Red Wedge – Questions to a former Young Socialist

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Please explain your role in Red Wedge. I was chair of the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) 1984-1986 and Editor of Socialist Youth (LP Monthly Youth Paper) The LPYS was led by the Militant and had over 600 branches and was an overwhelmingly working class organisation. During the Miner’s strike we were doing mass work in support of the strike. Young people brought their musical tastes into the LPYS and we promoted bands at locals and national level. For example we worked with Billy Bragg and Paul Weller. Both participated in and played at a lobby of Parliament we held against compulsory Youth Training Schemes (YTS) We were also involving a wider layer of artists and groups in our campaigns such as the Housemartins and the Communards. Neil Kinnock, the leader of the LP at the time was engaged in a political witch-hunt against the Militant who were leading mass struggles against Thatcher in Liverpool. Kinnock and the LP right wing wanted to move against the LPYS but it was difficult because of our support in the wider movement because of our campaigning work on behalf of young people.

In 1985 Peter Mandelson was appointed Director of Communications at the LP and with Labour Students, who supported Kinnock, started to work on strategies to undermine the LPYS. One of those strategies was Red Wedge. If Mandelson did not exactly come up with the idea of Red Wedge he certainly used it to attempt to sideline the LPYS. At the first Red Wedge meetings LP officials and Billy Bragg took the lead. As the official youth wing of the LP we attended meetings and argued we should be allowed to speak at meetings and have stalls where we could distribute political materials and recruit young people to the LPYS. In general the artists were genuinely sympathetic to us and Paul Weller supported our right to be involved as he knew us and what we stood for. At a particular meeting one of the LP officials said that there should not be ‘political’ speakers at the Red Wedge gigs as ‘young people were not party political.’ They were playing on the fact that traditional pro-capitalist and pro-system politicians would come across badly. This was also an attempt to stop the LPYS from having any influence and a platform to get across our socialist ideas to a wide mass audience. Craig Charles (Red Dwarf), the Liverpool poet, suggested that Derek Hatton, the Militant leader of Liverpool City Council should speak at the gigs as ‘he was dead popular’ in Liverpool.’ This was met by nervous shuffling of feet by the LP officials and staring at the floor! In the end, although the LPYS were officially excluded from speaking at the gigs, through our contacts and relationships with their artists we managed to distribute our materials at the gigs and we recruited many young people to the LPYS and the Militant.

YTS Lobby 1985

What were your personal reasons for involving yourself? It was part of my political work at the time.

Why do you think that Red Wedge emerged at the time that it did? It was a time of great movements. Thatcherism had declared war on the working class. I had been a Punk in the 1970s and had attended Rock Against Racism / ANL gigs. When I joined the Militant and LPYS in 1979 I naturally took my music into the movement as did my contemporaries. There was a red radical line from Punk to Red Wedge. Young people suffered greatly under Thatcher and became radical, even revolutionary in the case of the youth around the LPYS and Militant. The artists involved in Red Wedge were young people too and could not fail to be affected by the prevailing mood amongst their fans.
What do you feel the aims of Red Wedge were? For the LPYS, Red Wedge was a continuation of our solidarity work with the miners and our campaigns against compulsory YTS. In a way I saw it as our revolutionary soundtrack. The songs mostly coincided with the way young people were feeling. However, Mandelson and Kinnock and the LP bureaucracy had a much more limited view of Red Wedge. They saw it as an electoral tool to get Kinnock into Nº10. They limited the radical message of the youth and turned it into a bland electioneering exercise.

Many of those in the Labour party at the time feel that Red Wedge was a failure as they didn’t win the 1987 election. To what extent do you feel it had a wider impact on involving young people in politics and why? Nothing is wasted in nature. Red Wedge ‘failed’ in one way because it was expropriated by the bureaucratic LP machine which had limited electoral and ‘moderate’ aims. They blunted the radical feelings of young people and their aspirations. However, the ‘failure’ of Red Wedge was part of the wider political process. Kinnock had sold out the miner’s strike and the Liverpool Council battle and refused to back the LPYS School Student’s strikes in 1985/86 against compulsory YTS. Kinnock had alienated himself from the revolutionary youth and sections of the working class. He went on the expel many Militant activists and eventually closed down the LPYS. Red Wedge ‘failed’ because it was highjacked by the LP right wing.

