Benn, Livingstone, Tatchell and Scargill, Popular Socialists Not Communist Dictators

One of the aspects of press policy that comes across most strongly in Mark Hollingworth’s book on the hounding and vilification of left-wing politicians, the Greenham women and the miners in the 1980sThe Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, is the repeated tactic of concentrating on a particular politician, and trying to present them as crazed and dictatorial. I’ve described in a previous post yesterday how Tony Benn was compared to Adolf Hitler, complete with a retouched photo to show him with Adolf’s toothbrush moustache. This was very much despite the fact that Tony Benn had served as an RAF pilot during the War. The same tactic of smearing a brave man, who had fought for his country as a traitor was repeated a few years ago by the Daily Heil on Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph. They ran an article denouncing Ralph Miliband as ‘the man who hated Britain’. Miliband was indeed a Marxist intellectual, who hated the capitalist system and therefore much of the class-based structure and institutions of British society. But he also fought in the British army against Fascism during the Second World War.

Scargill and the Miners

Arthur Scargill was another working-class political figure the press smeared with comparisons to Hitler, and claimed was a dictatorial monster during the Miner’s Strike.

Maggie Thatcher in one of her rants had described Scargill and the NUM as ‘Red Fascists’, and so the press followed suit. On 19th April 1984 the Daily Express ran a piece by Prof. Hans Eysenck comparing Scargill and the striking miner’s to Hitler and the Nazis, entitled ‘Scargill and the Fascists of the Left – from the Man who Witnessed the Rise of Hitler: A Warning We Must Not Ignore’. The Sunday Express under its editor, John Junor, ran a similar piece.

Mr Arthur Scargill has clearly been flicked in the raw by suggestions that he has been acting like Hitler. But isn’t he? Hitler used his thugs to terrorise into submission people disagreed with him. Isn’t that precisely what is happening now at night in Nottinghamshire mining villages? Hitler had an utter contempt for the ballot box. By refusing the miners a right to vote, hasn’t Mr Scargill against invited comparison? There the serious similarity ends. For although Mr Scargill may be a stupid man, I do not think he is an evil one.
(pp. 275-6).

Peregrine Worsthorne, the editor of the Torygraph, compared Scargill to Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists. The Daily Heil on the 1st April 1984 ran a piece with the headline, ‘Coal Boss Hits Out at Union ‘Nazis”. But it was the Scum that really went overboard with the accusations of Nazism. It ran headlines like, ‘Mods in Fury at “Adolf” Arthur’, showed a photo of Scargill with his right arm raised, greeting other miners, with the headline, ‘Mine Fuhrer’, and then ran another piece comparing Scargill’s determination to fight to the bitter end with Adolf Hitler in his bunker.

But Scargill personally was far from a dictator. Hollingworth points out that Scargill did not start the strike, but was simply following the directions of the union’s members quite democratically. Hollingworth writes

In fact, the dispute began in Yorkshire when mass pithead meetings were held at every colliery to decide whether to support the fight to oppose the closure of Cottonwood. A Yorkshire NUM Area Council meeting was then arranged which took the decision to sanction all-out industrial action. Scargill didn’t attend or speak at any of these meetings. Nor does he have a vote on the miners’ National Executive Committee. (pp. 272-3).

The miners themselves repeatedly told the press that they weren’t blindly following Scargill, and that the situation was in fact the reverse: he was doing what they told him. This was repeated by the Coal Board’s Industrial Relations director general, Ned Smith, stated ‘I don’t think Scargill has kept them out. That is nonsense. A lot of the areas have a great deal of autonomy. It’s simply not true to say it’s Scargill’s strike.’ (p. 273).

Hollingworth also notes that the press had a personal obsession with Red Ken. When he took over the GLC, the Scum declared ‘Red Ken Crowned King of London’. Hollingworth, however, describes how Leninspart was again, very far from a bullying egotist monopolising power. Bob Quaif in a published letter to the Evening Standard stated that he was a Liberal/SDP, supporter, but he was impressed with the pluralist and democratic terms in which Livingstone expressed his opinions. Moreover, the Labour group when it took power removed some of the patronage powers from the leader, and gave them to elected committees. Ken controlled overall policy, but real power was held by the Labour group which met every Monday. Livingstone himself said of his role

I act more like a chief whip, co-ordinator and publicist of the group. I go out and try to sell the message and to hold the group together… people really only come to me when there is a problem. I never know anything that’s going right. I only get involved in all the things that are going wrong. Committees run into problems with the bureaucracy and I come along and stamp on it. (p. 84).

Hollingworth goes to state that if Livingstone had been personally ousted from power in the Autumn of 1981, the council would still have had much the same policies under the leadership of Andy Harris or John McDonnell.

