Socialist Worker

Yes, I knew Chas & Dave

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1779

Charles Clarke, chairman (unelected) of the Labour Party, last week declared his love for the US under George W Bush. In his youth, he admitted, 'I was a strong opponent of the foreign policy of the US,' and campaigned over issues such as US support for fascist states in Greece, Spain and Portugal, US support for dictatorships in Latin America, and the use of US troops in Cambodia and Vietnam.

But now, says Clarke, things have changed. Now we must all consider the proposition that the US is 'a force for good'. I knew Charles Clarke in his youth. I vividly recall my first National Union of Students (NUS) conference in Scarborough in 1975.

I was a bewildered first time delegate. Clarke was the NUS president. He had been elected as a member of the Broad Left. Just like now, this involved him ignoring the record of a brutal superpower. The only difference is that now the power is the US-then it was the USSR. The Broad Left was dominated politically by the Communist Party. Under Charles Clarke, the NUS was sucking up to Stalinist bureaucrats from Russia and Eastern Europe.

I remember an eye-opening debate about Chile (this was less than two years after General Pinochet had seized power). Instead of building solidarity with Chilean workers and students, the NUS had jointly organised an expensive seminar with the Russian-run International Union of Students on the issue.

Chilean revolutionaries (who might have criticised the Communist Party) were barred from this gathering. The fake Czech student union (a puppet of the state) was allowed to attend.

The Scarborough conference quite rightly condemned this move, and removed responsibility for international affairs from the national secretary. She was Clarke's Communist Party colleague Sue Slipman (yes, this is the same Slipman who was later to join David Owen's SDP and ended up with an OBE and as 'head of corporate responsibility' with lottery profiteer Camelot).

So Clarke's story is partly an old one about a man who went from admiring Stalinism to backing US imperialism. But perhaps there is another twist. At the same time as he was NUS president, Clarke was also chairman of the World Youth Council. This had well documented CIA links.

Five years later I was at my seventh NUS conference (we had two a year in those days) and the president was another man who now stands up for the US war in Afghanistan-the Independent columnist David Aaronovitch. He was then a committed member of the Communist Party, happy to defend the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Today he has gone West to find another bunch of murderers to grovel to. We should not be surprised at Aaronovitch's attitude towards the war. He has long abandoned any serious claim to be left wing. Two years ago he wrote that redistributing wealth to the poor would simply mean lining the 'pockets of pushers, publicans and betting shops'.

Reviewing a documentary about children trapped in poverty, he mused, 'I cannot have been the only one whose treacherous alter ego whispered 'eugenics' in their mind's ear.'

During the Cold War Socialist Worker said, 'Neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism'. We campaigned against all the crimes of the US, but did not cover up for Stalinism. Looking at Clarke and Aaronovitch today, that slogan seems even more correct.


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Sat 15 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1779
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