The Bemolution missed the Malteaser’s Easter egg by a whisker at the Forehead! AGM raffle, and walked away with an Ordnance Survey map of Britain before the Norman Conquest instead.
A period of mourning was cut short by the neighbouring rock-and-roll guitarist turned hard-left Labour councillor, who leant in conspiratorially to tell me he thinks we’re being infiltrated.
A middle-aged couple have started turning up to Forehead! meetings, and the word on the street is that they’re members of the Socialist Workers Party.
For the uninitiated, the SWP is a revolutionary anti-capitalist organisation, the largest far-left group in the country, with a reputation for being domineering, ultra-sectarian and very, very awkward. Several initiatives that have attempted to bring together Britain’s fractious left-wingers have ended shambolically in recent years, with various parties claiming they fell apart because the SWP were trying to take over. Forehead!’s veteran politicos warily bristled at the sudden appearance of our two new comrades. Aware of the baffling array of long-standing left-wing prejudices that have prevented people from getting things done for decades, the Bemolution was less concerned.
Don’t judge a book by its cover and all that, but we were unsurprised to find the ultra-left scourge manifested by two very small and unthreatening-looking human beings, one with a startling physical resemblance to the late DJ John Peel, the other, a ringer for Janet Street-Porter, who seems content to sit in a corner and not say anything.
While respecting our co-Foreheaders’ political nous, and admitting that John Peel has thrust himself rather forcefully to the fore in the few meetings he’s come to, he certainly knows how to effectively kick-start a campaign.
The lethargic drift of meets before his arrival has been replaced by the beginnings of a full-scale organised anti-Tesco campaign – we expect the planning application for the store to be put in by the end of this month, and there’s a sense that we’re actually starting to mobilise against it. In the space of a fortnight, his experience and get-up-and-go have proved invaluable to the group, and our chances of stopping Tesco.
That’s not to say Forehead!’s wasn’t already the political home of some fantastically dedicated long-term organisers, but just that being brash and pushy can sometimes be quite useful. If this is the first stage of an insidious Trotskyist takeover, at least it’s quite efficient.
Once upon a time, things were relatively simple for the budding young Red. In the 1940s, Britain’s Communist Party was pro-Stalin, Soviet-inspired, and, to some extent, took its orders from Moscow. At the same time, the Revolutionary Communist Party was Trotskyist, condemning Stalin for warping the Soviet Union into a stratified, corrupt and crushingly bureaucratic travesty of a socialist state. Suffice to say, they didn’t like each other very much.
In the 1950s, however, the far-left did what the far-left does best, which is to split several ways over various arcane theological differences.
The RCP broke into three main groups, each dominated by a strong personality: Gerry Healy formed the Socialist Labour League, which eventually became the Workers Revolutionary Party; Tony Cliff started the International Socialists, which was renamed the Socialist Workers Party in the late 1970s; and Ted Grant founded the Militant tendency, a Trotskyist group whose members joined the Labour Party to try and drag it in a revolutionary direction.
As time has gone on, these have further morphed and splintered. The WRP crumbled in the 1980s, leaving a series of tiny Trotskyist grouplets squabbling on the political fringes. In the same decade, the Militant tendency was expelled from the Labour Party – it had made a name itself in Liverpool, where its members led a conspicuously left-wing Labour council that irked the Party’s moderate leadership. Afterwards, predictably, it split. Socialist Appeal was started by former-Militants who wanted to continue working within Labour, the Socialist Party by those who wanted to work without.The SWP, by comparison, had continued to wax, wane, then wax again, enduring relatively uneventfully.
Today, there’s a baffling array of small to microscopic groupings bobbing around on the Left. Some are more effective and constructive than others, some more open and democratic than others, some more realistic than others. And, like basically every other human organisation, contain people who are humourless, genial, fanatical, pragmatic, selfish, altruistic, generally flawed, and everything else in between.
As a thoroughly ramshackle non-Marxist socialist phenomenon that’s read some George Orwell and looks up Buddhism on Wikipedia, we think that a fixation with Karl Marx, dialectical materialism and the Russian Revolution have left the Left bickering over theory and alienating people with jargon for too long – a kind of righteous purism not really making up for the fact that next to nothing has been achieved in half a century.
That said, we’ve always tried – and probably failed quite often – to be open-minded about people’s politics. We don’t like it when individuals who get the ‘far-left’ label slapped on them are immediately characterised as gullible utopian extremists or totalitarian dinosaurs who haven’t mentally left the 1940s.
Certainly, there are lots of them like that, which is why the stereotype persists. But there are also a lot who aren’t, as we’ve learned by hanging out with them, very much in the manner of vicar-rankling ‘open-minded’ middle class parents hovering around the parish church to try and get little Timmy christened. Except that, if the Bemolution had any offspring, it would be in no hurry to press them into Workers’ Power.
Rather than merrily skipping off down leftist memory lane – the temptation to hold forth on Communist Dave, pint-puller, cartoonist, lover of Cuban rum, and the nicest Marxist-Leninist you could hope to meet and others we’ve met like him is hard to resist – we’ll just leave it at the fact that a lot of so-called left-wing extremists are infinitely more tolerant, pragmatic and human than they’re often given credit for.
Self-styled revolutionaries and anarchists aren’t the flag-waving pyromaniacs they’re made out to be in the press. As is all too easily forgotten, fundamentally, they’re just people who have grasped the fact that the world is an extremely bad place and are proposing solutions that fit the gravity of the situation. We might differ over the plausibility of those solutions, but not that much else.
Forehead!, delicately balanced between gently apolitical concerned citizens, renegade Tories, eco-warriors, disability campaigners, anarchic eccentrics and assorted left-wingers would make a distinctly rubbish hammer of the workers. If Janet and John grasp this, stay, and continue to help, then, hopefully, they can soup-up Forehead! into a more efficient, effective Tesco-badgering campaign-machine.
The continuing adventures of Forehead!