In their frenzied attempts to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour right-wing tried to whip up a red scare about ‘Trotskyist entryism’ into the party, particularly raising the spectre of the Militant tendency, the forerunner of the Socialist Party. They are terrified that socialist ideas are again winning significant support in a party they thought they had made safe for capitalism. The Blairites are the real ‘entryists’ in a party that was founded by socialists to fight for working class people.
If anything, it seems this campaign backfired. After hearing the policies and tactics advocated by the Socialist Party, many Labour members said they had no idea what a Trotskyist was but they might be one themselves!
Who was Leon Trotsky?
Alongside Lenin, Leon Trotsky led the October Revolution which saw the Russian working class take political power into its own hands, breaking with capitalism and imperialism. It was the beginning of the end of the slaughter of the First World War. Women won full equality of rights. Abortion and homosexuality were legalised. Nations oppressed under the Tsarist empire were liberated.
After Stalin and his parasitic bureaucracy seized power in the Soviet Union, Trotsky and his supporters continued the heroic struggle for genuine, democratic socialism. Trotsky paid for his refusal to capitulate with his life, being assassinated by a Stalinist agent in Mexico in 1940. In contrast, the Blairites share many of Stalinism’s anti-democratic methods.
Militant – the Marxist voice for workers and youth
In 1964, the Militant newspaper was founded by supporters of Leon Trotsky’s ideas within the Labour Party to win support for a socialist transformation of society. Its ideas quickly won support, particularly within the Labour Party Young Socialists. Three Militant supporters were elected to Parliament. This was achieved democratically, through clarity and force of argument, not bullying or bureaucratic manoeuvres.
Militant quickly became a target for the party’s pro-capitalist apparatus. Opponents accused Militant, like Momentum today, of being a “party within a party” because it had its own programme and membership. In this regard, Militant was no different from a plethora of organisations within Labour from across the political spectrum, both then and now. Recently, Blairite MPs considered using the Co-Operative Party – which is the very definition of a party within Labour – to organise against Corbyn’s leadership. The only difference was that Militant fought for socialist policies and did so effectively.
Liverpool – A city that dared to fight
Under Militant’s leadership, Liverpool’s Labour council fought a pitched battle with the Thatcher government from 1983-87, refusing to implement brutal cuts or increase taxes on working class communities. By mobilising mass support, including through local public sector strikes, the council forced significant concessions from the government. The council built thousands of high-quality homes, as well as leisure centres and childcare facilities. Contrast this to the role played by Blairite-dominated Labour councils in Britain today, who dutifully carry through Tory austerity.
This was achieved in the face of implacable opposition from Labour leader Neil Kinnock and his supporters, who were more focussed on taking on the left than the Tories. Rather than promoting the example of Liverpool, they waged a witch-hunt against Militant. In 1983, the newspaper’s editorial board were expelled from Labour. In 1987, the Liverpool District Labour Party was summarily suspended, immediately after winning Labour’s best result to date in the city.
Poll Tax battle brings down Thatcher
This did not prevent Militant going on to play a decisive role. The organisation led the Anti-Poll Tax Federation which – again, in opposition to Kinnock’s leadership – organised 18 million people to refuse to pay Thatcher’s hated austerity tax. The charge became unworkable and was ultimately abolished, fatally wounding the “Iron Lady” and leading to her deposition from within the Tories. Today, the Socialist Party and Anti-Austerity Alliance in the South are at the forefront of a campaign of mass non-payment which has forced the suspension of unjust water charges.
The Blairite counter-revolution
The attack on Militant was the beginning of a counter-revolution within the party – begun by Kinnock and carried through decisively by Blair – which saw the left defeated, the unions marginalised and the party’s democratic structures neutered, with power concentrated in the hands of an increasingly unaccountable, pro-capitalist cabal of MPs and apparatchiks. This was facilitated by the weakness of the reformist left within the party, who shrank before the right-wing’s attacks and failed to mobilise support from below to defend party democracy.
The Socialist Party is proud to stand in the traditions of both Leon Trotsky and the Militant. These revolutionary ideas and methods of struggle can be a powerful weapon for those fighting to rebuild a fighting alternative for workers and young people today.