Thoughts on updating Widgery’s ‘The Left in Britain’

David Widgery, editor of The Left in Britain 1956-1968

David Widgery, editor of The Left in Britain 1956-1968

The nuts and bolts of the edited collection on the British far left, edited by Matt Worley and I, are being fitted at the moment and is coming together nicely. But with the editing process nearly done, I’ve been thinking about the myriad of primary sources out there that are available on the leftist groups in Britain in the post-war era (particularly with more stuff being digitised and available online). David Widgery’s 1976 book The Left in Britain: 1956-1968 famously collated some of the key texts of the British new left and the emerging Trotskyist groups of the 1960s (although the CPGB denied the use of any material from Labour Monthly or other Party journals) and this is a great snapshot of the British left in what Peter Sedgwick called a time of ‘political adolescence’. In the forty-or-so years since 1968, the British left (and the wider political landscape) has changed dramatically and I have been thinking about how would a collection like Widgery’s be put together nowadays. (John Callaghan and Ben Harker have already compiled a collection of documents on the CPGB for Manchester University Press, but as we know, the CPGB was only one group of many on the left and has not existed since 1991.) So it may be worth thinking about an updated version of Widgery’s collection…

Widgery’s book is split into eight sections on the years between 1956 and 1968, so I thought it might be interesting to nominate 10 sections/themes to cover the period from 1968 to circa 2005, with about 5-8 texts per section. The sections/themes nominally would be something along the lines of:

THE BRITISH UPTURN: THE RADICALISM OF ‘1968’

STRIKING MINERS AND FLYING PICKETS: INDUSTRIAL STRUGGLES UNDER WILSON AND HEATH

SOCIAL CONTRICK: THE LABOUR YEARS

NF = NO FUN: ANTI-FASCISM, BLACK REBELLION AND PUNK

IDENTITY: NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENTS AND THE LEFT’S REALIGNMENT

THE GREAT MOVING RIGHT SHOW: THE RISE OF THATCHERISM

WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON? THE MINERS’ STRIKE AND THATCHERITE HEGEMONY

NO POLL TAX: IN THE 1990s

THE MONOLITH FALLS: THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION AND ‘THE END OF HISTORY’

NEW LABOUR, NEW BATTLES

NOT IN MY NAME: THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT AND THE 21st CENTURY LEFT

The question is – what key texts from the British left should be included? (especially if copyright and permission were non-issues) I think the selection of texts would have to be cast as wide as possible and ideally include all the major groups (CPGB, IS/SWP, Militant/Socialist Party, IMG) as well as some of the more fringe groups of various persuasions.  Therefore I’m throwing this open to you, the readers, to come up with the ‘dream team’ of British leftist texts over the last 40 years (I have my own favourites, but will keep them to myself for the moment) Who knows what’ll happen from here – some wacky publisher might think this is a great idea!

So start brainstorming!

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4 comments

  1. Bob Pitts ‘rise and fall of Gerry Healy’
    some of the eye witness reportage from the comrade Delta debacle in the SWP
    Lindsey German speech abandoning women’s and gay rights as ‘shobboleths’ in order to jump into bed with the Islamists and gorgeous George.
    Angry brigade communiques

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