The Militant tendency, previously the Revolutionary Socialist League, was a Trotskyist entryist group working within the British Labour Party which was based around the Militant newspaper founded in 1964. According to Michael Crick, its politics were influenced by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky and "virtually nobody else".
In 1982, a Labour Party commission found Militant in contravention of clause II, section 3 of the party's constitution, which among other things, rendered political groups with their own "Programme, Principles and Policy for separate and distinctive propaganda" ineligible for affiliation. Militant was proscribed by the Labour Party's NEC in December 1982, and the following year, the five members of the Editorial Board of the Militant newspaper were expelled from the Labour Party. At this point the group claimed internally to have about 4,300 members, a figure which may be generous. Further expulsions of Militant activists followed. Meanwhile, Militant dominated Liverpool City Council between 1983 and 1987 when 47 councillors were banned and surcharged. The conduct of the Liverpool council led Neil Kinnock, Labour's then leader, to denounce Militant at the 1985 Party Conference. Eventually Militant's two Labour MPs were prevented from being Labour candidates at the 1992 general election, by which time Militant's influence, and presence within the Party, had ended..
Between 1989 and 1991 Militant led the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation's non-payment campaign against the Community Charge ('poll tax'). In 1991, Militant decided by a large majority to abandon entryism in the Labour Party. Ted Grant, once the group's most important member, was expelled, and his breakaway minority, now known as Socialist Appeal, continued with the entryist strategy. The majority changed its name to Militant Labour, and then in 1997 to the Socialist Party.
- 1 Early years
- 2 The 1970s
- 3 Militant in the 1980s
- 4 The Poll Tax
- 5 The Open Turn
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes and references
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Organised in a group called the Revolutionary Socialist League it was organised around a newspaper called Socialist Fight, and followed the ideas of Leon Trotsky. The RSL, about 40 strong, were Labour Party members mainly based in Liverpool, "with small forces in London and in South Wales". The Militant newspaper was founded after the Revolutionary Socialist League, decided in March 1964 to wind up Socialist Fight, and start another newspaper. National Secretary Jimmy Deane, together with Ted Grant, Keith Dickenson, Ellis Hillman and others on the executive of the RSL decided to launch the Militant newspaper, initially a four-page monthly. Peter Taaffe was appointed the first editor, and in 1965 became national secretary.
The name of the paper was the same as the American American SWP publication The Militant, and as a result "most of the pioneers of Militant were not enthralled by the choice of the name" writes Taaffe. But "Militant did stand for what its proponents intended: the aim of winning in the first instance, the most conscious, combative, fighting, i.e. militant, sections of the working class." Some Trotskyists referred to the new group, still known internally as the Revolutionary Socialist League, as the Grantites after their leading theoretician Ted Grant.
Early editions of Militant
"Drive Out the Tories" was the headline of the first issue of Militant, published just before the general election of 1964 with an article written by the business editor, S. Mani. Below the Militant logo were the words "For Youth and Labour". Inside, above the Editorial, was printed: "Militant. Editor: Peter Taaffe (Walton Young Socialists). All correspondence to the business manager: S. Mani". The addition of the "Walton Young Socialists" indicated the significance with which Peter Taaffe and Militant viewed the young socialists, and began the practice of Militant members identifying themselves with their local Labour Party or Trade Union. With Peter Taaffe in Liverpool, Roger Protz, Keith Dickinson, Ted Grant and others did most of the work on the first few issues.
In the editorial of the first issue of the Militant in October 1964, Peter Taaffe made the strategy of entrism clear:
|“||The job is to carry the message of Marxism to the ranks of the labour movement and to its young people. There is room for all tendencies in the labour movement, including the revolutionary Left. Above all the task is to gather together the most conscious elements in the labour movement to patiently explain the need for these policies on the basis of experience and events.||”|
Following the 1964 general election, which the Labour Party won with a majority of four seats, Militant called for "No retreat by Labour" from its promises, urging the carrying out of its promised nationalisation of steel and urban land and calling on it to "take action against the big monopolies, combines and trusts which dominate the economy". Under the headline, "Another election 'pledge' broken", Militant denounced the increased spending on nuclear weapons and their retention by the Labour Party, contrary to its commitment to nuclear disarmament. The paper supported the trade union struggle against the Labour Government’s incomes policy. Militant argued that the only long term solution to the problems facing working class people was to end capitalism through a socialist transformation of society, nationally and internationally. In 1965, it demanded: "Nationalise the 400 Monopolies". In the meantime, Roger Protz had severed his connection with the group. A letter from Protz, written around this time, was leaked to The Observer newspaper a decade later. It recalls his experiences at an early Militant editorial board meeting:
|“||We told Grant that he was hopelessly factional and sectarian, [and] that his attitude would strangle Militant ... He began screaming and shouting, threatening that I had no rights at all as I wasn't active in RSL, hadn't proven myself, etc."||”|
In 1969, the Labour government came into conflict with the trade unions over its In Place of Strife white paper which was later withdrawn. Militant's national secretary Peter Taaffe outlined how "the trade union and Labour Movement scored a tremendous victory in forcing the Labour government to climb down over its proposed anti-trade union legislation" in the first issue of the Militant International Review (Autumn 1969), Militant's quarterly theoretical journal. Several strikes had taken place, the "first directly political strikes" in what threatened to be an "irreparable breach between the Labour leaders and their base in the Labour Movement".
