First Draft on Big Flame

Build the Party “First” or “Second”? How Big Flame Diverged from Trotskyist Groups in Seventies Britain

In “What Is A Big Flame Group?” (1975), the East London Big Flame chapter said, “We have recognized that the “communist movement” is not to be equated with the activities of the left groups, but is to be identified in the daily struggles of the working class against capital’s rule”[1] Setting aside the humility in this statement, both workers and left-wing militants were fundamental to socialist and communist movements worldwide. From 1971 until 1984, Big Flame (BF), a socialist-feminist organization founded by workers and ex-students in Liverpool, England, belonged to a panoply of “left groups” in Britain that organized outside of, and frequently against, the Labour Party and British Communist Party. The name “Big Flame” originates from the title of a 1969 television play, directed by Ken Loach and aired by BBC, about a dock workers’ strike in Liverpool.[2] Big Flame distinguished itself from “British Trotskyist” groups with the same anti-capitalist principles in three ways: rejecting the Leninist ‘vanguard party’ in favor of mass action, refusing sectarian approaches to recruitment, and centering women’s independent, feminist politics. This paper argues that Big Flame’s strategic decisions logically followed from each of these three stances.   

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