Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Labour Briefing Ceases Publication.

with 4 comments

The Labour Party Marxist writes in the latest Weekly Worker.

Dead not resting.

“The news that Labour Briefing has ceased publication, in both physical and online format, marks in many ways the end of an era for the Labour left.”

The most recent update on the Briefing site was September 2021.

FIGHT THE TORIES – NOT OUR MEMBERS!

Editorial September 20, 2021

The article was on the last tweet from the Briefing Twitter account:

‘James Harvey’ writes on the origins of the Briefing which was first published as London Labour Briefing 1980.,

The politics of this current grew out of Trotskyism – either in the form of organised groups such as the Chartist minority or various ex-members of the various groups

Christ Knight, one of the founders of the journal, had also been an editor of Chartist in the 1970s,

Patricia d’Ardenne spoke to the editor, Mike Davis, to get a view of the magazine’s history and current outlook.

One of us had heard of a small group of revolutionary socialists in the Labour Party called ChartistsWe did not like the politics of Militant which were extremely workerist, class reductionist and sectarian. ‘Chartist’ sounded more open. Plus, we liked the idea of connecting to the unfinished democratic revolution of our 19th century forebears. We applied to our local CLPs for membership. Mine was Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and we were duly accepted. The leading lights in Chartist in 1973 were Chris Knight, Graham Bash, Keith Veness and Al Richardson. Don Flynn and I met with Knight and Bash and felt they were open to new ideas. We were particularly keen to develop greater democracy in the trade unions and promote an anti-racist, pro feminist, internationalist politics in Labour.

….

Under Chris Knight’s editorship, the paper became increasingly adventurist and ultra-left, advocating preparation for revolution. An appeal for a Joint Revolutionary Command of Revolutionary groups was made in early 1974. Contact work had been undertaken with the armed forces to develop trade union rights and a Soldier’s Charter booklet was produced and distributed at Aldershot and other garrison towns

Anybody who has seen copies of Chartist under Knight’s editorship – the late Martin Cook bequeathed a set to the journal – would be reminded of the French groupuscule and journal, Vive la révolution, and Mao-spontex ideas, rather than even the most hard-line Trotskyism. Its is not surprising that MI5 developed an interest in Chartist activities, as cited in Smear!: Wilson and the Secret State. Stephen DorrilRobin Ramsay 1991,

Mike Davis continues,

In reaction to this ‘insurrectionist’ politics, I was elected Editor in the spring of 1974, and have remained Editor ever since. A new Editorial Board was established with members from wider political backgrounds and we began to make a more determined effort to recruit women and black members.

By 1979 divisions within the group had deepened. At the AGM in 1980, a year after Margaret Thatcher’s Tory landslide, a split occurred. The majority saw the need to move away from forms of Leninist Trotskyism towards a more open, critical and reflective politics.

Despite this background London Labour Briefing, founded by the ‘Chartist minority’, became a force within the left during the 1980s, principally in London, although there were local groups, such as Labour Briefing Devon. It was not a democratic centralist Leninist group. Essentially Labour left activists of the Benn era, a constituency far beyond the original core, including by the end of the decade the International Socialist Group (the forerunners of the present day Socialist Resistance, Anti-capitalist Resistance) and on friendly terms with bodies like the Socialist Society. The Briefing was involved in local government politics, and – at the time I began contributing articles – with the Socialist, often known as the Chesterfield, Conferences headed by Tony Benn.

A feature of the journal was, as founding figure Graham Bash put it, that “Briefing is not controlled by any one tendency or group”. While “declaring war on the leaderships of the Labour Party and the trade unions (and peace has never been concluded) but we retained a commitment and loyalty to the mass organisations of the labour movement. We were not in the business if seeking to relace or compete with either the trade unions or the Constituency Labour parties.” (Twenty Years of (London) Labour (Left) Briefing.1990).

Under the legendary editorship of the author Mike Marqusee in the late 80s the journal was a pluralist forum for the left with many memorable contributions. He developed the critique of the Labour turn to the ‘modernising’ centre in Defeat from the Jaws of Victory: Inside Kinnock’s Labour Party,co-author with Richard Heffernan 1992). In a more colourful fashion the journal published “Class Traitor of the Month” highlighting the politics of individual Labour politicians. Steve French, who followed Mike as Editor, pursued this policy and, with his own roots in the London and international left, continued the fight against Labour’s turn from democratic socialism, and even moderate social democracy, during the years of Tony Blair’s leadership of the Labour Party. The claim to create a ‘Third Way’ between socialism and neo-liberalism and to find a governing response to globalisation was, for Briefing, a new dividing line with the left and class politics.