Militant argued that the struggle between the Labour Party leadership and the trade unions arose from the poor economic performance of Britain compared to its competitors. For them, the "capitalist class" wished to make the working class pay for this "crisis" through a policy to restrict workers' incomes: "For a generation now British Capitalism has been in decline... The capitalists are responsible for this mess. But they want the burdens to be borne by the working class, while their fabulous profits continue to rise. They wanted the Labour government to impose an incomes policy."
In 1965, highly critical of the policies agreed at the Eighth World Congress of the Fourth International, the Militant tendency abandoned attempts to remain a section of this grouping. According to an internal document by Grant, the International considered Militant to have "a poorly functioning organization [sic]", and aligned itself instead with the International Marxist Group (IMG). By 1969, the name Revolutionary Socialist League had been dropped internally by the group, and Militant would later found the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) in 1974.
Growth and influence
In 1970, the Militant tendency bought premises belonging to the old Independent Labour Party. In September 1971, the Militant newspaper became fortnightly, although still just four pages, and in January 1972 it became weekly. By the end of 1972 it became an 8 page weekly.
During the period 1969 - 1972, Militant supporters began to win a majority in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS), and by 1972 had a clear majority on the LPYS National Committee. The Labour Party Young Socialists grew rapidly. In 1973, the Labour Party Young Socialists conference attracted one thousand delegates and visitors. Taaffe claims that Militant had 397 "organised supporters" in March 1973, but by July of the same year this "had grown to 464." In 1965 the Militant tendency claimed 100 members, and by 1979 claimed 1,621. In 1973, the Labour Party abolished the 'proscribed list' of organisations which could affiliate to the Labour Party.
At the 1972 Labour Party conference, a resolution moved and seconded by Militant supporters Pat Wall and Ray Apps was passed by 3,501,000 votes to 2,497,000. It demanded that the Labour government commit itself to enacting "an enabling bill to secure the public ownership of the major monopolies". Pat Wall, later an MP, asserted: "No power on earth can stop the organised labour movement!" and "called for Labour to win the workers to a programme of taking power by taking over the 350 monopolies which controlled 85 per cent of the economy." The conference agreed to call on the Labour Party executive to
|“||formulate a socialist plan of production based on public ownership, with minimum compensation, of the commanding heights of the economy.||”|
The Militant newspaper commented "This is an answer to those who argue for a slow, gradual, almost imperceptible progress towards nationalisation."
Labour Party and press responses to entryism
The Observer ran the first article on Militant, "Trot conspirators inside Labour Party", at the end of August 1975. Its author, Nora Beloff wrote that the Militant was a "party within a party".
Militant asserted the consonance of its policies with the decisions of the Labour Party conference, which, it said, demonstrated its legitimacy as a genuine current within the Labour party. "It is significant that all these attacks, particularly that of The Observer, do not deal with the ideas of Militant, openly expressed, which have a great tradition in the labour movement and are the continuation of the ideas of the pioneers of the labour movement and of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky," it commented in response at the beginning of September 1975.
The report of National Agent Reg Underhill into the activities of the Militant tendency was completed in November 1975, and was soon leaked. By a majority of 16 to 12, the Labour Party's National Executive Committee decided to take no action. Many on the NEC, then with a left-wing majority, were "determined not to allow a return to what they saw as the 'McCarthyism' of the past". The proscribed list had fallen into disuse and Ron Hayward, Labour Party General Secretary from 1972, claimed he burned the Labour Party central office files on left-wingers. In 1975 Eric Heffer, a member of the NEC, remarked "There have been Trotskyists in the Labour Party for 30 years." Tony Benn, frequently nicknamed 'Kerensky' by the leadership of Militant (Alexander Kerensky's provisional government was 'replaced' by the Bolsheviks), defended the group. In a television interview, Benn drew a parallel with the forged Zinoviev letter, and claimed the documents published by Underhill had come from the "intelligence service or wherever".
At the same time in late 1975, cabinet minister Reg Prentice, later a Conservative minister, was deselected by his Constituency Labour Party in Newham North-East. Labour Party Prime Minister Harold Wilson declared that "small and certainly not necessarily representative groups" had "secured a degree of power within a constituency." but according to journalist Andy McSmith it was "manifestly untrue" that Prentice's problems were caused by Militant, who had only a small presence in his constituency party. Prentice ultimately defected to the Conservative party in 1977. Meanwhile, in December 1975, Miltant suffered a setback when they lost control of the National Organisation of Labour Students to the mainstream left Clause Four Group.
In September 1976, after James Callaghan had taken over as Labour Party's Prime Minister, two trade unionists on the right of the party, and Ron Hayward, the General Secretary, on Hayward's casting vote, decided to appoint Militant supporter Andy Bevan as the Labour Party's Young Socialist Youth Officer. Bevan had been a member of Reg Prentice’s constituency and played a part in his removal, In December, the Labour Party National Executive Committee decided by a 15:12 majority to uphold the appointment, but with Callaghan's open disapproval. Forty members of the Parliamentary Labour Party condemned Bevan's appointment.
