It is some forty years since a brief flirtation with Trotskyite politics. Joining the Labour Party as a seventeen year old in the summer of 1978 meant coming into contact with its Young Socialist wing, at that time dominated by the Militant Tendency, an unashamedly Trotskyite group who perceived the Labour Party as a vehicle to be exploited for the advancement of their own political dogma. Dogma is not too strong a word, for the writings of Lenin and Trotsky were tenets of the Tendency’s faith and anyone who dissented from their view was regarded with as much favour as the medieval church might have accorded to a heretic.
Anyone who remembers 1978 might recall that there was intense speculation that there would be a general election that autumn. Had there been, the ruling Labour Party might have retained power, a by election in the Scottish constituency of Hamilton showed a swing toward the government, something uncommon in by elections, but Prime Minister James Callaghan addressed the nation that autumn declaring there would be no early poll. There followed the so-called “winter of discontent,” widespread strike action by various trade unions causing misery for the millions of people affected.
By early 1979, it became apparent that when the general election came, the Labour government would be swept from power. Sitting with a Militant activist at a conference in February of that year, he was excited at the prospect of the election defeat, he believed that the Conservative victory would precipitate a situation where revolutionary change was possible. Even to a teenager, it seemed that the Trotskyite vision belonged to some parallel reality uninhabited by the working people I knew.
Roll forward forty years, and the millenarian socialist vision has not only revived, but taken a place on the opposition front bench in the House of Commons. The place of happiness is not one that will be reached through a revolutionary upheaval following a Conservative victory, but one brought by a Corbyn-led government after Brexit. The radical Left perceive the European Union as an agent of neo-liberalism and as an obstacle in the way of a socialist transformation of society. Brexit will remove the capability of European institutions to inhibit changes introduced as part of a socialist programme. Labour politicians who dissent from the pro-Brexit position are dismissed as “Blairites” by those aspiring to a Corbyn nirvana.
The Thatcher victory in 1979 did not bring a revolution, it brought violent discontent, but nothing remotely resembling the Trotskyite vision of how the future would unfold. The radical Left found their analysis rejected and their members expelled from the Labour Party. Post-Brexit Britain, with the myriad problems it will face, is no more likely to be a place that will usher in a golden age of socialist transformation than was the country that developed after Mrs Thatcher’s arrival in Downing Street.