Tony Benn interviewed by Eric Hobsbawm (1980)

Hobsbawm Benn

The death of Tony Benn this week is the second major loss for the Labourite left after the unexpected passing of RMT leader Bob Crow. As usual, the internet is already filling with obituaries, tributes to and commentaries on Benn, so I’m not sure what I can really add. So I thought readers of the blog might be interested in an interview with Benn conducted by Eric Hobsbawm in 1980 for Marxism Today. It makes for very interesting reading and highlights some of the tensions within the Labour left in the early 1980s, as well as the hope that Labour could mount a serious challenge to Thatcherism during her first term.

And for those looking at the Labour Party today, Benn made an interesting argument for how to rejuvenate Labour – through deeper trade union involvement – which seems to be the opposite to what Miliband and others are calling for nowadays. Benn said:

We must.. win the battle of Party democracy. If the trade union movement is to be induced to take a new and deeper interest in socialism, which is a precondition for mass support and social change, trade union members must be able to be sure that the policies that go through Party Conference will actually be in the manifesto and will be implemented by accountable parliamentary leaders.

If we get those elements right: a broad Party; an effective organisation to allow the trade unions to play a more active part in the Party; and a capacity to translate policy into action by using a parliamentary leadership that remains accountable, then I think we have a chance of success.

Some might say that this interview exemplifies the ‘wrong’ kind of politics being espoused by Marxism Today, Hobsbawm and the Labour left in the 1980s, but whatever your politics, it is still a fascinating interview.


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