From Socialist Worker Review, No.92, November 1986, pp.34-35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
IT IS a pity Donny Gluckstein did not bother to read my article carefully on the decay of Labourism before he rushed to criticise it (September SWR).
Nowhere does it characterise the Clydeside MPs as revolutionaries! Rather it suggested that they were the most militant, the most advanced group of reformists ever to be elected to parliament.
Many of them had been imprisoned either, like Maxton, for sedition (interfering with army recruitment in wartime) or for involvement in the riot that became known as The Battle of St George’s Square (an event that the Lloyd George government misread and thought was the beginning of the British revolution).
Besides having gained their personal reputations through the stand they had taken in some of the most ferocious class struggles experienced by Britain in the 20th century, they were sent to Westminster in a mass wave of left wing enthusiasm.
On arrival there they met George Lansbury, just out of his prison uniform, having led Poplar Council’s successful defiance of the law, that resulted in the government’s defeat: a much better performance than the Hatton-led Liverpool Council over ratecapping.
Donny Gluckstein may disagree, but it is my claim that these Clydeside rebels had a working class credibility, a working class following, a working class militancy unsurpassed in the history of the Labour Party. By comparison the Benns and Heffers of today are tame and toothless tabby cats.
Yet what did they achieve? In his autobiography one of them, David Kirkwood, explained:
“We were going to do big things. The people believed that. We believed that. At our onslaught, the grinding poverty which existed in the midst of plenty was to be wiped out. We were going to scare away the grim spectre of unemployment ... Alas, that we were able to do so little!”
Last updated: 10 April 2010