The Daily Express commented: "Just five men have Labour on the Trot... Express dossier of the unknowns behind the Red challenge to Jim." The Times carried three articles in early December 1976 and an editorial about the danger of the Militant tendency, which it exposed as wanting to "establish a group of MPs" Ted Grant, writing in Militant, was optimistic at the time: "This witch hunt will fail, among other reasons, because of the justified hatred and distrust of the Labour Party for the capitalist press and their day to day poisonous propaganda against the labour movement." Andy Bevan faced a demonstration from his Labour colleagues outside Transport House when he finally began his job in January 1977.
Peter Taaffe was interviewed by Michael Davie, a journalist for The Observer, for an article published on 19 December 1976. By then the Militant tendency's general secretary, Taaffe explained to Davie:
|“||'No country constitutes a genuinely democratic workers’ state,' Mr Taaffe said. He spoke of the ‘monstrous police apparatus’ in Russia, and the dictatorships of China and Cuba. Why would not the same thing happen here, if everything was taken over by the state? "Because Britain has a long democratic tradition, and there is no possibility of a socialist society being attained here without the working class, and the middle class, being convinced of the necessity of the change." I left Mr Taaffe thinking that Militant and Andy Bevan between them have got Transport House over a barrel.||”|
End of the 1970s
The Militant newspaper argued that the Labour Party lost the 1979 election due to anger at the £8 billion cuts carried out by the Labour government, following the crisis caused by international speculation on the pound and the subsequent visit by the International Monetary Fund. It also blamed the Labour government's fiscal restraint of 1978-9, which, it claimed, gave rise to the "Winter of discontent" - a period of union struggle against the government's wage restraint in the winter of 1978-1979, prior to the general election. Later Taaffe asserted that:
|“||the Labour leadership, attempting to manage capitalism in a period of crisis, embarked on attacks on workers' living standards, in particular through a series of pay policies...Through their policies during 1974-9, the Labour leaders paved the way for Thatcher.||”|
Militant "opposed the Russian invasion of Afghanistan" of December 1979, "not for abstract reasons, as [for example] a result of the so-called 'inviolability of frontiers' or 'aggression', but because of the damage this action caused to the consciousness of the workers of other countries." The Soviet government was "being totally hypocritical" and acting to defend its own interests. But in Militant itself, Ted Grant and Alan Woods argued that nevertheless, now the Russian troops were there they could not leave and allow the victory of the US-backed Mujahadeen. "These tribesmen [are] 'dark masses', stuck in the gloom of barbarism." They further contended that, "The Russian bureaucracy and their Afghan supporters are, in effect, carrying through the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution in that country."
By the late 1970s, the Militant newspaper was a 16 page weekly, outlining its organisations policies, activities and campaigns. By the end of the 1970s, the Militant tendency was calling for the nationalisation of the top 250 monopolies, later 200, rather than 350 monopolies, because mergers were concentrating ownership further. Between 1975 and 1980, the Labour Party's National Executive Committee voted against expulsion.
Militant in the 1980s
First actions by the Labour Party
Conscious of his own past, and those of others on the Labour left, Michael Foot, Labour's leader from 1980, was initially against taking any action against Militant. The situation in the Labour Party at the time eventually forced his hand. According to Dianne Hayter, quoting from her interview with (then) MP Ken Woolmer, the 'Group of Ten' Labour members met Foot in the Leader's Room before Prime minister's questions. According to Woolmer, they said that "unless he denounced Militant, and recognised that it was a deep cancer within the party, the parliamentary party was on the verge of deeply splitting and was going to come apart." In December 1981, a Labour Party National Executive Committee inquiry team was set up, led by Ron Hayward and David Hughes, then the party's national agent. The inquiry sent a series of questions to the Militant tendency. The Militant general secretary, Peter Taaffe, told the inquiry that the Militant's Editorial board consisted of five people, with an additional sixty-four full time staff.
The Hayward-Hughes inquiry, which reported in June 1982, found that Militant was guilty of breaking Clause II, section 3 of the Labour Party constitution. It took only one of the four parts of this passage to render an organisation incompatible with the Labour Party: "Programme, Principles and Policy for separate and distinctive propaganda, possessing branches in the constituencies; promoting their own candidates for public office; and, finally, owing allegiance to any political organisation situated abroad." In the words of the authors: "It is clear that the Militant Tendency is a well organised caucus[,] centrally controlled[,] operation within the Labour Party and it is equally clear that supporters of the Temndency are in control of the Labour Party Young Socialists at National and Regional level." Crick though, pointed out that numerous other groups within Labour left and right, had also broken the strictly worded constitution, such as Labour Solidarity, the Labour Co-ordinating Committee and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, but that "dislike of Militant" had developed "because it has breached the constitution so blatantly and, perhaps more importantly, so effectively".
