Militant by Michael Crick--lessons for Labour today?.

Author:Coldwell, James
Position:Labour's Internal Politics - Book review

Michael Crick, Militant (Biteback Publishing: London, 2016).

In August 2015, days before Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader, journalist Michael Crick argued that claims of large-scale hard-left entrism into the Labour Party were wide of the mark. (1) Yet a few months later, Crick's 1984 study of Militant, the clandestine Trotskyite organisation that successfully infiltrated the Labour Party in the 1980s, was updated and back on sale in British bookshops, emblazoned with a one-line review by Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson: 'A must-read for Labour activists'. What is behind Watson's avid endorsement?

In the early chapters, Crick summarizes with an outsider's detachment the recurrent bouts of Labour Party paranoia and the earnest failures of British Trotskyites since the 1920s. The author's tongue-in-cheek criticisms are applied no less to the Labour hierarchy than to adherents to the theory of permanent revolution. The former is chastised for its propensity to dispense 'discipline... against rebel groups considered electorally damaging or just politically irritating', while the latter are mocked for considering 'tactics [to be] more divisive than ideology, personalities a more frequent cause of strife than policy.' The latter criticism is one which many across the Labour Party would do well to take note of today.

Two chapters illuminate what it was like to be a member of Militant. The examination of the organisation's finances finds no evidence to suggest that Militant received funding from overseas. Rather, Militant generated most of its considerable income--enough to sustain a bigger staff than the Labour party itself at times--from commercial printing and an incessant hassling of members for donations. Where records of individual donations are hazy, the broader picture is made clear by interviews with defectors. According to Crick's interviewees, people paid ten to fifteen per cent of their income to Militant. Members came to find that Militant dominated their lives. One recalls: 'One day I suddenly realised that... I had only political friends left.' Another speaks of his frustration at the organisation's rigid dogmas: 'True socialists... were treated shabbily. Just because their motions were deemed to be 'unacceptable', they weren't getting through.' A third comments on the initial thrill of being part of a clandestine political party: 'It was a secret spy-like world. There was tremendous excitement.' This soon gave way to...

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