2. Blair’s counter- revolution in the Labour Party



The right-wing leaders of the Labour Party did everything to shore up the government. Tony Blair and David Blunkett openly supported grant-maintained schools, which led to criticism even from right-wingers such as Roy Hattersley. Harriet Harman, Labour’s employment spokesperson, disgracefully accepted the Tories’ opt outs from European legislation, including paying young workers less. Labour was likely to be returned at the next election but we pointed to Sweden where the biggest left vote in history had been recorded in the previous September’s general election. This carried the Social Democrats to power yet generated no activity within the party as widespread opposition developed against the adoption of a savage austerity programme.

Blair adopted the law and order programme of Major, calling at Labour’s 1995 conference for 3,000 extra police on the beat, and making the infamous pledge “to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”. More importantly, working class living standards had gone back under the Tories because real wages had dropped by at least £50 a week on average compared to 16 years before. In early 1996 we stressed that the official tops of the labour movement had fully embraced capitalism politically and the majority of trade union leaders likewise. Echoing Blair’s approach, John Monks, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), commented: “The debate on the centre-left is no longer about socialism versus capitalism. It is about different kinds of capitalism.”1

Earlier in 1995, we had launched the idea of a new mass party – initially suggesting a new socialist Labour Party. We later conceded that “the yearning for change will probably lead to the Tories’ defeat and carry Blair into power. These hopes for change, however, will be cruelly dashed.”2 We expected that out of the splits that would develop in the Labour Party, recruits for a new mass socialist Labour Party would begin to be made. The precondition for such a party would be that it should be democratic, inclusive and not exclusive. Conservative forces on the left jeered – and continue to do so – at our idea of a new mass party of the working class. They point to the fact that this idea has taken hold in the British labour movement but conveniently ignore its traditions: the stubborn way that the masses cling to an old party, hoping against hope that they will be able to change and refashion it in their own interests. Look how long it took for the working class in Britain to disengage from the Liberal Party and raise on its mighty shoulders – particularly from the trade unions – a new party, the Labour Party, formed in 1900. Even then, it took almost 20 years for it to embrace the long- term aim of socialism. Truly an impatient approach bears no fruit within the British labour movement.

The dragging out of the process was also conditioned by the boom – lopsided though it was – during the 1990s and the first part of the new century. Blair in his memoirs boasted: “I won three general elections. Up to then, Labour had never even won two successive full terms. The longest Labour government had lasted six years.”3 The New Labour government lasted 13 years and he puts this down, of course, to his charismatic qualities: “The British people are, at their best, brave, determined and adventurist… That is why I will remain first and foremost not so much a politician of traditional left or right, but a moderniser.”4 Blair was only able to puff himself up in this vainglorious fashion because of the objective situation against which his government came to office.

Unusually, his Labour government was elected with the economic boom not yet fully exhausted. When the first signs of crisis were manifested in 2001 the massive injection of liquidity by the central banks managed to stave off the crisis. However, this only aggravated those factors – massive debts and the accompanying bubbles – which led to the crash of 2007-08. This, in turn, prepared the downfall of Labour, which would have happened even if Blair had stayed in power rather than the hapless Gordon Brown. Just how alienated Blair had been from the base, the outlook and loyalty of the ranks of the labour movement, was indicated by his revelation: “I voted Labour in 1983. I didn’t really think a Labour victory was the best thing for the country, and I was a Labour candidate!”5 From the beginning, Blair and his like were the real ‘entrists’ into Labour – in the interests of capitalism!

But credit where credit is due, Blair was unashamed about his origins and his politics: “What sort of leader was I at that point? I had a philosophy that was clearly different from that of the traditional Labour politician. I was middle class, and my politics were in many ways middle class… I didn’t want class war.”6 Nevertheless, class war is a fact and Blair throughout his prime ministership was a better representative – more fitted for the times – than the Tories in carrying out class politics in the interest of big business.

