We were founded in 1980 as a bulletin board for Labour Party activists first in London and then across the country. Instead of propagating a particular ideology, we acted on the basis that class unity comes first and information is power. In 2012, readers voted to transfer the magazine to the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).
The journal is run by a democratically elected editorial board. We welcome criticisms, contributions and ideas for future articles. All contributions reflect solely the opinions of the authors, writing in a personal capacity, unless otherwise stated.
Chris Knight remembers the early years.
When Briefing began, the Tories had just won the 1979 election. The Labour left, bitter at the Callaghan government’s betrayals, was about to take off. The Bennite challenge was beginning. We were organizing to take control of Labour local authorities from the moribund right, hoping to use them as bulwarks of defence and struggle against Thatcher’s government. In London, we were fighting for leadership of the Greater London Council.
In this context, Briefing began as London Labour Briefing. Our first editorial proclaimed: ‘We have set ourselves the task of keeping active militants inside the Labour Party and the unions in touch with each other and up-to-date on what is happening in the various battles across the capital…. Organization and information are the keys to success.’
We recognised from the outset that our struggles were practical. In an echo of Karl Marx, we believed that whereas rival journals interpreted the world, our task was to to change it.
Briefing was never in the business of telling people to accept our ideas. When activists discover how to connect up and feel their strength, renewed confidence will surely prompt them to form brilliant ideas of their own. Our declared remit – as the name ‘Briefing’ implied – was not to trumpet ideology but rather to brief activists with concrete information about which struggle was happening where, which group of workers needed support at which time, which prospective councillors or MPs seemed worth voting for – and which on past record clearly deserved to be thrown out. Against this background, our readers looked forward each month to discovering which scumbag we had chosen as ‘Class Traitor of the Month’.
From the outset, Briefing grew as a local journal, beginning in London and then spreading to other areas across the country. Before long, supporters had autonomously set up Brighton Labour Briefing, Liverpool Labour Briefing and quite a few others. In this way, Briefing began to challenge the left’s habit of a lifetime, building on a non-sectarian basis from local to national and from bottom to top rather than the other way around.
We saw it as our task to break down all those divisions that hampered class unity and prevented our movement from realising its full potential. From this it was only a small step to recognising that oppression did not stop in the meeting room, the trade union branch or the workplace.
Influenced by the women’s movement, we made the simple discovery that we were not only political activists but also women and men, mothers, fathers, single parents, lesbians and gay men. ‘Coming out’ was not just for lesbians or gays: all of us could benefit from a supportive network enabling us to be true to ourselves. Many of us spoke of how we were racially or sexually oppressed, rape victims, disabled in various ways, victims of mental institutions. The Streetlife Supplement was born – a place where we could write personally about our experiences of oppression while developing political strategies for dealing with such issues. In keeping with everything else, we wrote as human beings – usually avoiding dry, abstract analyses and writing with all of the anger, bitterness, humour, irreverence and mischief that human beings possess.
Our slogan in those days, ‘Labour – take the power!’, in many ways defined who we were. As Labour Party activists, we aimed to win office for our movement wherever possible – locally, regionally and ultimately nationally. In terms of local and regional government, we played a significant role in transforming the political landscape. Yet we always knew that winning elections would not be enough: at some point our movement would need to translate the trappings of parliamentary office into the realities of state power. In order to implement serious wealth redistribution, nuclear disarmament or other reforms, any future Labour Government would need to mobilise our movement’s industrial strength so as to overcome the many extra-parliamentary obstacles which would inevitably be placed in our way.
Although in this article I’ve focused on Briefing’s past, I don’t believe those early insights have outlived their usefulness. On learning of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the 2015 Labour leadership election, Britain’s monarchist deep state moved quickly into gear. A senior serving general declared to the newspapers that the armed forces would take ‘direct action’ to prevent a Corbyn-led government from withrawing from NATO or cancelling Trident. ‘There would be mass resignations at all levels’, the General explained, ‘and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny’. Since then, the Tories have repeatedly insisted that Labour is now considered a ‘security threat’, clarifying – for anyone with eyes to see – that they and their establishment backers are already gearing up for extra-Parliamentary action to bring down a Corbyn-led government which refused to compromise. It is important that we move ahead with our eyes wide open.