Why I joined: My real education started when I became a Militant supporter

Militant supporters march against the poll tax, photo Steve Gardner

Militant supporters march against the poll tax, photo Steve Gardner   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Heather Rawling

Rebellion was in the air in the 1960s. Aged 12 and a pacifist, I joined the Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament after the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion. But when my sister just hit me more and harder when I refused to fight back, I had to admit that pacifism probably wasn’t going to work!

The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia with tanks to put down a revolt in 1968 and I had a picture of Alexander Dubcek, Czech leader of the Prague Spring on my bedroom wall next to the Beatles.

I watched Ken Loach’s powerful TV drama, Cathy Come Home about homelessness and wept. The hopelessness of a young family, destroyed by the system, burned into my soul. This was in the post war boom years. Maybe we needed something different. My parents were socialists, militants, but I didn’t understand what that meant yet.

Wallsend on Tyneside, my home town, knew unemployment and deprivation. Shipbuilding dominated. Launches were bitter sweet celebrations. The workers were proud of the ocean liners and oil tankers towering over the terraced streets where they lived. But layoffs would follow the day after until the next shipbuilding order. More orders were going to South East Asia where labour was cheap. Shipbuilding on the Tyne went into decline.

My dad’s cafe depended on shipyard workers for its trade. He often had to get a second job to supplement our income.

I tried volunteering and realised it wouldn’t solve anything. So I joined the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS), aged 17. I was one of the first 18 year olds to have the vote and voted Labour. But Ted Heath and the Tories got in so I started reading the Militant.

Only the Militant could explain to me why the Soviet Union had degenerated from its ideals of 1917. It had a programme to fight poverty around the world. Under the leadership of Militant supporters, the LPYS brought out a ‘Charter for Young Workers’ – a brilliant tool to fight for proper apprenticeships and better wages. I became a Militant supporter and a member of the Socialist Party when it was formed.

I left the Labour Party when my dad was threatened with expulsion for donating £5 at a Militant Readers Meeting.

History at school didn’t make much sense to me. My real history lessons began with Marxist discussion groups organised by Militant supporters on the Russian, Chinese and Spanish Revolutions.

I am now rereading Trotsky›s brilliant History of the Russian Revolution and marvelling at the courage and audacity of the Russian working class who took centre stage. I have learnt though, that the workers’ movement will test many leaders and many will not live up to their historical task.

The working class around the world are once again stepping onto the stage of history and I’m confident that the Socialist Party and Committee for a Workers International will win workers to its banner and together we will overthrow the system that has caused so much poverty, misery and wars.

I want to finish the job my parents started.