From the outset he hated the Labour left, with special venom reserved for Militant. He recounts a journey back from a meeting in the company of Tony Benn: “We talked about Militant. I wanted to know what he thought about this Trotskyist sect that had infiltrated Labour. I was representing the party in the legal case against them and, having studied them and their methods, I knew there was no dealing with them, other than by expelling them. He didn’t agree, and I spotted the fundamental weaknesses in this position: he was in love with his role as idealist, as standard-bearer, as the man of principle against the unprincipled careerist Mps.”7 In some ways this sums up what the Labour Party became under Blair – and in contrast to what it could have become if Benn had won the deputy leadership in 1981. Blair was to preside over 13 disastrous years of right-wing Labour government which resulted in a hollowed out organisational shell and almost five million lost general election votes. Benn enjoyed widespread support and affection within the ranks of the labour movement until his death in 2014 and after, despite the fact that he quite wrongly clung to the wreckage of the Labour Party.

The years 1995 and 1996 stand out as the time when the Blair counter-revolution against the Labour Party – previously a workers’ party at its base – was carried out. This vindicated the analysis of the majority in Militant during an internal debate which culminated in a minority led by Ted Grant leaving our ranks. Blair was compelled, at first, to disguise his intentions about the change in the constitution – the elimination of Clause iv Part 4, with its aspiration for a socialist society – as merely a ‘rephrasing’. But it was quite clear that the aim was to create an entirely new party – a bourgeois radical party along the lines of the Democrats in the US. In his autobiography this is spelt out: “After the 1992 defeat, and without discussing it with anyone, not even Gordon [Brown], I had formed a clear view that if ever I was leader, the constitution should be rewritten and the old commitments to nationalisation and state control should be dumped.”8 Blair, a relatively new member, helped expel the alleged ‘entrists’ of Militant – who had decades of membership of Labour behind them. I had at least 21 years membership. The dirty work by him and Kinnock succeeded in ridding Labour of Militant. But this was just one of his and the right wing’s aims. The rest of the left was subsequently attacked, as we had warned at the time of our expulsion. Indeed, the expulsion of Militant supporters and the heroic Liverpool city councillors represented a key moment in the shift towards the right within the Labour Party. In time this would lead to its demise as a specifically workers’ party at its base.

Some of the woolly middle class left – particularly those gathered around the Tribune newspaper – allowed themselves to be persuaded that the attack on Militant was a one-off, that by our ‘intemperate tone’ and militancy we were partly responsible for the attacks on us. They consistently and completely underestimated Blair and what he represented. Whether Blair was conscious of his role or not is beside the point. The British ruling class, particularly Thatcher, had a long cherished ambition to destroy the basic class character of the Labour Party, determined by its link to the trade unions and its socialist aspirations as envisaged by Clause iv Part 4.

However, whenever the Labour right wing had attempted this in the past, they were defeated. They attacked the left gathered around Aneurin Bevan in the 1950s, even considering at one time his expulsion from the party. They were thwarted by the mass opposition of the rank and file of the party, particularly manifested within the Constituency Labour Parties. In the wake of the German Social Democrats’ abandonment of their socialist aims at the Bad Godesberg conference of 1959, the Labour Party leadership of Hugh Gaitskell tried the same thing in Britain. They were met with a brick wall of opposition, particularly from the trade unions, some of whom formally stood politically on the right. Faced with huge opposition the leadership retreated. Similarly, the first attempt at anti-union legislation after the Second World War was defeated. Shamefully, it had been undertaken by the Labour government in 1969, with the alleged left-winger Barbara Castle the main advocate. Ironically, it was Jim Callaghan, by no means on the left but having connections with the trade union leaders, who led the charge in Harold Wilson’s Cabinet against the proposed anti-union legislation. If Wilson had not retreated, it is no exaggeration to say that his Cabinet would have faced a split, which could have brought the government down, paving the way for the return of the Tories even earlier.

