✍ New Left May Day Manifesto [1967]

por Teoría de la historia

Pages from 31735061540344The New Left, which had emerged after the events of Hungary, was also becoming a challenge to the CPGB [The Communist Party of Great Britain]. Its leaders, in particular E. P. Thompson, were seeing it as a vestige of hope emerging from the traumatic events of 1956 and evidence that there were some who were hoping to democratise Communist states and Communist parties. Broadly based, this movement aimed to work with the Labour Party and other organisations to more effectively represent the interests of the British Left. The CPGB sought to take some advantage from this development. James Klugmann, who updated the Beery Reid’s Trotskyite organisations list in 1968, suggested to the CPGB that there were some organisations that should be encouraged. In particular, he favoured those groups who gathered around New Left Review and the New Left May Day Manifesto Group, which published the first draft of the May Day Manifesto on 1 May 1967. This was edited by Raymond Williams as the May Day Manifesto 1968 and published by Penguin in May 1968. Cyril Smith, a later Liberal figure, reviewed and criticised it in the SLL’s The Newsletter, suggesting that the May Day Manifesto was characterised by ‘wordiness’ and ‘brand-new cliches’ in the rediscovery of poverty in Britain which they felt would be dealt with by the bankrupt idea of a Labour Government taking society further along the road to progress. But then SLL members were being expelled from the labour Party and there was increasing doubt about the wisdom of operating through the Labour Party. The Manifesto Group included in its ranks leading Marxists and socialist intellectuals such as Raymond Williams, Edward Thompson and Stuart Hall. The views of these leaders were represented, by one report, in the following manner: “Very many people are now ready to combine into a purposeful excra-Parliamentary opposition, a socialist movement that’s not limited to elections and industrial conflict, in which all groups can participate openly and sincerely in effective work about ‘extra-Parliamentary opposition’ to emphasise the features of different local groups on partial issues (rent, education, racialism, housing, etc.)”. To many of the leaders, then, the May Day Group was to be an alliance of socialist groups that would take up a broad range of social issues. Agreement ended there, for within the May Day Group there were deep divisions between those who wished to form a new socialist party and those who wished to remain linked to the Labour Party. Williams and Thompson wished the group to maintain its connection with the Labour Party while others, most obviously Tony Cliff and the IS faction, who were present, wanted to create a new socialist party. The CPGB, still wishing to operate within the Labour Party to extend its influence, followed the events of the May Day Manifesto Conference in April 1968, with great interest. It noted the absence of the main leaders and criticised Tony Cliff, who made a ‘wild and damaging speech’, and his IS supporters who wanted to form a new independent socialise party. However, it supported the ideas of Stephen Yeo, a Labour Party candidate for Haringay in 1966 and an academic historian, who demanded a ‘loosely structured organization’ and opposed517Nitv-fML very strongly ‘a great declaration of the need for a new movement’. In the end, the conference agreed, by 65 votes to 35, to condemn the Labour Party as a capitalist party, and decided upon a systematic approach to implementing the ‘May Day Manifesto, 1968′ and to the holding of a National Convention in the autumn of 1968. The IS had won and was moving towards the creation of a new party which saw the emergence, indeed, re-emergence, of the SWP. Nevertheless, on 26 and 27 April 1969 Raymond Williams organised and chaired the National Convention of the Left at Camden Town Hall which brought together several hundred representatives of left-wing organisations to discuss a variety of issues such as the events in Chechoslovakia in 1968 and the Labour Government’s policy In Place of Strife. Raymond Williams’ circular in March, inviting left-wing organisations to the Convention, stated that ‘It will provide an opportunity for organisation to meet on an open and equal footing to discuss common problems and common strategy, while retaining all their existing freedom of thought and action.

[Keith LAYBOURN. Marxism in Britain. Dissent, Decline and Re-emergence, 1945-c.2000. New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 76-77]