Watch out Labour, the Trots are back with a vengeance

They were the most sexy left group on campus - smoking dope, dropping acid, bonking and partying
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The Independent Culture
WHEN I was first at college, the most romantic and sexy left group on campus was Tariq Ali's International Marxist Group. They smoked dope, they dropped acid, they bonked, they argued, they partied. When they got militant the blokes all put on denim jackets, tartan scarves and black gloves, and occupied things. And the IMG women were cool, too, divided between free-loving Alexandra Kollontais and Earth Mothers.

The International Socialists (forerunners of the Socialist Workers Party, and political home to Paul Foot) and sections of my own Communist Party were hostile to the IMG. "IMG, IMG, idle sons of the bourgeoisie", was one little chant that we all enjoyed in those far-off days. Hour after hour we would sit up debating with IMG members the virtues and vices of Ernest Mandel's critique of the Neither Washington Nor Moscow problematics.

Soon afterwards, as one does, I lost touch with the IMG. They stopped selling their paper Red Weekly (geddit?) around town. Rumours began that they had "entered" the Labour Party, but I didn't know if they were true. And then, half a decade later, I saw them again - or some of them at any rate. It was the Labour Party conference of 1982, and there were my old, disputatious comrades, standing in the visitors' gallery of the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, shouting at the tops of their voices at poor old Michael Foot! They had indeed become members of the party that they had for so long reviled.

Eventually a few of them fetched up in north London, mostly in the Islington and Hackney areas (no names, but they know who they are). Their moment of glory and opportunity, however, was passing. Neil Kinnock was transforming Labour, the GLC had been abolished, loony left councils were de-loonifying, and all they could hear was the tide's receding roar. Kinnock gave way to Smith, and Smith was followed by (horror of horrors!) Blair. They were marginalised.

Echoes of this past were ringing in my ears when I read the accounts this week of the attempts by Liz Davies, the ousted Labour candidate for Leeds, to get elected to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party this autumn. She is part of a slate - the "centre-left" slate, no less - which is canvassing for the votes of ordinary Labour Party members, even as I write. She's had a very good press for, after all, what is she doing, other than trying to debate, in a party that now stifles debate? Poor Liz.

And Poor Liz campaigns more in sorrow than in anger. This is part of her election statement: "During the general election campaign, tens of thousands of Party members worked long hours... because they believed a Labour government would build a fairer, more compassionate and more collective society," she says. But what happened? "Tragically, the New Labour Government has implemented or proposed measures which will have exactly the opposite effect." So what can we do, Liz? "This year's NEC elections are a critical and historic opportunity for party members to express their disappointment with the Government and their alarm over its apparent future direction."

Liz's slate is a heterodox one, bringing together various groups. But Liz's bit of it, Labour Left Briefing, may be slightly less amazed by the failure of Tony Blair to be their kind of guy than is the ordinary disappointed activist in the Clapham smoke-filled room. Because, in fact, they never thought that the PM would usher in "a fairer, more compassionate, more collective society".

In Labour Left Briefing's website, in the section "Where We Stand", the reader may discover that, "Our goal is the creation of a socialist society by the mass movement of workers and other oppressed sections of society." Not a socialist government, elected by a majority, but a society created by a movement. This not the language of 20th-century social democracy. It is the lingua franca of denim jackets and tartan scarves.

I'm not saying that Liz and Co are a bunch of lying, devious Trots who are manipulating party members for their own ends. Their politics, as detailed in their publications, are available for all to see (including the links section of the website, which will connect you with - inter alia - just about every extant Trotskyist on the planet). But neither are they a questing band of open-minded debaters who just want to talk. No more than, say, Jehovah's Witnesses call at your door entertaining the possibility that you might convert them to Zoroastrianism.

If you want an idea of their agenda, follow the articles printed by Briefing (of which Liz Davies is an editorial board member) on the subject of Ireland. This is Bryn Griffiths, of Hackney North and Stoke Newington Constituency Labour Party, writing in 1996 just after the Canary Wharf bomb had killed two men in a newsagent's shop:

"I've never supported the IRA's bombing campaign in Britain or Ireland but yet again I will be refusing to join the hypocrites' chorus of condemnation. Neither will I pedal [sic] one of the left variants of condemnation which are trotted out when a bomb explodes in Britain." Will you not, Bryn?

After the Manchester bombing, an editorial statement said that, "Many in Britain will respond with condemnation and calls to isolate Sinn Fein. Nothing could be more mistaken." Nothing? This will be read with interest by Labour Party members in Manchester. As will the article from May 1998 - three months ago - entitled "A new challenge for republicans". The author, writing in support of Sinn Fein, says that, "the Continuity Army Council and the Thirty-Two County Sovereignty Committee are offering an alternative to the current Sinn Fein strategy. They argue, mistakenly, that they can prosecute a similarly successful guerrilla campaign... I don't for a moment doubt the sincerity of these dissidents..."

I would invite readers to contrast this language with that, in just about any statement made in Briefing, about Labour's own leadership. You will not find any sentiment half so tender, or so regretful, as you will about those who - three months later - may well have carried out the Omagh bombing. One cannot help wondering whether a Briefing member, confronted with a fleeing bomber, would see it as his or her duty to hand the murderer over to the police - or instead to help them on their way (after first, of course, having had a debate with them). Perhaps someone from Briefing would like to answer that question.

So, before you vote, oh Labour Party member, consider this from Briefing's Geoff Martin (Unison's London Regional convenor, apparently): "We've got the chance of getting three or four hard left comrades on to the Labour NEC. If that's the outcome of this tactical alliance we'll all be getting the beers in, and anything that puts the shits up the Blairites will get my backing."

Or this from Gwyn Griffiths and Graham Bash of Hackney North and Stoke Newington CLP, a few weeks before the last election: "Our role, as always, will be to base ourselves on class struggle and the strength of the working class - the only force that can, at best, save our Party, or if it comes to it, rebuild our Party, against New Labour and the forces of bourgeois reaction which it represents."

As always. Nice to see you again, comrades. But "centre-left"? Please.

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