the relationship between ideas and men of ideas, on the one hand, and working-class and popular action on the other, has not been looked at very closely in post-war Britain. It should be becoming increasingly clear, however, that orthodox communist views, for example, of automatic working-class leadership of national liberation movements and the like, fall down when you look at the world that is with us. If we look no further than the liberation struggles in Latin America, the movement that brought down Syngman Rhee, and the dawn of democratic action in Turkey, we can see how far they have been student-stimulated, not working class-organised. On all important anti-colonialist issues, the British universities have, since the war, been in action long before the trade unions. Yet ideas and ideamongers have become increasingly suspect in the British Labour movement, and in starting from this point—of the relevance of ideas in general for crystallising working class action—I am neither “justifying” the incapable intellectual that Wesker gets at very justly in Roots, nor baiting workingclass organisations. I am merely stating the tragic situation of working-class and rank-and-file Labour suspicion of ideas, at a time when every worthwhile political expression by the Labour movement (e.g. the Labour Party on apartheid and the AEU on nuclear disarmament) derives, initially, from sources outside the working class, outside the Labour Party.
In examining, therefore, what the New Left is, what its impact could be, what causes a Left Club and what job it can do, we rightly use phraseology like “looking for the ‘break-back’ of New Left ideas in to the main channels”. The New Left is self-consciously a movement of ideas, which is both its strength and weakness. Its strength lies in the fact that its ideas are needed, its weakness in its amateur attempts to build the bridges that the “professionals” have failed to build before. The New Left has so far been essentially an “intellectual” movement, a fact which the roots of many of its members in the organisations of the Labour movement, and the sterling work done in it by many leading figures in the trade union movement, for example, do not disguise. By and large, the New Left understands this in a general sort of way; but it is the implications—in particular for the development of the New Left, and the Clubs especially—that I should like to examine.
It is quite clear that the original stimulus behind the Clubs came in the main from the universities. The organisational basis for many of the Clubs has been, at least, laid by people not deeply involved in trade union or Labour Party organisation—people who could stand sufficiently far away from them to see the need both for new ideas and new forums in which to work them out. New Left organisations have been most successful where such a new basis for Left discussion has attracted trade union officials, Labour councillors and other sections of the organised Labour movement, as a result of the kind of platform arranged, and/or direct approaches to local figures to chair meetings and take part in discussions. In other words, an independent New Left discussion centre has established itself as a focal point, an interesting new source of strength.
There are, of course, Left Clubs which have had somewhat different initial stimuli. Such groupings may have arisen out of CND or as by-products of other clubs (in the London area for example), but an examination of the New Left groups that exist would almost certainly show a strong “intellectual” and “professional” weighting at least in the early stages. A realisation of the limitation and weakness in this situation is part of the process towards cementing real, fruitful links with wider sections of the socialist movement, and experience—in Yorkshire for instance—has shown that, whatever the origins of a New Left group, it need not be long before the “feed-back” into the more established channels, and the composition of the group itself, alter markedly.
But if there is any truth at all in this picture of the growing New Left as it is, the question of new break-throughs for the movement is going to loom largest in towns and whole areas where the kind of impetus that has so far built the New Left is either non-existent, weak or inarticulate. If we look carefully at the distribution of the New Left Review, the suspicion of “new thinking” even, or perhaps especially, on the Left of the Labour Party, and the loyalty of the Old Left to traditional, routine forms of self-expression, we must understand that the New Left has no automatic basis in non-University towns. There is going to be no automatic emergence of New Left groups in Barnsley and Huddersfield, Blackburn and Burnley. Here and there, an “accident” may provide a basis. There may be isolated readers of the Review in such towns who press sales; New Left speakers may be included in, and New Left supporters may actually run, an established organisation like a Fabian Society. Small groups of Review readers may organise discussion groups, new youth groupings may emerge, new organisations may be produced by fission in densely populated areas like the West Riding of Yorkshire. But as long as we are content with this process, the New Left as a movement is going to be excluded
An important factor in these areas, by contrast with the Left Book Club days, is the resistance to radical re-thinking from both the Left of the Labour Party, and from the Communist Party. The Old Left’s immediate reaction to NLR is—“What is the point?” They see the value of “internal opposition” movements like Victory for Socialism and Tribune, but the point of a New independent Left does not get across without organised pressure. The Labour Left will not respond automatically to NLR because, generally speaking, the Labour Left does not read. It might be attracted to a meeting at which, let us say, Clive Jenkins or John Hughes was speaking; it might (if the situation presents itself) buy a cheap pamphlet by Clive Jenkins or John Hughes; it will not take out a subscription to NLR without a prior process of explaining the “point”. Even the Labour Left that is deeply committed to CND, for example, is quite likely strongly to distrust socialist discussion and assessment outside the Labour Party. I have heard a prominent Labour Party figure who, as an officer of CND, has month in month out attacked Labour policy, actually argue against the New Left on the grounds that its energies should be being expended inside the Labour Party. He could see no case at all for socialist discussion and activity in any new-fangled self-styled Left bodies. This kind of attitude is going to be one factor preventing any automatic development of Old Left into New.
What, then, can the NLR and the organisations around it do in this situation? It seems to me that the various subcommittees of the NLR Editorial Board, the individual Left Clubs and their co-ordinating machinery should accept a new kind of responsibility here. The basis for this expansion of influence has begun to be laid in, for example, attempts to organise an inter-change of views on the industrial scene, via conference and bulletin. The Northern Committee of Clubs and NLR supporters, which already exists, could well plan what steps to take to bring the New Left to particular towns and areas. Where it is known that there is a nucleus of New Left supporters, the journal or an appropriate committee or geographically suitable Club could, from outside, help to arrange a public meeting, or specialist conferences and day schools. When a speaker arranges to appear on two New Left platforms in the same region, some attempt could be made to arrange a third meeting in a town where there is no Left Club. Clubs could arrange to visit bookshops and Labour agents in nearby towns, to try to introduce regular sales of the journal.