‘Socialist Organiser’ on Reid and Scargill

August 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm (AWL, history, Jim D, solidarity, unions, workers)

“From a red to a rat”

By John O’Mahony, in Socialist Organiser, 1984:

The miners strike is now the great dividing line in Btitish society, in British politics, and in the labour movement. You are either with the miners or you are against them. There is no neutral ground.

It must be one of two things: either the miners will win, or the whole working class will be defeated.

Every class-conscious worker knows that this is the sober truth —and knows also that there is no half way house now. The Tories will win or we will win. They will suffer a terrible defeat, or we will.

The Tories know this, too. They have deliberately engineered the situation. They are going for the kill, believing that they have got militant trade unionism in their sights and can wipe it out for years to come.

They call it ‘Scargillism’ or ‘picket line violence’, but the proper name for it is militant trade unionism, the force that time and time again over the last 20 years has defeated and thwarted the ruling class in this country.

Therefore, the Tories are throwing everything they can at the miners. They hit miners’ families by withholding social security money. They use the viciously biased and unfair press and their other media to bludgeon the miners and the rest of the working class. They use vast concentrations of semi-militarised police, antique laws, and compliant courts.

And they make eager use of every person or grouping within the labour movement willing to help their campaign to demoralise and defeat the mlners.

Everyone in the labour movement is faced with a stark choice: either help the miners win, or, because of your indifference, inertia, cowardice, or incapacity to understand, allow Thatcher to win.

The propaganda war is one of the key fronts in this conflict— for it is there, to a considerable extent, that the crucial fight for working class solidarity is being decided.

The Tories have portrayed their intended victims as villains for fighting back; scabs as heroes, bully-boy police as defenders of peace and quiet; pickets as mindless thugs.

Arthur Scargill, the trade union leader who has had the guts to take on the entire Establishment (including much of the labour movement Establishment) in defence of his members, is portrayed as a vain and petty-minded little man out to tear Britain apart for his own personal and political ends.

And Mrs Thatcher, leader of the vandal Tories who have demolished so much of Britain over the last five years, is painted as a constructive politician; lan MacGregor, her professional’ pit butcher, as a responsible industrialist.

The double standards of the media are outrageous! This strike started because the government and the Coal Board decided’ to close down 20 pits and axe 20,000 jobs. Neither the NUM nor the miners directly concerned, nor their families nor the communities that would be decimated as a result, were to be given any say at all in the matter. They would have to accept the dictates of MacGregor and Thatcher.

Nobody but the NUM and the Left talked about how viciously undemocratic that was.


Now the Tories, their belly-crawling press, and their allies in the labour movement, base their campaign against the NUM on the fact that there was no national NUM ballot before the strike. Though 80% of the miners are on strike, and democratic delegate conferences of the union have endorsed the strike, there has not been a formal ballot of the members.

So they all scream at the miners: ‘Democracy is the issue’.

The Tories have sent armies of policemen and police cavalry against the striking miners, turned pit villages into mini police states. Where —as in Kiveton Park, South Yorkshire — even a paltry half-dozen scabs could be found, the police have used unrestrained violence to defend their right to work and scab.

Yet the Tories, and their press and TV, supported by powerful voices within the labour movement, mount much of their campaign against the miners on denunciations of ‘picket line violence’

The blame for the violence is put on the miners who defend their jobs, and not on the Coal Board which employs scabs and the government which has turned the police force into the biggest scab-herding agency in British history!

These obscene double standards are themselves proof that there is no common ground between the working class movement and the bosses, their government, and their media. In this strike there is no ground of ‘national interest’ upon which to meet, and no terrain where ‘people of reason and goodwill’ can find a common viewpoint.

This is war—class war. In war, they say, truth is the first casualty. In this class war the truth is being massacred.

The propaganda war of the ruling class has had serious effects on the working class, hindering the movement for solidarity with the miners. That is what it is meant to do.

That is why those in the labour movement who pick up and repeat the media claptrap about democracy and picket line violence are nothing less than second-string—ideological— scab-herders.

Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock has played that role—and the forthcoming Labour Party conference should call him to account for it.

Jimmy Reid, the one-time Communist Party leader who fronted the sit-in at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971 and is now in the Labour Party, is close to making a profession of ideological scab-herding. These days he specialises in writing polemics for the Tories against the miners.

For the Tories? For the Tories! There is no middle ground in this fight.

Reid has published articles attacking the miners and Arthur Scargill in the Guardian, in the Scottish Daily Record, and, now, in last Sunday’s Observer.*

This last long screed of vituperation —’The damage Scargill has done to the Left’ — appeared on the Observer’s editorial page as the main feature article.


Mr Reid says things in public. bluntly and crudely, that are said privately by many of the Labour and trade union leaders, and for that reason also his article is important.

