Polly Toynbee wrote a very bizarre article for The Guardian today that a bunch of rebel Tory MPs are turning into the ‘Trotskyites of the right’. I think that Toynbee is using the term ‘Trotskyite’ as shorthand for sectarian and I find her comparison with the entrists inside the Labour Party in the 1980s unconvincing. Unlike Militant or Socialist Action in the early 1980s, I would be more inclined to argue that the Tory rebels (and possible UKIP defectors) are motivated by self-interest, rather than having a well-considered agenda. Entryism into the Labour Party for the far left was a strategic decision – these Tory rebellions seem to be merely opportunistic.
And while the Labour right and those who defected to the Social Democratic Party (such as Toynbee) might view the ‘Trotskyites’ as having ruined the electoral chances of Labour in the early 1980s, it seems weird to use the term ‘Trotskyite’ as one of abuse. Having just finished editing a collection of history of the British far left, it is clear that Trotskyists, while sectarian and uncompromising at times, have had a profound effect on British politics since the 1940s.
Here is a very quick list of areas of British politics that Trotskyists have had a significant part in:
- Fight against Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement in late 1940s
- Critique of Soviet Union while not (or rarely) indulging in anti-communism
- Significant part in campaign against Vietnam War
- Establishment of Rock Against Racism and Anti-Nazi League
- Resistance to Thatcherite policies by Liverpool City Council in 1980s
- Significant part in anti-Poll Tax movement
- Leading role in Stop the War campaign
Now I’m sure we can all think of incidents where Trotskyists have behaved poorly, but we cannot dismiss their impact outright.
Trotsky pic from Denver Walker’s Quite Right Mr Trotsky here.