Livingstone, Scargill and Tatchell Smeared as Communists

Throughout all this, Livingstone, Arthur Scargill and Peter Tatchell were all smeared as Marxists and Communists. The Sunset Times described the miner’s strike as ‘Marxist inspired’, with Hugo Young declaring ‘Call Scargill a Marxist, and correctly identify members of the NUM executive as Communists, and you seem to have solved the entire analytical problem’. The Daily Express even published a piece entitled ‘Scargill’s Red Army Moves In’, ranting about the miner’s had been infiltrated by militant Marxists, determined to prevent changes to union rules which would make striking more difficult. The piece, written by Michael Brown, stated

The militant Red Guards responsible for most of the pit strike violence will attack against today when Arthur Scargill attempts to rewrite his union’s rules. A rabble of political activists plan to invade the streets of Sheffield to browbeat any opposition to a delegates conference designed to reduce the majority needed for strike action … It will be orchestrated by a ‘5th Column’ of political activists who have taken over the running of the miners’ strike. All are handpicked men, some with university training who have Communist, Marxist or Trotskyist backgrounds. They run the flying pickets and handle funds for paying them. (p. 266). There was absolutely no evidence for this, and the papers didn’t provide any.

The Sunday Express and the Scum also claimed that Livingstone was a Marxist, an accusation that lives on in Private Eye’s nickname for him as ‘Leninspart’. But again, Hollingworth states that there’s no evidence that he is either a Communist or Trotskyite. Roy Shaw, the moderate Labour leader of Camden council, who did not share Ken’s left-wing views and opposed him on many issues, stated of ‘Red’ Ken ‘He embraces Marxism if he thinks it will be of advantage to him. But he is certainly not a Marxist. He plays along with them and uses a lot of their methods, but he certainly is not one of them.’

The press also claimed that Peter Tatchell was a member of Militant Tendency, the Marxist group was that was allegedly trying to take over the Labour party. The Daily Mirror claimed Tatchell was linked to Militant and Tariq Ali. The Torygraph also claimed he was a member, as did the Daily Star, while the BBC on 2nd August 1982 on a late-night news bulletin called him ‘the Militant Tendency candidate for Bermondsey’. To their credit, both the Graun and the Absurder published interviews with members of the local Labour party, who said that Tatchell was most definitely not a member of Militant.

Hollingworth describes Tatchell’s politics views and how they differed, at times very dramatically from Militant, and states that he was merely part of the Bennite Left of the Labour party. Indeed, Militant itself did not like Tatchell, and backed him only reluctantly. Hollingworth writes

But Militant’s stance towards Tatchell’s candidature was based on clear ideological differences. On many issues, the two were diametrically opposed. Broadly speaking, Tatchell belonged to the radical Left of the Labour party which rallied round Tony Benn’s banner during the 1981 deputy leadership campaign. According to Michael Crick’s excellent book on Militant. The ‘Bennite Left’ are often described as ‘petty bourgeois reformists by Militant supporters. For Tatchell one of the major differences was on the structure of a socialist society:

I see socialism as being essentially about the extension and enhancement of democracy, particularly in the economic realm. Militant have a very centralised vision of command socialism. Mine is more decentralised and concerned with empowerment. In other words, giving people the power to do things for themselves. Militant take a Leninist view based on a vanguard centre.

On specific policies the discrepancies between Tatchell and Militant are also stark. For several years the Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) was Labour Party and TUC policy and Tatchell supported it fully. Import controls, one of the main proposals of the AES, was seen by Militant as ‘nationalistic’ and ‘exporting unemployment’. Other policies on wealth tax, planning agreements and industrial democracy are rejected by Militant as not going far enough.

When it came to social issues, Tatchell and Militant may as well have been in different parties. Tatchell supports ‘Troops Out’ of Northern Ireland, while Militant is against withdrawal. Positive action for women and ethnic minorities, backed by Tatchell, are seen as ‘bourgeois deviations from the class struggle’ by Militant. The issue of gay rights has only one been raised at the Labour Party Young Socialists conference since Militant took over Labour’s youth section in 1970. According to Michael Crick, Militant supporters are often hostile to gay Party members. (pp.158-9).

So while Scargill, Livingstone and Tatchell were certainly left-wing Labour, they weren’t dictators and definitely not Communists. It was all a smear. But it shows how the press and political establishment were convinced that any serious left-wing Socialist attack on the establishment had to be connected to Moscow. Hence Frederick Forsythe’s wretched little book, which has the British intelligence services battling a Communist plot to infiltrate the Labour party, ready to turn Britain into a Soviet satellite when Labour win the election. It’s says everything about Thatcher that she declared he was her favourite writer.

And Now Corbyn

And this type of abuse hasn’t stopped, either. The most recent victim is Jeremy Corbyn, who is again being smeared as a Communist. Hollingworth writes that it is an old tactic used against the radical Left – to single out a leader, and then go for the jugular. They couldn’t use it against the Greenham women, as they had a very decentralised and non-hierarchical ideology. There were no leaders, and those women, who did speak to the press, made it clear they were only articulating their own views. If they spoke to the press more than a certain number of times, they then refused to speak any more and directed the press to talk to someone else. In extreme cases they even left the camp.

They are, however, determined to use again and again. I found a book on Militant in the politics section of Waterstones recently, and on the back, with the usual approving quotes, was someone stating that the lessons from Militant were relevant once again with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour party. This is just a smear, along with all the baseless smears against Livingstone, Scargill and Tatchell before him. It shows how little the tactics of the Tory press change in their campaign to discredit genuinely principled and democratic radicals.

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