Militant tendency: Wikis


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The Militant tendency was an entrist group within the British Labour Party based around the Militant newspaper that was first published in 1964. It described its politics as descended from Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. [1]

In 1972, Labour Party conference passed a Militant tendency resolution which committed the next Labour government to introduce "a socialist plan of production based on public ownership".[2] In 1975, widespread press coverage of the Militant tendency resulted from a Labour Party report of Militant's entrist tactics. Between 1975 and 1980, attempts by Reg Underhill and others within the leadership of the Labour Party to expel the Militant were rejected by the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, which appointed a Militant member to the position of National Youth Organiser in 1976[3].

In 1982, a Labour Party commission found Militant in contravention of clause II, section 3 of the party's constitution, and declared it ineligible for affiliation to the Labour Party. In 1983, the five members of the 'Editorial Board' of the Militant newspaper were expelled from the Labour Party. In 1986, the journalist Michael Crick argued that the Militant was effectively Britain's fifth biggest party (after Labour, Conservative, Liberal and the SDP) in the early to mid 1980s.[4]

Between 1983 and 1987, the Militant played a leading role in the Liverpool City Council's struggle against the Conservative government, which initially won concessions from the government, but ended with the banning and surcharging of 47 Liverpool City Councillors, including up to sixteen Militant supporting councillors, in 1987[5][6]. From 1985 onwards, a series of moves led by Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock against the Militant ended its influence in the Labour Party, and the loss of its three Militant supporting Labour MPs.

Between 1989 and 1991 the Militant formed and led the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation in a non-payment campaign against the Conservative government's Community Charge ('poll tax') legislation. This is widely thought to have led to the downfall of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.[7][8] After a conference decision in 1991, the Militant tendency decided by a large majority to abandon the Labour Party, arguing that the Labour Party had lost its working class base and become a wholly capitalist party. A minority of the tendency stayed in the Labour Party. The majority first changed its name to Militant Labour and then in 1997 to the Socialist Party. The minority faction formed Socialist Appeal.


Founding policies

The Militant tendency was named after the Militant newspaper, which was founded after the Labour Party won the 1964 general election.

The watchword of the Militant tendency in the Labour Party was its demand for the nationalisation of the “commanding heights of the economy", first successfully passed by the Militant tendency at Labour Party conference in 1972. [9] The Militant rejected "half-hearted" measures and argued for the implementation of the "scientific revolution", nationalisations and "purposive planning" called for in Labour's 1964 election manifesto.[10]

The Militant tendency demanded minimum wage legislation to cover all workers. It supported the trade union struggle against the Labour Government’s incomes policy.[11]

The first few issues of Militant called for "No retreat by Labour"[12] from its radical 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. [13]

The 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"[14]. It demanded the nationalisation of those companies which financial analysts claimed controlled 80 percent or more of the British economy, to be placed under workers' control and management, with the establishment of a socialist plan of production. For the Militant tendency this would mark the end of capitalism and enable the "socialist transformation" of society.

The Labour government came into conflict with the trade unions in 1969, over its In Place of Strife white paper which was 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 magazine. 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".[15]

Whilst some city financiers considered the 1964 Labour government an "extremist Bolshevik Government" and were "conspiring" against it,[16] the Militant tendency argued that the struggle between the Labour Party leadership on the one hand and the trade unions and socialists in its own membership on the other, 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."[17] The editorial of Militant International Review issue 4, (summer 1971), displayed charts on which the growth of the British economy between 1949 and 1962 is given as 2.5%, France 4.8%, Italy 6% and west Germany 6.5%. It comments: "Britain is steadily losing out in relation to her competitors."


International outlook

In 1945, one of the founding members of the Militant, Ted Grant, together with Jock Haston and others, had argued that there would be a new but limited period of economic expansion of the 1950s and 1960s in the west. This contrasted with the perspectives of the US Socialist Workers Party led by James Cannon in 1945.[18] In 1965, highly critical of the policies agreed at the Eighth World Congress of the reunified Fourth International, the Militant tendency abandoned attempts to remain a section of this international grouping. The Militant tendency went on to found the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) in 1974.

The Militant tendency's outlook, however, remained international. It opposed the Vietnam War[19], the US intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965, and Franco's fascist regime.[20] Ted Grant had arrived in the UK from South Africa in the 1930s already a convinced follower of Leon Trotsky. Trotsky, together with Lenin, led the Russian revolution of 1917, but the 1930s was the decade in which Stalinism in the Soviet Union became most associated with show trials and brutal dictatorship. Trotsky was one of the foremost Marxist opponents of Stalinism, and by the time of his assassination by a Stalinist agent in 1940,[21][22] Trotskyism had formed a distinct trend of Marxism.

The Militant tendency's political outlook was based on Trotsky's analysis of developments in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.[23] The Militant argued that the establishment of socialism requires the efforts of workers in a number of advanced capitalist countries. It argued that countries like Russia in 1917 could not, on their own, achieve socialism in a capitalist world. Socialism, it argued, must be international. The Russian revolution of 1917 had "degenerated" into a bureaucratic dictatorship partly because Russia was largely feudal and could not sustain socialism and partly because the revolutions in the capitalist West which followed the 1917 Russian revolution were not successful. As a result, the Militant argues, Russia suffered an international trade boycott, invasion, civil war and famine, destroying the prospects for socialism. Out of this extreme privation, the Militant contested, a dictatorial bureaucracy arose.[24]

Militant's opposition to war was not pacifism however. 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 Russian bureaucracy was "being totally hypocritical" and acting to defend its own interests. But in Militant's pages, 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." (Militant, 18 July, 1980) Differences within the Militant tendency over this question were later identified as bearing the seeds of later disagreements.

The Militant newspaper

The Militant began as a four page monthly, becoming a 16 page weekly in the late 1970s. It outlined the policies of the Militant tendency and publicised its activities and campaigns. Militant supporters intervened in labour disputes and moved resolutions in Labour Party branches and at annual conferences. There were constant appeals for money. Issue two states, "Alas, if only all this enthusiasm could be translated into hard cash! Money, we regret, is already very short."[25]

Various moves against the paper and its supporters, beginning in 1975, failed until 1983. (See Expulsion from the Labour Party below) Articles in the Militant newspaper almost always carried a 'by-line' stating the author and the Labour Party or Labour Party Young Socialists branch of which he or she was a member, or the trade union branch where appropriate - the Militant never employed professional journalists.

A sister publication was the quarterly journal, Militant International Review, which carried more substantial articles analysing economic, political and worldwide events in greater detail. The Militant International Review became monthly and was renamed Socialism Today in 1995.[26] The Militant newspaper was renamed The Socialist in 1997 when the Militant tendency changed its name to the Socialist Party.

Founding Members

The Militant was produced by a Trotskyist group with roots that stretched back to the Workers International League in the 1930s, and the post-war Revolutionary Communist Party.