Blair succeeded where other right-wing attempts at destroying the Labour Party as a voice of working people had failed. He would never have been able to achieve this without the fundamental change in the political situation following the collapse of Stalinism (the effects of which were analysed above). This changed the overall class balance of forces in Britain and internationally, particularly from an ideological point of view. Blair, as a precondition for his success, wanted to distance New Labour from any semblance of the class struggle or socialism. He wished to destroy the trade unions’ integration with Labour, in the manner of the Democratic Party in the US. There, the unions give money, claim to have ‘influence’ over the Democrats but are not affiliated to it.

Blair’s autobiography is, from the first page to the last, a hymn of hate against the trade unions combined with laudatory comments about business. He laments: “Where was our business support?… Where were the aspirant people, the ones doing well but who wanted to do better; the ones at the bottom with dreams of the top?”9 The basic idea upon which the labour movement is founded is the necessity of class solidarity as opposed to petty bourgeois individualism. Blair’s philosophy was diametrically opposed to this. It allowed the bosses and their stooges to play off working people against one another, to constantly attempt to buy off shop stewards or corrupt them with petty concessions, such as a supervisory or foreman’s job. Blair reveals that he cannot envisage a society without a dominating layer. Of course, special skills would be more rewarded in the first stages of the transition to socialism but any differential in wages and income would be strictly controlled. In the highest stage of socialism the aim would be for complete equality; in Marx’s optimistic scenario: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Absolutely ruled out would be the huge and growing gulf between bankers, chief executive officers and the like on the one hand and the vast majority of the population on the other. Workers who may be slightly more fortunate than others, having a better lifestyle, particularly if they are class conscious, still see the necessity for class solidarity and struggle leading not just to gains for some but for the idea of ‘all boats rising together’. Just what Blair meant by aspiration was subsequently demonstrated when he left office, as he and his family amassed a fortune estimated at £20 million and growing.

Blair was determined to brook no opposition to plans to abandon Clause iv and weaken union influence: “From the very beginning I was determined to be the architect of something revolutionary, transformative and undeniable. I had kept the plan on Clause IV very tight. On the opening weekend of party conference, just before the beginning, I started consultations with other key people.”

 Recruited to the cause was Jack Straw, “who had written a pamphlet on the subject, and was delighted”.10 Straw had spent many years cultivating a reputation as a ‘left’. He had moved towards the right, particularly playing a pernicious role in attacks on Militant supporters who were influential in the struggle of Liverpool City Council. He later buttressed Blair during the Iraq war, swallowing the fairy tale about ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It has subsequently been revealed that, while he was Home Secretary, Straw covered up the Hillsborough scandal – when 96 Liverpool football supporters were crushed to death on 15 April 1989. Consequently, he is loathed and held in contempt by the families of the victims, as well as the left inside and outside the Labour Party.

In his autobiography, Straw claims to have suffered for years with depression, even stating explicitly that this was caused by the ‘Militant tendency’ in the early 1980s! The Liverpool councillors who faced losing their homes and were barred from office for standing up for working class people, workers blacklisted from their occupations and those who saw family members die deserve every support and sympathy to deal with depression and mental illness. Straw, the opportunistic ‘Vicar of Bray’, has made his career by cynically switching his positions and ideas when it is most advantageous to himself. At the time of the controversy over the elimination of Clause iv Part 4 from Labour’s constitution, he brazenly confessed to the Independent: “No longer do we have to worship false gods, utter prayers that have lost all meaning. Instead, for the first time in my political life, ordinary party members have had the confidence to speak openly about how a democratic socialist movement can embrace the market economy with values of justice, fairness and equity; of different forms of capitalism, rejecting the false dichotomy between ‘socialism and capitalism’.”11

This was a complete rupture with the ideas upon which the Labour Party was based – certainly since 1918 – of breaking from capitalism and initiating a new socialist society. Moreover, it was taking place when capitalism worldwide was incapable of significantly improving the conditions of working class people. The International Labour Organisation did not have the same touching faith in the ‘market’ as Straw. It had reported that in 1994 one third of the world’s labour force, more than 800 million people, were either unemployed or underemployed. And this while world capitalism – including Britain – was in the midst of a lopsided boom in which the rich were doing very well while living standards of the working class were stagnating.