In the middle of the 1990s the Briefing played a role in forming the Grassroots Alliance,

The Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance’s founding groups were originally Labour Reform, a centre-left democratic group within the Party founded at a meeting in Birmingham in November 1995, and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the left wing democratic grouping, who subsequently brought in other more left-wing groupings from within the Labour Party. Private talks with trades union representatives to build a broader base had failed on union demands and this initiated the inclusion of a much broader left group from the grassroots, including Labour Left Briefing [Liz Davies] and the then-Editor of TribuneMark Seddon. Prominent founding members also include Ann Black and Andy Howell.[2] Successful efforts were also made to include the Scottish Left.[3]

The election of Grassroots Candidates to Labour’s NC, including Ann Black and Liz Davis, marked an important moment when the left began to regroup and find a national voice again. A year after Tony Blair became PM in 1997 this happened, “THE REMARKABLE achievement of the centre-left slate, the Grassroots Alliance, in gaining four of the six places in elections to the constituency section of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) will have been applauded by all but the most hardened sectarians in the socialist movement.” Bob Pitt

The Labour Party Marxist has his own take on this histry,

“.. behind this ostensible pluralism Labour Briefing was tied body and soul to the Labour Party and thus left reformism, which continues to reflect the wider ‘common sense’ politics of important sections of the Labour left up to the present day.”

The Weekly Worker then outlines the history of Briefing’s relations with the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and the transfer of the journal to the LRC, which resulted in a split and the creation of the Briefing ‘original’ co-operative (a ‘canal historique’). As the author says, the latter still exists and is associated with Christine Shawcroft. Somebody sent me a PDF of the February issue with an article by Jeremy Corbyn’s retired (long-standing) Agent Keith Veness and Larry O’Nutter, under his Pen Name of Larry O’Hara. It appears irregularly. The LRC Briefing was monthly until last year.

The LRC and Briefing were very happy to see Jeremy Corbyn elected in 2015 as Labour Leader, even others who felt much closer to the politics of John McDonnell. Briefing held a small meeting for activists in a community centre on an Estate near Russell Square, which was united in celebrating this victory and its support for Corbyn and hoped to build on this success.

This unity was soon put to the test. The issue of anti-Semitism, and specifically the position of Jackie Walker on the topic, and hard-line ‘anti-Zionism’, divided much of the left, including those around the Briefing. Collaboration with Labour Against the Witch-hunt, (formed in 2017) a body that included figures like Tony Greenstein, and people from the Weekly Worker, CPGB (Provisional Central Committee), was not universally appreciated.

Perhaps one can see the mistrust that Briefing supporters, and others on the left, feel by reading this statement from ‘James Harvey’.

It is not enough to simply note the passing of Labour Briefing and think of its demise as the end of a song. The type of politics it espoused and the illusions it fostered have deep roots in the workers’ movement: the closure of a journal does not liquidate the politics which it embodied. The left reformism of Labour Briefing and its like on the Labour left is a real barrier, which must be overcome if we are to develop a programme and build a party that can lead the working class to power.

Moreover, the spurious eclecticism and speculative discussion with which Labour Briefing identified itself are luxuries we cannot afford.

Whether Briefing has stopped publication because of a political impasse, the expulsion of Graham Bash from the Labour Party, or age and other factors, such as isolation from a layer of its former supporters, have played a part, we cannot be sure. What is clear that those created the journal and worked tirelessly to sustain it, as well as those who contributed, should be proud of their efforts to promote socialism.

See:

Labour Briefing- a complete run.

Rob M.

“a near complete 40 year run of Labour Briefing including the later 1980s / early 1990s tabloid newspaper version.”

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Written by Andrew Coates

April 29, 2022 at 12:10 pm

4 Responses

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  1. What a shame your research is so limited. Labour Briefing is now carrying on through Red Line TV – only going for 8 or so weeks we have viewing figures between 500 and over 100….with a great range of contributors and a new web page about to be launched on the back of this unexpected success. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvgTk2li4VBf8qSbG_Pssng

    jackiewalkersite

    April 30, 2022 at 11:10 am

  2. sorry – figures for viewing are between 500 and over 1000 ….

    jackiewalkersite

    April 30, 2022 at 11:11 am

  3. It’s really a shame that Europeans look at Christian National Socialism and imagine they are seeing laissez-faire liberalism. Libertarians and nazis are as far apart as the poles asunder.

    oiltranslator

    May 1, 2022 at 3:06 am

  4. […] Reports are circulating that the magazine Labour Briefing has ceased publication. “The printed copy will not be produced regularly,” admitted one editorial board member and there will henceforth be more focus on visual media. […]


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