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Raymond Challinor

Rocking the Boat

(Summer 1996)

From Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 2/3, Summer 1996, p. 304.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Les Forster
Rocking the Boat: Memoirs of a Glasgow Socialist and Whistleblower
Milnagavie, 1995, pp. 69, £3.95

LES FORSTER, born in 1920, came from a working class family in Maryhill, Glasgow. He grew up on the mean streets of Clydeside, where poverty and violence were endemic. Attending an open-air Anarchist meeting kindled his interest in politics. He served a long prison sentence in the Communist Party. Eventually, the rigid discipline and mind-rotting conformity became too painful to endure.

Along with Harry McShane and a few others, he escaped from Stalinist servitude, and began a journey through revolutionary politics. This took them into cooperation with Eric Heffer and I.P. Hughes, publishing the Syndicalist journal Revolt.

When Revolt foundered on the rocks, Gerry Healy, anxious to recruit them to the Socialist Labour League, sped to Glasgow. The ever-optimistic Gerry had even obligingly written a public declaration, recounting all the virtues of the SLL, which he expected them to sign. But, alas, they were not so obliging. Further amorous advances, extending over many years, were made by the Socialist Workers Party. These, again, were rebuffed. They did not see Tony Cliff as the messiah.

Perhaps the reluctance of Les Forster and his comrades to join any of the Trotskyist tendencies partly arose because they thought that these organisations shared some of the characteristics of the Communist Party, a political line that was determined from the centre. Yet it was probably also as a result of the great importance they attached to local issues. They were usually preoccupied with purely Clydeside affairs, not with building a national organisation.

The great value of this book is the fresh light it throws on working class politics in Glasgow. The fight for better education and housing, and the struggles of the railwaymen and of the left on Glasgow Trades Council; all the time the emphasis was placed on rank and file activity, the need for militancy rather than parliament to find the solutions. Throughout, Harry McShane remains a father-figure, a leader who always espouses the doctrine of Socialist Humanism.

It seems a shame that Les Forster did not recount the final days of Harry McShane. As Les, Hugh Savage and others know better than I, Harry McShane died cursing Tony Cliff and the SWP. He thought that he had been used by them; his name would appear on billboards advertising public meetings, and his reputation would attract a bigger audience. Yet at these actual meetings, they would confine him to making a token appearance. He was there for decoration, not for a political contribution.

Harry McShane’s hostility did not stop Tony Cliff and his cronies from flying up from London to hijack his funeral. They hoped to claim his corpse for the greater glory of the SWP. However, their attempt did not succeed.

This book can be obtained from the author, 24 Keystone Avenue, Milnagavie, Strathclyde G62 6HZ.

Raymond Challinor

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