Workers' Liberty #68


From seven to seventeen

Adie Kemp describes how she became a socialist.

In May 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister, and my political development began. I was seven years old.

My parents, who had dropped out of political activity following the Vietnam War demonstrations, decided that the Tory election victory was proof enough that they ought to get back involved and so re-joined the Labour Party. At the same time, they took out a family membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and we all began attending local CND group meetings and activities.

Looking back on it now, it seems bizarre that a child of seven would readily involve herself in political activity, but it honestly didn't occur to me that there was anything odd about it. After all, the issue of nuclear disarmament was a very simple and straightforward one, the events were by and large enjoyable, and what else was there to do? Watch Blue Peter?

A couple of years later, CND launched a new drive to recruit young people into the campaign and so my sister and I, along with one or two others, set up a Youth CND group in our town. It seemed to take relatively little effort, and our launch public meeting was attended by over 75 young people, mostly school age.

This state of affairs continued for some time, until in 1983 I started secondary school. The following year, the county council, which at that time was still the education authority, announced that it needed to close three schools and that mine was one of them. We reacted immediately with the launch of a Parents and Friends Defence Campaign, and alongside it a Pupils' Action Committee. The campaign to save the school ran through six months - most of it overlapping with the Miners' Strike. While the NUM fought its heroic battle to save 'uneconomic' pits, we fought to save 'uneconomic' community schools. Sadly, both campaigns were unsuccessful, but I think they both served to teach me some extremely useful lessons about the benefits and possibilities of collective action.

By the time the school finally closed, I had been actively involved in some kind of political work for seven years, and I was still not old enough to become a member of the Labour Party! But nevertheless, I knew it was important to relate to the Labour Party to achieve the end that my campaigning work was directed at.

At the tender age of 14, I spoke as a delegate from my Youth CND group to national CND conference, at the time a sizeable event. I moved a resolution suggesting that CND commit itself to a campaign to change the Labour Party's policy on membership of NATO. The resolution was heavily defeated by the assorted greens, Liberals and Communist Party members that made up the majority of delegates in the hall, but my contribution was recognised and applauded by some in the hall - most noticeably a group of young people who called themselves revolutionary socialists and who were in an organisation called the International Group, which operated inside the Labour Party.

I knew that to pursue any more meaningful political campaigning, I needed to join the Labour Party. I also knew that I didn't trust most of the Labour Party's representatives in power further than I could throw them - I'd witnessed first hand their complicity on the county council over the school closures, and I'd seen on the television Neil Kinnock's mealy-mouthed commentary on the Miners' Strike, so I didn't want to join as a lone voice, for fear of being sucked into the system.

I don't think I really had a clue what I was getting into, but I could see on a practical day-to-day level that these 'revolutionaries' were doing the kind of work inside the Labour Party and other campaigns that I thought was important. And they were all very nice too! So I joined, and suddenly I was presented with a bewildering array of opportunities for political activity and discussion. It nearly succeeded in putting me off politics altogether, and perhaps it would have done if there hadn't still been some successes to be involved in, some big campaigns and events to be part of.

I went on many occasions to be part of the mass picketing outside Wapping in defence of the sacked printers, and I experienced there for the first time the reality of the police's political role. I joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and went along to the 24-hour picket of the South African embassy.

But despite all this political activity, I don't think I truly understood the ideas of socialism until I left home and got a job. It was only when I saw and experienced directly the desperate need for a change in society, along with the latent power in the working class to achieve that change, that I found a practical strategy for achieving the things that I'd spent so long fighting for.

It was parental influence that led me to get involved in the first place, gut reaction that kept me involved, but it was when I became part of the working class that I found an ideological reason to remain involved in political campaigning.

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