The author’s viewpoint, though he frequently sounds like Mrs Thatcher or David Owen, seems to be that of the Kinnockite Left. His concern, Reid says, is that the miners’ strike and the picketing that sustains it are damaging both democracy and Labour’s electoral prospects.

They have created a climate of opinion among British workers favourable to the Tory anti-union legislation, he says. However the strike ends, “the main casualty will undoubtedly be the democratic Left in British politics”. It “couid even mean a further decline in the Party’s mass base among the working class”.

“The miners’ union will come out of this strike bleeding, torn apart and demoralised by a surfeit of rhetoric unrelated to reality. The likelihood is that the union will be finished as an effective fighting force for the rest of this century”.

Yes. All these evils will flow, says Reid, from one great crime committed by the NUM leaders— their failure to have a national ballot.

“This raised an issue of fundamental importance for all democratic sociaiists. The ballot box is not an expendabie luxury, something which can be abandoned to suit the tactics of any individual or group”

Reid condemns the Labour Movement for collusion in the NUM leaders’ crimes against democracy.

What does he want us to do? What Neil Kinnock has done!

The only words of praise in the article go to Neil Kinnock:

“Labour leaders, with the sole exception of Neil Kinnock, [have failed] to say one ward of criticism about the refusal to hold a ballot, and the conduct of the strike”.

The main jet of Reid’s venom is spurted over Arthur Scargill himself. Reid does say that the appointment of the ‘industrial gunslinger’ Ian MacGregor to run the coal industry was a ‘provocation’ by the Tories. But he still manages to blame Arthur Scargill for more or less everything. Scargill’s psychology and ‘adventurist’ politics are the biggest problem faced by the labour movement in Britain today!

“Scargill had been desperate for a fight ever since winning the NUM Presidency”. He considered the previous two votes against strike action as “a personai rebuff”. Reid vouches for it.

“As someone who has known Arthur for nearly 30 years I understand how bitter he must have felt at what he was bound to consider a personai rebuff”.

Much of Reid’s article is like that: Jimmy, the ‘trade union activist for many years’, knows these things.

He also knows this of Scargill: “His nature seems to demand that he must be the centre of attraction around which everything must revolve”. That’s what it’s all about? He knows, you know!

“To be blunt and honest”, he goes on, “many Labour MPs are intimidated. Arthur Scargill has become the Ayatollah, the focal point, for all the hard sectarian groupings within the labour movement”.

These forces, spearheaded by Scargill, threaten democracy and therefore undermine the credibility of the iabour movement within the working class.

Sacred democracy

For Reid, democracy is best served and preserved if the working class is meek and mild, not militant and lets the Tories and the police rampage unchallenged and unchecked.

Reid’s arguments about the ballot are claptrap. Of course it would be better if there had been a ballot vote for strike action, and a united NUM on strike. It may even be that it would have been tactically wise for the NUM to call’a ballot in April once the strike was firm. But the leaders of the NUM were in the best position to judge that.

Faced with divisions in the ranks of the miners, the militant areas had a right to act and a rightt not to be held back by areas like Notts which did not feel threatened and would probably have voted to accept, peacefully, closures in other areas.

To make a principle-of a national ballot at all costs means letting people other than those immediately threatened decide to let MacGregor decimate their coalfields.

Once on strike, the miners had the right to appeal to other workers by picketing them, and to other miners by picketing them out.


It is to the credit and honour of the NUM leaders that they stood with the militants. It is to the credit and honour of Arthur Scargill as a working-class fighter that he has given a determined lead ever since.

The whole working class needed the stand the militants in the NUM have made in defence of jobs. A united NUM would have been better, but not every fight can be conducted under the best conditions.

Reid blames the militants and not the scabs. He blames and attacks the NUM leaders. He uses the bosses’ press to join the Tories’ propaganda war against the miners!

His philosophy reproduces the basic idea of liberalism, that trouble and strife could be avoided if only the oppressed and exploited would be more docile and wait for reform through the proper channels. Indeed it could: there would be no union-busting if there had not been rough and bitter struggles to set up unions in the fırst place.

And the idea that ballot rules are the highest principle is self evidently false. Suppose, for example, that the scabs in Notts had tipped the balance against strike action if there had been a ballot in March. Would Reid advocate that the militants, the miners directly affected, and the NUM leaders just sigh, shrug their shoulders, and submit to pit closures?

The fact is that the NUM was divided. Why, once the militants were out, did they not have the right to picket out the less militant? Does Reid—or Kinnock, for that matter — support the Tory laws against secondary picketing?

Reid argues that the strike may damage Labour, electorally. He may well be right about that. Labour certainly will be damaged if the miners lose. At present Labour suffers both from the Tories’ propaganda war and from its own weaseling leaders.


