At The Coal Face

The son of the Home Secretary, the future son-in-law of the heir to the throne, the captain of the nations rugby union side; it seems that just about everybody's doing it and those who aren't are all talking about it. Drugs that is. The establishment and tabloid media have been falling over themselves in the stampede to condemn those high-profile figures accused of dealing, in their usual hypocritical fashion without any serious attempt to truly analyse the 'evil of drug use' within society. To do that, of course, would, as on so many other issues, require them to examine the root cause of the 'problem', opening up any number of cans of worms and is therefore something they are not prepared to even contemplate.

It is probably a timely coincidence then, that over the next two issues Red Action will be publishing a series of articles on the impact of drug use within working class communities. This is being undertaken with the aim of opening up debate on this important issue within the ranks of RA members and supporters. But it is not intended that this be merely an academic exercise. It will also form part of a discussion paper to be debated at this year's RA conference aimed at developing practical approaches to problems facing hard-pressed working class communities across Britain. Although we will only be embarking on the initial stages, it will signal, once again, RA's determination to break with custom and practice of the British Left.
Many on the Left, however, will tell you that this is either a distraction or quite simply just wrong. That the real battle remains 'the struggle for Left unity and the development of the revolutionary programme'. This reminds me of an occasion shortly before the last general election, when the SLP were canvassing a large council estate in Wythenshawe, just outside Manchester. According to the Weekly Worker, time and again canvassers were informed by local residents that their biggest concern was that of anti-social behaviour by local youths. The SLP response? Retire to a venue in central Manchester to tell a public meeting of fellow lefties, that the problem was down to the capitalist system and therefore, once it was replaced with socialism, the problem would be eradicated. This was reported favourably.

Obviously, the 'solution' to long term problems will only be possible with the conquest of political power. But as we work towards this goal we must also develop strategies that can provide, dare I say it, a 'thirdway' for communities stuck between a rock and a hard place; ie. forced to choose between the utopianism of the Left and the indifference of the State. While I am sure no one within RA is under the illusion that there are any simple answers to what are often extremely complex problems, sticking our heads in the sand is just not an option. We will need to debate these issues with a maturity and honesty that will only be possible if we are looking at what our own role might be developing and implementing alternative strategies on the ground.
The recent election results point to the still-growing alienation of the working class from the political establishment. To those even prepared to address, let alone fill, the vacuum, the reward will be substantial. If we are to ensure that it is to be filled by those from the Left spectrum rather than those from the ultra-Right, that work must begin now. And let's face it, for those of us at the coal face it is far from being abstract. While at a meeting of activists in the South West of England recently, I was struck by the stark admission that everybody in the room (whether family, friends or even themselves) had been affected at some point by drugs in a negative way. Motivation, if any were needed, to set our minds to the task.
Steve Potts
Reproduced from RA vol 4, Issue 1, June/July '99