This group, about 40 strong, sought to build the Militant tendency within the Labour Party. They were Labour Party members mainly based in Liverpool, "with small forces in London and in South Wales", organised in a group called the Revolutionary Socialist League which followed the ideas of Leon Trotsky, and had been organised around a newspaper called Socialist Fight, which had ceased publication. After the foundation of the Militant newspaper the group became known as the Militant tendency, and the name 'Revolutionary Socialist League' fell into disuse. [27][28]

National Secretary Jimmy Deane, together with Ted Grant, Keith Dickenson, Ellis Hillman and others on the executive of this group decided to launch the Militant newspaper.[29] Peter Taaffe was appointed the first editor, and in 1965 became national secretary.

The name of the paper was the same as that of the American publication The Militant of the American SWP, 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."[30] Some Trotskyists referred to the new group, then known internally as the Revolutionary Socialist League, as the Grantites after their leading ideologue, Ted Grant.

Militants in Merseyside

Jimmy Deane was national secretary of the 'Revolutionary Socialist League' in 1964 when it decided to found the Militant newspaper. Deane was an electrician and shop convenor at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, and joined the Labour Party in 1937. He was one of the pioneers of Trotskyism in Merseyside, helping form the Militant Workers' Federation after the war, which was involved in a large apprentices movement mainly amongst engineering and electrical apprentices in the AEU and the ETU.

Deane came from a long line of trade unionists in the Labour movement in Merseyside. Deane’s maternal grandfather Charles Carrick was elected president of the Liverpool Trades Council in 1905, served for fourteen years as one of Labour's first councillors, and was an organiser for the Marxist Social Democratic Federation.[31] By 1905 the Social Democratic Federation, one of the founding parties of the Labour Representation Committee which became the Labour Party, had left the Labour Party, but Charles Carrick, like many trade unionists since, remained active within the Labour Party. Deane's mother and brothers were all in the Trotskyist movement[32] and were members of the Walton Constituency Labour Party in the 1950s and 1960s.

At that time the Liverpool District Labour Party and the Trades Council was a single body, the Liverpool Trades Council and Labour Party, until it was split, against the wishes of the left, in 1969. The Liverpool Labour Party as a whole was considered to be under the control of Bessie and John Braddock. Bessie Braddock was a former Communist Party member who had joined the Labour Party in 1922. She became president of the Liverpool Trades Council and Labour Party in 1945 and was MP for Liverpool Exchange.[33] The Braddocks moved to the right of the Labour Party, but some did not. Albert Houghton, originally a founding member of the Communist Party in Merseyside, had drawn Trotskyist conclusions and by 1939 had "long battled with the Stalinists" in the Labour Party in Merseyside.[34]

Almost ten years before the founding of the Militant tendency, in 1955, Ted Grant was almost selected by the Walton Constituency Labour Party as its parliamentary candidate.[35] In 1959, another supporter of Socialist Fight, the forerunner of the Militant, was selected by Walton Constituency, defeating Woodrow Wyatt in the selection process.

Peter Taaffe, who became editor of the Militant newspaper, joined the Labour Party in 1960, and "In the Labour Party I discovered radical, socialist, Marxist ideas and in the course of discussion and debate I accepted those ideas."[36] Shortly after his election to the position of editor of the Militant, Taaffe, together with Ted Mooney and other Militant supporters, participated in an apprentices' strike, leading apprentices in English Electric on the East Lancashire Road.[37]

Tommy Birchall, secretary of the Harland and Wolff shop stewards committee, another founder of Militant in 1964, was considered by Militant supporters to be a pioneer of Trotskyism in Merseyside in the 1930s. Birchall "representing 100 shop stewards and 5000 workers", and was chairman of Litherland Labour Party in Bootle after the Second World War. Birchall played a leading role in the 1945 dock strike, which lasted five weeks and successfully secured a guaranteed wage and working week, paid holidays and other benefits for the dock workers.

Birchall brought Tony Mulhearn to the Militant tendency, while Father of Chapel in the printers' union. Mulhearn became one of the most prominent Militant supporters in Merseyside and was President of the Liverpool District Labour Party during the battles of the 1980s.[38] In 1958, Terry Harrison, a boilermaker at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, joined the RSL.[39]


In the editorial of the first issue of the Militant in 1964, Taaffe wrote:

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.[40]

Critics of the Militant tendency claimed that this group 'entered' the Labour Party contrary to its rules and regulations. 'Militant supporters' (as the members termed themselves) at the time of its foundation claimed a membership of the Labour Party stretching back to the 1930s.[41] The Militant tendency also claimed that groups of Marxists and socialists, as well as non-socialists, had been organised as separate organisations within the Labour Party since its inception.

The Labour Party NEC Hayward-Hughes inquiry, which reported in June 1982, found that the Militant was guilty of breaking Clause II, section 3 of the Labour Party constitution.[42] Michael Crick, author of The March of Militant, shows that many other groups, left and right, also broke the same Labour Party rules, naming Labour Solidarity, the Labour Co-ordinating Committee and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, amongst others. The constitution, Crick writes, has always been taken "by all pressure groups, on the left and on the right, with a particularly large pinch of salt".[43]

The Militant tendency claimed that groups such as the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party considered themselves Marxist or had Marxist trends within them. These two parties took part in the founding of Labour Party and were active in it for various periods of time thereafter. For opponents of this argument, the distinction between 'reformist' and 'revolutionary' currents was a deciding factor.

The Labour Party leadership had consistently opposed any trends of Marxism, of which the Militant tendency was one. The leadership opposed affiliation by the Communist Party. Arthur Henderson and Ramsay MacDonald were strongly anti-communist.[44] But the membership of the Labour Party tended to be more open to Marxist ideas. In 1919, the Labour Party membership had swung in support of the Russian Revolution and voted for "direct action" to stop the British invasion of Russia "to the distress of its leaders"[45][46] at the 1919 Labour Party conference. A vote to join the new Third [Communist] International received a "respectable number of votes".[47] The conference agreed that all party branches and sections should convene to discuss the Labour Party's affiliation to Lenin and Trotsky's International.

The Labour Party was considered by Marxists to be a vital vehicle within which to argue the ideas of Marxism. The Militant tendency considered that Lenin's argument that "we favour affiliation insofar as the Labour Party permits sufficient freedom of criticism"[48], which Trotsky later echoed, meant that revolutionary socialists who joined the Labour Party should clearly identify themselves and make clear their criticism of the Labour Party leadership and of the other trends, both in Labour Party meetings and in print.

