The Wrong Trousers directed by Nick Park in 1993 was one of three very successful stop-motion animation films starring Wallace and Gromit, a toothy eccentric inventor voiced by Peter Sallis, and his dog. The film was made and released between A Grand Day Out (1989) and A Close Shave (1995), but should be seen as the third culminating episode in the career of this loveable clay-fiction master and his loyal though often exasperated best friend.
A Grand Day Out takes Wallace and Gromit to the moon, the logical place to go when they have run out of cheese. The rocket that takes them there is one of many weird contraptions dreamt up by our wacky inventor hero and off they go, where Wallace discovers that the moon tastes like Wensleydale – good – but that a local cooker-creature doesn’t want them to take it. Their love of Wensleydale, by the way, boosted British exports of this crumbly rather second-rate creamy stuff when Wallace and Gromit films became popular. Then, in A Close Shave, new characters come onto the scene – Wendolene, her dog Preston, and Shaun the sheep – and it takes a few twists and turns of the plot for Wallace and Gromit, separated in the shenanigans that ensue, to get back together again. No plot spoilers here, that would be too cruel. But our hearts are in our mouths as we watch strange possible new alliances form that might expand the Wallace and Gromit household. Sadly, those fruitful alliances seem, after the event, to have been doomed to failure.
In The Wrong Trousers, Wallace gives Gromit a pair of techno-trousers for his birthday, but ends up being trapped by them himself when the penguin he had taken in as a lodger gets hold of the control mechanism, and takes sleeping Wallace off to the museum to steal a valuable diamond. It takes a while for poor Gromit, who has been sidelined by the penguin after winning Wallace’s affection, to work out what has been going on, and longer for Gromit to find a way of warning Wallace and exposing the penguin’s wicked scheme.
Workers’ Power’s Grand Day Out was in 1974, when dissident members of the International Socialists (now SWP) puked up another internal group into the outside world that had been organising as the Left Faction. They had run out of ideas in the SWP, so it was time to go and find some new ones outside. Luckily, or not, for the Trotskyists, this new group gravitated over the next five years or so away from the idea that Russia was ‘state capitalist’ (the calling card analysis of IS/SWP) toward the more standard position that it was a degenerate workers state. It clarified this position, as if it was a completely new home-grown invention, and in the process did battle with other unfortunate left groups which it merged with and then split from. The journey out into the left universe refreshed it and by 1980 it was back home and ready to go it alone again. New theoretical contraptions had to be mocked up in order to mark itself out from what was then a fairly crowded field back on earth.
We pick up the trajectory of Workers’ Power, mainly led by Richard Brenner (who will be voiced by Peter Sallis when he goes into the dark again) in 2013, the year of the SWP rape crisis, something that was to have disastrous consequences for women who were still with the state capitalists, but which also reenergised the young left activists who were beginning to remake connections between socialism and feminism. The question is, of course, Whose close shave? Well, first, it was Left Unity who were unlucky enough to have Workers’ Power join them to piss off new members seeking a way out of the sectarian swamp.
Then it was a real possibility of romance that Workers’ Power muscled in on and helped mess up; the possible ‘regroupment’ taking place between different fragments burnt by old-left command and control politics. The key player here was the International Socialist Network which consisted mainly of ex-members of the SWP who had made the first break with their abusive home organisation in 2013, and who were now working closely with the Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI). This is when new avatars of Wendolene, Preston and Shaun come onto the scene, and part of the problem is knowing who is who, who you can trust to be engaging in the discussions in good faith, and who you can’t.
Leading members of the ACI had broken from Workers’ Power the year before, taking out most of its ‘Revolution’ youth organisation, but when the ACI and ISN were avidly courted by Socialist Resistance to build a new joint organisation – and it would have been a big step bringing in some of the best of the new activists together – lingering affections for their old comrades led some involved to ask if Workers’ Power could tag along; a big mistake, for it meant the end of the regroupment project (something that was not helped by the Socialist Resistance leadership becoming hopelessly enamoured with the newly emerging RS21 during the process).
There was a danger, of course, that Workers’ Power could haemorrhage more members to a new joint organisation in the process, and so Richard Brenner rushed around the country to keep the comrades in line. When Workers’ Power were asked if they would continue organising as a separate party inside a future fused organisation, they would robotically repeat that they would wait and see. They had their own escape vehicle almost ready, not completely built, but with the first panels and nuts and bolts stuck together in the form of an unstable rickety ship it called The League for the Fifth International. It was a close shave indeed for the British far left, for a lash up that incorporated them would have ended in the destruction of every other group involved. Those new alliances to expand the Workers’ Power household came to naught.
And so we come to The Wrong Trousers, in which Richard Brenner was completely trapped inside his Wallace persona, dragging along the rest of the comrades, who, by turns, rolled their eyes at new schemes to build Workers’ Power and the Fifth International, and at others lie doggo until Richard pushed them into action. That was until they spoke up for trans-rights, and anatomically-correct Richard left the group. The ‘wrong trousers’ in this case is actually a bigger machine, the Labour Party, into which Workers’ Power stuck itself after saying goodbye to Left Unity. In it goes, and though they claim to have shut up shop in 2015, click on the Britain tab of the Fifth International site and you will be taken quick as a flash to Red Flag, and there they are proclaiming they are the ‘British Section’. They have trimmed down their programme now, keeping in their pockets their trademark call for resistance against Ukraine, which is depicted as a fascist state. You can still work out who is in Workers’ Power when they either try to stitch in a tendentious reference to Ukraine in joint platform proposals or react badly if you refer to the Maidan movement as in any way positive or even contradictory; it’s the opposite of ‘say cheese’ to these Wallace and Gromits, don’t say ‘Ukraine’.
Like most every other group, Workers’ Power has its own particular programmatic fetish-points to justify its own separate existence. As we know from The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and A Grand Day Out, however, it is not actually Wallace and his new wheezes, who is the brightest item in the group. The Revolution youth group showed the way, turned from being Gromit into something really alive, something that did give hope to the left. The rest of the Gromits need to follow them, leaving behind the old men of clay.
This is part of the FIIMG Mapping the British Left through Film project.