The real failure, from the point of view of the Labour and trade union movement and the  youth, who desperately needed radical change was Kinnock. He used his quasi-left credentials to make the LP entirely safe for capitalism by expelling socialists, closing down the magnificent LPYS which was connecting with masses of young people. As a young man I considered Kinnock to be a vain clown who was too stupid to realise he was being played by the ruling class. He lost TWO general elections when the Tories were absolutely hated in working class communities. A complete failure for the movement but on a personal level he was rewarded by the ruling class with cushy well paid jobs in the EU and a seat in the House of Lords. I have not changed my opinion about Kinnock.

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As the youth vote is incredibly low at the moment, do you feel something like Red Wedge could possibly enthral young people in this day and age and why? I am in favour of the youth today using their music and culture to further their political aims but THEY NEED TO BE IN CONTROL. The main lesson of the Red Wedge experience is for young people to hold onto their political and cultural independence. Young people are becoming radicalised again around the world and their music is playing a part. Look at Grime. We will have revolutionary music again which will inspire the movement and act as its soundtrack. My advice to the new generation is that the youth need to be autonomous and not allow ‘official’ political parties and careerist politicians and artists to expropriate their music and culture for reformist political aims.

Please feel free to share any other reflections you have on Red Wedge:
I consider Billy Bragg has the same relationship to genuine socialism as Bono and Geldof have to fighting world poverty. They have generated a lot of self publicity and promoted themselves and little else. The real fight to end poverty and in favour of socialism goes on…..

A couple of Facebook messages on Billy Bragg’s page:
“As I’ve mentioned previously Billy Bragg did the dirty on us over Red Wedge. The LPYS had promoted him during the miner’s strike and he did the YTURC lobby of parliament with Paul Weller.
Mandelson was appointed Director of Communications in 1985 and was a lot cleverer than Kinnock. They came up with the idea of RED WEDGE to sideline the LPYS but we fought it all the way.
I remember at a meeting with loads of celebs they pushed the idea that there should be no speeches at the gigs as young people ‘weren’t political.’ They also said the LPYS couldn’t be too prominent at the gigs.

Craig Charles (Red Dwarf) piped up: “Why don’t we get that Derek Hatton to speak? He’s dead popular in Liverpool.’ Shuffling of feet and looking at the floor…..
Paul Heaton of the Housemartins said he would participate in Red Wedge but only if they put ‘nationalisation of the music industry’ in the programme.
Bragg backed Kinnock on the issue and the rest was sell-out history……
Did you think at that time of youthful revolt you would soon be calling salt of the earth working class Socialists ‘extremists’ and suck up to Neil Kinnock and end up asking people to vote for the Lib Dems……? Asking for a friend Billy.”

Red Wedge: bringing Labour party politics to young music fans

Bragg: “Newcastle was heaven and hell. The best gig but the worst day. Right through the tour we had constant problems with the extremists, like our friends in the Young Socialists.”

General Election 2010: Billy Bragg pledges to support Liberal Democrats

Billy Bragg, the singer, has pledged to back the Liberal Democrats as they have the ”best manifesto”.

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PODEMOS IMPLEMENT THEIR OWN ARTICLE 155

#CataloniaIndependence

LATEST….

Pablo Iglesias tonight enacted his own version on the Spanish State’s Article 155 and condemned and withdrew the declaration of PODEM (Podemos in Catalonia) ‘s support for the Catalan Republic by leader Albano Dante Fachin and called elections.

Pablo Iglesias returns to his Stalinist roots.

The struggle for a genuine mass party of the working class continues in the Spanish State.

