1980s >> 1988 >> no-1005-may-1988

“Don’t Talk to Him” – the Militant Way

It’s a breezy but bright March Saturday afternoon in Swansea’s pedestrian precinct. We find our usual Standard selling pitch occupied by Militant supporters. But there’s plenty of room for us to set up our placards a few yards away. The Militants look at us as we shout our wares. There are four or five of them and they’re all young — say 15 to 19. As well as selling their paper, they’re giving out leaflets and collecting money for a demonstration of the ‘Youth Trade Union Rights Campaign’ (YTURC) on the Monday.

One of them, a girl of 16 or 17, comes up and asks what our journal is. I start explaining to her that we see socialism as a moneyless, free access society without buying or selling and without private or state ownership — unlike Militant who argue for state ownership of the main industries. She interrupts me firmly but politely to tell me I’ve got it wrong about Militant and they stand for different kinds of ownership divided up among different groups of people, but admits she can’t quite remember the details of that division.

So far, so good. An interesting, peaceful discussion. But suddenly it turns ugly. I’d already noticed that one of the Militant group, a tall, fidgety lad of 18 or 19, has been casting hostile glances towards us. Now he can’t suppress his anger and he strides over. “Don’t talk to him”, he orders the girl.

I’m taken aback, and so is she. I recover fairly quickly. “She can do what she likes”, I say. “You’re not her master.” “F. . .  off”, he says, by now looking full of hate and ready for violence. Another of his group comes up to flank him, a small fellow, but agitated and just as threatening. “You’re mad”, the first one goes on. “That’s a high level of debate”, I respond, not finding anything better to say. I turn back to the girl, who’s looking confused and embarrassed, and tell her she should do exactly what she likes and that the really important thing is to think for herself. She sort of apologises and says she’s got to carry on collecting money as they need to raise £20 for a minibus on Monday.

It dies down and we get back to our selling. Someone I know from a local left-wing group comes past and I tell him what’s happened. He’s not surprised. YTURC is a Militant-organised campaign, and he knows the boy — Paul’s his name. Paul used to be with them, now he’s moved to Militant and he’s having a pretty bad time. He’d got up on a dinner table in the refectory of the local college where he was studying and shouted” “Everybody on strike tomorrow”. For his trouble he got expelled. This, I suppose, helped to explain his frustrated, almost disturbed behaviour.

But it didn’t end there. We took a break and went for a cup of tea downstairs in the Co-op. One of our group saw Paul come down to have a look round but paid no attention. He should have done, because when we got back upstairs in the street, the Militant were gone and our advertising placards were gone too — three sturdy boards with posters stuck to them. Hard to believe they’d stoop to nicking our placards, but they had.

I was sorry we hadn’t got hold of one of their leaflets to find out where their demonstration was being held on Monday. When I eventually found out it was too late. Monday’s evening paper told me that it had been held outside the Conservative club and that Paul was in the thick of it again — shouting and swearing, so the report said.

End of story? Not quite. Three of us went back the following Saturday morning when we knew Militant usually sell. We had the vague hope they’d be using our boards. They weren’t. I bought a Militant from one of their local leading lights, Alec Thraves, and I told him what had happened the previous week. He said he was surprised and that wasn’t their way. He said he would look into it. Them we saw the small flanking lad from the previous Saturday and we went up to him. When I said we wanted to talk about the missing boards, he became agitated again and raised his voice. “Don’t you accuse me of stealing”, he shouted. “If you’re calling me a thief, go and call the police.” “We’re not accusing you, we just want to talk to you . . .” But having apparently pleaded guilty by his behaviour, he’d backed away at speed and had got to the cover of his other sellers. What did Alec Thraves think? “I’ll find out about it”, he said. If he did, he’s not told us.

I read the Militant newspaper when I got home and read about their proposed “division of ownership”. I’m not surprised the girl didn’t remember the details—it’s extremely complicated. But what, I remarked to John, a fellow Standard seller that afternoon, would happen to us if Militant did have their way and the Pauls and co. of this world had the whip hand? Would we be tolerated — or silenced — when we continued to oppose all forms of state and private ownership and advocated instead complete common ownership of all the earth’s resources and products?

That’s something it would be nice if Paul and Alec thought about. I’ll try and get this issue of the Standard to them so that they can.

Howard Moss

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