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Militant built a mass non-payment campaign that defeated the poll tax.

Trotskyism’s rich history in Scotland

Ronnie Stevenson - Socialist Party Scotland and a supporter of Militant from 1975 

The right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party, aided by their friends in the media, have tried everything to undermine Corbyn’s leadership.

One of the tactics has been to make out that a shadowy number of “older Trotskyites” are manipulating the thousands who have joined to support Corbyn. Any lies will do to try and defeat Corbyn. Unfortunately, at no stage do they explain the ideas of Trotskyism but instead use it as a sort of swear word to frighten people.

The ideas of Trotsky, of a democratic workers’ socialist revolution and the creation of a democratic socialist federation of the nations of the world, was manifested in the first years of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and has inspired millions across the world.

He and Lenin led a revolution which changed the lives of the Russian people for the better, although Stalin and his followers derailed the move to a democratic workers socialist state through a regime of terror. Lenin opposed him in the last few years of his life, as did Trotsky until a Stalinist assassin murdered him in 1940.

The ideas of Marxism and democratic socialism were always strongly accepted within the Labour and trade union movement, although increasingly the leaders of the movement embraced the ides of a reformed capitalism as the way forward. It was against that background that the ideas of democratic socialism were kept alive by the Trotskyite movement.


In Britain, the Militant newspaper was first published in 1964. Based on groups in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and South Wales where the Trotskyite tradition had been kept alive.

From that beginning the ideas were accepted by activists throughout the length and breadth of Britain and increasingly world wide, leading to the founding of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in 1974 to coordinate that work.

Supporters of Militant won the support of a majority of young people in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) in 1970. Under Militant’s leadership, the LPYS became the most active campaigning group in the Labour Party. Militant also gained increasing support from the best of the activists in the trade union movement.

These processes were reflected in Scotland and laid the basis for the growth of Militant here. We were to the fore in gaining the principle of the automatic reselection of Labour MPs and the election of those wishing to stand as Labour candidates.

As a result Militant supporters came close to being selected as Labour candidates in Glasgow Central, Provan and Pollok. Militant supporters earned leadership positions within the POEU (telephone workers union), the CPSA (central government workers union), SOGAT (the print workers union), NALGO (the local government workers union), the EEPTU (the electricians union) as well as within the NUM (miners), the TGWU – forerunner of Unite – and the GMB.

Miners strike

The miners strike of 1984/5 was one of the bitterest confrontations between the bosses and the working class. Militant worked tirelessly in support of the miners and many miners joined our ranks. They were convinced by both the industrial programme Militant advanced for the miners to achieve victory and the political programme of the democratic socialist transformation of society. Unfortunately, the leaders of labour and trade union movement left them to fight alone against a ruling class who used everything but bullets against them. The defeat had a big effect on the confidence of the working class to fight back.

Labour councils across Britain were next in the firing line for the Tories. Some council leaders made bold statements about defying the Tories and efforts were made to organise a united front to refuse to set a rate and demand more money from Westminster. Unfortunately they capitulated, one by one, leaving the Militant led Liverpool Council to fight alone.

The Liverpool Labour Party fully backed the strategy drawn up by Militant supporters of demanding a return of the millions taken out of the council’s budget. Whilst new schools, leisure centres, council houses were being built and new jobs created, there were mass meetings, demonstrations and localised general strikes to put pressure on the Tory Government to fund the programme. It was successful. The Tories paid up.

Neil Kinnock, the ex-left who had stabbed Tony Benn in the back in the fight against the right wing, had become leader of the Labour Party. Instead of praising the success he attacked the Liverpool Labour councillors and organised their expulsion, which emboldened the Tories in their attacks on the courageous Liverpool 47 councillors. They were removed from office by a Tory-appointed, unelected auditor and surcharged. Such was the admiration for their stance the surcharge was entirely paid off through donations large and small from the working class of the city and beyond.

Poll tax

Starting in Scotland, the Militant strategy of mass non-payment to beat the Poll Tax led to its defeat. Mass leafleting, huge public meetings, demonstrations and defence of non-payers was organised. It stopped the poll tax and led to the resignation of the hated Thatcher.

During this time the Labour Party leaders were turning further to the right and the expulsion of Militant led us to draw the conclusion that work in the Labour Party was not the best way to advance the cause of socialist change.

In Scotland, from the early 90s, Scottish Militant Labour (SML) became the face of Militant. Tommy Sheridan, the leader of the poll tax struggle was elected to Glasgow District Council whilst serving a prison sentence for his anti-poll tax activity.

The hatred of the Tories led eventually in 1997 to the election of the Tony Blair government. He quickly demonstrated why Thatcher called Tony Blair her greatest legacy, as he introduced one anti-working class measure after another.

The collapse of Stalinism in 1989/90, and with it the idea, albeit temporarily, that there was no alternative to capitalism had a huge ideological impact.

The workers’ movement and socialist consciousness was driven back. Under this pressure some of the leaders of SML moved in a nationalist and left reformist direction, drawing the conclusion that the ideas of Marxism and Trotskyism were no longer important. They launched the Scottish Socialist Party, but their political mistakes led to its shipwrecking.

Many of us carried on with building a distinctly Marxist party, now called Socialist Party Scotland. Our party has played an important role in, for example, the struggle against the Bedroom Tax. We have also pioneered the building of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), as well as playing a vital role in the trade union movement in Scotland.

Bernie Saunders’ cry for political revolution in the US and the overwhelming support for Corbyn are magnificent examples of a mass desire to change the way we live.

It is 76 years since the Stalinists – the opponents of international socialism – murdered Trotsky. Nevertheless Trotskyism, the idea of unrelenting struggle against the bosses and the democratic socialist transformation of society, will yet become the property of the oppressed masses of the world that will secure their liberation.