Charming and unique personal account of 60 years of politics and history
Alison Hill, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
This is a fascinating book. It will interest both people with a long history in the movement, and people completely new to it. It explains, amongst other things, the dash to the right in the Labour Party, which is being exposed so starkly today.
But most of all it is a personal memoir, which gives it a charm not commonly found in other books about politics and history. It is an account of Keith Dickinson’s 60+ years in the fight to defend socialist and Trotskyist ideas. Keith is a Socialist Party member, and was a member of its predecessors – Militant and Socialist Fight.
It starts by explaining why he came to the socialist conclusions he did. Leaving school at 14 to work as a messenger boy in a newspaper office played a role.
And the experiences of trade union organisation gave him important experiences at an early age. Those early years as a young worker taught him many things, particularly how to pack newspapers in the back of a moving van, and gave him an encyclopaedic knowledge of the pubs of Liverpool.
Liverpool was his birthplace. Keith gives accounts of seeing bomb damage as the docks were attacked from the sky. But also the times with his family and friends as he began to understand a bit about what people’s political opinions meant.
Important gains by the working class, like the formation of the NHS, meant a lot to him as a chronic asthmatic. His mother did not have to pay to call the doctor any more. He was given better care and an inhaler.
There are tales of working-class Liverpool, sing-songs but also strikes and workers’ battles, which formed his political thinking.
Being a memoir, it is not in strict chronological order. But that adds to its attraction as he draws on his early experiences to deal with his later political activity.
Having to battle with both the right wing and the sectarian ultra-left certainly taught him a few lessons, and prepared him for a move to London, and eventually the launch of Militant. His dogged determination to defend the ideas of socialism and Trotskyism was partly forged in these battles, and has stood him, and what is now the Socialist Party, in good stead for decades.
A lot of people will be interested to read of the struggles to get the Militant newspaper printed, the premises moves, the people who combined printing and maintaining the press with full-time jobs, and surviving a fire which destroyed a lot of equipment.
Keith deals with the massive witch-hunt in the Labour Party in the 1980s when Keith, Peter Taaffe, Clare Doyle, Lynn Walsh and Ted Grant were expelled. This was an all-important step in the formation of ‘New Labour’, which Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher boasted as her finest achievement. Keir Starmer, of course, has eagerly seized the baton, turning Labour even further to the right.
Keith also goes into the events leading up to Ted Grant’s split from Militant, as he and a few others could not adjust to the new terrain both inside and outside the Labour Party.
The battles against the Poll Tax are described – carefully explaining how the 18 million non-payers brought Thatcher down. And before that, the magnificent struggle of the Militant-led Liverpool council, which showed how Tory cuts could be fought, and important victories won. Those lessons have been suppressed, distorted by the capitalist media and establishment, but their relevance is even more clear now than ever before.
These are just some of the highlights in the book, but there are many more. It’s a good read – it’s unusual to get such a personal account of workers’ struggles and the evolution of socialist and Trotskyist ideas and organisation.