Bans and proscriptions

In 1964, when the Militant newspaper was founded, the 'witchhunts' which had caused the supporters of the Tribune newspaper such problems in the 1950s had halted[49] and Labour was voted into power again. The period of proscriptions and expulsions of the 1950s is cited by Crick as having a profound effect on the Labour Party and its subsequent reluctance to discipline the Militant tendency. Many on the Labour Party's National Executive Committee were "determined not to allow a return to what they saw as the 'McCarthyism' of the past". The proscribed list fell into disuse and when he became General Secretary in 1972 Ron Hayward burned the Labour Party central office files on left-wingers.[50]

The Labour Party leadership had regularly disaffiliated groups that appeared to be Communist or Communist sympathisers operating within the Labour Party. Future Labour Party leaders such as Michael Foot, Barbara Betts (the later Barbara Castle), Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps fell foul of these measures, since they were leaders of the Socialist League which was disaffiliated in 1937 because it advocated unity with the Communist Party. Cripps and Bevan were expelled. Crick argues that, in contrast to the then leadership, among ordinary members there was a genuine desire for unity with the Communist Party against fascism.[51] As a result, many Communist Party members, former Communists, and Trotskyists, including some of the forebears of the Militant tendency, were in the Labour Party at this time, despite the Labour Party's rejection of repeated Communist Party appeals for affiliation, some of which came close to success.[52] In fact, by the time of Labour's historic 1945 election victory, the renown Marxist scholar Harold Laski was Labour Party chairman and the Marxist Aneurin Bevan introduced the health service and housing reforms.

The Militant was forthright in its criticism of the Labour Party leadership. At its mass rallies in the 1980s the Militant displayed two huge banners at each side of the stage, one showing Marx and Engels, and the other showing Lenin and Trotsky, and never disavowed the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.[53]

Militant and its forerunners, like many socialists, regarded leaders such as Ramsay MacDonald, who encouraged expulsions of Communists within the Labour Party, to be "traitors" to the working class,[54][55] and more or less openly disregarded regulations which sought to bar the revolutionary left, which they saw as vestiges from the former right-wing period. They were able to disregarded bans and proscriptions with considerable impunity until the mid 1980s.

The Militant supported the "Socialist clause" printed on every Labour Party member's membership card from 1959 until abandoned in 1995. This was written by a Fabian in 1918, following the Russian revolution of 1917. It called for the "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange"[56][57] although it was ambiguously worded in order to gain support from the radicalised membership while allowing the Labour Party leadership to distance themselves from more revolutionary currents.

In the early 1980s, the Militant tendency contrasted the treatment that the "Gang of four" received from the press and right-wing in the Labour Party to the treatment of its own case, in particular after this group split from the Labour Party to form the Social Democratic Party, and, the Militants argued, went on to take enough votes at the 1983 general election to rob the Labour Party of victory.

Politics of struggle between left and right

The Militant tendency argued that attacks on the Militant and the left in the Labour Party by the leadership were ultimately political in nature, and represented a struggle between a pro-capitalist leadership which wished to implement anti-trade union legislation in order to improve the competitiveness of British capitalism, and Labour Party members who saw such legislation as attacks on the working class who they sought to defend. Among Labour Party members, drawn in many cases from a trade union background, the Militant tendency saw many who to varying degrees aspired towards a socialist solution to the problems that the working class faced, and who themselves saw socialism in the Labour Party's 1964 manifesto and its apparent support for "purposive planning" against "economic free-for-all". The Labour Party's 1964 manifesto said:

Tinkering with policies that have clearly failed and half-hearted conversion to principles previously rejected will not suffice. Only a major change of attitude to the scientific revolution, including an acceptance of the need for purposive planning, will enable us to mobilise the new resources technology is creating and harness them to human needs. [58].

The Militant tendency and others argued that resistance to expulsions by the right-wing of the party was a defence of the socialist traditions of the Labour Party. They argued that the Labour Party was the mass party of the working class, and socialists such as supporters of the Militant tendency are an integral part of the working class. Many Militant supporters were regarded as "life-long socialists".[59]

Growth in the 1970s


Militant supporters on the march, 1971

The first half of the 1970s was a convulsive period in UK politics and industrial relations, which coincided with a period of rapid growth of the Militant tendency. It began with the election of a Conservative government in 1970, a year in which days lost in strike action had risen to almost 11 million. In 1972 this had doubled to over 22 million. In 1974, strike action, particularly of the electrical power workers, together with other mounting industrial trade union activity led the Conservative government to declare a state of emergency, petrol rationing and power cuts. The government introduced a three day working week, and called a sudden general election in February 1974 to "let the voters decide who governs the country", the Government or the trade unions.[60]The Conservative government fell and a minority Labour government was elected.


In 1970, the Militant tendency bought premises belonging to the old Independent Labour Party, one of the founding parties of the Labour Party, and which originally had a Marxist element in its leadership. 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.[61] 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.[62] [63] The Labour Party's 1973 decision to abolish the old 'proscribed list' of organisations which could affiliate to the Labour Party reflected the radicalisation of the Labour Party membership, and particularly the affiliated trade unions, during the early 1970s and isolated those right-wing elements within the Labour Party officialdom who wished to ban the Militant tendency.[64]

Demands for nationalisation

At the 1972 Labour Party national conference a resolution moved and seconded by well known, long standing Militant tendency supporters, Pat Wall and Ray Apps, was passed by 3,501,000 votes to 2,497,000. [65]It demanded that the Labour government commit itself to enacting "an enabling bill to secure the public ownership of the major monopolies". 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. [66]

Militant supporter Pat Wall declared: "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 Militant newspaper commented "This is an answer to those who argue for a slow, gradual, almost imperceptible progress towards nationalisation."[67]

The vote of leading Militant supporter Peter Doyle, the elected representative of the Labour Party Young Socialists on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party, helped give the left a majority on the NEC and enabled a successful vote in 1972 to adopt the programmatic demand of the left-wing Tribune newspaper in the Labour Party, for the public ownership of 25 of Britain's top companies. However, "The day after the NEC, Harold Wilson threatened that the shadow cabinet would veto its inclusion in the next election manifesto."[68]

In 1973 Militant quoted comments from right winger Denis Healey:

We are all agreed with the need for a massive extension of public ownership... establishing comprehensive planning control over the hundred or so largest companies in Britain... and to extend public ownership in the profitable manufacturing industries. [69]

When Reg (later Lord) Underhill's report into the activities of the Militant tendency was leaked to the press and began to attract media attention in 1975, the Militant newspaper emphasised 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. [70] During this period Militant supporters debated with the Tribune newspaper supporters about whether, at first, to nationalise a minority of the corporations which dominated British society, as the Tribune argued, or whether to proceed immediately to nationalise the commanding heights, as Militant held. Articles in both newspapers reflected the discussion.[71]

By the end of the 1970s, the Militant tendency's call for the nationalisation of the top 350 monopolies, was changed to call for the nationalisation of the top 250 monopolies, as, it claimed, monopolisation continued to concentrate the ownership of industry and commerce into fewer hands.

