular significance, is the fact that the Healyite paper was published by Audrey Brown of Edmonton LLOY. Audrey Brown had been a member of the “Club” since her schooldays in Newcastle and was later better known as the Labour MP Audrey Wise. Coincidentally, November 1950 also saw issue number 1 of Keep Left. This was a roughly typed and duplicated “magazine” produced by “the combined Wembley Labour Leagues of Youth” – a small beginning from which something larger was to grow.” http://grimanddim.org/tony-cliff-biography/rebel-rebel/

We are unclear how many other issues were published. Thanks, again, to John Rudge, we know that there was a Volume 1 issue 2 dated Jan – Feb 1951, which is stored at the Warwick Modern Records Centre: https://mrc-catalogue.warwick.ac.uk/records/MIL/7/2/3/1

We also have a letter sent out with the first issue, sent out by Audrey Brown (Wise).

Finally, a flyer for a fringe meeting in 1951 to discuss the National Status Movement and the need for a political programme, along with a draft of such a programme!

We would be very pleased to receive information about any further issues of Socialist Youth or related material.

A special bonus prize will go to any reader who can also turn up a copy of the LLOY Kent and Surrey Federation newsletter “Oi You!”  (Not kidding, this was apparently a real thing)

Conversations With Charlie Van Gelderen

ALL THE BOOKS HAVE SOLD NOW. THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO ORDERED ONE.

 

Some years ago Resistance Books published a tribute to the veteran Trotskyist Charlie Van Gelderen.

A small, unsold batch of these books has just come to light and can be ordered through us at a tenner each (inc UK P&P). Just Paypal here to receive a copy.

Below is an edited review from when the book was first published in 2013…

Dave Kellaway reviews Conversations with Charlie  Dec. 2013 pp192.

As a 25 year revolutionary South African born Charlie Van Gelderen was a delegate at the founding conference of the Fourth International in 1938 in Paris. When he died in 2001 he was the final living link with that small group of militants who had tried to keep the continuity of revolutionary Marxism alive under the enormous pressure of fascism and Stalinism. I remember a well-attended memorial meeting for Charlie was held, after he died, in Conway Hall. Just last weekend on the 100th anniversary of his birth his daughter, Tessa, organised a special meeting for family and friends to launch a small book of his writings and a long interview. Ironically it was held in the midst of the celebration of Mandela’s life. Charlie always worked to build the solidarity movement here but also tried to build the left currents critical of the ANC’s essentially reformist approach. He worked and with and knew many of the more left-wing opponents of apartheid such as Neville Alexander or Tabat.

At the meeting Tessa admitted modestly that she herself had questioned the point of having a 100th anniversary event. It was not really her dad’s style. However Charlie’s writings and ideas had not been collected together in one place and so the event was as much about a book launch as anything else. We should be very grateful that she did put all the effort into producing this little gem of a book – ably assisted by Terry Conway, Pam Singer, Ted Crawford and Mark Shotter.

Charlie was known well enough on the radical left and among the South African/African émigré and solidarity milieu and he also won positions within the mass movement as a councillor and trade union representative. However he is probably not a household name among most left activists today. So why is his book relevant to us today?

More than the insights into strategy and tactics which are scattered throughout the book, the long, often rambling interview with Mark Shotter really grabs the reader by the lapels and says a life in politics, fighting all systems of oppression and exploitation can be fulfilling, stimulating and fun. Yes, Charlie was never dull and never, never totally obsessed with politics. He knew that you needed space and time away from another political meeting or leafleting whether it was playing bridge, watching Coronation street or just organising a damn good party. One of the criticisms of the degeneration of some of the British radical left is how it can take in young militants and burn them out with 24 hour political activity.

Humour bubbles out of the pages when he regales us with gossipy stories about ‘womaniser’ George Brown, who later became number two in Wilson’s Labour party, or about Ted Willis, creator of the TV series Dixon of Dock Green, who as a Stalinist made sure Charlie did not get to speak at a meeting.  Through some of these stories you also get an idea about how attitudes to women in the radical movement were not particularly progressive on many occasions.

His accounts of militancy as an entryist in the Labour League of Youth in the 1940s are illustrative of how different the Labour Party was in the past. He talks of branch meetings in Islington of a 100 or more where the Stalinists and the Trotskyists slugged it out – the CP were also entryist at the time.  At that time and through into the 1950s the LP really did organisationally and ideologically organise hundreds of thousands of workers in a way that has totally changed today. Today many Labour parties exist as small ‘managerial’ support groups for councillors or nurseries for future councillors and operate mostly at election times.

Another theme very relevant to the situation today when the SWP is fracturing and there is serious talk of regroupment,  is his criticism of how the revolutionary left has been far too quick to split at the first opportunity in the most unprincipled way. He cites the way that the alliance between two opposing factions in the 1980s IMG forced the third component out of the organisation and consequently led to its overall demise. At the same time Charlie was already voicing the need to re-evaluate democratic centralism:

“I’m a bit of a renegade on this question of the Leninist party. I think that Lenin’s conception of the Leninist party before the revolution was correct for a country where the activities were illegal, but I don’t think it’s correct or a country like Britain, you see?” pg. 100

He criticises Trotsky and Lenin for their shortcomings in the early 1920s on the issue of banning political tendencies and defending socialist democracy. Charlie also makes a very pertinent point when he defends the idea that a variable degree of private ownership of business will remain after central power of capitalism is defeated.