#ResistTrump ‘American Dream’ can only be realised through Socialism

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Trump’s speech was a mass of contradictions and demagogic tub thumping.
A billionaire promising to ‘never let down’ the forgotten people, the workers and middle class.
A commitment to build roads, bridges and infrastructure and ‘put Americans to work.’ Some promise! Where will the money come from for that? The banks? The billionaires?
Big words, easy to say, but just wait until they are seen to be empty when his billionaire cabinet get their snouts in the trough. Imagine the disappointment and anger when he does indeed let his supporters down.
Trump blamed every country in the world and foreigners for the problems Americans face. It’s everyone else’s fault apart from the system and that system is called capitalism.
‘America First! American First’ Sounds ominous. He pledges ‘not to interfere’ in other countries but then swears he will ‘wipe out ISIS.’
Everything will be ok because of the US military and because ‘god will protect us.’
Trump’s election reflects not a fundamental shift to the right. The US capitalist establishment and their bought and paid for political parties are both totally discredited. A vacuum has been filled temporarily.
Every process provokes an opposite reaction and Trump has woken up the youth and sections of the working class who are already mobilising against him. There is a polarisation in which socialist ideas can and will grow and not just in the USA. Trump has provoked international protests across the globe.

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Trump, like all capitalist politicians riffs on the ‘American Dream.’ To the working class ‘the dream’ means good jobs, healthcare, quality education for the young and an end to racism and oppression. That dream can only be made real by socialism. Game on!

El Militante & CWI – Retying the Red Knot of our Common History

A political highlight for me of 2016 was the re-encounter and developing cooperation between Izquierda Revolucionaria (Formerly El Militante) and the Committee for a Workers International (CWI)

Original report published in Spanish in La Brecha here

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Representatives of Socialismo Revolucionario, Socialist Party and the CWI attended the XVIII Congress of the Sindicato de Estudiantes (SE) in Madrid. Delegates from schools and universities from all over Spain reported on the massive mobilisation in the General Strike of students on October 24th in the face of pressure from education authorities and the right wing Popular Party.

The SE is growing everywhere because young people want to struggle against brutal education cuts and for a future. The SE consider the changes made to the Education Law, LOMCE are purely cosmetic and so have called another strike in education on November 24th.* But SE is not just a union but an important political instrument which gives young people a platform to discuss and fight for socialist ideas.

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The SE was set up 30 years ago by El Militante which at the time was part of the CWI. In 1980s the SE led a mass movement with millions on the streets when they struggled for the right of university education for the children of the working class.

The Congress included a rally in which ex-leaders of the SE spoke on the lessons of 30 years of struggle of the youth movement for today, along with founders of El Militante, historic union leaders, workers in struggle today and comrades who had been imprisoned during the Franco dictatorship and during the Transition.

It was mentioned that the leaders of the the SE negotiated directly with the PSOE government of Felipe Gonzales at the time. The government actually tried to buy off the SE leaders during the negotiations by offering them money for offices if the SE became a tame union of course!

30 years later some of those same SE leaders are now leading Izquierda Revolucionaria. A former general secretary of the SE Bárbara Areal said that young people in Spain and workers have wanted to fight during the crisis but they have been met by the alliance union leaders and the old political parties repeating “NO SE PUEDE” – (No you can’t). That is why the SE strike of October was so important. IR and SE have shown we can struggle and win.

Bárbara reminded comrades that the SE had kept fighting during the difficult and hard 1990s when the ideas of socialism and struggle seemed to be in retreat. Now the bourgeois hate the youth. They insult the youth by calling them lazy and pretend they do not want to do anything to improve their lives. “They hate what they fear” ended Bárbara to thunderous applause and chants of “Si se puede.”

Coca Cola workers who are striking paid tribute to the support of SE and IR in their struggle and called for a boycott of Coca Cola products. A comrade who had been imprisoned by Franco over 40 years ago called on the youth to continue the task of regaining the historic memory of the working class.

There was a revolutionary situation in Spain in the 1970s after the death of Franco but capitalism managed to stay in power only with the help of the leaders of PSOE and the CP.

