Entryism plagued the Labour Party in the 1970s, and is doing so again
Jeremy Corbyn is no Michael Foot. Until Corbyn’s election Foot had been Labour’s most left-wing leader. Nevertheless, it was under Foot’s leadership in the early 1980s that the fightback against Trotskyist infiltrators into the Labour party began.
In February 1983 the five members of the editorial board of Militant were expelled from the Labour party. They were the leadership of the Militant Tendency — a Marxist group which had decided it could better further the interests of its brand of Trotskyism, not by being a free-standing revolutionary party but by getting its members to join Labour, pretending to be simply a newspaper (hence terming the leadership as an editorial board) and trying, with some success, to take over individual constituency Labour parties. It took some time for Foot to be persuaded, but he eventually realised that such entryism had the potential to destroy Labour. The move against the Militant Tendency was the beginning of Labour’s long march back to sanity and electability.
Militant has not been the only entryist organisation trying to subvert what Labour had traditionally stood for. Another such Trotskyist group — again masquerading as a paper — has been Socialist Action. This group emerged out of the International Marxist Group, the British affiliate of the Fourth International, when it decided to adopt entryist tactics in 1982.
Socialist Action’s influence on Labour had been more shadowy than that of Militant, until Ken Livingstone was elected Mayor of London. Of Livingstone’s eight top advisers — handsomely paid out of London taxpayers’ funds — four were drawn from the Socialist Action milieu. One of these, Simon Fletcher, was Livingstone’s chief of staff. He subsequently became Ed Miliband’s liaison with the trade unions.
Fletcher was the campaign director for Corbyn’s leadership bid. He is likely to be the most important figure in the new Leader of the Opposition’s backroom team. Here lies the difference between Foot and Corbyn: Foot eventually fought the Trotskyist infiltrators and realised they needed to be rooted out; Corbyn has brought in the erstwhile leader of a Trotskyist entryist group as his key adviser.