“But I don’t think that immediately after the revolution you’re going to nationalise everything. And I think that as far ahead as we could see, maybe a century or more you could have pockets of private enterprise, small-scale but maybe small-scale industry and farmers” pg 99

Activists interested in the history of the British Trotskyist movement will get some useful background in this book. There are pen portraits of the notorious Gerry Healy, fellow south African Ted Grant – who became leader of the Militant, predecessor to today’s Socialist Party – and of somebody else with a Jewish background, Tony Cliff. The latter famously turned up at Charlie’s very modest flat and said there was loads of space compared to conditions in Palestine so that he and Chanie (his partner) were going to move in the following week! Actually Charlie recounts that it was great fun living with Cliff and that the latter was very correct in his behaviour, paying for all telephone calls. What comes out is how the correct approach to the Labour Party and labourism was often the basis for divisions and splits. His two articles in the book  – arguing from both sides  of the debate about entry captures this well.

The articles on South Africa, which are mainly from the early 1990s when the crucial negotiations on transition were carried out, have stood the test of time insofar as his point ‘ South Africa may be non-racist but it will remain capitalist’ (pg 161) is undoubtedly the case today. The article supports WOSA (Workers Organisation for Socialist Action) leader Neville Alexander’s call for a workers party in South Africa. Recent developments, such as the emergence of the EFF and one major union’s moves to discuss that,  show the call is still relevant today. Anyone watching Question Time from Johannesburg the other week will have seen there is a significant gap opening up between not just many radical activists and the ANC but also between its corrupt government and broad masses of the population.

Finally Charlie always had a sense of proportion. If you re-read the speech he made at the 1998 international youth camp on why he was right in 1938 to help found a Fourth International it is remarkably free of the bombast you get from the Trotskyist sect groups:

“We cannot take refuge in blaming the objective conditions (for why we were unable to make any real impact)…perhaps if we had had a strong leadership and a united international we could have made some impression…sectarian splits have been a chronic ailment in our movement.” Pgs 173/4

If we can take one thing from the life of Charlie we should take his advice about reversing the centrifugal impulse of the revolutionary left in order to try and bring them together in honest, transparent regroupment. As long as there is broad agreement about the central tasks of the day we can continue our debates about those and everything else.

In the meantime if you want a good read over the holidays you can do worse than this – a bit of theory and analysis but lots of humanity and joy. What a pity that the conversation is not a current online blog because I sure there would have been many people like me who would love to butt in and ask for more detail, more gossip and more discussion.

 

 

 

Labour Left- the former Nottingham Posadist cell…

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Our first inkling of the existence of this group was from reading David Douglasses book The Wheel’s Still In Spin. Douglass himself led a split from the British Posadists- the Revolutionary Workers Party- in 1974 to form the Doncaster Socialist Union / Socialist Union (Internationalist).

Around the same time, the Nottingham members of the RWP had also had enough and quit. They then started a journal, Labour Left, which ran for four (or possibly five) issues.

We have John Kelly to thank for sending two issues of this publication, no 2 and no 4, to which he himself was a contributor.

John tells us “I had moved to Nottingham early in 1974, after graduating the previous summer and met the Sketchleys at an event. They were LP members and talking about starting up a local magazine for leftists. They never mentioned the RWP and Posadas (whom I’d never heard of anyway). They didn’t seem to have particular issue they banged on about e.g. state capitalism, the programme etc etc so they came across as relatively unsectarian revolutionary socialists active in the LP.”

A look at the two issues does show a group not wholly confined to the East Midlands with contributions from London, Bristol and a Cowley shop steward.

What ultimately came of Labour Left is, as yet, unknown…

LABOUR LEFT Archive

 

 

Frontline- An independent Marxist voice in the SSP

frontScottish Militant Labour was the name of former Militant supporters in Scotland followign the decision to abandon entrism into the British Labour Party.

In 1996, it led the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, the precursor of the modern Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) formed in 1998. As a platform within the SSP, Scottish Militant Labour took the name International Socialist Movement.

In 2002 the ISM was to break with its International- the Committee for a Workers International (a minority stayed part of the CWI and created the International Socialists (Scotland))

The ISM developed and open and non-sectarian apporach to other socialist currents (eg supporters of the Fourth International) and from March 2001 it published a journal, Frontline. Issue 1 of Frontline has a clear editorial exposition of the views of the ISM and how it saw the development of the SSP.

Following the dissolution of the ISM in 2006, Frontline continued publication under an independent steering committee.

We have fifteen issues of the first series of Frontine from 2001 to 2006 and a couple of issues from “Volume 2”

We would welcome comments on the history of the SSA, SSP and its various platforms and components in the comments below.