The inquiry proposed the setting up of a register of non-affiliated groups who would be allowed to operate within the Labour Party. Hayward, according to Tam Dalyell, was thought to be unduly forgiving of Militant by some in the party, and while Hayward and Hughes agreed with Michael Foot's opposition to expulsions in his New Year message for 1982, they said that Militant would be ineligible for their proposed register. The group was given three months to conform to the party rules. Labour Weekly, the Labour Party's own newspaper, cast doubts on the viability of such a register, which it said would only work in an "atmosphere of co-operation" but that "There is no evidence that such an atmosphere exists."
In September 1982, Militant held a special conference against the 'witch-hunt' at the Wembley Conference Centre at which Ken Livingstone spoke. An attendance was claimed of 1,622 delegates from Constituency Labour Parties and 412 trade union delegates plus visitors, At such mass rallies in this period, Militant displayed two huge banners at each side of the stage, one showing Marx and Engels, and the other showing Lenin and Trotsky.
An editorial in the September–October 1982 issue of New Socialist, the Labour Party's internal magazine, objected to the accusations against Militant:
|“||The expulsion of leading Militant supporters [is] wrong. The Labour Party always has been a broad collection that includes Marxists amongst its ranks. The Militant tendency, drawing as it does upon Trotsky's critique of Stalinism, belongs to this Marxist tradition, and has a legitimate place within the Labour Party.
The charges being levelled against Militant that it is 'a party within a party' is one that can be levelled with equal justification against any other groups within the Labour Party on both the left and right...
The very existence of the Militant and other groups within the Labour Party is a source of strength rather than a weakness. By working for the adoption of alternative policies and candidates, they assist the democratic functioning of the party.[page needed]
At the 1982 Labour Party conference which followed, the Hayward-Hughes report was endorsed, and the Militant tendency was declared ineligible for affiliation to the Labour Party. While most Labour Party constituencies were against the register, the motion was endorsed at the conference. Militant was finally proscribed by the Labour Party NEC in December in a 18-9 vote.
On 22 February 1983, after a 19 to 9 vote, Labour's National Executive Committee, decided to expel from the party the five members of Militant's Editorial Board, Peter Taaffe, Ted Grant, Keith Dickinson, Lynn Walsh and Clare Doyle. They appealed at the Labour Party national conference in October of that year. Two thirds of constituency delegates voted against expulsions but the appeal of each member was lost when the unions cast their block votes in a card vote, 5,160,000 to 1,616,000 in each case except for that of Ted Grant who got 175,000 extra votes in his favour. Lynn Walsh, in his failed appeal asserted: "Militant is not an organisation, it is not subsidiary or ancillary to any organisation outside the party ... Militant was proscribed as a result of an entirely one-sided inquiry which acted on McCarthyite reports and poison-pen letters from self-appointed snoopers."
After the election defeat in 1983 the NEC agreed to ban sales of Militant at party meetings and the Militant tendency was prohibited from using party facilities. By 1986, forty expulsions had taken place of Militant supporters in the ranks of the Labour Party.
Militant in Liverpool
In 1982, Liverpool District Labour Party had adopted Militant policies for the city. It adopted the slogan "Better to break the law than break the poor" which had been the slogan of the Poplar council in the east end of London in 1919-20.
In 1984, Liverpool council launched its Urban Regeneration Strategy to build 5,000 houses, seven sports centres, new parks, six new nursery classes and other works, many of which were seen to completion. The 1,200 redundancies planned by the previous Liberal administration to balance the books were cancelled, and 1,000 new jobs were created. The office of Lord Mayor was abolished and the ceremonial horses sold.
In 1985, the council joined the rate-capping rebellion in an alliance with left-led councils across Britain. Apart from Lambeth, the sixteen other councils which had followed a policy of not setting a rate had bowed to the rate-capping measures of the Conservative government, and set legal rates. The left leaderships of these councils favoured a strategy of delaying the setting of the budget, but one by one they found the means of setting a budget, leaving Liverpool and Lambeth to fight alone. The council declared "In the event of Tory threats of bankruptcy and possible arrests becoming a reality, all out strike action will take place".
On 14 June 1985 Liverpool Council passed an illegal budget, in which spending exceeded income, demanding the deficit be made up by the government. As bankruptcy loomed and plans for all-out strike action were finally discussed, they were narrowly lost, and not all unions balloted their members.
Liverpool councillors were advised in late August 1985 by the District Auditor that the council was about to break its legal obligations and would not be able to pay wages to its staff by December of that year. In September 1985, rather than face immediate confrontation with the law, the Labour group on the council decided on the 'tactic' of issuing ninety-day notices to the 30,000 strong workforce to gain leeway to "campaign more vigorously than ever before". In his autobiography, Deputy Council leader Derek Hatton acknowledges that taking this advice was an enormous mistake, from which the council never recovered. Although the notices went out with a covering letter explaining the background and stating that the council did not actually intend to make anyone redundant, many council staff felt the future of their jobs at the council were no longer guaranteed. The 90-day notices were seen as three months notice of redundancy in all but name and treated as such by the media. It was, Militant's general secretary wrote, "a major tactical error."
