Listening to last Thursday’s Today Programme covering the G20 protests, I experienced two waves of unwelcome nostalgia. The first was when, amidst futile attempts to rendezvous with the Brockley Anarchists—or some other such implausibly-named group—the reporter stumbled across an elderly woman selling the Morning Star. She seemed sweetly eccentric at first, but her tone soon modulated into a beleaguered righteousness that I found all too familiar. In the early 1980s, having fled the Labour Party to escape the rising tide of Trotskyism, I became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It’s difficult now to recall my motives for joining. I had a hopeful conviction that, since Marx’s analysis of history was so compelling, the Marxist prescription for the future was probably the best we had. But I also had a romantic notion about commitment to an enduring cause. All my heroes seemed at one time or another to have been party members and somehow, in the absence of an “International Brigade,” this seemed the next best thing.
I sold the Morning Star at rallies and marches, and campaigned for candidates who had no hope of being elected. There was no Spanish Civil War to fight but there were real causes to support, and soon we had found the biggest cause of all: for this was the time of the miners’ strike. I supported the miners—how could I not? These brave and admirable men had stepped into the breach: they were taking the stand we all longed to take. But my genuine commitment was tinged with a sense of hopelessness. This was the wrong fight, at the wrong time, over the wrong issue, against an adversary who had chosen and prepared the ground and was willing to go to almost any lengths to win. It was doomed from the start and most of us realised that from very early on. The BBC’s daily count of returning strikers felt like a grim toll of our mounting battle losses. But the battle united a largely unwilling left in one last heroic march into oblivion: banners flying, cornets blaring, CND badges glinting in the sun.
The aftermath, predictably, brought despair and polarisation. And my faith in Marxism eventually collapsed under the weight of its own…