ISM- FRONTLINE archive

Thanks again to Keith W for these.

 

The Scottish Socialist Movement


ssmThe Socialist Movement grew out of the Socialist Conferences held in Chesterfield, Sheffield and Manchester in the later 1980s. Initiators included the Socialist Society, the Campaign Group, the Conference of Socialist Economists, and the network generated by the book Beyond the Fragments.

A number of current and former Trotskyists and Trotskyist groupings were involved to some degree with the Socialist Movement.

In Scotland, the Scottish Socialist Movement operated autonomously from its counterpart in England and Wales and, in addition to the people who came from the Labour and socialist left and the Green / ecological tradition, it had a number of adherents from the left of the Scottish National Party.

The SSM published some 35 issues of the imaginatively titled Scottish Socialist Movement Bulletin between 1992 and 1996.

By this time, the Scottish Socialist Alliance was in formation, with Militant Labour acting as a driving force. This exerted a tremendous pull on the SSM, as can be seen in the debates in the bulletin from that period.

Whilst not all supporters of the SSM joined the SSA, it is clear the Bulletin did not long survive after the launch of the SSA in April 1996.

In Autumn of that year, the SSA published the first issue of a 32 page magazine “Red” and the course was set for the later formation of the Scottish Socialist Party…

SCOTTISH SOCIALIST MOVEMENT

SCOTTISH SOCIALIST ALLIANCE

Thanks to Keith W for supplying the Bulletins

 

(WRP) Young Socialists

twainHere is a little treat (which I paid over the odds for recently):

Young Socialists Annual Conference booklets for 1977 (Llandudno) and 1978 (Blackpool)

Both are pocket sized but quite weighty- with around 100 pages, and several hundred short motions, in each.

The reach of the YS, the number of branches represented and the fact that there are several locally based branches in even modest cities, is quite impressive….

17th Annual Conference

18th Annual Conference

International Socialist Forum

isf coverThe International Socialist Forum was a discussion group set up by supporters of the WRP (Workers Press) along with a group of Iranian comrades, in 1997.

The first issue of a journal was published in August 1997 and featured contributions by Cliff Slaughter, Cyril Smith and Simon Pirani- the wing of the WRP (WP) which was to break with the WIRFI the following year and form the Movement For Socialism.

isf

Three further issues of International Socialist Forum followed in 1998 and 1999.

Each is quite a substantial journal with up to 80 pages.

International Socialist Forum v1 no1

International Socialist Forum v1 no2

International Socialist Forum no3

International Socialist Forum no4

If anyone can supply further documents / information about the Slaughter wing of the WRP (WP) and the later MFS (particulalry its printed bulletin) please get in touch.

The Irish Freedom Movement

“Powerbase” has a wealth of information about the Irish Freedom Movement– a front organisation for the Revolutionary Communist Party– including a very detailed chronology of its activities.

However, it appears that the many documents it links to, formerly hosted on Scribd, are no longer available…

So, we were very pleased recently to receive a package of 19 issues of the IFM magazine Irish Freedom which we have now scanned and added to our archives.

Most of these files have also been ‘OCR’d’ so the PDFs are searchable.

We probably won’t do this regularly as it means each file takes more than twice as long to process, but we may do for short runs of interesting publications.

Our thanks to Simon C for supplying these magazines.

IRISH FREEDOM MOVEMENT Archive

 

Rank and File Teacher June 1979- Blair Peach tribute

This isue of Rank and File Teacher is from June 1979, and we somehow missed it when we scanned the previous batch.

Rank and File Teacher no66 is largely devoted to the events of Southall on 23rd April 1979 which led to the police murder of socialist activist Blair Peach- at that time the business manager of the paper.

The centre pages carry photographs of the demonstration and of Blair’s funeral march together with a feature on press coverage of the events.

Pages 14 and 15 look at the history of police violence and attacks on peaceful demonstrations whilst page 13 and the back page carry moving tributes to Blair from his friends and comrades…

RANK & FILE TEACHER Archive

 

Once more on the ILP

Our previous postings on the Independent Labour Party have focussed mainly on the work and influence of Trotskyists in the pre-World War Two period.

However, we have other ‘mainstream’ ILP materials which readers may find of interest.

Firstly our collection of ILP pamphlets ranges from the 1930s to the 1980s but the more relevant of these are again the ones for the immediate pre-WW2 period which we borrowed from the collection of Albert Houghton.

These include, amongst many others:

Defend Socialism From The Communists

In Spain Now- J McNair

Democracy or Revolution In Spain

Fight the Enemy Here- J McGovern

Truth About Barcelona- Fenner Brockway

Towards British Revolution- FA Ridley

War On The People

Whats This National Service?

Real Battle For Britain- W PAdley

We also have three issues of the ILP paper The New Leader.

Two are in poor condition (one incomplete) and date from the period before and after the 1926 General Strike.

A third is from 1941 with the back page reporting the destruction of the ILP headquarters in the blitz and the centre pages calling for the war to be ended by socialist revolution.

INDEPENDENT LABOUR PARTY Archive