The Council balanced the books in November 1985 after gaining £30 million in loans. The Militant called the budget an "orderly retreat".
In the mean time, the Urban Regeneration Strategy of the Liverpool City Council continued to provide jobs and build houses, schools and sports facilities. Lord Reg Underhill, since 1975 a long-standing opponent of the Militant, wrote in a letter to The Guardian in September 1985:
|“||I went to see the effects of Liverpool's regeneration strategy... The five year plan is to get rid of outdated and sub-standard housing, the crumbling tenements and soulless systems-built tower flats. Already 3800 separate homes have been built, with their own private gardens and nearby off-street parking... improved street layouts, with tree-lined residential roads are planned. We saw the start of the 100-acre (0.40 km2) park at Everton and of the initial development of other local parks. There are to be seven sport centres; three have just been opened. The scheme will provide work for 12,000 with side effects producing further thousands of jobs. Without commenting on the rating situation, how much is being saved to the Treasury by this employment? ||”|
Michael Crick contends that, "For a number of reasons the years 1982 and 1983 probably saw Militant at its peak in terms of influence within the Labour Party. According to Crick, Militant was effectively Britain's fifth biggest party (after Labour, Conservative, Liberal and the SDP) in the early to mid 1980s. Until then Militant was always able to count on the support of most of the broad coalition on the left of the party, though privately many left-wingers were very critical of Militant's tactics and politics.". In 1983, two Militant supporters were elected as MPs: Terry Fields in Liverpool Broadgreen and Dave Nellist, in Coventry South East.
However, as Crick points out, while Militant continued to dominate the agenda of the Labour Party's National Executive meetings, expulsions spread around the constituencies,
|“||...among them Stevenage, Rhondda, Sheffield Attercliffe, Gillingham, Faversham, Cardiff South, Warley West, Newcastle-under-lyme, Newcastle East, Wrekin, Mansfield, Ipswich, Chorley, Cannock and Burntwood, Eddisbury, Knowsley South, Bromsgrove, Wrexham, Llanelli and Havant... What is especially interesting is that many of these constituency parties could not be described as particularly right-wing... by far the majority of them voted for Tony Benn, Eric Heffer and Dennis Skinner in the annual elections to the National Executive.||”|
The left-wing Blackburn CLP was the first local party to expel a Militant activist in 1983, and the constituency MP Jack Straw was of the opinion that dealing with the group was necessary if the party was to win the next general election. Militant's membership kept growing though, at least until 1986, when it reached 8,100 plus, according to Crick, who cites internal figures, but adds a caveat that this figure may be inflated. Militant's public fund raising peaked in 1986. In 1964, it set a target of £500 in funds. In 1980 it raised £94,000. In 1985 and 1986 its Fighting Fund, together with two special appeals raised a total of £281,528 and £283,818 respectively. In the years 1987 to 1989 the figure was around £200,000, and in 1990, £182,677, in 1991, £154,801.
Militant's public events continued to grow even after its membership and fund raising had peaked. Its largest indoor event was a rally in the Alexandra Palace in 1988 attended by almost 8,000.
Labour and the Liverpool Council
Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock made a speech to the Labour Party Conference at the Bournemouth International Centre on 1 October 1985 that attacked Militant and their record in the leadership of Liverpool City Council:
|“||I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions; they are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-placed, outdated, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council, hiring taxis to scuttle round the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I tell you - and you'll listen - you can't play politics with people's jobs and people's homes and people's services.||”|
Labour MP Eric Heffer walked off the platform during the speech while Derek Hatton repeatedly shouted "lies" at Kinnock from the balcony, and later condemned "the rantings and ravings" contained in his speech.
The NEC subsequently suspended Liverpool District Labour Party in November 1985, and began an inquiry into the council's conduct. A minority were opposed. Dennis Skinner, then an NEC member, thought it was a diversion from the Tories and the "class enemy". "They're going to spend a lot of time examining their own navel", he said. Peter Kilfoyle as an organiser with a specific remit to remove Militant supporters from the Labour Party.
The two MPs associated with the Militant who were elected in 1983, Dave Nellist and Terry Fields, both increased their majorities in 1987, whilst long-standing Militant member Pat Wall was elected as a Labour MP in Bradford. Labour also did particularly well in Liverpool, leading Militant to deny Neil Kinnock's claim that its policies were unpopular. The Militant's general secretary, Peter Taaffe subsequently wrote:
|“||Without the attack on the Liverpool Militant supporters, and a subsequent witch-hunt against others on the left, the right wing leadership would not have been able to carry through a massive revision in party policy in the period 1985-7. The attack on Liverpool paved the way for the defeat of Labour in the 1987 general election.||”|
Others were vocal in their opposition to the attacks on the Militant. Michael Meacher MP, then strongly aligned with Tony Benn, had written in the Labour Party's Labour Weekly that John Golding, one of those prominent in pursuing the expulsions of Militant supporters, was "bleeding the party's election prospects to death".
In Liverpool, the district auditor had charged the Militant-led 49 Liverpool city councillors £106,000. Their appeal to the House of Lords was lost in 1987 and an additional charge of £242,000 was imposed. The money was raised from donations from the Labour and trade union movement.
