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Labour history comment
Bryan Stanley's canonisation
By Tony Mulhearn
The psychology of the New Labour apologists deserves some deep analysis. Jane Kennedy, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, alarmed that her parliamentary seat was in jeopardy following Gordon Brown's European election calamity, hastily resigned her ministerial post. In reply to those charging her with disloyalty she declared that her credentials and loyalty were established in her fight against Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party.
We now have the eulogy to Bryan Stanley, whose death was reported in the Guardian. He died on 19 July 2009. Perhaps not one of the great historical Labour movement legends, he nevertheless occupied an important position as general secretary of the Post Office Engineering Union (POEU) from 1972 to 1983. That was a decade of turbulent class struggle.
Edward Heath's Tory government implemented draconian laws against trade unions, and suffered defeat in the first great miners' strike of the decade.
Labour's James Callaghan applied wage restraint and monetarist policies between 1976 and 1979, later to be adopted by Mrs Thatcher's government after Callaghan's defeat following the 'winter of discontent.' This was when mainly low-paid public sector workers struck against Callaghan's wage restraint policy.
Then there was Thatcher's attack on the public sector with her policy of privatisation and 'rationalisation' of British Telecoms. Bryan Stanley's union members were a juicy target for her private business friends, as well as the Tories' re-application of the most draconian trade union laws in the western world, which still remain on the statute book after 12 years of New Labour government.
However, in the Guardian's obituary, apart from a reference to Stanley's membership of CND and his opposition to the EEC, there is little mention of his role in the class struggle. In a eulogy penned by Claire Ward, devout New Labour neoliberalist and MP for Watford, she described how, after retiring from the union, in his role as leader of Hertsmere borough council he led the fight to save Elstree studio from the property developers and it is now home to such shows as Big Brother and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
She fulsomely quotes from the book The Hammer of the Left by John Golding, right-wing successor to Stanley as general secretary of the POEU: "Stanley vowed to defend Labour against the militants and Trotskyites, and worked with...Neil Kinnock to defeat the left..."
Co-author of the obituary was Geoffrey Goodman a former industrial editor, columnist and assistant editor of the Daily Mirror. He previously reported for the Daily Herald, the News Chronicle and the Guardian, and was founding editor of the British Journalism Review, where he remains the emeritus chairman.
Clearly a man of substantial intellect. He wrote: "The most important achievement in Bryan Stanley's tenure of office as general secretary of the POEU was his leadership in the trade union fightback against the militant left domination of Labour's NEC following the defeat of the Callaghan government in 1979." He then quotes Labour leader Neil Kinnock: "Stanley's role in fighting Militant was terrific."
Incredibly, apologists for capitalism like these authors, suffering from political myopia, elevate the fight against Militant to that of a titanic accomplishment.
Yet they completely fail to comprehend that the actions of people like Bryan Stanley, who they laud and praise, are precisely the actions which have led to the grotesque parody of a Labour Party that we see today. They unleashed a right-wing witch hunt which has ultimately destroyed Labour as the political voice of the working class.
Symbolically the right wing's first act in November 1985, following the expulsion of the Militant editorial board two years earlier, was to close down the Liverpool District Labour Party, a vibrant and democratic workers' organisation which led the fight against Thatcher's attack on Liverpool City Council in 1983 to 1987.
Their actions have produced an empty shell of a party, without a shred of credibility in the eyes of the working masses, shown by the appalling result for Labour in the recent European and local elections.
Their outlook confirms the accepted axiom of Marxism, that conditions determine consciousness. As long as people like the authors of Bryan Stanley's obituary maintain a lucrative stake in the system, they will continue to praise the right-wing witch hunters of the past. They, eagerly accepting their instructions from newspaper barons and those of wealth and privilege, surgically sliced from the Labour Party any democratic structures, policies or members which could threaten the ascendancy of a hardened right wing clique. This, while welcoming into the Party the direct agents of capitalism who enthusiastically transformed the Labour Party into a lap dog of big business.
In The Socialist 14 August 2009:
International socialist news
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party youth and students
International socialist news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Labour history comment