Almost 80 years after Leon Trotsky founded the Fourth International, there are now Trotskyist organizations in 57 countries, including most of Western Europe and Latin America. Yet no Trotskyist group has ever led a revolution or built an enduring mass, political party. Contemporary Trotskyism looks in detail at the influence, resilience and weaknesses of the British Trotskyist movement, from the 1970s to the present day.
The book argues that to understand and explain the development, resilience and influence of Trotskyist groups, we need to analyse them as bodies that comprise elements of three types of organization: the political party, the sect and the social movement. It is the properties of these three facets of organization and the interplay between them that gives rise to the most characteristic features of the Trotskyist movement: frenetic activity, rampant divisions, inter-organizational hostility, authoritarian and charismatic leadership, high membership turnover and ideological rigidity.
Trotskyist groups have been involved in a wide range of important social movements including trade unions, student unions, anti-war, anti-racist and anti-fascist groups. While their energy and activity in civil society have had some success, their influence has never been reflected in votes or seats at elections even after the financial crisis.
Drawing on extensive archival research, as well as interviews with many of the leading protagonists and activists within the Trotskyist milieu, this is essential reading for students, activists and researchers with an interest in the far left, social movements and contemporary British political history.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Theoretical Perspectives
Chapter 2 - Trotsky and the Origins of Trotskyism
Chapter 3 - Development of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain, Part 1: 1950–1985
Chapter 4 - Development of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain, Part 2: 1985–2017
Chapter 5 - Doctrine, Orthodoxy and Sectarianism
Chapter 6 - Party Recruitment
Chapter 7 - Party Electoral Performance
Chapter 8 - Organizational Resources
Chapter 9 - Working in the Trade Unions
Chapter 10 - Social Movements and Front Organizations
Chapter 11 - The Proliferation of Trotskyist Internationals
Chapter 12 - The Achievements, Limitations and Weaknesses of Trotskyism
Appendix 1 British Trotskyist Organizations 1950–2017
Appendix 2 Sources for Trotskyist Organizational Membership Figures
Appendix 3 Trotskyist Organizations in Western Europe 2017
Appendix 4 Defunct Trotskyist Internationals 1970–2017
Appendix 5 List of Interviewees
John Kelly teaches at the Department of Management, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has published widely on trade unions and the labour movement.
A fascinating study of a politics that refuses to disappear. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the possibilities and the limits of revolutionary politics. Matthew Worley, Professor of Modern History, Reading University, UK
John Kelly has written the definitive guide to contemporary Trotskyism in England and Wales. The analysis is sharp and clear, always taking its subject matter seriously, probing every aspect of the phenomenon. It fulfils the author’s intention to explain the structure, influence and ambition of the movement utilising the techniques of political science and a deep knowledge of the history of the far left. John Callaghan, Professor of Politics and Contemporary History, University of Salford, UK
Contemporary Trotskyism is a fascinating and well-researched excavation of a much maligned and under-studied social movement. Mocked and feared in almost equal measure, John Kelly’s account provides a thorough overview of its highs and lows, its persistence and challenges, as well as those moments Trotskyism influenced the development of British politics as a whole. Dr Phil Burton-Cartledge, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Derby, UK
"A valuable contribution to the sparse literature on the modern British radical left. It is undoubtedly the definitive work on its subject matter, comprehensive in scope and resting on deep research. The fairness and objectivity of its author – the critical sympathy he adopts towards his subject – allows readers to make of the evidence what they will." Alex Snowdon, Counterfire.
"Anyone seriously concerned to know what Trotskyism actually is, and is not, could do worse than look at this new book by John Kelly describing modern British Trotskyism (and, more briefly, the international movement of which it is part). Kelly has read an extraordinary quantity of newspapers and internal documents...and has coaxed interviews from a range of activists who would probably refuse to sit in the same room together. He is scrupulous in documenting facts, and makes very few mistakes." Ian Birchall, Review 31.
"A well-researched and generally well-informed monograph...Kelly has undertaken painstaking empirical research into the records and publications of various groups, archival studies of internal bulletins and papers and interviews with leading members of different Trotskyist organisations. His book is thought-provoking and in some senses provides a useful frame through which to reflect and take stock of where the revolutionary socialist movement in Britain currently stands." Christian Høgsbjerg, International Socialism.
"A serious and scholarly book whose content deserves to be pondered and, in some cases, contested." Joseph Choonara, Socialist Review.
"The book is highly detailed, well researched and written and contains a wealth of details and statistics analysing every facet of the contemporary Trotskyist movement in Britain from the larger groups right down to the minuscule and obscure. Kelly draws on a wide range of sources including interviews with more than twenty leading members of existing Trotskyist groups, their public press and internal bulletins, to produce a highly readable yet impressively detailed guidebook to contemporary British Trotskyism." Splits and Fusions.
"This painstakingly and meticulously researched book provides both a narrative history and an insightful analysis of the multitude of Trotskyist groups and “front” organisations extant in Britain from the 1930s to 2017." Mary Davis, Morning Star.
"John Kelly has written the most comprehensive scholarly work on the Trotskyist movement in Britain. He gives detailed information on the major British Trotskyist organisations, their approach to the trade unions and their views on entryism into the Labour Party." Fabian van Onzen, Capital and Class.
"Overall this is a worthwhile book, well researched, most significant participants have been discussed with and provides a number of facts those of us who spent forty years in such groups did not know." Gordon Morgan, Scottish Left Review.