Today young people are told it was the Monarchy and the ‘responsibility’ of the leaders of the working class who managed to bring about the peaceful ‘transition’ from fascism to democracy. The comrade reminded everyone that thousands were jailed and during the transition workers were shot by the police. ”There was no transition, it was a transfer of power.” His advice to the youth was: “Always tell the truth to the working class and always take the struggle forward.

Xaquín García Sinde, trade unionist at Navantia Shipyards and spokesperson of GanemosCCOO, the rank and file union organisation set up to by IR which campaigns for fighting, combative unions commented that during the crisis union leaders are nowhere to be seen. “They are not lost in combat but rather in the offices of the Government & PP.” This has to change!

There was an electric mood at the rally. Numerous speakers were interrupted with chants and they may have been a world record for standing ovations!

Juan Ignacio Ramos, the General Secretary of Izquierda Revolucionaria / El Militante was the GS of SE in the 1980s when they led hundreds of thousands in strikes and demonstrations.

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He recounted an episode when the SE led a march of 100,000 to the education Minister’s office in 1986. They were invited up to negotiate with a Minister, Rubalcaba, who would later become PSOE leader. He asked the young people facing him, “Who the hell are you people? How have you organised this demo?” Juan Ignacio and the other SE leaders opened their folders which were covered in ‘I SUPPORT LIVERPOOL CITY COUNCIL STICKERS’ and answered, “We’re from the Militant!” Rubalcaba replied incredulously: “I thought we’d expelled you lot!”

Young members from various sections of the CWI came to the platform and a representative from Ireland also addressed the conference. Watch YouTube video here.

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Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party (England & Wales) was introduced as one of the founders of Militant, ‘the most successful Marxist organisation in the UK.’ Peter assured everyone that he had nothing to do with the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) or Felipe Gonzales – “they want to prop up capitalism, we want to destroy it!”

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Peter gave a brief history of Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party. He underlined that the victories of Militant in Liverpool and in the Poll Tax battle were not achieved by reformist measures but through revolutionary struggle.

An important lesson for today is that only through determined revolutionary struggle will we even get reforms. “Say what needs to be done and do it!” Peter summed up with a warning to Donald Trump “the working class is coming” He ended by saying: “This generation has learned the lessons of the 20th century. This time we’re going to struggle. This time we’re going to win.”

Peter Taaffe’s speech here.

The weekend was inspiring as veterans of the struggle and new, young working class leaders of the SE saluted and learnt from past struggles, analysed the present tasks and dedicated themselves to future battles. A timely reminder of the common militant past of SE / Izquierda Revolucionaria and the CWI and the retying of the historical red knot of our common history.

*Students’ union beats PP government
Just days after the last general strike that was called by the Sindicato de Estudiantes against the “Revalidas Fanquistas” (introduction of matriculation), we have been proved correct in what we always said – struggle works.
Following a meeting between the Ministry of Education and the representatives of the Autonomous regions, the revalidas – proposed by Wert, the former education minister – have been abandoned. These reactionary matriculation exams were weighted to exclude working class students progressing to university.

#USElections2016 “Don’t Mourn – ORGANISE!”

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The reaction to Trump’s victory by some on the Left reminds me of Bertolt Brecht’s words:

“Some party hack decreed that the people
had lost the government’s confidence
and could only regain it with redoubled effort.
If that is the case, would it not be simpler,
If the government simply dissolved the people
And elected another?”

Blaming Americans and the electorate is a superficial knee-jerk reaction which we heard after the BREXIT vote in the UK.

Liberals weep and wail that Americans dared to revolt against the US establishment and rejected corporate candidate Hillary Clinton who spent $500,000 million on the election campaign.

Trump articulates the policies of corporate America in a blunt way and for sure in a less articulate manner than professional politicians like Clinton but what are the real policy differences? Did Clinton represent a radical alternative to Trump? Obviously not.

Marx commented on this phenomena:
“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”

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To people in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan being bombed by Obama, Trump or the first woman US President makes little difference.

