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An overview of the British radical left party press.

An overview of the British radical left party press. “Party” unfortunately not meaning a joyous gathering, but most of the time an authoritarian Leninist grouping.

The radical press in Britain still consists largely of the papers of the various organisations that situate themselves in the left radical milieu.
A visit in Housmans Bookshop in King’s Cross can easily yield a mostly depressing collection of papers by the saddest of organisations. What exactly is their purpose in this world? We try to find out by reading their publications.

For different reasons I have left out some papers from this article, such as News & Letters and Solidarity, as well as the anarchist and ultra-left/left-communist press.

The most industrious people around are no doubt the Trotskyists, where the work ethic has reached all time heights.
Socialist Worker is the most well known and most populist paper. It’s the weekly paper of the Socialist Workers Party. The SWP is the largest of the Trotskyist organisations in Britain, but has recently abandoned many left-wing essentials in order to form a partnership with the Muslim Association of Britain (an offshoot of the clerical-fascist Muslim Brotherhood) in the electoral party Respect, which won one seat in parliament with George Galloway (see Anti-Imperialism article in the last datacide).

While Socialist Worker will still embrace communist positions if they are located in the past, recent highlights are the fight against supposed “islamophobia”, thereby at least tolerating reactionary proto-islamist positions.

Looking at other publications of the SWP one gets the impression that the more “popular” they are supposed to be (Socialist Worker being the most “popular”), the more opportunistic the politics are.

The SWP is notorious in Britain for trying to instrumentalize any “popular movement” and creating front organizations; in the past it was the Anti-Nazi League, or their involvement with the campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill, then it’s the struggle with their new Muslim Brotherhood comrades. After the recent split in Respect (mainly between Galloway and the SWP), it is currently unclear what the next steps will be.

This doesn’t mean that there is a core in the organization upholding the central principles of Leninism and ultimately coming forward with a revolutionary program, although to make that impression may well be the plan of the Central Committee. As undesirable such a Leninist concoction would be anyway, it is more likely that the organisation gets poisoned a little bit more every time it delves into new lows of opportunism.

But the SWP are by no means on their own down there.

The News Line is the daily paper of the Workers Revolutionary Party, another Trotskyist sect – once upon a time the strongest of the said, but after a debilitating split in 1985 merely a shadow of its former self. Long gone are the glory days when John Lennon used to donate money (to their predecessor organisation, the Socialist Labour League), and – later – actress Vanessa Redgrave was a prominent member. Nevertheless they still manage to publish The News Line almost every day. In the early 80s News Line was accused of being financed by Libya, a claim that was at first fiercely disputed, but after the split confirmed by former members.

Who continued to finance the operation since then is unclear, some have suggested Ba’athist Iraq, which begs the question how they could have maintained operations since 2003.
Consistent with the above however is their extreme anti-imperialism (supporting the Taliban during the Afghanistan war) and their radical “anti-Zionism”.
There are sources who say that News Line/WRP have not just earned their money for providing a forum for pan-Arab and islamist ideology in the British Left, but also for spying operations on Iraqi opposition to the Ba’ath regime and on prominent Jews in Britain.

Competing for the title of the most “anti-Zionist” organisation is also the Spartacist League, publishing the paper Workers Hammer. Apparently believing that a bit of anti-Israeli propaganda is always worth front page news, or some sort of back entrance to the consciousness of the proletariat.
August Bebel called it the “Socialism of the stupid guy”, but a hundred years on this is still striving.

Much less of the coverage, compared to the two other rags so far, is dedicated to social struggles, some is covering the history of the revolutionary movement, but much more content is dedicated to recent splits in other Trots organisations. For example they go to extraordinary lengths writing about the split in Workers Power, a rival Trotskyist sect, mainly of course in order to present their own position as superior to the ones of the competition.

To be as intransigent as possible leads to radical contortionism, at least in the Trotskyist scene. The Spartacists (or Sparts as some former members jokingly refer to them) certainly manage to outdo the competition by standing up for Stalinism at the same time as referring to it as a “political counter-revolution”.

Then why not be all out Stalinists like the New Communist Party, who publish the weekly New Worker?
Once upon a time there were Marxist-Leninist “parties” oriented toward the Albania of Enver Hoxha, glorifying poverty and voluntary exploitation in the name of the nation.

For those who want to present famine+nukes as a revolutionary concept, North Korea is the role model today.
While the Sparts still involuntarily have to employ some pseudo-dialectics, the hardcore Stalinists can only hope that the cheques keep coming from somewhere as their revolutionary concepts have ground to a halt.

It gets (maybe surprisingly) a bit more interesting again with the wreckage of the traditional Communist Party of Britain, or: Great Britain respectively.
Predictably the result of a split, the CPB is publishing the traditional daily, the Morning Star, while the CPGB is publishing the Weekly Worker. Both position themselves in the tradition of the Communist Party of Great Britain, that officially existed until 1991.

The Morning Star is similar to Socialist Worker as a publication that tries to create a broader left wing front with all the clichés intact; appearing daily it’s the only of the above papers which is available at selected newsagents. It grew out of the Daily Worker, the historic daily paper of the (historic) CPGB.

In this context more interesting is the Weekly Worker, where it appears that some Trotskyists have take over the direction. They seem to regard their own (new) CPGB as a nucleus out of which a “new Marxist Party” should develop over the next few years. Thus they criticise Respect as well as the idea that the Labour Left could take over the party again and make it a party of the class again.

But of course it has been a running gag in the British left to create a “real” working class alternative to the Labour Party.

A few years ago, the electoral coalition Socialist Alliance was supported by most of the above organisations; since then the SWP pulled out to try their luck with Respect, and the SA has folded and the scene is in disarray.
This is just as true for the whole range of other smaller sects such as the recently split Workers Power, and (product of the split) Permanent Revolution respectively.

One has to wonder what the function of these organisations and papers actually are in current society. One would automatically assume them to be the fighting organisations of the working class to overthrow capitalism, but that doesn’t seem to be congruent with reality.
Maybe they are the nuclei of such an organisation existing due to the ebb in actual revolutionary struggles.
Or maybe they have a completely different function.

Our thesis is that they have basically 2 different functions. One is to split the audience: Usually people are put off by just about anything these organisations bring across, both form and content. Only a tiny minority is attracted to the prospect of this sort of revolutionary struggle, often on the basis of a view of the past, and with a desire to repeat or complete the glorious revolutions of the past. This minority is usually not going to function as a “constituency”, instead they will become militants themselves.

This explains how the various sects can reproduce themselves without having much of a basis or constituency.
They suck up generation after generation of young people who “really want to do something” against the capitalist nightmare, either to spit them out disillusioned and frustrated, or to keep them in the bowels of Trotskyism (or Stalinism), getting slowly digested in their journey from one split to another and one sect to another.

Thus their function is – to adopt their speak for a moment – objectively counter-revolutionary.

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2 thoughts on “An overview of the British radical left party press.

  • A searing, and not exaggerated summing up.

    I was hoping you would go at least into the ultra-left publications? Or perhaps this requires a longer polemic. Would be interested in seeing this done for Germany as well, hell even America. I’d happily write one for Japan, haha.

  • datacide

    I think some of the other papers/journals deserve a more detailed look (like, say, Solidarity or World Revolution, but also – and maybe even more so – papers that are not affiliated to certain groups/”parties”)- and I will also look at some German publications. But I wanted to start with the ones where I discover very few redeeming features (maybe with the exception of Weekly Worker).
    Please write something about the situation in Japan!

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