Len Arthur

Born 12.10.1947 near St Pancras in central London. I was a post war social statistic, baby bulge - now boomer - lived in flats in Stoke Newington North London until 7, then Hemel Hempstead new town, Basildon new town, then bungalow land in Thundersley Essex, near Southend. Went to a Secondary Modern School in that area and left school as early as possible in December 1962 just 15 with no formal qualifications. Secondary modern school was a good basis for knowing what working class meant as we were the factory fodder, the brighter ones being creamed off into the local grammar school. However mum and dad were fairly active at work and in community stuff like the Scouts and we knew what collective organisation was about and had a friend whose dad was a local Labour Councillor. One of very few in the very Tory dominated bit of Essex.Started work as an office boy in a solicitors office (lawyer) in New Square Lincolns Inn just off the Strand in January 1963. Around the same time largely through friends and connections with the Labour Councillor's son started going to Young Socialist - part of the LP - and CND meetings. Went on the Aldermaston marches at Easter and YS conferences and generally got involved with the left. At that time all the bits of the old Trotskyist RSL were active in the LP and I think I went to all their meetings. Politics were seriously honed at work with constant arguments with the working class Tories that I worked with - all Daily Mail and Express readers. Nothing like it for sharpening the mind! Also connections with CND offered contact with anarchist leaning organisations like Solidarity. All this politics and being a teenager in the 60's with access to all the Soho clubs with my 7 day a week rail season ticket up to London was a wonderful time to be around and alive. I was one of the youngest sub agents at 16 in the UK for the LP in the 1964 general election.Early that year I purchased a copy of the three volumes of Capital for 3/6d old money from the Chinese bookshop near the British Museum. I remember devouring it in a park nearby reading a couple of the chapters on commodities, use and exchange value before going back to work. It was my lunchtime. It made complete sense and fitted my experience of being a worker and still does. The other eye opening and formative experience was really quite strange. I was so keen on the first Wilson Labour Government that I went out and purchased their first White Paper which was about the economic crisis. I don't know what I expected to read but my heart feel into my boots when they hitched themselves to solving the balance of payments crisis which to me was a problem of how capitalism worked: they were going to prop it up as a priority! That was it for me for Parliamentary socialism. Early in 1965 I moved to Paignton Devon with my parents, partly for health reasons, still worked as a solicitors clerk but also working on the beach and in hotels. I quickly got involved in the local YS and CND, virtually the same people, and for a few months strayed into the Young Communist League. The following year 1966 I went to Russia with the old CP Progressive Tours staying in Leningrad and Moscow. We spent quite a bit of time hunting out young people and it became very clear that the Soviet Union had little to do with socialism. I came back a total convert to Trotsky and got involved in Young Guard which was part of the International Socialist Group that later became the SWP. I produced a little magazine for the local YS typing and duplicating the thing as you did in those days. It was noticed by a member of the LP who had some connections with the Mirror Group who owned the local papers in Torquay and shocked that I didn't have any qualifications suggested that I should take shorthand, typing, English language and literature 'O' levels at evening classes and I may get a start in journalism. I started these in 1965 and discovered that it was possible to get a grant and go to college full time if I stuck with the evening classes for a year. I managed to do this and started full time in 1966 doing O levels and an A level in one year and three As the following years. So within 2 years left clerking behind for ever and started doing Sociology and Social History at Durham University in 1968, getting married in the same year.After Durham I started PhD research in Swansea but although I gathered some really useful stuff - history it was - trying hard to be a professional revolutionary and a parent led to it not being written up. Still it was good enough to just about get a job at Llandaff Technical College in Cardiff where I started in January 1974 teaching day release apprentices Liberal Studies. My goodness that was hard! I moved on to teaching and then running the TU training provision for the TUC at the College until 1989 when Thatcherism saw it off. The College had by that time become the Cardiff Institute of Higher Education and eventually became the University of Wales Institute Cardiff. I finally complete a PhD in the 1990s and retired from the University in 2007 ending my career supervising PhDs and running a research institute into Cooperatives.During the 34 years at UWIC I was active in the lecturers union NATFHE at all levels from being branch secretary to being a member of the national executive and a UK negotiator. To me it was always essential to practise what you preach trying to unite theory and practice so the key was to link the reality of trade union struggle with the practice of building a revolutionary party and winning people to socialism by building organisation like the ANL and Rock Against Racism. Until 1984 this was through the SWP and organising all sorts of rank and file groups within the union. I didn't see the problem but the SWP decided that the 1980s downturn would compromise members so it was decided that we should not hold lead trade union positions. I could see the problem but didn't think pulling out of the struggle as the right answer. So, in the middle of a struggle over 40 compulsory redundancies I was expelled from the SWP. Of course I continued to fight the Tory Government through the union and through community activity such as trying to stop our local school from closing. In the end I had to have some political links so rejoined the LP in 1987.I'm no longer a member as the Labour Party now has little to do with socialism. I'm now a member of Left Unity and my reasons for joining are here: http://leftunity.org/labour-party-resignation-letter-joining-left-unity/ . During the 1990s I became interested in forms of struggle and direct action other than that through trade unions. Partly if was having to teach management at work which was awful and in desperation to retain some sanity and consistency with a Marxist analysis I became involved in the debates around critical management theory. I soon realised that they were heading for abstraction so thought we should explore the extent to which cooperatives and social movements could actually be seen as an alternative way of organising, owning and controlling value and its production. This led me to work with colleagues and comrades in the cooperative and green movement both in terms of research and political activity. I'm particularly interested in the issues involved with bringing the analysis of Marx and the green movement together both in theory and practice and have been working on the possibility that the concept of a transitional demand can have a parallel one of a transitional action and how the two may work together. See the first discussion piece. 

Len Arthur's

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