Press attention and 'the Winter of Discontent'

In 1975, cabinet minister Reg Prentice, later Lord Prentice of Daventry, was deselected by his constituency of Newham North-east, and the Militant were implicated. Militant cited Prentice’s attacks on trade unionists, such as the imprisoned Pentonville Five in 1972, and his refusal to meet a delegation of trade unionists from the West Ham trades council lobbying for the release of the imprisoned Shrewsbury pickets, as reasons for anger in his constituency. 181 MPs, including 13 cabinet ministers, backed him.[72] Prentice's deselection was later endorsed by the Labour Party's National Executive Committee. Prentice appealed to 1976 Labour Party conference but failed to overturn the decision, and defected to the Conservative party in 1977, where he was made a minister in the Thatcher government of 1979. But in 1975 the Labour Party Prime Minister Harold Wilson declared that "small and not necessarily representative groups" had "infiltrated" the constituency, thus beginning the "bed-sit infiltrators" accusation which was regularly made against the Militant by Labour leaders over the next ten years or more. [73]

The Militant is not now considered the primary force behind the move to oust the right-wing Prentice, but just part of a broader coalition of left groups involved.[74] The Militant candidate received one third of the votes in the selection process and denied moving members into the constituency. Michael Crick says, "the more notable bed-sit infiltrators proved to be Paul McCormick and Julian Lewis, two students who had come to Prentice's defence." [75] Lewis was secretly funded by the right-wing National Association for Freedom (later The Freedom Association) and became a Tory MP himself. Prentice described his deselection as "pure communism."

By 1975, the security service MI5 had become alarmed by a developing economic crisis and the growing militancy of the left, and felt that the stability of the British state could be severely threatened[76]. In November 1975 Reg (later Lord) Underhill, who had become the Labour Party National Agent with a "long-standing reputation as a witchhunter"[77] produced a report for the Labour Party National Executive Committee on Trotskyist groups in the Labour Party which was leaked to the press.

The Observer newspaper ran the first article on the activities of the Militant tendency with the headline: "Trot conspirators inside Labour Party" by Nora Beloff, who wrote that the Militant was a "party within a party", with the implication that this was illegitimate. [78]

In October 1976, after James Callaghan took over as Labour Party's Prime Minister, there were a series of press articles attacking the Labour Party National Executive Committee's decision to appoint well known Militant tendency supporter Andy Bevan as Labour Party Young Socialist Youth Officer. Bevan had been a member of Reg Prentice’s constituency and played a part in his removal. The Daily Express wrote: "Just five men have Labour on the Trot... Express dossier of the unknowns behind the Red challenge to Jim." [79] The Times carried three articles and an editorial about the danger of the Militant tendency, which it exposed as wanting to "establish a group of MPs" [80]

Observer journalist, Michael Davie in December 1976 interviewed Peter Taaffe, then the Militant tendency's general secretary. Davie wrote:

'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.[81]

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. Rather than heed the advice of the IMF, the Militant argued, the government should have turned to socialist policies to prevent currency speculation. 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.

Instead of carrying out socialist policies, 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." [82].

These views were widely held in the Labour Party and led to a major defeat for the right wing of the Labour Party.[83]

The Militant tendency in Liverpool

In Liverpool, the City Council was mostly under the control of coalitions between the Conservatives and Liberals in 1979-1983. But when, for a short period in 1980, the Labour Party gained minority control, it had reluctantly opted for a 50% increase in the rates to avoid further cuts in local services, which were threatened due to central government changes in the rate support grant. The Militant criticised this approach. Labour lost control of the council with the loss of six seats in the subsequent 1980 council election, a significant punishment at that time, and the worst losses since 1964.[84].

In July 1981, in the depressed area of Toxteth in Liverpool, serious riots broke out. Conservative Minister Michael Heseltine was appointed Minister for Merseyside, and £20 million of extra money was made available for the area by the government. However the housing charity Shelter, in its journal Roof, criticised Heseltine's "professions of concern about the problems he has seen on Merseyside" since "it was he who savaged the Housing Investment Programme and re-calculated the Rate Support Grant to favour the shire counties at the expense of inner cities." [85]. Liverpool's housing was amongst the worst in Europe.[86]

The Militant tendency highlighted the social deprivation in Merseyside. Total income for the city council between 1974 and 1979 had fallen by 18 percent, and expenditure fell by 14%, yet its rents were the highest outside London. In 1981 unemployment in Merseyside almost equalled the number unemployed in the whole of Wales. Householders also suffered. The Liberal-Tory coalition of 1981 raised rates for 1982 by 21.5%[87].


It was the government's cuts to the Rate Support Grant for the city which the Militant tendency claimed was unfair. It argued that £30 million was "stolen" from Liverpool by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government. Prominent Liverpool Militant supporters such as Derek Hatton and Tony Mulhearn argued that the minority Labour Council of 1980 should have attempted to set an illegal "deficit budget", spending money on the needs of the people of Liverpool, even if it exceeded the council's income. It should demand that central government return the "stolen" money to balance the books.[88][89]

By 1982 the Liverpool District Labour Party and a broad alliance of left leaning Labour Party councillors in the Liverpool Labour Party adopted the policies which the Militant tendency had been proposing 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, which took on the unfair rating system of the time and won. The Labour Party's opponents in Liverpool made the most of the far-left Militant basis of the policies of the Liverpool Labour Party. In the Vauxhall ward, a Liberal leaflet proclaimed "Why no Catholic can vote Labour on Thursday" and carried a picture of the Pope. It claimed "Labour's Militants not only want to close our schools but would ban religion as well." [90][91].

In 1984 the Liverpool council, already widely seen as a militant council due to local and national media coverage, launched its Urban Regeneration Strategy to build 5000 houses, seven sports centres, new parks, six new nursery classes and other works, many of which were seen to completion. [5] 1,200 redundancies planned by the previous Liberal administration to balance the books were cancelled, and 1000 new jobs were created. The office of Lord Mayor was abolished and the ceremonial horses sold. [92]

Electoral success

Militant supporters just before Terry Fields' first speech in parliament

In Liverpool, in the face of sustained negative local and national press coverage, the newly Militant-led Labour Party won a substantial victory in the May 1983 local elections, and then again in the June general election. The Liverpool Labour Party, now committed to an ambitious regeneration strategy, whilst refusing to make any above-inflation rent and rate rises, gained 12 seats, including the seat of the Tory leader, and Labour took control of the council. [91] In Coventry South East, fellow Militant member Dave Nellist standing like Fields on the slogan "A workers' MP on a workers' wage" was also elected as a Labour MP.

Militant thus became the only Trotskyist group in Britain to have members elected as MP's. (The Labour MP Syd Bidwell had been a member of the International Socialism group when elected in 1966 but was expelled soon afterwards for supporting immigration controls).

According to Crick, Militant was jubilant at the election of Fields and Nellist, seeing it as a vindication of their decades of entry work in the Labour Party. This attitude contrasted sharply with that of non-Militant Labour Party members given the party's disastrous performance overall: it won 209 seats, a net loss of 51.

Labour's local election vote in Liverpool increased by 40%, or 22,000 extra votes. In Broadgreen, Labour's vote increased by 50% and in the June 1983 elections, Militant supporter Terry Fields, standing on the slogan of "A workers' MP on a workers' wage", won the seat for Labour. The BBC had classed the seat as a marginal Tory seat in 1979. Liverpool Broadgreen was one of a total of four seats which Labour won in 1983 and would have been won in 1979 by the Conservatives had the 1983 boundaries been used.[93]

The Liverpool Labour Party's vote continued to rise: "In 1982 Labour got 54,000 votes in the city, in 1983 77,000 votes, and in 1984 this soared to over 90,000. In 33 of the 34 contested seats Labour's vote increased. Labour held all 14 seats it was defending and seven seats were won from the Tories." [94] No more than sixteen of the elected councillors were Militant members[95].

