Earlier this year the left saw the equivalent of a small dinosaur walking down the street. Labour Briefing magazine had, as its front page, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s slogan “Prenez le pouvoir” — “take the power”.
Mélenchon wouldn’t have known it, but for the inner core of Briefing, and for older readers, the slogan evokes a lot.
The people who launched Briefing in February 1980 were veterans of the Revolutionary Communist League of the 1970s, a would-be Trotskyist group distinguished from others by its slogan “Labour Take The Power”. For them that meant a call on the Labour Party, not just to take office, but to smash the bourgeois state and install workers’ power. They talked about revolutionary cells in the army.
Briefing had “Labour Take The Power” as a streamer on every front cover. Its meaning mutated. In the 80s it meant ardent applause for figures like Ken Livingstone and Margaret Hodge “taking power” locally (headlines: “London's Ours!”, “Fortress Islington”), and explanations that if they faltered against the Tories, that was because of the Labour rank and file not putting enough “power” behind them.
Thirty years on, Briefing has bio-degraded. The front-cover streamer was reluctantly dropped in 1995. With the decline of Tribune, it has enough of the “Labour-left” market to continue, although the content is often pallid. Its editorial team has become a sort of rest-home for older Trotskyists disappointed by experience in activist groups but continuing to “tick over” in the Labour Party.
Throughout the central figure has been Graham Bash. The magazine has long been produced in his house, which is also his business office, and one editor summed up by describing Bash as “the proprietor”.
Now Bash has proposed that Briefing become the official journal of the Labour Representation Committee, a Labour left current whose best-known figure is John McDonnell MP. The proposal has stirred a row, because it looks like a double coup, one within LRC and one within Briefing.
LRC, sadly, doesn’t have enough life and activities to fill a monthly magazine, so making Briefing its official journal would mean LRC’s public profile de facto shaped by an editorial team on Briefing — probably weighted towards the strand in LRC which is Labour-oriented, but “propagandist” rather than geared to organising and working with other Labour groups like CLPD. It would marginalise other strands in LRC.
The proposal is opposed within LRC by many Briefing people, because they see it as a move to settle recent clashes within the Briefing team by pushing out one subgroup and replacing it with people from LRC.
LRC would do better to approach a range of left journals — Briefing, Solidarity, Socialist Appeal, and (why not?) Tribune — to ask them to give LRC a regular page to publicise its campaigns and declarations. Solidarity would surely say yes.
• More on Briefing here