it moves forward again. Applications to join CND come into Peggy Duff by the hundreds each day. The Committee of 100 starts to count in thousands. Quiescent Left Clubs yawn, rub their eyes, and begin to think of their programmes. The sales of NLR tip upwards again.
It would be interesting to analyse this push-and-parry progress of the past ten years. The nadir was 1949–1951. Then every battle of the “Left” was defensive; liars, innocents, and honest men stood, jumbled together, with their backs to the Korean brink. Then came the first forward push, still defensive and confused, with Bevanite successes and the taut, hard-fought struggle against German re-armament. Defeat on this, and disillusion, with Bevan turning away from his own supporters.
Then the great forward push of 1956–58: no longer defensive, new themes, new people, CND and the ULR Club in London formed, the first great Aldermaston of 1958. The forward movement then seemed to check, and barely hold its gains, until the aftermath of the General Election of 1959. Then, in the winter and spring of 1959–60 (when NLR was first launched), the New Left almost made a breakthrough. In that period, 30, 40, nearly 50 provincial Left Clubs were formed: national and regional committees were established: we seemed at the point of forming a socialist educational and pressure movement comparable in its influence to CND. The peak period was the spring of 1960, that year’s Aldermaston, and the Easter union conferences which swung the crucial votes towards unilateralism.
But by the time of Labour’s Scarborough Conference (autumn 1960) the tide was already receding. Emphasis switched from the public arena to the closed in-fighting in the Labour Party. Last winter was a thin time for the Left Clubs. While few disbanded, many became quiescent. The National Clubs Committee, hamstrung by lack of money, found it difficult to meet. The response to schools was poor. Only the northern regional committee, with its energetic secretaries (first John Robottom, and now Alan Horsfall of Burnley), remained in (sporadic) existence. A conference of Clubs and Board members at Stockport this summer became a forum for self-criticism and some recrimination. The sales of NLR had tilted downwards, and every one of our enterprises—books, pamphlets, industrial work—were handicapped by lack of money and personnel. Only the student movement, with its crop of lively new journals, and—from place to place—the Young Socialists, seemed to maintain the forward momentum.
Where are we now? If we are not at the beginning of an even greater forward push the Board will eat their copies of NLR. In schools, Techs., jazz clubs, staff common rooms, CND flashes blossom as if by spontaneous generation. Trafalgar Square, Berlin crisis, peace-loving proletarian tests, the Opportunity State Pay Pause—all these have made a climate in which the seeds we have scattered these years spring up in manifold new forms and initiatives. While the commentators drool over Mr. G’s magnificent rearguard action, thousands of people are camping outside his wrangling defensive fort, and are getting ready to move forward the other way.
John Robottom, our national Clubs secretary, gets a new trickle of enquiries about forming Left Clubs. Some existing Clubs even bother to reply to his correspondence and to tell him of their plans. A few write conscientiously and with optimism.
What is wrong with the New Left? Everyone has an answer. The journal: too glossy, too detached, too Cuban, too much. The Board: too big, too windy, too incompetent. Raymond Williams’ long involutions and Edward Thompson’s long revolting replies. The Clubs: too few, too gimmicky, too much talking-shops, too little hard organisation. Too much “Old Left”. Too little “culture”. You too can take your pick.