This was one of the reasons why Labour was ahead in the opinion polls in 1995 – and not the alleged superstar image of Blair. We pointed out: “Blair’s successful campaign against Clause iv is on the coat-tails of the capitalists’ offensive. He was enormously assisted by the purge against Militant and others on the left.” In 1985, at the height of the campaign to expel Militant and dismantle the Liverpool District Labour Party, Tony Benn said that it was not just Liverpool Labour which was being destroyed but the Labour Party itself. We wrote in Militant: “The expulsion of Militant supporters, with the acquiescence of some erstwhile lefts, was a body blow to the left in the Labour Party from which it has never recovered.”12

We also pointed out that revolts of the working class were inevitable given the incapacity of capitalism to satisfy human needs. The more farsighted representatives of capitalism understand this. It is for this reason that the Clause iv issue had assumed such importance. the Economist, for instance, characterised it as a ‘symbol’, a legacy of ‘Marxism’ within the Labour Party which could be seized on by the mass of workers when a revolt takes place. This assumed that Labour remained a party of the working class. Writing in the Financial Times, Ben Pimlott, professor of politics, indicated why Clause iv historically occupied such a key position: “In the 1970s, the left began to present common ownership, once again, as the essence of socialism. In an age of grassroots industrial militancy, it became harder to argue that the inscription on every comrade’s membership card was there just for sentimental reasons. Those were remarkable times. It is extraordinary to recall that in 1973 the Labour Party National Executive Committee advanced the plan for the state takeover of 25 leading companies; that the figure of 25 was  reached because… if it was not quantified someone might try to duck out of the obligation.” He went on to say: “Even this figure of 25 did not satisfy the hard left, which wanted to add a further 250 major monopolies together with the land, banks, finance houses, insurance companies and building societies with minimum compensation… all under democratic workers’ control and management.”

This learned professor failed to point out what we stressed, “that this later resolution was moved, with considerable support, by Militant delegates at the Labour Party conference in 1973”.13 Blair’s right-wing leadership was therefore quite conscious that Clause iv was not just some outdated totem. In conditions of crisis it could become a beacon, a point of reference for radical policies, with the demand for nationalisation of important sections of industry – steel for instance in 2016 – if not for the 250 monopolies that controlled the economy. Today, such is the further concentration and centralisation of capital – a process described by Marx more than 100 years ago – that the number of monopolies which effectively control 75% of the economy is down to 150 or less. The exact figure will not be known until the company books are open to inspection by a system of workers’ control and management.

Blair, with the support of the media, pushed relentlessly for the elimination of Clause iv. However, it met resistance from below, with a survey revealing that 60 out of the 62 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) that had debated the issue passed resolutions demanding it be unchanged. The leaders of some unions – the Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU), the General, Municipal & Boilermakers (GMB) and Unison – demanded commitments from the Labour leaders that they would renationalise the water industry in exchange for their support. Militant criticised them: “An attempt to stitch up a fudged compromise on such a vital question is a glaring example of ‘undemocratic manoeuvres in smoke-filled rooms’. The union leaders should be fighting for the nationalisation of all privatised industries as well as the retention of Clause iv.”14 Blair talked of replacing the ‘anachronism’ of the clause with a modern expression of ‘broad values’, like justice, equality and opportunity. Nobody would disagree with such aims but they remained a pipedream in a crisis-ridden capitalist system. The press and the ideologues of capitalism never stopped repeating that ‘socialism is dead’. Why then were they and their right-wing allies in the labour movement so ferociously determined to see the removal of Clause iv? They correctly feared that future big social upheavals in Britain – following on the heels of economic crisis – would crystallise mass support around the ideas of socialism if Clause iv remained in Labour’s constitution.