Success in 1984

20,000 demonstrated in support of the council's stand in December 1983.[96] The council leadership put forward an illegal budget on 29 March, but six Labour councillors from the right, under the leadership of Eddie Roderick, refused to support it and the budget was delayed.[97] A further budgeting meeting on 25 April saw the illegal budget again face defeat. The council leadership decided to delay setting a rate until after the local elections, in which Labour gained seven seats.[98] After the local elections, the council postponed setting a budget again while talks were held with Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin.[99]

In talks in London on 9 July, Jenkin offered Liverpool an extra £20m to be spent on housing. This concession was treated by the leading members of Liverpool City Council as a major victory and, two days later, the council set a legal budget.[100]The Times editorial stated: "Today in Liverpool, municipal militancy is vindicated... a third rate provincial politician, a self publicising revolutionary... Mr Derek Hatton has made the government give way."[101] The Government's conciliatory attitude has been ascribed to the coincidence of the miners' strike.[102] Many Labour Party members drew the conclusion that defiance could be successful and at the 1984 Labour Party conference later that year, a motion calling for unlawful defiance of the ratecapping law was passed[103].

Issues ninety-day 'redundancy' notices

During 1985 the council's campaign to get more money from the government had not succeeded. The council had 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". [104]

On June 14 1985 Liverpool Council passed an illegal budget, in which spending exceeded income, demanding the deficit be made up by the government, despite the danger of bankrupting the council. The Council argued that, "The Treasurers report on April 16th 1985 spelt out where the blame lies...In 1975/76 ratepayers paid just over one third of the total net cost of local services; in 1985/86 they will pay over one half. This means ...a 53% increase in rate levels." [105] As bankruptcy loomed and plans for all-out strike action were finally discussed, they were narrowly lost, and not all unions balloted their members.[106] [107]

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. It was required to issue ninety-day notices to all staff. All business traders, the council was advised, face a statutory requirement to give ninety days notice if trading is likely to cease. 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".[108] In his autobiography, Deputy Council leader Derek Hatton acknowledges that taking this advice was an enormous mistake, from which the council never recovered.[109] Although technically not redundancy notices, and not technically necessarily leading to redundancy, as indeed they did not, this was a minor detail to the majority of council staff, who felt the future of their jobs at the council were no longer guaranteed, and it was not understood by the media.[110][111] 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, the Militant's general secretary wrote, "a major tactical error." [112]

Support for the Militant tendency was shown by a Harris Research poll which was carried out in late September for Channel Four News. The poll found that 47% blamed the government and 33% blamed the council for the Liverpool situation.[113] The Council, still under Militant's leadership, was forced to balance the books in November 1985 after gaining £30 million in loans which, the Militant argued, had previously not been available, and that only brinkmanship had brought on to the table. The Militant labeled the budget an "orderly retreat" in a special Militant Editorial Board statement.[114]

See also Expulsion from the Labour Party below

Regeneration strategy

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 (25 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?

Expulsion from the Labour Party

Militant Editorial Board: Left to right; Clare Doyle, Peter Taaffe, Lynn Walsh, Ted Grant and Keith Dickinson

The growth of the Militant during the late 1970s and early '80s resulted in the election of a majority of Militant supporters to the party's youth section, the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS). The Labour Party National Executive Committee appointed a Militant member, Andy Bevan, to the post of youth officer. The LPYS were granted a seat on the Labour Party National Executive Committee and funding for the publication and distribution of the newspaper Socialist Youth.

In December 1981, a Labour Party National Executive Committee inquiry team was set up, which reported the following June. The Hayward-Hughes inquiry proposed the setting up of a register of non-affiliated groups who would be allowed to operate within the Labour Party. 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 inquiry found that the Militant was in breach of Clause II of the party constitution, and that in the opinion of the inquiry the Militant tendency "would not be eligible to be included on the proposed Register". Labour Weekly, the Labour Party's own newspaper, cast doubts on the viability of 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."[115] The Militant nevertheless applied to register.

In September 1982 the Militant tendency organised a special conference against the "witchhunt" at the Wembley Conference Centre at which Ken Livingstone spoke, which claimed an attendance of 1622 delegates from constituency Labour Parties and 412 trade union delegates plus visitors,[116][117] showing the considerable influence the Militant tendency had at that stage amongst ordinary members of the Labour Party. Livingstone said "The people fighting to get rid of the Militant, were previously fighting alongside those who deserted to the SDP."

At the 1982 Labour Party conference which followed, the Hayward-Hughes report was endorsed, the Militant tendency was declared ineligible for affiliation to the Labour Party, and the moderates were elected to the leadership of the NEC, due to the support of the trade union block votes. Most Labour Party constituencies were against the register.[118]

On February 22, 1983, after an investigation, to enormous press publicity, the Labour Party's National Executive Committee expelled from membership 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 supported the tendency against expulsions. However the appeal of each member was lost when the big unions cast their block votes, on a card vote of 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.[119][120]. "The votes, which had already been lined up by right-wing union general secretaries, were heavily in favour of the platform’s recommendation for expulsions" comments Taaffe.[121]


The opposition to the expulsions was widespread, and was even reflected in the Labour Party's own publications. In Labour's magazine, New Socialist (September-October 1982) an editorial denounced the 'witch-hunt' against the Militant tendency.

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.

This unusual history of the Labour Party, as one of a "broad church" of affiliated parties (such as the Independent Labour Party) and socialist societies, including Marxist leaning groups, for a while prevented Labour Party leaders such as Michael Foot from acting against the Militant. But after the election defeat in 1983 the NEC agreed to ban sales of Militant at party meetings. Militant was prohibited from using party facilities.[122]

Although as Trotskyists the Militant tendency did not share, in various ways, the same analysis of much of the rest of the Labour Party, they were a visible component of that coalition. The Militant, who claimed to be nothing more than readers of a newspaper, were demonstrated to be members of a Leninist or else a Trotskyist political party, with an elected central committee and an internal regime based on democratic centralism, by organisations within the Labour Party such as the Merseyside Labour Coordinating Committee (LCC), which submitted a report to the Labour Party leadership in 1985-6. However, the Merseyside LCC rejected "large scale expulsions", commenting that

A theory of organisational conspiracy, however, has limited explanatory power. Militant has very deep roots in the Liverpool party, and has gained considerable respect for its commitment and its association with ridding the party of the discredited right-wing machine. Furthermore, its workerist, bureaucratic but anti-capitalist policies have a great appeal among many party members in the city. Many members see them as left – militant with a little 'm' rather than Militant with a big 'M'. This false image is naturally cultivated carefully by their organisation.

More recently it has been strengthened by alliances made with local authority activists, mainly in the manual unions, for whom their top-down socialism has immediate appeal and material benefits in terms of jobs and conditions.

These alliances with the working class of Liverpool, based on support for Militant's policies, prevented any action against the Liverpool District Labour Party until 1986. By 1986 there was a decreasing tolerance of Militant in the ranks of the Labour Party[123] and some forty expulsions had taken place.

