The Third International after Lenin

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Birth of our power

Clydeside: Red, Orange And Green

by Ian R Mitchell (Luath Press, £9.99)
Wednesday 03 March 2010

A 1930s unemployed march

A 1930s unemployed march

Ian Mitchell's infectious enthusiasm for the places visited in this book leaves the reader with a compelling urge to don walking shoes and retrace his steps.

His story begins in New Lanark with the embryonic class collaborationist utopian socialism of Robert Owen and finishes in the Vale of Leven, one of Britain's "little Moscows" of the 1930s.

En route there are stirring cameos of working-class struggles and those who made them happen, not least the women who - in comparison even with the oppressive conditions under which men laboured - were exploited many times over.

Mitchell eschews religious or political sectarianism of any form and his predilection for united front working-class politics is a recurring theme of his book.

He reminds us of the religious sectarianism that caused Walter Newbold, Britain's first communist MP, to lose his seat in 1924.

Having won it in 1922 as the United Front labour movement candidate with 8,000 votes, he lost it in 1924 with 1,000 votes more.

This happened because the Liberals withdrew to give the Conservative candidate, who stood as an Orange Protestant, a clear run to capture the strong working class Protestant vote.

In response, the labour movement ditched Newbold and adopted a Protestant clergyman as its candidate.

In Greenock, the Liberals survived longer than elsewhere in urban Scotland and did not lose the seat to Labour until 1936 and Mitchell attributes this to the split in the working-class vote.

In 1922, communist candidate Arthur Geddes came within 750 votes of ousting the Liberals and for some time after the Communist Party polled heavily in Greenock, allowing the Liberals to slip through.

Even so, Mitchell might have acknowledged that the first-past-the-post voting system militates against effective working-class electoral alliances and has historically reinforced the domination of the right-wing in British politics.

Yet Mitchell's admiration for the "Vale communists" of the 1930s shines through.

In that period in the Vale of Leven the Communist Party held six council seats.

Together with the Labour Party which held five and the Independent Labour Party with three, it built what Harry Pollitt described as the best example of a united front in Britain.

The uplifting account of the Vale communists' achievements alone makes the book worth buying.

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