Sunday, 13 November 2011

A Song From 1981 (Or Earlier?)

In October 1981, 250,000 people joined an anti-nuclear demonstration in London. That summer, Tony Benn had come within 1% of being elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

Me? I was unemployed in Brighton.  So unemployed, in fact, I volunteered to work as a steward at that Labour Party conference. As a consequence, I find I am the owner of the 'Phonetappers and Punters Club Official Songbook' (a Clause 4 Publication).

Clause 4, in this context, was a grouping in the Labour Party's youth and student movements who steadfastly opposed the various array of Trotskyists, especially the Militant Tendency, who would otherwise have dominated those youth movements. Because it was a reactive grouping - e.g. anti-Trotskyist - Clause 4 spanned a fairly wide political spectrum from traditional Tribunites to hardline 'Stalinists-in-all-but-party-colours' to 'Eurocommunists-in-all-but-party-colours' and even included a few libertarian leftist/feminist/proto-green types. In student politics they were in deep alliance with the CP. ( I only mention all this as I can't find any reference to  them on the web, so I'm filling in the background). For all this heterogeneity, not to mention a fair dollop of callow youthful sectarianism, they did, in my experience, at least have a sense of humour. Several of them went onto adult political careers, including Ministerial office in a couple of cases.
The Phonetappers and Punters Club was their 'end of the pier review' for Labour Conference. The songbook is a window into a different world. CND was being reborn as a truly mass movement.  The politics of nuclear weapons was being discussed with passion and mass involvement again, for the first time in almost 2 decades. & that meant the politics of nuclear weapons on both sides of the Iron Curtain were up for debate. I don't actually know if the song below - intended to be sung to the tune of The Red Flag - was written by the Clause 4 crew in the early eighties or was an inheritance from an earlier age(1) but it captures something of the time , at least as I recall it.

Our cause is surely won this year,
Because 'the leadership' is here,
For Khrushchev's boys and Trotsky's too
Now guide us in the work we do.

Then wave the Worker's Bomb on high,
Beneath its cloud we'll gladly die
And though our critics all shout 'balls'
We'll stand beneath it when it falls.

While Western arms we'll strive to end,
The Russian bomb we will defend
Degenerated though it might be
it is the people's property

The King St comrades chant its praise,
In Clapham they love its blaze,
Though quite deformed politically
We must support it...critically

It will correct our errors past
And clarify with its blast
Deep in our shelters, holes and nooks
We'll all have time to 'read the books'

And when we leave this world of toil
And shuffle off our mortal coil
We'll thank the Bomb that set us free
To Socialist Eternity.

(1) King St was still, then, the HQ of the CPGB. But the reference to Clapham is presumably to the old Clapham grouping of Trotskyists which, in the 1950s, apparently included Ted Grant, Gerry Healey and Tony Cliff - whom by 1981 has most certainly gone their own ways. So the song may actually be older than I'm suggesting here. But there were still folk on both sides of the Stalinist/Trotskyist divide defending the 'Workers Bomb'  when I saw the review in 1981.


  1. Definitely from the first wave of CND, by which time Cliff, Healy, and Grant had long since gone their separate ways. ('Clapham' is a reference to Healy's group.)

    This song and several others are here, from 1962.

  2. Thanks Ken - both for clarifying the origins of the song and for reminding me how to spell the ex-Leader of the WRP's surname!

  3. Hi Charlie, I don't know if we met way back when. My name is John Gilks. I was Clause 4 treasurer in the late 70s and later on the ILP NAC. I'm trying to find texts of some of the old songs for a much younger friend here in Toronto and I wondered if there was any chance of a scan of Phonetappers and Punters. Most of this stuff seems to have disappeared into a pre Internet black hole. Cheers John