Peak in influence

Militant Rally of over 8,000 at Alexandra Palace, 1988

Michael Crick, political journalist and author of The March of Militant, 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. 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."[124] .

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.[124]

Militant kept growing at least until 1986, when it reached 8,100 plus, according to Crick, who adds that this figure may be exaggerated.[125] Militant's public fund raising peaked in 1986. In 1964, it set a target of £500 in funds. In 1980 it raised £94,000.[126] 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.[127]

The 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.[128] Irish poet Kevin Higgins, a former member of the organisation, examines the life of a young Militant supporter in his poem,'My Militant Tendency' [6] in his 2008 book 'Time Gentlemen, Please'[7]

Neil Kinnock and the Liverpool Council

The decision of the leadership of Liverpool City Council to issue redundancy notices to all their workforce was opposed by the city council shop stewards - despite the committee being strongly influenced by the Militant tendency - "after a long and bitter debate" on 7 September 1985, by 51 votes to 48.[129]

Neil Kinnock then made a speech to the Labour Party Conference in October 1985 that attacked the Militant tendency, although he did not name the tendency directly, and their record in the leadership of Liverpool City Council:

I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with a far-fetched series of resolutions, and these are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, misplaced, 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.[130]

Kinnock did not explain that no member of staff was made redundant, or the intentions of the Liverpool City Council. The speech split the conference. The reaction from sections of the conference was close to ecstatic while other delegates booed, Eric Heffer walked off the platform and Derek Hatton repeatedly shouted "liar" at Kinnock from the floor. Kinnock's speech caused fury on the left, who felt Kinnock was attacking a Labour Council and should have supported Liverpool City Council, using his authority to make clear the tactical aims of the council in issuing the redundancy notices. Since Kinnock also ruled out compensation for the miners after their year long strike, some miners and miners' Women's Support Group members were in tears.[131]

However, few trade union leaders had much sympathy with the Militant tendency and the supposed threat, whether a mistaken tactic or real, to sack every employee in the city had given real sense of legitimacy to those trade union leaders who opposed the Liverpool council's strategy.

Kinnock's speech was played repeatedly all over the media, and spurred on by the positive media response, Kinnock subsequently suspended the operation of Liverpool District Labour Party and appointed Peter Kilfoyle as an organiser with a specific remit to remove Militant tendency supporters from the Labour Party. The speech was used in the Labour Party's 1987 election broadcast. However, Labour gained its second worst election defeat since the Second World War. The Labour Party gained 20 seats in the 1987 General Election, but still lost the election by a Conservative landslide of more than 100 seats.

The two MPs associated with the Militant who were elected in 1983, Dave Nellist and Terry Fields, both increased their majorities, whilst long-standing Militant member Pat Wall was elected as a Labour MP in Bradford. Labour also did particularly well in Liverpool, leading the Militant tendency to again deny Neil Kinnock's claim that the Militant tendency's policies were unpopular. [132] 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".[133]

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.

Over the following years the Labour Party machinery continued to expel supporters of the Militant tendency such as the MP Terry Fields After much debate, Militant supporters in Liverpool stood Lesley Mahmood as a "Real Labour" candidate in the Liverpool Walton by-election, 1991, its first steps outside the Labour Party electorally, giving the Labour Party further grounds to continue with its expulsions.

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. Many working class families faced bills four or more times larger than their rates bills, where young adults had not yet been able to leave home, or where the household contained extended families, or where elderly relatives resident in their homes were cared for. The rates bills themselves had been subject to significant increases, (such as the 50% increase in Liverpool cited above) and were already popularly considered to be too high. In addition, many people objected in principle to the regressive nature of the poll tax.

The Militant tendency held meetings to argue for a strategy of non-payment, and began organising Anti-Poll tax Unions, beginning in Scotland. The anti-poll tax unions grew rapidly in 1989, and soon regional and national bodies were set up, which Militant organised and led. Militant supporter, Liverpool MP Terry Fields was sent to jail for 60 days for refusing to pay. In Glasgow Tommy Sheridan the leader of the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation was jailed for 6 months 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. Sheridan was elected to Glasgow City Council as a District Councillor from his cell in Saughton Prison, Edinburgh.

The All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, led by the Militant tendency, called a demonstration in London on 31 March 1990. It was one of the largest demonstrations London had seen that century, which led to a significant riot in Trafalgar Square. Non-payment rose to 17.5 million people in serious arrears, [134] and central government began to consider the community charge unworkable. The poll tax was swiftly abandoned by the newly elected Prime Minister John Major.

Thatcher called the victory of the 14 million strong, anti-Poll Tax movement led by the Militant: of the greatest victories for these people ever conceded by a Conservative Government [135]

In her autobiography, Thatcher appears to blame the anti-poll tax movement for unnerving her peers in government, causing her downfall. Thatcher, who called the poll tax legislation her "flagship" policy, would give no ground and refused to repeal the poll tax legislation. As a result she was forced to resign as leader of the Conservative Party by her own MPs. In her autobiography, Thatcher says she was told that "Most people were worried about the community charge...I intervened to say I could not pull rabbits out of a hat...I could not now credibly promise a radical overhaul of the community charge, no matter how convenient it seemed."[136]

The Militant tendency's entire campaign had been conducted outside of the Labour Party structures. No significant support could be won to the idea of an illegal non-payment campaign within the Labour Party. Militant's campaign was conducted against Labour Party policy, and in the face of both the threat of expulsions and actual expulsions. Militant MP Terry Fields was removed as a Labour MP for not paying his poll tax less than two weeks after being released from jail after serving sixty days for the same crime. Labour leader Neil Kinnock said "Mr Fields has chosen to break the law and he must take the consequences." [137] Most Militant members drew the conclusion that the way forward was blocked in the Labour Party.

Militant MP Dave Nellist had been elected from Coventry South East in 1983. The Labour-run Coventry City Council held a referendum on implementing the poll tax in the city, essentially giving two alternatives - to cut services or pay the poll tax. The Militant called for a boycott of the referendum and for a socialist alternative to the poll tax. Nellist was deselected by the Labour Party NEC and his constituency was later abolished. Standing as an Independent Labour candidate in 1992, Nellist lost his seat to the Labour Party's Jim Cunningham by 11,902 votes to 10,551.

The Open Turn

In April 1991 the Militant tendency decided to support the setting up of Scottish Militant Labour, an independent organisation in Scotland, which was to see the election of Tommy Sheridan, the leader of the Anti-Poll Tax Unions in Scotland, from his jail cell where he was serving six months for obstructing the collection of the Poll Tax in 1992. He won the Pollok ward on Glasgow City Council. He also caused a "minor earthquake" by taking second place in the Pollok constituency at the 1992 General Election, finishing ahead of both the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party with 6,287 votes. [138]

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 (not Militant tendency members) won in the May 1991 local elections. Eric Heffer, MP for Walton died in May 1991, and the Broad Left decided to stand Militant supporter Lesley Mahmood as the candidate of "Real Labour". Militant endorsed the decision with Ted Grant and Rob Sewell on the Militant executive opposing.[139]

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. [140] 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 8000. 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."[141]

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. [142]

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."[142]

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, claim to have been expelled, while the Militant claimed they had set up an alternative organisation and so had departed. The minority are now organised around the magazine Socialist Appeal edited by Mick Brooks. The group is affiliated to the International Marxist Tendency, which claims to have sections in over 30 countries.[143]

In 1997, Militant Labour changed its name to the Socialist Party of England and Wales. 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 [8]. In 2001 they broke with the CWI with only a small minority in Scotland remaining.

