“Ultra-Left”, “Far Left”, “Political fringe”, “sectarian extremists” – those politically drawn to the edge suffer spirited polemics and insult – a tawdry political re-enactment society – occasional academic interest and rare media scrutiny usually hyped up by right-wing “Reds Under the Beds” coverage [ as in this pamphlet from aims-of-industry-reds-under-the-bed] (so stop reading the Daily Mail).
A characteristic critical observation is the “habit of believing a significant and meaniful contribution has been made to the solution of a problem by stating what would be a desirable result without relation to the existing situation and balance of class forces.”
That comment voiced by Betty Reid, stalwart of the revisionist Communist Party of Great Britain [damn, illustrating my leftist tendencies there, should have removed the adjective].
For those with a nostalgic interest in the Far left in Britain she is instantly recognised as the author of a Communist Party pamphlet, Ultra Leftism in Britain published wayback in 1969. The CP was reticent in acknowledging other forces on the Left as its hegemonic hold unravelled, so this was a rare foray into “publicising” political lines it disagreed with. Polemical exchange, or attacks upon others, was common place on the political left and often entertaining to read the flawed reasoning and positions in political lines that were opposed to one’s own, like when reading the daily newspapers. So Reid’s populist discussion of the plethora of Trotskyist tendencies, anarchist and syndicalist groups, with passing mention of the Maoists but not, if memory serves, of the Socialist Party of Great Britain- one of the oldest of the fringe – provides a sketch of the far left landscape of the day. [Copy of her pamphlet here Reid 1969]
What stimulated this search of the bookshelves?
News of the forthcoming Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956 from Manchester University Press.
Introduction: The continuing importance of the history of the British far left – Evan Smith and Matthew Worley
1 Revolutionary vanguard or agent provocateur: students and the far left on English university campuses, c. 1970-90 – Jodi Burkett
2 Not that serious? The investigation and trial of the Angry Brigade, 1967-72 – J. D. Taylor 3 Protest and survive: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Labour Party and civil defence in the 1980s – Jacquelyn Arnold
4 Anti-apartheid solidarity in the perspectives and practices of the British far left in the 1970s and ’80s – Gavin Brown
5 ‘The Merits of Brother Worth’: the International Socialists and life in a Coventry car factory, 1968-75 – Jack Saunders
6 Making miners militant? The Communist Party of Great Britain in the National Union of Mineworkers, 1956-85 – Sheryl Bernadette Buckley
7 Networks of solidarity: the London left and the 1984-85 miners’ strike – Diarmaid Kelliher
8 ‘You have to start where you’re at’: politics and reputation in 1980s Sheffield – Daisy Payling
9 Origins of the present crisis? The emergence of ‘left-wing’ Scottish nationalism, 1956-79 – Rory Scothorne and Ewan Gibbs
10 A miner cause? The persistence of left nationalism in postwar Wales – Daryl Leeworthy
11 The British radical left and Northern Ireland during ‘the Troubles’ – Daniel Finn
12 The point is to change it: a short account of the Revolutionary Communist Party – Michael Fitzpatrick
13 The Militant Tendency and entrism in the Labour Party – Christopher Massey
14 Understanding the formation of the Communist Party of Britain – Lawrence Parker
Eye-watering academic price for the hardback, but a previous volume edited by Evan Smith and Matthew Worley is now available in paperback. Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 claimed to be the first general history of the British far left to be published in the 21st century.
Introduction: The far left in Britain from 1956 – Evan Smith and Matthew Worley
PART I: Movements
1. Engaging with Trotsky: the influence of Trotskyism in Britain – John Callaghan
2. The New Left: beyond Stalinism and social democracy? – Paul Blackledge
3. Narratives of radical lives: the roots of 1960s activism and the making of the British left – Celia Hughes
4. Marching separately, seldom together: the political history of two principal trends in British Trotskyism, 1945-2009 – Phil Burton-Cartledge
5. Opposition in slow motion: the CPGB’s ‘anti-revisionists’ in the 1960s and 1970s 98 – Lawrence Parker
6. Dissent from dissent: the ‘Smith/Party’ Group in the 1970s CPGB – Andrew Pearmain
7. British anarchism in the era of Thatcherism – Rich Cross
PART II: Issues
8. Jam tomorrow? Socialist women and Women’s Liberation, 1968-82: an oral history approach – Sue Bruley
9. Something new under the sun: the revolutionary left and gay politics – Graham Willett 10. ‘Vicarious pleasure’? The British far left and the third world, 1956-79 – Ian Birchall
11. Anti-racism and the socialist left, 1968-79 – Satnam Virdee
12. Red Action – left-wing pariah: some observations regarding ideological apostasy and the discourse of proletarian resistance – Mark Hayes
13. Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997-2012 – David Renton
Something for everyone, illustrating the ideological variety, splintered nature and issues that consumed the political activists of Britain’s far left. So Waiting for the Revolution is not quite a sequel to Against the Grain, but volume two of more an ongoing work-in-progress.
Already the dedicated work of Marxist Internet Archive with sites like ETOL, providing an On-Line Resource Center for the Study of the International Trotskyist Movement ,and the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line, providing a historical archive of information on and primary documents from the world-wide Anti-Revisionist Movements, there exist an extensive record of the far left , now supplemented with dedicated websites like these from the Trotskyist melee:
Established 1962, when J. Posadas and the Latin American Bureau of the 4th International broke from the international leadership of those days. The idea was to stay, on a one hand, faithful to the programmes and the aims of the organization that Trotsky had founded in 1938; and on the other hand, to participate fully in the organization of the new forces of the revolution. These appeared after the Second World War, through the triumph of the Soviet Union and the powerful development of the colonial revolution.
The Red Mole A modest contribution to the history of the Fourth International in Britain eg International Marxist Group variety.
formerly the International Spartacist Tendency
Big Flame were a Revolutionary Socialist Feminist founded in Liverpool in 1970, the group initially grew rapidly in the then prevailing climate on the left with branches appearing in a number of cities. They published a magazine, also entitled Big Flame, and a journal, Revolutionary Socialism. They also devoted a great deal of time to self-analysis and considering their relationship with the larger Trotskyist groups. In time, they came to describe their politics as “libertarian Marxist“. In 1978 they joined the Socialist Unity electoral coalition, with the International Marxist Group.
In 1980, the Libertarian Communist Group joined Big Flame. The Revolutionary Marxist Current also joined at about this time. Big Flame was wound up in about 1984.
And, again seeking to construct the 4th International:
Revolutionary Regroupment http://www.regroupment.org/main/page_home.html
There is certainly no end to the entertainment with enough material from such prolific publishers to stimulate further volumes in the history of the far left.