Although expelled from the Labour Party, Militant joined with others on the left in the defence of Clause iv. When Labour’s Deputy Leader John Prescott visited North Kent for a rally, Militant supporters organised a lobby of the event in defence of the clause: “We received a very good response from most who went in, selling over 20 copies of Militant, although a few of the more sharply dressed wouldn’t take the leaflet from socialists like us… We’d bought tickets. In fact one of us had been sent a very nice ‘personal’ invite from John Prescott… We were about to take our seats when men in red-rimmed glasses and linen suits carrying mobile phones… appeared from nowhere. The stewards were surprisingly keen to speak to us, especially about the contents of our bags. As soon as they confirmed we were the dreadful lefties they suspected, we were surrounded by even more of them who asked us… to leave. Apparently we couldn’t stay as we were members of an ‘entrist organisation’. A local Labour Party member – a retired trade unionist, active in the movement for over 40 years and not a member of Militant Labour – who was passing, protested. He was told: ‘You’d better leave as well’… So desperate were they to see the backs of us that they gave us our ticket money back out of their own pockets! Keep it quiet but we managed to get a bit more money from them than we’d actually paid – it’s all going in the Militant Fighting Fund.”15

As Tony Blair assaulted Clause iv, he also publicly expressed his admiration for the most hated Tory politician of the 20th century, Margaret Thatcher. In an interview with the Sunday Times, when asked whether Thatcher’s eleven years in power did some good, he replied: “Yes. Britain needed change at the end of the 1970s.” He added: “She was a thoroughly determined person and that is an admirable quality.” Thatcher, as the conflicts over the miners, Liverpool and the poll tax demonstrated, was a determined class warrior whose stated aim was “the destruction of socialism”. Thus, there was a certain symmetry between her and Blair. He went on: “I believe Mrs Thatcher’s emphasis on enterprise was right.”16 We commented: “Perhaps he is referring to the enterprise which saw the gap between rich and poor, and between the highest-paid and the lowest-paid, grow to the widest in 100 years. Thatcher introduced vicious anti-trade union legislation to paralyse the trade unions. Blair confirms in his interview that Labour will not repeal these anti-working class laws.”17 This was borne out when he came to power as he and Brown maintained Thatcher’s crippling legislation against the unions throughout the 13 years of New Labour government.

New Labour would not touch the anti-union legislation. This alone should have been sufficient for the unions to dump it and prepare the basis for a new mass party. It was, after all, the antiunion position of the Liberal Party, culminating in the Taff Vale judgement in 1906, which gave a massive impulse to the unions’ determination to break away and establish the Labour Party. Blair’s belly-crawling to Thatcher contrasted sharply with his arrogant attacks on the unions, still the paymasters of Labour. He warned that the unions would never again have an “arm lock on a Labour government; they would have no more influence over that government than the employers”. And he was true to his word from day one in office as he bent the knee to big business and spurned the demands of the working class and poor. In a direct attack on the then TGWU leader Bill Morris, he said: “It would be good if the day before [Labour Party conference, he] was not talking about Labour and the trade unions but about what the unions are doing for their members.” The capitalist press hailed Blair’s speech as “tough, blunt and courageous”. More than any previous Labour leader he was seeking to mollify big business by ‘putting the unions in their place’, even before coming to power. He was conducting a war, calling for the continual revision of the trade union block vote until it was reduced to only individual union members holding a party card. Instead of completely rejecting Blair’s approach, Morris conceded that he was prepared to see the proportion of the block vote as a total at conference cut from 70% to 50%.18