In popular culture

One of the first and most noticeable mentions of the newspaper's existence was on the 1970s BBC tv comedy series Til Death Do Us Part in the hands of the radical minded character played by Anthony Booth, who was often seen reading the Militant. In one episode right-wing character Alf Garnett was seen ripping the paper out of Booth's hands and reading headlines from it in a condescending manner.

One of the tendency's most well-known figures, Derek Hatton, was the inspiration for the character of Michael Murray (Robert Lindsay) in the acclaimed Alan Bleasdale television drama G.B.H., broadcast by Channel 4 in 1991.

One of the most prominent figures in the Militant in Scotland was Tommy Sheridan (later taking a different political direction), who won an action for defamation against the News of the World in 2006. Tommy appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, claiming he needed the money due to the hardship brought about by the political attacks on him.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p3
  2. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p67
  3. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p109
  4. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p2,3. Crick's claim is based on income, political apparatus, membership and influence within the Labour Party.
  5. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p229
  6. ^ 49 councillors were initially subject to surcharge, but two councillors subsequently died during the process, and the group was termed the Liverpool 47.
  7. ^ The BBC, for instance, reports: "The unpopularity of the new charge led to the poll tax riots in London in March 1990 and - indirectly - to the downfall of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the November of the same year". The headline of this 'On this day' retrospective is "1990: One in five yet to pay poll tax" [1]
  8. ^ Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (1993) pp848-9. Thatcher indicates that for the Conservative Party, it was not Europe but the Poll Tax which was the main issue with which the party grandees eventually pressed her, and which she was unable or unwilling to do anything about. "Cranley Onslow [Chair of the powerful backbencher's 1922 Committee] then gave his assessment. He... did not believe that Europe was the main [issue]: it would not be crucial in a general election. Most people were worried about the community charge and he hoped that something substantial could be done about that. I intervened to say that I could not pull rabbits out of a hat in five days".
  9. ^ cf Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p67
  10. ^ Labour Party Election Manifesto, "The New Britain"
  11. ^ Militant, issue 4, March 1965, 'Labour Must keep prices down' and issue 6, May 1965, 'TGWU gives the lead on incomes policy', by Arthur Deane, a national organiser of the Chemical Workers Union.
  12. ^ Editorial, Militant, issue 2, November 1964, p1.
  13. ^ Militant, issue 5, April 1965, p1 'Labour Keeps the bomb'
  14. ^ Militant issue no.9, September 1965
  15. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Legislation, TUC and & Future of Unions, in Militant International Review issue 1, Autumn 1969.
  16. ^ The Economist, 12 June 1965, quoted in Militant, issue 8, July August 1965, p1: 'Act against big business "conspiracy"'
  17. ^ Militant, issue 8, July August 1965, p1
  18. ^ 'The War and the International', Bornstein and Richardson, p110, p176
  19. ^ Militant, issue 8, July August 1965, p1 "Vietnam: End Imperialist Intervention
  20. ^ Militant, issue 3, January 1965, p1 "Help these prisoners of fascism"
  21. ^ Walsh, Lynn, The Assassination of Trotsky, Militant International Review, Summer 1980, retrieved on 2007-07-29.
  22. ^ VENONA Historical Monograph #4: The KGB in San Francisco and Mexico City and the GRU in New York and Washington
  23. ^ Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed 1936
  24. ^ The Russian Revolution and the Rise and Fall of Stalinism
  25. ^ Militant issue 2 November 1964, p1
  26. ^ Fighting for socialism: One hundred issues, by the editor, Lynn Walsh, accessed 2007-07-29
  27. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, note, p2
  28. ^ Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant p8, p10, p16
  29. ^ Jimmy Deane was National Secretary until 1965. Before his death he made his minutes of these meetings available. See the archive [2] on the Warwick University website.
  30. ^ Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant p8
  31. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p36
  32. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A city that dared to fight, p33, p36, p41
  33. ^ Battling Bessie Braddock, Liverpool Echo special edition November 17th 1987
  34. ^ 'The War and the International', Bornstein and Richardson, p5
  35. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p42
  36. ^ Shaun Ley interviewed Peter Taaffe for the BBC Radio 4 programme 'The Party’s Over' at the end of 2005. It was broadcast in February 2006. Only a fragment of Taaffe’s comments were broadcast. The full interview was transcribed from the tapes kindly supplied by permission of the BBC, and published by the Socialist Party at
  37. ^ 'The Rise of Militant' p20-21
  38. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool, a city that dared to fight Appendix 4: ‘Interview with Jimmy Deane’ and Appendix 5: 'Interview with Tommy Birchall' pp503-5pp503-5
  39. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p218
  40. ^ Militant, issue 1, October 1964, editorial
  41. ^ In 1975 Eric Heffer remarked "There have been Trotskyists in the Labour Party for 30 years." Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p104.
  42. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p197
  43. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p133
  44. ^ MacDonald "abated nothing in his hatred of Communism, or of his determination to disassociate his party from all taint of Communist associations". Cole and Postgate, The Common People, p575
  45. ^ Cole and Postgate, The Common People, p551
  46. ^ Sylvia Pankhurst, The British Workers and Soviet Russia, published in The Revolutionary Age, August 9, 1919
  47. ^ Cole and Postgate, The Common People, p551
  48. ^ Lenin, 'Speech On Affiliation To The British Labour Party', August 6, 1920
  49. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p105
  50. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, 18
  51. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p12
  52. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p10. After 1935, "it looked as though the Labour Conference might agree" to affiliation. This failed, so the CP members "secretly infiltrated hundreds of local Labour parties."
  53. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p93
  54. ^ For instance, after Neil Kinnock's attack on the Militant tendency at Labour Party conference in 1985, "Bob Parry, the [Liverpool] Riverside MP, denounced Kinnock as the 'biggest class traitor since Ramsey MacDonald'" writes Taaffe. Parry was a socialist but not a member of Militant. The Rise of Militant, p269
  55. ^ In 1931 "MacDonald and Snowden [were] already determined to betray their followers, and go over openly to the capitalist side." Cole and Postgate, The Common People, (University Paperback, 1987) p593
  56. ^ Fabian Society press release, 'Leading Labour figures back Fabian Review call to rewrite Labour constitution and see off Cameron challenge on social justice', April 19th, 2006, at [3]. The Fabian society claim that "Leading Fabian Sidney Webb wrote the original clause IV in the party’s 1918 Constitution with its famous commitment to the 'shared [sic - 'common' is correct] ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange'. Leading Fabians Hugh Gaitskell and Tony Crosland campaigned unsuccessfully to rewrite the clause after the 1959 election, and the 1990s rewriting of Clause IV was led by Giles Radice’s Fabian pamphlet series 'Southern Discomfort' which set out why Labour was failing with southern swing voters. Tony Blair’s Fabian pamphlet as leader first signalled his intention to rewrite clause IV." The clause was replaced without noticeable opposition in 1995.
  57. ^ Gaitskill's 1959 speech is here [4]