The Poll Tax
In 1988, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began preparations for a Community Charge to replace the council rates. Instead of one payment per household based on rateable value of the property, the poll tax was to be paid by all people who were 18 or over. While the Labour Party conference, in the autumn of 1988, had rejected a campaign of non-payment, Militant argued for a strategy of non-payment and organised Anti-Poll Tax Unions, beginning in Scotland, but Grant had opposed this option. He had argued that their MPs should pay the poll tax, partly for the group's self-protection, but was overruled.
The anti-poll tax unions grew during 1989, and soon regional and national bodies were set up, which Militant organised and led. The All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation called a demonstration in London on 31 March 1990 which led to a riot in Trafalgar Square. Non-payment rose to 17.5 million people in serious arrears, and central government began to consider the community charge unworkable. The poll tax was swiftly abandoned by the new Prime Minister John Major.
Militant MP Terry Fields was criticised by the Labour leader Neil Kinnock for the non-payment of his poll-tax when Fields was imprisoned in July 1991. Kinnock said at the time: "Law makers must not be law breakers. I have always made that clear". According Militant, 219 members had been expelled from the Labour Party by August 1991, but by now most Militant members were drawing the conclusion that their way forward was blocked in the Labour Party.
The Open Turn
In April 1991 the Militant tendency decided to support the setting up of Scottish Militant Labour, an independent organisation in Scotland. At the same time, the Militant tendency decided to support independent Broad Left candidates in Liverpool standing against the official Labour Party. All five Broad Left candidates won in the May 1991 local elections. Eric Heffer, MP for Liverpool Walton died in May 1991, and the Broad Left decided to stand Militant supporter Lesley Mahmood as the candidate of 'Real Labour' at the subsequent by-election.. Militant endorsed the decision, but on the Militant executive Ted Grant and Rob Sewell opposed. Mahmoud came third, just saving her deposit. It was the group's first electoral step outside the Labour Party.
Majority and Minority resolutions were presented to the Militant National Editorial Board meeting of 14–16 July 1991 on the question of this "open turn", and a faction formed around Ted Grant's Minority position. (The National Editorial Board comprised representatives from all regions and areas of work of the Militant tendency, and functioned as a National Executive Committee.) The Majority resolution, in support of the open work, was agreed by 46 votes to 3, whilst the Minority one was defeated 3 to 43 at the 14–16 July 1991 meeting. Documents from each faction were subsequently circulated. This began the debate about an "Open Turn", first called the "Scottish Turn". The documents of the Majority and Minority are at Marxism and the British Labour Party - the 'Open Turn' debate.
The Minority argued that this turn from work in the Labour Party was a "threat to 40 years work", and that "only about 250" supporters had been expelled, out of a membership which in the late 1980s had numbered 8,000. They argued that it was irresponsible to endanger this work in view of an anticipated swing to the left in the Labour Party. "The classical conditions for entrism will undoubtedly arise during the next epoch - two, three, five or even ten years — as the crisis of world capitalism, and especially British capitalism, unfolds."
The Majority did not dispute the numbers expelled. It argued "we face a profoundly changed situation". The right wing's policies and methods, particularly those of Neil Kinnock, "have led to a severe decline in the level of activity within the [Labour] party...Marxists are tolerated within the party only where they do not pose a threat at the moment." The Labour Party Young Socialists had been closed.
|“||In the early to mid-eighties, we had fifty to seventy delegates to the Labour Party annual conference, and we dominated many of the key debates. By 1987-88, this had been reduced to between thirty and forty delegates, and is currently down to a small handful. This has not come about because of any deliberate withdrawal from work within the constituencies. It reflects the decline in activity within the CLPs and the witch-hunt against our comrades.||”|
At a special conference of the Militant tendency in October 1991, after a lengthy period of debate and discussion, 93% of delegates voted to support the "Scottish turn". They supported the view that because there was "a blockage within the Labour Party, created by the right-wing Kinnock leadership at the present time, we have to continue to develop independent work and not allow our distinct political identity to be submerged through fear of expulsions." In Scotland, it supported "a bold, open detour in order to strengthen our forces."
Thus in 1991 the Militant tendency effectively abandoned the Labour Party, and changed its name to Militant Labour. The minority, led by Ted Grant and Alan Woods, had been expelled, while Militant claimed they had set up an alternative organisation and so had departed. Terry Fields was expelled from the Labour Partty in December 1991, Dave Nellist, the other Militant MP, was deselected by the Labour Party NEC. Standing as an Independent Labour candidate in 1992, Nellist lost his seat to Labour's Jim Cunningham, with Nellist gaining 40 fewer votes than the Conservative candidate, and 28.88% of the votes cast.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow Tommy Sheridan the leader of the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation had been sentenced to 6 months in prison for being present at, and helping to prevent, a Warrant Sale (public sale of a debtor's possessions by Sheriff Officers) after a court order had been issued prohibiting his attendance. While incarcerated, Sheridan stood at the 1992 General Election as a Scottish Militant Labour candidate for the Pollok constituency, and came second with 6,287 votes (19.3%). A month later, in the Scottish local elections he was elected to Glasgow City Council while in prison. being elected for the Pollok ward..