Former ‘left’ ex-leader Kinnock supported Blair’s project and willingly joined the gravy train which would follow in its wake. Like Blair, this had enabled Kinnock to mount the golden staircase to increased riches via the European Union (EU) where he was a commissioner ‘earning’ £1.85m in ten years! At the same time his wife added to the family treasure trove at £70,000 a year as a member of the European Parliament, while his son was also employed within the same institution. Overall, it is estimated that Kinnock was later ‘worth’ £10 million! Not bad reward for a self-proclaimed ‘boyo’ from the Welsh valleys, an apostate who is forever associated with using his left-wing credentials in order to stab the miners and Liverpool City Council in the back! The history of the labour movement is littered with right-wing leaders, and former lefts, who took the bosses’ shilling and betrayed the working class. Their philosophy is summed up by the cynical comment of one-time Labour MP John McGovern: “I believe in the emancipation of the working class, one by one, commencing with myself.”19

Yet none went quite as far as Blair in consciously setting out to destroy Labour as a workers’ party, making sure that he lined his pockets in the process. In 1994, without consultation with any section of the party apart from his press officer, Alistair Campbell, he renamed the party New Labour. Moreover, he would not tolerate any compromise which would involve downplaying ‘New’ in the title. He wrote: “New Labour with a capital N was indeed like renaming the party.” However, there was some resistance: “As if to underscore how difficult it was all going to be, the next day the party, at the insistence of the unions, passed a resolution reaffirming Clause iv… For me, I was absolutely clear: if the change was rejected, I was off.”20 Blair’s blackmail worked in the debate which evolved over the following six months, as one after another the different sections of the party – beginning with the Scottish Labour Party – voted for change.

It had been expected that opposition to the removal of Clause iv would be greater in Scotland because of its militant fighting traditions. Therefore, it was with some surprise that the Scottish Labour Party voted by a larger margin than expected to ditch the clause, with 58% to 42% in favour of ‘reforming’ Labour’s constitution. While the leadership wined and dined, 50 yards down the road supporters of Clause iv heard a passionate speech in its defence by Tony Benn. At the Campaign Group meeting he reminded everyone that hearts and minds are not won by mere sound bites but by debate and argument: “Don’t think it was Kinnock who got rid of the poll tax, as opposed to the mass campaign of non-payment, for he was too busy expelling Tommy Sheridan from the party to do anything else.”21

At Labour’s special national conference the atmosphere was muted because the decision to scrap Clause iv was decided well in advance – even the speakers were predetermined. Delegates were forced to fill in speakers’ cards, a well-known right-wing device for stitching up debates. Benn, Labour’s longest serving MP, tried to speak throughout the debate on this vital issue but shamefully was not called. The right-wing evolution which had even corroded its base was reflected most glaringly in the CLP delegates. At past conferences right-wing union leaders had usually attacked the left- wing constituencies. This time right-wing CLP delegates attacked the unions for their ‘irresponsibility’ in not backing the elimination of Clause iv. Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), was slow handclapped as he pointed out that the way the change in the constitution had been undertaken had actually broken the party’s constitution, which only allowed rule changes to be made at the annual conference.

Incredibly, 90% of the constituency delegates voted for Blair’s abandonment of socialist principles, something that would have been absolutely unheard of in the 1950s and 1960s boom when the rank and file were consistently on the left. But the new breed of ‘delegates’ – smart suited careerists seeking a shortcut to power and influence – were far removed from worker delegates of the past. Only two out of eleven CLP speakers opposed the dropping of Clause iv. The mood was captured by Garfield Davies of the shop workers’ union USDAW. He concluded that one of the three landmarks in the recent history of the party had been Kinnock’s attack on Militant, claiming it saved the party and ensured that the abolition of Clause iv could happen.

