Changing The World

Did you ever think you would help to change the world?

I did.

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.

53 thoughts on “Changing The World

  1. The idealism of the young we think we can change the world and are also invincible…then we learn we can’t except by changing our little corner of the world and hope if everyone does their own little bit that then changes will come 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We’re of an age. Britain has a long history of anarchists. I would to send you some excerpts of my 70s coming of age novel wherein the heroine runs away to Cambridge. Complete with self serving anarchists, punk singers that are future architects… I have discovered at 69 that Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane summed it up pretty well in retrospect. “Back then we were so arrogant we thought we were going to change the world with a pop song. Ha!” As writers are prone to do I suspect I’ll borrow your rifle and 11 rebels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Feel free to borrow any aspect of my past, Phil.
      Anarchists were a constant annoyance to Communists during my time. They refused to organise anything! 🙂 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

    1. In my own experience, the younger generation became interested in being ‘cool’, and not standing out from the crowd. The first rule of revolution is that you have to be prepared to stand out from the crowd. Then they follow you, and you all become a new crowd.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  3. I’ve been a rabid union man, union official, union organizer all my life, Pete; but I never got involved in radical politics like you did, Pete. Glad you decided to help the world via your blogs instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pete, this is a very honest and open reflection of both your past and present. I have over time learned I unfortunately cannot magically change the world for the better. I have also learned to try and make as many changes as possible towards that goal in smaller, more personal ways. We do what we can.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting post. I think many of us think we can change the world when we are young. I was a member of the Young Liberals and was typically idealistic. I even went on a Ban the Bomb march.
    I later became a County Councillor in Kent for the Liberal ( or was it Liberal Democratic party by then?) but only lasted four years as the Government shut the dockyard and we had to move.
    I have always believed that it is possible to influence things but local politics taight me that only the ruling party can get most things done. That made me turn to writing. As a teacher I thought I could help to educate children. As a novelist I hoped I could change the way people perceived and treated the less able in society,
    Finally I relised that we can only influence the people closest to us and that love is the greatest teacher of all.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. At least you tried, Pete, in your own way: many people never even see the need to try, including me, I regret to say: at 16 I was still at school, and trying to live a hedonistic lifestyle, which continued until I foolishly married for the first time at 21. I only became politically motivated after my second divorce, and as for the current political landscape, I find it hard to be optimistic, because the country is so divided, with the self-interested right wing supporters seemingly in the majority; until we ditch the first past the post voting system, we will be confined to a 2-party state: blue Tory and blue Labour. Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jon. My main involvement in politics was with the Ambulance Unions, and I did try very hard at that, including being on strike for 6 months in 1989-1990.
      As for old-school Socialism, once people became obsessed with being ‘home owners’ and buying up all the council housing, it was all lost. I foresee a return to ‘Victorian values’ in this country, and I hope I am dead before we return to the dark days of the 1850s.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  7. I am interested to know why, after the Prague Spring you joined a Communist Party many of whose members supported the Soviet Union’s brutal suppression of that uprising? I never visited the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). However, as a teenager I went through a phase of writing to various embassies (including the GDR). They sent me a thick book which wass full of propoganda. I remember talking to a family friend who was on the left of politics. She was of the view that the Berlin wall was there to protect the GDR from the West. She had some difficulty in explaining why so many East Germans wanted to leave the GDR and where shot for trying to do so. I grew up in Liverpool and remember Derek Hattan and the Militant Tendency. They gave my city a bad name which sadly still echoes down the years. Best wishes. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Kevin. I remember Hatton giving Liverpool a bad name, and he was not one of my favourite people, to say the least.

      When I was 15-16 I believed that American-led globalisation was the real enemy, not the Soviet Union. I thought globalisation would reduce wages all over the world, and make countries like the UK stop manufacturing goods when production was moved to countries where labour was cheaper. I imagined high unemployment, tougher employers, and the end of the Trades Unions as a political force. I really believed that worldwide Communism might be the answer. Not an ideal answer, but better than what we had at the time.

      It turned out I was correct about some assumptions, and wrong about others. That happens to most of us during our lives.

      Best wishes, Pete.

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  8. I have found it interesting that Britain, Europe in general… somewhat had an active Communist party. Surprising to read new Zealand had one as well. America had one but no one seemed to ever admitted to being in it given all the anti-Commie fervor and ongoing scrutiny from the FBI.
    Other than that.. I recall those same events. In fact, up until the Trump years I spent time trying to convey to people that nothing was worse than the period from 1968 to 1970 for all the variants of civil unrest, assassinations, and the War. I don’t say that anymore. The Trump effect over here has made things far worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The British Communist Party members were very active before WW2. They fought against Mosley’s blackshirts on the streets of London, and many volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Even as recently as the 1980s, they put up election candidates in working-class areas. I voted for one, and remember his name was John Power. He only received 101 votes.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  9. After I was invalided back from Vietnam in 68, for a brief while I went to the local New Zealand Communist Party meetings. Ours was more aligned with China than Russia. One of my fellow Communists used to go to China each year for his annual holiday. If he’s still alive, he’d be in his eighties now. I tried reading Das Capital once. Probably the most mind numbingly boring book I ever encountered…

    Liked by 1 person

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