SSLH Blog - SSLH MA Bursary Report: Sam Pallis (Queen Mary/UCL) on a recent research trip focusing on 1968 as a turning point for British Trotskyism

My dissertation explores how 1968 transformed the nature of Trotskyism within the Labour Party (LP). Pre-1968, the Trotskyist groups within the Party had primarily pursued a workerist notion of Marxism relegating race and women’s liberation as subsidiary to the class struggle. Alongside this they viewed Lenin’s notion of the vanguard party, run by a tight group of cadres, as the only means by which to achieve a revolutionary transformation within the Labour Party. However, the social movements of 1968 challenged the assumptions of the workerist paradigm that Trotskyist groups had pursued in the Labour Party.

In my thesis I particularly focused on the genesis of the Chartist Collective who coalesced around a political magazine, Labour Briefing, which played a pivotal role in organising the Labour left in 1980s London. My dissertation explored how the Chartist Collective attempted to reconcile the liberation socialism of 1968 with the workerist inheritance of orthodox Trotskyism; arguing that is was their ability to transcend numerous aspects of workerism which bought them into coalition with many of the leading actors of the Labour left in the 1980s.

Thanks to a small bursary from the Society for the Study of Labour History, I was able to visit the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University which has the leading collection of contemporary British Trotskyism in the country. Their extensive archives enabled me to contextualize the particular slant of the Chartist Collective within the Trotskyist milieu of their time. I made several significant discoveries whilst in the archive. Firstly, how isolated groups such as Chartist Collective saw the mass organisation of the LP as the vehicle by which to achieve socialism. Most groups of the time either saw the unions (Socialist Workers Party) or the student movement (International Marxist Group) as being the actors who could ignite revolutionary change. Secondly, the extent to which the Chartist Collective collaborated with many Trotskyists outside of the LP such as Workers Power and IMG, who like the Chartist Collective were looking to find a way to bring together Marxism and in particular race and gender to the outlook of socialist movements.

Image credit/reference: Modern Records Centre, MSS.128/244, Chris Knight, ‘Revolutionary Consciousness’, 1980, International Marxist Group papers.

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Sam Pallis