The best way to stop the propaganda damaging both the NUM and Labour is to face up to it fair and square. By running away from it or echoing it, Labour leaders will only make sure it hits home. Nothing short of outright condemnation (and maybe not even that) can distance the Labour Party sufflciently from the miners to avoid being hit by the stream of Tory propaganda. Nothing can protect Labour from the terrible consequences that will come to the labour movement from a Tory victory.

The notion that the labour movement could or should have avoided this confrontation underlies most of what Reid (and Kinnock) say ‘The militants of the NUM should have chosen peace and avoided the strike… by accepting the closures.’

But to their great credit the miners did not choose to submit. And they refused to be daunted by the splits in their own ranks. The labour movement owes them an eternal debt of gratitude for it.

If they lose, fault will not be with the miners who started this fight-back for jobs, which is so necessary and was so long overdue. It will be our fault for not backing them and joining them sufflciently.

But, says Reid, to fight without a ballot majority is not socialism, but Stalinism.

Now Reid should know about Stalinism. He was in the Communist Party for nearly 30 years before he left in 1977, and for much of that time he was a leading Party functionary. He called his autobiography, ‘Clyde-Built Man’, but he was given his final shape and rebuilt in the CP and on courses for Party functionaries in Eastern Europe and the USSR.

He knows about Stalinism all right. From Stalinism he has swung to crass middle-of-the road Labourism. He identifies militant class struggle with Stalinism, and rejects both. He identified them before, but favoured them. Now he sees a refusal by fighting workers to treat constitutional legalities as gods to be worshipped, as the seed of a future Stalinist dictatorship!

Socialist Organiser IS opposed to Stalinism in all its shades and periods, and no-one who reads the paper can doubt it. We are democratic revolutionary socialists who know that there can never be socialism without liberty and democracy.

We understand, however that Stalinism is not an expression of working class struggle, but the action of a bureaucracy against the working class. We understand that right now we live not in a supra-historical democracy but in a bourgeois democracy.

This bourgeois democracy allows large areas of liberty to the labour movement, liberties which are now being battered by the Tories.

But still this state and the institutions of this democracy serve the ruling class in a thousand ways. Despite what Kinnock, Reid and the official Labour 1eaders say, this state does not stand impartially above the classes. It serves the ruling class. The law protects bourgeois property and enshrines the bourgeois values that subordinate working class life to bourgeois property.

The police protect the Coal Board and the scabs at the behest of the government, and throw their full weight against miners fighting for their jobs, for their right to live. There is no democracy – no pretence of it even – in industry.

This is a class-riddled democracy, hollowed out and undermined by the savage inequality which gives the rich in our society so many advantages over the poor.

The idea that the working class should and must treat the institutions, rules, regulations and accidental majorities of this democracy as binding and even sacrosanct is a proposal to abandon labour militancy. Even the most reformist labour movement would not have got anywhere if it had been so deferential. We would have no unions at all if it were not for workers breaking the laws passed by Parliament, which in effect, banned trade unions.

The class struggle cannot be reduced to a few basic ‘democratic’ ground rules without becoming impossible in a complex society ruled over by a clever and cunning bourgeoisie with its “agents of influence” in place throughout the labour movement.

Especially so since the ruling class themselves do not respect their own rdles. A lot of what the police have done during the miners’ strike is illegal by their own laws. There is no benign force standing above the class struggle that will call them to account for it—or give workers prizes for good behaviour when we stick by the rules.

What Reid’s idea means here and now is that we should peacefully let the Tories steamroller the miners and their industry.

Socialists who remain committed to democracy and believe there can be no socialism without democracy have to combine our commitment to democracy and our educational work against Stalinism and totalitarianism, our fight to preserve and expand liberty and democracy, with an understanding that our aims here can only be realised by class struggle. By the victory of the working class in their struggles with the bourgeoisie.

Capitalist democracy does not function impartially between workers and bosses, and does not make them equal before the law except in the most empty, formal, and legalistic sense. We have to pursue our own class interests. If that fight demands breaking the bosses’ rules in society, then we break them.


The tragedy of Reid and the many others who swing from Stalinism to vapid bourgeois democracy (many of them having earlier swung the other way) is that they are wrong in both their phases. Just as they were wrong about Stalinism, they are also wrong now in concluding that bourgeois democracy is a working class alternative to Stalinism — or that there is secure protection within it for the working class.

The working class in history by way of the class struggle has to prepare for, carve out and defend its own version of democracy, in opposition to both the bourgeoisie and Stalinism. But in the first place it must defend itself, whatever the legalities—even the legalities of its own organisations.

Right now the miners are in the front line of working class self-defence. They deserve our active support. Reid and the other ideological scab-herders deserve our contempt and hatred.

Victory to the miners!

From Socialist Organiser, mid-1984

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