6 September 2009


I spent this afternoon in a field in south Norfolk with some friends at the annual Burston school strike rally. It's a commemoration of an heroic struggle for working-class education: two socialist teachers were fired in 1914 by the local school board (dominated by farmers) for objecting to their pupils being taken out of school to work -- so they set up an independent school with the support of the labour movement and kept it going for 25 years.

The rally has been the big leftie East Anglian event for as long as I can remember, and there have been plenty worse than today's: at least it didn't rain. But there was something quite sad about it today. The overwhelming majority of adults there were 50 or over, and the theme, solidarity with the Cuban revolution after 50 years, was entirely uninspiring. Tony Benn didn't turn up because he was ill, so instead (or maybe not) we were treated to an interminably dull speech by Richard Howitt, Labour's East Anglian MEP.

Meanwhile, the paper sellers from the Leninist sects worked the 200-strong crowd: Morning Star, Socialist Worker, Socialist, Socialist Appeal. They all had stalls underneath B&Q gazebos, as did the Socialist Party of Great Britain -- whose grizzled militants had forgotten the box of Socialist Standards they were supposed to bring and so were selling only pamphlets written in 1910 -- and what was once the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), which was flogging the autobiography of the late Reg Birch and old Chinese editions of J V Stalin on the national question.

But they didn't do too well. Most of the people at the bash were sell-out reformists from the Labour Party in Ipswich and Norwich who just wanted a day out in the sun drinking beer, and paper sales were thin on the ground. The Maoists were first out, taking down their gazebo at 4pm to head for their red base in Stockwell; by 4.30pm the Socialist Workers' stall was reduced to inhaling helium from Unison's balloons to make them talk squeaky.

I drank some beer, ate some lunch, said hello to some good comrades I've not seen for some time, played with some kids. Altogether, an excellent afternoon. But it showed the old left is dead.

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