Many young people will be shocked by the victory of Trump and fear conflict and war. Let us be clear – the privately owned right wing media have unleashed their own monster. Decades of propaganda from Fox News and shock jocks scapegoating the poor, blacks, Latinos, immigrants and minorities have had consequences.

However, corporate America will seek to rein in Trump and chip-off his rougher edges.

Every process has an opposite. The anti-establishment mood and anger in the US has had its expression on the Left. Don’t forget the mass movement behind openly Socialist Bernie Saunders who was stopped from gaining the Democratic nomination by Clinton’s shenanigans and gerrymandering.

Clearly Bernie made a massive political mistake by not standing as an independent as all the indications show that he would have beaten the false and pretend anti-establishment Trump.

The US election results cannot be characterised crudely and simply as a shift to the right. An election is a snapshot of a moment in time but the movie is more complicated and nuanced and full of opportunities for the Left.

As Trostky pointed out in 1934 in “If America Should Go Communist” the road to Socialist change is not straight but the material conditions do exist:

“Today, quite unprepared, you are being forced to face those social contradictions that grow up unsuspected in every society. You have conquered nature by means of the tools that your inventive genius has created, only to find that your tools have all but destroyed you. Contrary to all your hopes and desires, your unheard-of wealth has produced unheard-of misfortunes. You have discovered that social development does not follow a simple formula. Hence you have been thrust into the school of the dialectic – to stay.

It is clear that today in the 21st century millions of Americans are looking for a radical alternative and that the ‘Tweedledum & Tweedledummer’ corporate politics of the Republicans and Democrats is a dead end for the working class.

Perhaps this whip of reaction will serve to speed up the process of the great American working class finally breaking with the ‘lesser evil-ism’ which has brought Trump to the Presidency and finally get to grips with setting up their own party of and for the 99%. A campaign being led by SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE in the USA

As the great Swedish/US trade unionist and Socialist Joe Hill said: “Don’t mourn, organize!”

 

And so farewell then (again) #DodgyDave Words on Cameron’s 2nd resignation

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“And so farewell then (again) #DodgyDave …….
Born to rule, red faced toff,
Carried on where Blair left off
Bomber, cutter, lying prig
More time at least to spend with your pig.”

Leon Thribbsky Aged 13 3/4

 

When Las Ramblas Spoke Geordie Scene 7

Scene 7
{ Stevie´s house. }

(Doorbell rings. Sound of front door opening)

Mr. Mearns : Mr. Walker?
Stevie : Yes?
Mr.Mearns : I’m Mr. Mearns. We spoke on the phone about the Fairs Cup programmes. I’m not too late am I?
Stevie : No, I haven’t sold them yet. Come in. We’ll go into the sitting room.
Stevie : Would you like a cuppa?
Mr. Mearns : Yes please.
Stevie : Alright, I’ll get the programmes for you to look at.

Stevie : It’s a complete set of programmes right through to the final and where there were away programmes they’re in there as well.
Mr. Mearns : They’re in almost mint condition.
Stevie : Yes, I’ve kept them in plastic all these years. Only read them once and I’ve hardly touched the away programmes. The final one is autographed by all the players, Bob Moncur, Ian Mc Faul. They´re all there. To Stevie best of luck. Newcastle United, Fairs Cup winners 1969.
Mr. Mearns : You don’t look old enough to have gone to the matches. How did you come by them?
Stevie : Me Dad. He went to every match. I remember the night we won. He came home mortal. He was laughing and crying at the same time. He did this scrap book as well but I’m keeping that. He’d kill me if he knew I was selling the programmes.
Mr. Mearns : So you’re not going to tell him are you?
Stevie : I can’t. He’s dead.
Mr. Mearns : Oh. If you don’t mind me asking. If they mean so much to you why are you selling them?
Stevie : I need the money.
Mr. Mearns : Yes times are tough.
Stevie : Yeah, I´m going to the Nou Camp to see the Toon.
Mr. Mearns : Very poetic.