In opposition constituency delegates reminded the conference that when the Gang of Four split to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981, they had demanded that Labour should abolish Clause iv, introduce one member one vote and break with the unions. “Doesn’t this sound familiar?” asked one. Another “recalled that Labour had won its largest ever parliamentary majority in 1945 by promising and carrying through a programme of public ownership of the railways, pits, and creating the National Health Service”. Even in this ‘Blairised’ conference some opposition was evident from right-wing unions. John Edmonds of the GMB said: “It’s no secret that the GMB would have written this new clause differently.” Nevertheless, they went along with Blair largely because working people and particularly the unions were desperate for a change of government. They therefore swallowed the argument that ‘modernisation’ was necessary to get rid of the Tories, even if this meant ditching principles. The vote on the amendment to abandon Clause IV was 65% in favour with 34% against. The unions were split with 38% in favour and almost 32% against, while the cLps voted in favour with a meagre 3% against! Many delegates were disgusted and walked out of the conference, some of them greeting Militant Labour members outside, including Dave Nellist, the Labour MP for Coventry South East during 1983-92, who had been expelled in 1991 for his socialist beliefs.22

Clause iv was rewritten by Blair and Derry Irvine, whose claim to fame was that he was the barrister used by the Labour Party right wing to expel Militant. An innocuous new clause was adopted where all mention of socialism, the idea of a planned economy and nationalisation, were expunged. Blair was ecstatic: “Although we were only a small group of co-conspirators, as time went on we drew significant numbers of people to us.”23 It should not be forgotten that it was not only Blair but also Brown who was one of the architects of New Labour. As the author of the Red Book, professing “red blooded socialism” in the past, Brown bears joint responsibility for the party’s swing towards the right. His conflict with Blair was within the New Labour apparatus, a personal struggle for power.

Blair himself said that the elimination of Clause iv was a “defining moment” for the Labour Party, quite clearly indicating that he had been successful in changing its class character. However, much as he would bask in this unique “personal achievement”, the reality was that a similar process had developed worldwide. The shift towards the right of ‘socialist’, ‘labour’ and even ‘communist’ parties indicated a wide, deep-going ideological shift. The political wind was in the sails of all those organisations that positioned themselves within the framework of capitalism. Alternatively, those who defended the ‘socialist project’ were forced to swim against the stream, not for the first time in history.

Yet few generations of socialists had faced such a daunting task. For instance, the forces of British Trotskyism faced a similar situation in the period from 1950 to the late 1960s when radicalisation in the trade unions and amongst the youth began to develop. The long boom, which led to significant rises in the standard of living of the working class, in turn strengthened the ideas of reformism within Labour and the trade unions: of incremental changes which hopefully would lead to the ‘gradual’ establishment of socialism. This was the dominant view, particularly of the left wing of the labour movement. In this situation the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) of 1944-49, which at its height had 500 members, was bound to be thrown back and relatively isolated. It was reduced to a handful of members divided into three main groups: the Ted Grant group, out of which came Militant; Tony Cliff ’s group, the current Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP); and the hooligan sect led by Gerry Healy which became the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP).

However, now in a much more difficult situation, Militant and its successor organisation, the Socialist Party, withstood pressures more successfully than the RCP and its counterparts during the post-war boom. Although we suffered a membership decline in the 1990s, aggravated by the splits and divisions that we suffered – touched on in The Rise of Militant and which we will describe later – this was not on the scale of the collapse of the RCP. We retained a significant membership never less than 1,000, a firm base in the trade unions and an important position amongst young people.

Because the wheel of history had been turned back by the shipwreck of the mass working class parties and, to some extent, the bureaucratisation of the trade unions, we were faced with a fundamentally new situation. Tasks which were posed in the formative period of the labour movement became relevant again. For instance, it was necessary to defend the basic ideas of socialism, to answer the barrage of anti-socialist propaganda and, above all, to seek to win over those of the new generation who came into conflict with capitalism – as they would, even in a ‘boom’ period. At the same time, it was crucial to maintain a Marxist perspective and organisation which would be decisive in the long run in constructing a force which could lead the battles of the working class in all its phases, but particularly in the struggle for socialism. We identified these as the ‘dual tasks’. A vital part of this – now that the Blair counter- revolution had destroyed the workers’ political voice – was to fight for new, broad socialist parties of the working class while maintaining the thread of a revolutionary, Marxist perspective and organisation.