  58. ^ Labour Party Election Manifesto, "The New Britain"
  59. ^ Dominic Brady, Chair of the Education Committee in Liverpool City Council during wrote to the Guardian newspaper in 1985: "I am not a member of the Militant tendency, most people are now aware that the vast majority of the members of the Labour group are not members of Militant. But on behalf of all other non-Militant members of the Labour group, I will say this to Neil Kinnock: If he continues to use the media to attack life-long socialists, if he continues to attempt to destroy Liverpool Labour Party and its achievements, he will end any possibility of a Labour government. And if he continues to consider expulsions of our comrades in the Labour group, he will do so over our dead bodies". Quoted in Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A city that dared to fight, p349
  60. ^ BBC ON THIS DAY | 7 |1974: Heath calls snap election over miners
  61. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant p62-4.
  62. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant p315.
  63. ^ Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant chapter seven p74
  64. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p102-3
  65. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p67. The union delegates cast 'block' votes on behalf of their affiliated membership, taking the votes into the millions.
  66. ^ Militant 125, 6 October 1972
  67. ^ Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant chapter seven
  68. ^ Peter Taaffe, The Rise of Militant chapter seven
  69. ^ Militant issue 159, 8 June, 1973
  70. ^ "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." Militant issue 269, 5 September, 1975
  71. ^ For instance, Tony Benn and Jack Jones in Tribune, 18 October 1974, and Militant issue 255, 9 July 1975
  72. ^ Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant, p98.
  73. ^ The Times 21 July 1975.
  74. ^ The Guardian, 22 Jan 2001, Obituary of Lord Prentice of Daventry
  75. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p106.
  76. ^ MI5 feared militant left could destabilise Britain, Jimmy Burns,, Published: December 29 2006 02:00, accessed 20 May 2007
  77. ^ Crick, Michael, The march of Militant, p105
  78. ^ The Observer, 31 August 1975.
  79. ^ Daily Express, 10 December 1976. The five were Nick Bradley, Peter Taaffe, Ted Grant, Roger Silverman and Andy Bevan.
  80. ^ The Times, "Special Articles": 1st, 3rd And 4th December 1976; The Times Editorial, 8 December 1976.
  81. ^ The Observer, 19 December, 1976
  82. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p48-51
  83. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p185.
  84. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p56
  85. ^ Cited in Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p52
  86. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p237
  87. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p51-2
  88. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p224
  89. ^ "In 1984-5 the total target figure in real terms for all English authorities was only 6 per cent lower than their expenditure in 1980-1, but Liverpool's target was 11 per cent lower than their spending in 1980-1. Liverpool's officials estimated that between 1978-9 and 1983-4, the city had lost between £26 million and £34 million in government grant as a direct result of penalties being imposed for spending over target. This was the £30 million that the council claimed the government had stolen." (Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p147-8)
  90. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p79
  91. ^ a b Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p225
  92. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p238
  93. ^ "The Times Guide to the House of Commons, 1983", p. 254; see also Ivor Crewe and Anthony Fox, "British Parliamentary Constituencies: A Statistical Compendium" (Faber & Faber, 1984, passim, for comparisons of notional 1979 and real 1983 results.
  94. ^ cf Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p136
  95. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p229
  96. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p239
  97. ^ David Walker, "Liverpool postpones its budget", The Times, 30 March 1984, p. 1.
  98. ^ Derek Hatton, "Inside Left", p. 82-3.
  99. ^ Derek Hatton, "Inside Left", p. 83.
  100. ^ Derek Hatton, "Inside Left", p. 84-5. The new budget involved a rate rise of 17%, which appeared to break the election commitment to hold rate rises in line with inflation - see Loughlin, "Legality and Locality", p. 187.
  101. ^ The Times, 11 July 1984
  102. ^ Loughlin, "Legality and Locality", p. 197-8.
  103. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p247
  104. ^ 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).
  105. ^ 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.
  106. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p261
  107. ^ "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
  108. ^ Crick, Michael. The March of Militant, p260
  109. ^ Hatton, Derek, Inside Left, p89ff
  110. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p260
  111. ^ "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.
  112. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight p281
  113. ^ Crick, Michael. The March of Militant, p261
  114. ^ Militant Editorial Board statement, 23 November 1985
  115. ^ Labour Weekly, 25 June, 1982, quoted in Crick, Michael, The March of Militant p198
  116. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p199. Crick states 2600 in attendance in total.
  117. ^ Peter Taaffe, The Rise Of Militant’’, p201-2
  118. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p199
  119. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p266
  120. ^ cf The appeal speech of Ted Grant to Labour Party conference 1983. Incidentally, Grant claims that in addition to the other Labour leaders previously expelled from the Labour Party, that Michael Foot was expelled from the Labour Party. It's likely he is referring to the fact that when an MP Foot had the Labour whip withdrawn in 1961, which is considered an expulsion from the Parliamentary Labour Party. See Guardian report at Labour's lost loves.
  121. ^ The union 'block vote' at that time was a vote cast by each union in one single block, in some cases of more than a million votes, often used at the discretion of the union general secretaries, and which at that time commanded the overwhelming majority of votes at conference.
  122. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant
  123. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p268
  124. ^ a b Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p265
  125. ^ Crick, Michael, The March of Militant, p315. The figures for the previous years are 1983: 4,313; 1984: c.6,000; 1985: c. 7,000. In 1980 the figure was 1,850.
  126. ^ 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
  127. ^ 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
  128. ^ Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant, p324
  129. ^ Taaffe, Peter, Liverpool, A city that dared to fight p282
  130. ^ 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. Accessed online 25 March 2007.
  131. ^ James Naughtie, Labour in Bournemouth: Kinnock rounds on left's militants, Guardian Unlimited, October 2, 1985. Accessed online 25 March 2007.
  132. ^ 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."
  133. ^ Labour Weekly, 18 February 1983.
  134. ^ Danny Burns, Poll Tax Rebellion, p176
  135. ^ Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (1993) pp661
  136. ^ Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (1993) pp848-9.
  137. ^ Quoted in the Militant issue 1050, July 19th, 1991
  138. ^ Candidates and Constituency Assessments, Glasgow Pollok (Glasgow Region)
  139. ^ Taaffe, Peter, The Rise of Militant, p433-6
  140. ^ 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."
  141. ^ Marxists and the British Labour Party, Minority resolution and Marxists and the British Labour Party, The New Turn - A Threat To Forty Years Work
  142. ^ a b Marxists and the British Labour Party, For The Scottish Turn: Against Dogmatic Methods
  143. ^ International Marxist Tendency

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