The English newspaper The Independent today reported that there are plans for a revival of the 1970s BBC comedy series, Citizen Smith. Wolfie Smith of the Tooting Popular Front, who believes the world can be changed by slogans, may once more declare his expectation of the coming of a glorious day when all would be changed. Of course, the glorious day never arrived, but that was always the fault of someone else, noble aspirations always fell victim to the decisions of others, (to the extent that the fact that there was not enough space for a graffiti slogan that was being painted on a wall was the fault of the Tory council for not building walls long enough).
The television series was all good-humoured stuff, but, like most comedy, it succeeded because there was a kernel of truth within it, the conflicts within what even the Labour Party referred to as the “Loony Left” were often as absurd as any argument within the Tooting Popular Front. One needed only to read the pamphlets published by the miscellaneous groups of the Hard Left on how the revolution would proceed to see how far the writers were removed from reality. There would be tracts on things like the tasks of the “Fourth International” (that only a tiny number of people had any clue as to what the first three “Internationals” might have been was no obstacle to those drawing up detailed plans for a revolutionary transformation of society).
Briefly associated with the Militant Tendency in times when Wolfie Smith was shouting “power to the people”, the initial impression was of people who cared, who were committed, who were passionate about their goals. After the initial impression, there came a sense of reservation that the sort of language used by the group was far removed from the reality of working class life, they seemed to talk about “workers” in abstract; their abstraction did not correspond to any worker whom I had met. My brief contact with them came to an end when I realised that they did not care what workers might think, that anyone who did not agree with them was guilty of “false consciousness”, that they had not the slightest concern to put power into the hands of ordinary working people, rather they would be the vanguard who would decide what working people should want. Wolfie Smith could not have been more removed from reality than were the real Trotskyites of the 1970s.
Mind you, should Jeremy Corbyn be elected leader of the Labour Party, there will be no need to revive Citizen Smith, the unreality of the world of slogans and political dogma will have made the party as unelectable as any group that might have been on the streets of Tooting.