Did you ever think you would help to change the world?
I was almost sixteen years old, and reading a lot of books. And I was also watching the news. Lots of things were happening.
*The Prague Spring.
*The Vietnam War.
*Civil Rights Protests at some American universtities.
*Protests at universities in Japan.
*Student protests in Poland.
*Demonstration against the Vietnam war in London.
*Baader-Meinhof terror bombings in Germany.
*Martin Luther King Jnr assassinated in America.
*Student riots and civil unrest in Paris.
*Student demonstrations in Yugoslavia.
*Robert Kennedy assassinated in America.
*State of emergency in Malaya following a Communist insurgency.
*Demonstrations against the military government of Brazil.
*Women’s Liberation protests in America and Britain.
*The ‘Troubles’ begin in Northern Ireland.
*Black Power salutes are seen at the Olympic Games.
*Israel attacks Lebanon.
Yes, a big list, and all in one year. And that is only a selection.
So, the young and committed me decides that the world is changing. The old order is being challenged, and I want to be a part of that. I am going to look back in old age, remembering how the younger generation in 1968 changed the world.
First step. I join the Young Communist League. At the time, this was the under-18 section of the British Communist Party. I go to the first meeting and I am overwhelmed by the bureaucracy and lack of enthusiasm. At another meeting, someone turns up with a deactivated WW2 rifle, and shows us how it works. He tells us that we will need to know how to use weapons when we ‘take to the streets and seize power’. We are going to sweep away the aristocrats and big-business millionaires, ensuring a fairer society for everyone in Britain.
I look around the room. There are eleven of us at the meeting. As keen as I am, I think we might be slightly outnumbered by the British Army.
After that, I don’t go to many meetings. Mainly because my parents moved us out to Kent, and it was too far to travel.
Fast forward to me at eighteen. I am working now, and my membership has been moved up to the adult section of the British Communist Party. But most of the time I am too busy to go to meetings. I have a car, a regular girlfriend, and almost forget about politics for some years. I stop paying my subscriptions eventually, and I am no longer a Party member.
By 1977 I am married, and my first wife and I both join the local branch of The Labour Party. There is a Labour government, but it is led by one of the rather stuffy moderates, Jim Callaghan. We go to some meetings, put some leaflets through letterboxes. But in middle-class Wimbledon, it is all very comfortable. Nobody talks about changing the world, they are more interested in the better schools for their kids, and local issues like rubbish collection.
And they don’t really like the idea of any poor people living in the same street.
Then I heard about the Militant Tendency. This was a far-left group within the Labour Party. I was still paying my subscriptions, so I joined that group too. This took me back to my original ideas in 1968. We would change the Labour Party by working within the structure. Get back to the Socialist roots. Support the working classes, tax the rich, and spend the money on promoting social equality.
Maybe I could be part of changing the world after all, but I was going to have to settle with starting in England.
It didn’t work of course. The newspapers caught on, and vilified the leaders and organisers of The Militant Tendency, calling them revolutionaries and Communists in disguise. (Both actually true.)
It seemed I was going to have to be content with my role as a union organiser in The London Ambulance Service, where I had already earned the occasional nickname of ‘Stalin’.
Besides, in 1986, the Labour Party expelled me as a member, along with everyone else associated with Militant Tendency. The Communist Party had split into pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet groups, and I had nowhere to go. My politics were old hat. The Sovet bloc was fracturing, and the hard left was splitting into ever more smaller parties. None of those held any attraction to me.
Now I sit here, seventy years old and in a reflective mood, on a very hot day in Beetley. I left my last Trade Union in 2012, and I live in the heartland of right-wing Conservatism. The unions have lost most of their power, and many people work for minimum wage on no-hours contracts. Some cannot pay their fuel bills, or put enough food on the table for their families. The rich are obscenely richer, and the government is run by heartless capitalists who think it is amusing to grind down the working classes into a life of despair.
Change the world? Me? That’s a laugh.