Something to learn from the past

Submitted by AWL on 29 September, 2015 - 5:11 Author: Michael Weller

Although familiar with Martin Thomas’s educational agitation, analytical explanations and delivery of argument in discussion over the last five years: I don’t share the same historical tendency, having come to political maturity through the Communist Party of Great Britain (original CPGB 1920-1991) in its final eurocommunist stage.

Martin, in Solidarity 377 makes some good points in his feature on the possibilities of a Young Labour revival. Orthodox Trotskyist sects and Communist Party national roads to socialism were deeply affected by high Stalinism; influencing some in the Labour Party and post-Soviet rump organisations. They haven’t gone away. This is something I recognise and accept as background to Martin’s picture of organised youth in Britain.

But I don’t feel it contrarian or trivial to add detail about influential Labourite Ted Willis; his role in postwar British youth culture and a couple of thoughts about left-wing fronts — popular and united. An internationalised western youth culture was effectively built in the twentieth century by at least three generations of what were once termed “hip” capitalists: beginning some years before 1950 and ending in the 1980s with philanthropic global jukebox events, commercially marketed pop sponsorship at one end of the spectrum; and designer style Red Wedge leftism at the other.

Apart from small scale social media niches, youth subcultures have largely dissipated. The growth cultures now are those of cross-generational ethnicity, sex, religion and gender identity movements. Social media is the place (built by new generations of trending capitalists!) where intersection is engaged with, argued about, and fought through. Martin and myself are part of the first baby boomer cohort. Everything’s moving fast. Don’t slow down. Resist the temptation to look back...

But there may still be something to learn from the past.

Writer and popular frontist Ted Willis was a first generation young Labour-turned-Communist as Martin notes. As an older man, Willis helped popularise youth culture in the 1950’s with his script for the British film It’s Great to be Young. A sound bite that successfully travelled across the Atlantic as North American title of early Cliff Richard movie vehicle The Young Ones. A decade earlier, before middle age, Willis was part of left-wing team scripting wartime film documentaries with a popular front message. Interestingly, his policeman character George Dixon, first created in this period was developed by former policeman T E B Clarke (author of obscure early 1930’s novel Jeremy’s England but more notably scriptwriter of Ealing Studio comedies) for late 40s film The Blue Lamp.

Character police constable Dixon is shot down, social realist style, by a gun-toting urban thug played by youthful Dirk Bogarde, then hunted in the gritty black and white film as cop-killer. “Dock Green” character George Dixon was later restored to life by Willis (since returned to the Labour Party) for mid-50s-early 70s television.

Unlike Lazarus, this was a half-arsed resurrection with ageing Jack Warner playing mythological British bobby on the beat, later promoted to sergeant — yet never allowed to die, retire, or let his cosh hang out to dry (Willis himself was given a life peerage in 1964); and sergeant Dixon, now over a hundred, was dug out of his BBC vault once more, another forty years on, as anachronistic coda to David Bowie inspired sci-fi television police drama series Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes.

The notion of a united front led by the working class (based on only six years 1917-1923 of Bolshevik proletarian internationalism) looks, I would argue, at least from a globalised 2015, like theological faith in some Red Jesus based on orthodox Trotskyism spouting off revolutionary impossible-isms. No different perhaps from neoliberal faith in (old) New Labour as saviours of free market capitalism.

And a look forward. Greece’s Popular Unity candidate; former eurocommunist Dimitris Belantis, “is constantly thinking” according to Daniel Cooper’s interview in Solidarity 376. Constant thinking is a deep rooted Marxist legacy based on political understanding: not real or imagined articles of faith.

A UK organisation of future left-wing European-wide socialist Popular Unity in this present moment of political possibility for the Left?

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