"Workers' Fight: One Year On" (1972-3)

Submitted by martin on 27 August, 2009 - 9:23

This is the editorial which marked the first year of publication of the AWL tendency's first newspaper, Workers' Fight (1972-3). Workers' Fight had appeared as a mimeographed magazine in 1967-8. In late 1968 our group took up a unity call to merge with the SWP (then called IS, and different in many ways from what it is now). In 1968-71 we were a minority tendency in IS. In December 1971 IS expelled us, and from January 1972 we published our own paper.

With this issue of Workers' Fight, no. 21, WF (new series) is a year old, having appeared on average once every two and a half weeks since 14 January 1972. In addition we produced a supplement on the miners' strike and two tenants' supplements together with a number of industrial fraction papers written by supporters of Workers' Fight in the docks, the machine tool industry, the steel industry, and the hospitals. We produced a pamphlet analysing the role of the left in the Pentonville Five strikes, and shortly there will appear no.1 of a new Workers' Fight discussion journal, called Permanent Revolution, to be quarterly.

For three years we were members of the International Socialists, as an organised tendency grouped around a nucleus of the hard core members of the old Workers' Fight group which fused with IS in 1968. In December 1971 we were abruptly expelled.

Far from disintegrating, the group around Workers' Fight has expanded into six new areas, and developed two new industrial fractions (steel and machine tools). We have managed to operate a complete printing plant of our own. The transformation from the loose political tendency which we formed inside IS to a stable, structured, active Trotskyist organisation has not been without problems and difficulties. But we have carried out that transformation to enable us to function in the major class battles of the last year.

"It's cold outside" was one of IS leader Tony Cliff's rallying cries to mobilise his supporters to push us "outside" IS, where, it was expected, we would subsequently "freeze". But actually, in expelling WF when they did and in the way they did, they rendered us the greatest favour they could do for us. They ensured we were out of IS just in time for the events of the most exhilarating year of working-class activity in Britain for many decades, and that it was in this bracing, cleansing atmosphere, sustaining and stimulating at the same time that we tackled the problems of independent existence.

The miners' victory; the battles of June and July about the threatened jailing, and the brief jailing, of the dockers; the continuing aggressive war of British imperialism in Ireland; the battle against redundancies; the eruption of racialism; the tenants' drive to organise in self-defence: these were the events which shook Britain in the past year and to which Workers' Fight responded.

In doing so we had to fight to clarify and re-clarify ourselves politically. To analyse concretely the relation between the economic struggle of the labour movement and politics. To clarify the question of the general strike and to focus the energies of those opposed to and determined to fight against the Tory government, but impatient with Parliament and the Labour Party. To explain the need to come out unconditionally in support of those fighting the army of British imperialism in Ireland... and in Britain. (Workers' Fight in no. 3 was, with the IMG, alone on the British left in explicitly supporting the IRA's attack on the officers' mess at Aldershot). To insist that it is an urgent requirement of working-class self-defence that we treat racism of any kind as a lethal poison for the labour movement. To expose the role of the trade union and Labour bureaucracies whose actions ensured that we did not smash the Industrial Relations Act (and probably the Tory government with it) in 1972. These were the political questions pushed imperiously into the forefront of working-class consciousness and therefore also of Workers' Fight's concerns.

Few organisations have had to learn so much so quickly, but there are no better conditions for learning than the conditions of working class mobilisation and upsurge. We feel that the group has learned and continues to learn from the working class. Both directly, and indirectly too, as living experience rounds out and gives body to ideas and concepts from "the books" - as, for example, the role and significance of the mass strike

We set out to create a workers' paper, that would both reflect and interact with the current struggles of the class, and also relate those experiences to the historical experience of the international working class. We wanted to learn from the journalistic flair and readability of Socialist Worker (often brilliant) and also learn to avoid its vulgar shallowness. We agreed with the need for the attempt at serious analysis typical of the Red Mole. But we have aimed to avoid their typical pretentious, smug, self-satisfied, indeed quite snobbish, disdain for the task of making Marxist ideas acceptable to the working class. Workers' Fight was to be a workers' paper in its politics, and also, in the conditions of today, in its form and presentation

The model we adopted, in line with our puny resources, was that of J P Cannon, one of the founders of the Trotskyist movement; that the paper should be a combination tool,structured to contain both the simple expression of basic socialist ideas on the issues of the moment and deeper explanation of those issues. It should allow the voice of militants engaged in struggle to be heard in their own true tones and accents, and simultaneously allow other voices authoritative voices from the past, to be heard; voices such as that of Rosa Luxemburg on the General Strike.

On the negative side the paper has suffered from a frequently inadequate coverage of international news. Our industrial coverage has suffered not only from the limitations of our industrial base but also from inadequate integration of the paper with the day-to-day struggles which our members take part in. Our allocation of space to student questions has been less than it should be. Our coverage on the Labour Party has been scanty.

In addition, the paper has often been heavily crammed with as much type as we could force in, in an effort not to miss anything. The language has sometimes been avoidably turgid and needlessly difficult

We have been criticised for too much attention to Ireland. But we feel we have done no more than is necessary. A paper which fails to explain the issues involved in the Irish struggle may indeed reflect the indifference, or worse, of most British workers now. It will not be a paper which serves their interests.

Finally: last June a national meeting of supporters of the paper decided, by a small majority, to aim for a weekly Workers' Fight by January 1973. We are all now convinced that this was in fact a false perspective, a failure to get the priorities right. Not to strain, as we have done, to meet the demands of the period we live in, would be unserious. A concentration of our resources on a more frequent paper, to the detriment of developing industrial fractions and deeper political education around the paper, would indicate a failure to understand the necessary preconditions for the expansion of the paper in terms of the development of the group of supporters round it.

That development is the primary task of Workers' Fight in 1973.

(Workers' Fight 21, January 1973)

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