In 1997, Militant Labour changed its name to the Socialist Party of England and Wales, and the Militant newspaper was renamed The Socialist. Between 1998 and January 2001 the Scottish section of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), Scottish Militant Labour, proposed the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party with a number of other groups, together with a change in the political character of the Scottish section. In 2001 they broke with the CWI with only a small minority in Scotland remaining.
The minority faction from the 1991 split in Militant are now organised around the magazine Socialist Appeal edited by Steve Jones. The group is affiliated to the International Marxist Tendency, which claims sections in more than 30 countries.
- Socialist Party of England and Wales
- Peter Taaffe
- Socialist Appeal (UK, 1992)
- Alan Woods
- International Marxist Tendency
Notes and references
- Michael Crick The March of Militant London: Faber, 1986, p.2
- Crick The March of Militant, p.3
- Eric Shaw 'Discipline and Discord in the Labour Party: The Politics of Managerial Control in the Labour Party, 1951-87, Manchester: Manchester University, 1988, p.121
- Crick, p.315
- Crick The March of Militant, p.229
- Forty-nine councillors were initially subject to surcharge, but two councillors subsequently died during the process, and the group was termed the Liverpool 47. http://www.liverpool47.org
- John Callaghan The Far Left in British Politics, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, p.196
- Crick, p.49
- Jimmy Deane was National Secretary until 1965. Before his death he made his minutes of these meetings available. See the archive  on the Warwick University website.
- Peter Taaffe The Rise of Militant, p.8
- Militant editorial, #1, October 1964
- Editorial, Militant, #2, November 1964, p1.
- "Labour Keeps the bomb", Militant, #5, April 1965, p.1
- "Labour Must keep prices down", Militant, #4, March 1965 and Arthur Deane "TGWU gives the lead on incomes policy", #6, May 1965
- Militant, #9, September 1965
- McSmith Faces of Labour, p.280
- Peter Taaffe Legislation, TUC and & Future of Unions, Militant International Review #1, Autumn 1969
- Militant, #8, July–August 1965, p.1
- G. Edwards (T. Grant) "Bulletin of Marxist Studies", (Militant internal document), Summer 1985, p.1, cited by Crick, p.154, 326
- Crick, p.54, 156
- Callaghan The Far Left in British Politics Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, p.177; Crick (p.60) has the group changing the name by 1967
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p.62-4
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant p315.
- Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant chapter seven p74
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p102-3
- Crick The March of Militant, p.67. The union delegates cast 'block' votes on behalf of their affiliated membership, taking the votes into the millions.
- Militant 125, 6 October 1972
- "Taaffe, Peter, ''The Rise of Militant'' chapter seven". Socialistparty.org.uk. Retrieved 2010-04-01.
- The Observer, 31 August 1975.
- Militant #269, 5 September 1975
- Andy McSmith Faces of Labour: The Insisde Story, London: Verso, 1996, p.279
- Crick The March of Militant, p.18
- Crick The March of Militant, p.104
- Leo Panitch and Colin Leys The End of Parliamentary Socialism: from New Left to New Labour, London: Verso, 2001, p.72; David Powell Tony Benn: A Political Life, London: Continuum, 2004, p.82
- Crick, p.187
- The Times 21 July 1975; Martin Pugh Speak for Britain, p.365
- Michael White (15 October 2001). "Obituary: Lord Prentice of Daventry". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-04-07.
- Crick, p.97
- Dianne Hayter Fightback!: Labour's Traditional Right in the 1970s and 1980s, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005, p,.28
- Daily Express, 10 December 1976. The five were Nick Bradley, Peter Taaffe, Ted Grant, Roger Silverman and Andy Bevan.
- The Times, "Special Articles": 1, 3 and 4 December 1976; The Times Editorial, 8 December 1976.
- Ted Grant "Witch-hunt against Militant", Militant, #333, 3 December 1976
- The Observer, 19 December 1976
- Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p.48-51
- Militant, 18 July 1980
- Dianne Hayter Fightback! p.30
- Martin Pugh Speak for Britain!: A New History of the Labour Party, London: Vintage, 2011 , p.369
- Michael Crick The March of Militant, p. 197
- Martin Pugh Speak for Britain!, p.369. The use of capitals and the inserted commas are from Pugh's book.
- Crick, p.133
- Tam Dalyell Obituary: Ron Hatward, The Independent, 27 March 1996
- Hayter, p.31
- Labour Weekly, 25 June 1982, quoted in Crick The March of Militant, p.198
- Crick The March of Militant, p.199. Crick states 2,600 in attendance in total. See also Taaffe The Rise Of Militant’’, p201-2
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p.93
- Crick The March of Militant, p.199
- Eric Shaw Discipline and Discord in the Labour Party, p.235
- Eric Shaw Discipline and Discord in the Labour Party, p.236
- McSmith, p.283
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p266
- McSmith, p.278
- Crick The March of Militant
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p268
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p.238
- Not the echo! Liverpool Labour News, 'Workers back the council', p2, signed by the leaders of the two biggest unions, Ian Lowes of the GMBATU (now GMWU) and Peter Cresswell of NALGO (now UNISON).
- Not the echo! Liverpool Labour News, (a newspaper published by the Labour Party in 1985), '6,0000 jobs threatened', p1. The article was written by Militant member Felicity Dowling.
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p261
- "The Militants wanted an all-out strike to put pressure on the Government to act, but not all the unions were supporting the action, because there was no guarantee of success." Graham Burgess, Liverpool City Council Senior shop steward of the white collar staff union Nalgo (now Unison) in 1985, speaking to the Daily Post, Tuesday, May 1, 2007
- Crick, Michael. The March of Militant, p260
- Hatton, Derek, Inside Left, p89ff
- Hatton Inside Left, p. 101-2.
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p260
- "They would say to us 'It's just a piece of paper, of course we'll re-employ everybody' but from a union point of view, we couldn't accept that because there was no guarantee." - Graham Burgess, Liverpool City Council Senior shop steward of the white collar staff union Nalgo (now Unison) in 1985, speaking to the Daily Post, Tuesday, May 1, 2007.
- Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p281
- Militant Editorial Board statement, 23 November 1985
- The Guardian, 25 September 1985
- Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p2,3. Crick's claim is based on income, political apparatus, membership and influence within the Labour Party.
- Crick The March of Militant, p.265
- Crick The March of Militant, p.315. The figures given for the previous years are 1983: 4,313; 1984: c.6,000; 1985: c. 7,000. In 1980 the figure was 1,850.
- By 1983 it was £159,000 and by 1985, £194,000. In addition a Building Fund (for a new premises) and a "Daily" fund (a campaign to go to a daily Militant) both aimed to raise a quarter of a million pounds. As a result £262,000 was raised over 1985 and 1986. cf Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p136
- Militant newspaper quarterly FF end of quarter figures. Figures include special appeals totals as published. Figures for 1987: £190,870; 1988: £216,402; 1989: £201,268
- Taaffe The Rise of Militant, p324
- James Naughtie, Labour in Bournemouth: Kinnock rounds on left's militants, Guardian Unlimited, October 2, 1985. Retrieved 25 March 2007.
- Quoted in the abstract of Greg Rosen, ed., Old Labour to New: The Dreams that Inspired, the Battles that Divided, Politico's Press, ISBN 1-84275-045-3. Retrieved 25 March 2007.
- "1985: Kinnock moves against Militant", BBC On This Day, 27 November
- Militant, 19 June 1987, p2 (issue 853): "The argument that left-wing policies and candidates contributed to Labour's election defeat is resoundingly answered by the results from four constituencies where Marxist candidates fought on a clear socialist programme."
- Labour Weekly, 18 February 1983.
- McSmith, p.114
- Danny Burns Poll Tax Rebellion, p.176
- "1991: Anti-poll tax MP jailed", BBC On this Day, 11 July
- McSmith, p.116
- Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant, p.433-6
- The first document to be circulated was entitled 'Scotland, perspectives and tasks'. It was prepared by the leading Scottish Militant supporters, and was circulated with the Majority and Minority resolutions. A foreword to the documents stated that the executive committee felt, "it was important that these resolutions around which positions were taken should also be circulated to all comrades. The Majority resolution was agreed by 46 votes to 3, whilst the Minority one was defeated 3 to 43 (vote discrepancy due to absence at time of vote). The three comrades have decided to form a Minority faction around this question and they are preparing a document which will be circulated with a reply from the Majority as soon as possible. Many comrades may be shocked that such a development has taken place in advance of the discussion. However, we have a responsibility to ensure that a full discussion continues to take place."
- Marxists and the British Labour Party, Minority resolution and Marxists and the British Labour Party, The New Turn - A Threat To Forty Years Work
- "Marxists and the British Labour Party, ''For The Scottish Turn: Against Dogmatic Methods''". Marxist.net. Retrieved 2010-04-01.
- "UK General Election results April 1992". Richard Kimber's Political Science Resources. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- "Candidates and Constituency Assessments, Glasgow Pollok (Glasgow Region)". Scottishpolitics.org. Retrieved 2010-04-01.
- McSmith, p.115
- "The Scottish debate: Party, Programme, Reformism and the International". Marxist.net. Retrieved 2010-04-01.
- International Marxist Tendency
- Robert A. Alexander, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1985.
- John Callaghan, British Trotskyism: Theory and Practice. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1984.
- Militant - official Militant tendency website
- The Rise of Militant - the official history
- Liverpool 47: Socialism on Trial website of the Liverpool 47 councillors, the 47 councillors who formed the left-wing block on the Liverpool City Council.
- Liverpool, A City That Dared To Fight - Book by Peter Taaffe & Tony Mulhearn on Militant & the Liverpool City Council
- The History of British Trotskyism By Ted Grant
- In Defence of Marxism - homepage of the Minority
- How the Militant was Built – and How it was Destroyed
- Ray Apps obituary, socialistparty.org.uk, 7 May 2008
- Catalogue of the Militant Tendency archives, held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick