History of British Trotskyism
The present work is a unique contribution to the history of British Trotskyism. Ted Grant became the chief theoretician of British Trotskyism during the Second World War, and was responsible for writing all the main political documents of the tendency. Ever since, for a period of something like six decades, he has been a central figure in the Trotskyist movement. This has given him colossal personal experience, which he has drawn upon to produce this book, which spans the origins of British Trotskyism to the break-up of the Revolutionary Communist Party in June 1949. These were tumultuous years of revolution and counter-revolution, depression, fascism and world war, which tested Trotskyism to the limit. The way in which the movement was able to face up to its historic tasks, its successes and failures, is outlined in this book.
Over the last 70
years, Ted has made a lasting contribution to the Trotskyist movement, and he
is regarded by many as the foremost Marxist theoretician alive. Today, he
remains an active and leading figure within the Socialist Appeal group
Ted Grant was born
In his youth, he
was inspired by events in
Ted’s elder sister Rae vividly remembers how her mother fed the family and friends, including Ralph, at a large household table – French stew seems to have been the favourite dish. Ralph, who became a close friend of the family, was six years Ted’s senior. 'Ralph and Ted were inseparable', said Rae. 'Once Ralph convinced Ted about Marxism, that changed everything for him,' she recalls. 'I used to go on long walks with Ralph and he also tried to win me over to Marxism, but I was busy with another circle of friends, so he never succeeded.' 
He did, however,
convince Ted’s younger sister Zena to join the Trotskyist movement. Lee with
others, including the fifteen-year old Ted Grant, had made contact with the
international Trotskyist movement in early 1929 via the American Militant,
which had been dispatched to
story of how the South African Trotskyists began their revolutionary work under
the most difficult conditions imaginable is one of the most interesting parts
of the present book. Their work in the Johannesburg Laundry Workers Union
remains an inspiration today. But the conditions in
On their arrival
Shortly after his
Ted Grant’s early years in the South African group had given him a sound theoretical grounding in Marxism which placed him in good stead for the role he was to later play in the Trotskyist movement. After a few years, the failure of the leadership of the Militant Group to develop the tendency in any meaningful way, led to a growing dissatisfaction within its ranks. By the autumn of 1937, Ted’s own branch in Paddington had become the most active section of the Group, selling the bulk of its newspapers, intervening in the wider labour movement, and engaging in extensive public activity.
Towards the end of
the year, a row erupted over the election of the Group’s leadership, where
slanders were circulated about Ralph Lee. Lee had recently joined the Militant
Group after arriving with others from
remarked that sometimes a split could be a healthy thing. The 1937-38 split
certainly came into this category, as subsequent events proved. It constituted
a decisive step forward in the development of Trotskyism in
covering the war years is also well documented in this book. It was a testing
time. In the first few months of the war, a part of the leadership went to
Above all, the WIL
enthusiastically embraced the new proletarian military policy when Trotsky
first put it forward. This was in reality a development and deepening of the
Internationalists’ position during the First World War, and, while maintaining
a principled opposition to the imperialist war, allowed the Trotskyists to
connect with the working class. The interpretation of the new policy in Youth
for Socialism did, however, lead to a dispute within the leadership in
February 1941, with Ted and Healy (the 'majority') on one side, and
Millie, Jock Haston and Sam Levy (the 'minority') on the other. According to Millie, things got quite heated. But after a few
articles in the internal bulletin the argument fizzled out. More pressing was
the invasion of the
The comrades of the WIL decisively challenged the attacks of the Stalinists, who after June 1941, took on a rabid chauvinist and strike-breaking role. The WIL, in a clear change in orientation, changed the name of its paper from Youth for Socialism to Socialist Appeal. The WIL energetically turned towards the factories, built up their position in industry and developed a national profile. In contrast, the official section of the International, the Revolutionary Socialist League, which rejected the proletarian military policy, collapsed. Eventually, its remnants fused with the WIL to form the RCP in 1944.
Jock Haston, Roy Tearse, Heaton Lee and Ann Keen were arrested for supporting a
national unofficial strike of apprentices. After their release from prison, the
RCP turned for the first time towards the parliamentary plane, and engaged in a
by-election contest in the Welsh constituency of Neath. This allowed them to
test out their ideas, build their profile and develop their organisation in
Without doubt, the WIL and the RCP played an outstanding role in the Second World War. Given their legal status, and correct policies, they were able to take advantage of the possibilities and connect with the advanced layers of the working class. Their success prompted the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, to supply the War Cabinet with a secret memo outlining the policies of the RCP, and giving brief biographies of its leaders. Although it was not carried through in the end, it is clear that the capitalist class was seriously considering banning the RCP. Due to their work, the British Trotskyists emerged from the war years with a solidly proletarian organisation greatly strengthened numerically and with important points of support within the labour movement. It can be said without any exaggeration that the WIL/RCP is likely to have conducted the most successful work in wartime of any Trotskyist organisation in the world.
The immediate post
war period opened up tremendous challenges before the international Trotskyist
movement. The victory of the Red Army against German fascism greatly
This new world situation, not foreseen by the Trotskyists, served to falsify their original war-time perspective of the movement of either a restoration of capitalism in the USSR or a political revolution, and a revolutionary crisis that would undermine the old parties and prepare the way for the creation of mass Trotskyist parties. In the words of Trotsky, 'not one stone upon another would be left of the old organisations, and the Fourth International would become the dominant force on the planet.' But the Trotskyists were far too weak to take advantage of the revolutionary situation that followed the war. Power fell into the hands of the Stalinist and reformist leaders, who, as in 1918, betrayed the movement and handed the power over to the bourgeoisie.
This new situation urgently required a new perspective to reorientate the international Trotskyist movement. The leadership of the RCP quickly came to an understanding of the new realities and changed their perspective accordingly. Ted Grant played a key role in this reorientation. It was his grasp of the Marxist method that permitted him to understand and explain what was taking place. By contrast, all the 'leaders' of the Fourth International behaved like hopeless formalists and empiricists and were therefore incapable of grasping what was going on under their noses. Having completely failed to understand Trotsky’s dialectical method, they simply repeated his past words and statements, which were not applicable to the new situation. Rather than change the original prognosis, they clung to it like grim death.
Of course, the RCP
leaders were not the only ones who sought to disentangle and understand what
was taking place. In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, other
individuals also made a serious attempt to grapple with the new situation – at
least to begin with. These included in particular David Rousset in
represented minorities within their own national sections. They were forced to
fight an unsuccessful rearguard struggle against the ideas of the International
leadership. They were either subsequently marginalized or expelled, or both.
Their isolated opposition reduced their ability to arrive at a fully worked-out
position and they subsequently went off in different political tangents. The
same was true of the later Vern-Ryan tendency within the American SWP. The
leaders of the RCP had a great advantage. These 'dissidents' in the
International had the political majority within the British section. They were
thus able to work out their views in a comprehensive form and to arrive at an
accurate Marxist appraisal of what was developing in
As the leading theoretician of the RCP, Ted was able to extend and develop Marxist theory in a whole series of new directions after 1945. These ranged from the Marxist theory of the state to the defence of Marxist economic theory, from the peculiar development of the colonial revolution to Marxist tactics towards the mass organisations and party building. These documents are an important legacy that deserves to be far better known to the new generation of revolutionaries internationally.
The period of Ted
Grant’s 'memoirs' contained in this book is a unique account by a
leading participant and key theoretician of the Trotskyist movement. He
examines the issues and difficulties facing the revolutionary tendency, and
reveals the different positions taken at the time by its leading participants.
However, this book is not simply a history, but an attempt to pass on the rich
lessons from this turbulent period to the new generation of Marxists both in
It was inevitable that part of the present work should deal also with the intrigues perpetrated by the so-called leaders of the International against the leadership of the British Trotskyists. Brought out clearly are the key contributions of individuals such as Ralph Lee and Jock Haston, as well as the miserable role of Gerry Healy, James P. Cannon, Michael Pablo, Pierre Frank and Ernest Mandel.
From 1943, Cannon had conspired to remove the leadership of the British section and replace it with a more compliant set of individuals. Cannon was schooled in the methods of Zinoviev and regarded himself as a Zinovievite at least until 1928. He intrigued with Healy, who led a minority within the RCP, to destroy the Haston-Grant leadership. The International leaders supported a split in the RCP, with Healy’s minority entering the Labour Party in late 1947, and the eventual fusion of the two groups in mid-1949, on Healy’s terms.
As the book explains, their support for Healy and their sabotage of the British section – in which Pierre Frank also played a prominent role – resulted tragically in the break-up of the RCP in June 1949 and the destruction of a whole layer of experienced cadres. Cannon’s stooge, Healy, together with their cronies in the leadership of the International, was directly responsible for this criminal state of affairs.
Once the fusion
took place under Healy’s leadership, he acted in the most dictatorial fashion,
expelling people on the most trivial pretexts. As a result, Jock Haston was by
now completely demoralised. The activities of Healy and the clique in
Tony Cliff and his
supporters, who held to the false position of state capitalism, were never
threatened with expulsion from the RCP because of their views. Now Healy
unceremoniously booted them out of the Club. Those who failed to vote for the
expulsions were themselves expelled! The Cliff group subsequently moved away
from Trotskyism and organised themselves as the Socialist Review group. Their
'state capitalist' position led them to take a neutral position in
the Korean War, failing to defend the deformed workers’ state of
Despite this and other fundamental disagreements, Ted Grant vehemently protested against the treatment of the Cliff group and the violation of their democratic rights. This was used by Healy as the pretext for Ted’s own expulsion! He was expelled after 22 years membership of the Trotskyist movement. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Fourth International, and had his expulsion ratified at the Third World Congress on the motion of Ernest Mandel (Germaine). Scandalously, Mandel described Haston and Grant as 'embodying the tendency of British Trotskyism, which obstinately refused to integrate itself into the International, to assimilate the new course of Trotskyism.'
A whole layer simply dropped out of revolutionary politics from sheer disillusionment with the 'new course'. The movement, which showed so much promise, was in ruins. 'It now seems clear [sic],' says the then Healy follower Harry Ratner years later, 'that Healy and his closest collaborators actually welcomed these defections as removing a threat to their own leadership, so much so that others who did not resign, such as Ted Grant, Roy Tearse and Jimmy Deane, were expelled on various pretexts. For example, when Jock Haston’s expulsion was moved in the Political Bureau of the Club (comrades were not allowed just to resign, they had to be expelled), and Jimmy Deane asked that Haston be given the chance to produce a written statement in his defence before the vote of expulsion was put, he was told that ’it is necessary that you indicate in writing political support for the resolution condemning Haston without reservations immediately’. Refusing to do so, Deane was expelled for ’cryptic sympathy’ with Haston. When Roy Tearse refused to break off personal relations with Haston he, too, was expelled.'
The events of 1950, which represented the destruction of the British section of the Fourth International, constituted a watershed in the development of British Trotskyism. This period marks the end of Ted Grant’s 'history'. The new chapter in the subsequent development of the Trotskyist movement, which brings the story up until the present day, is outlined in the 'postscript' at the end of the book.
Marx explained that history is made by individuals. The colossal contribution by Ted Grant in the history of our movement is an inspiration to all those fighting to change society. This book is a valuable part of our heritage and deserves to be studied by the new generation awakening to the ideas of Trotskyism and the ideals of the socialist future.
18 March 2002
'Learning not to forget the past in
order to foresee the future is our first, our most important task.'
Leon Trotsky, 27 July 1929.
Our movement – the Trotskyist movement – has a very rich history stretching back many decades. An understanding of our history is important from the point of view of appreciating the way in which a revolutionary movement develops. An understanding of the past sheds light on how a Marxist tendency grows and prepares itself for the titanic events of the future. The history of our tendency can be traced back directly to the great work of Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition in the 1920s and in fact stretches back even further to the heroic days of the Third International under Lenin and Trotsky.
The genesis of our
This was not
achieved without internal difficulty. Lenin had to use his personal authority
to persuade the British leadership to abandon their sectarianism and, in order
to influence reformist workers, apply for affiliation to the Labour Party. By
1923, significant changes in its approach and orientation had been carried
through. The CPGB had gone through a re-organisation and was undertaking
serious work in the trade unions through the creation of the Minority Movement,
as well as creating points of support within the Labour Party. Everything
seemed set for a big advance for the Communist movement in
However, just at
this time, during 1923-4, the bureaucratic reaction within the
This process found its reflection inside the Russian Communist Party where this upstart caste of officials gravitated around the figurehead of Stalin, who, with his narrow administrative and purely national outlook was best suited to reflect their conservative views and material interests. The theory of 'socialism in one country', put forward in the autumn of 1924, was a reflection of the bureaucracy’s disdain for the world revolution. They wished to be left alone to 'get on' with the task of running the Soviet state - without the irksome interference of workers’ democracy. Lenin was increasingly alarmed at the rise of the bureaucracy in state and Party institutions and formed a bloc with Trotsky to combat it. But from 1922 Lenin was incapacitated through a series of strokes, and behind the scenes the triumvirate of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev was manoeuvring to isolate Trotsky. Lenin’s Testament – in which he demanded Stalin’s removal as general secretary and described Trotsky as the most able member of the Central Committee, was hidden from the Party membership, and a campaign of lies and slander was orchestrated against Trotsky and the Opposition.
After Lenin’s last
illness, Trotsky took upon his shoulders the struggle against Stalin and the
growing bureaucratic menace, fighting for the Leninist programme of proletarian
internationalism and workers’ democracy. He launched the Left Opposition in
late 1923 after the failure of the German Revolution in an attempt to defend
the fundamental ideas of Lenin which were being systematically revised and
discarded. The outbreak of this struggle within
clash was first reported to the British Party in early 1924, soon after the
death of Lenin. Reports were carried in the party press of the resolution
passed at the Thirteenth Conference of the Soviet Communist Party condemning
Trotsky’s factionalism and classifying 'Trotskyism' as a petty
bourgeois deviation. By the end of the year, attacks on 'Trotskyism'
became more frequent. Tom Bell, the general secretary, introduced a resolution
condemning Trotsky at the Party Council on 30 November 1924. Completely
ignoring the political issues at stake, he stressed Trotsky’s failure to adhere
to party rules as his main argument in condemning the Opposition. 'The
question of Trotsky, it seems to us, is a question of discipline. We are not
arguing or discussing the ideological approach of Trotsky to the question as a
whole. Our party is concerned fundamentally with the question of
A report of the Party Council was then given to a 300-strong London Aggregate in January 1925. J T Murphy, despite only having a summary of Trotsky’s views, outlined the case against Trotsky and his violation of the decisions of the Russian Party and the International in reopening the debate on the Opposition views deemed 'closed' by the party. In the meeting, Trotsky was defended by Arthur Reade, a member of the London District Committee, who moved a resolution regretting the 'hasty vote of the Party Council' in condemning Trotsky and called on the CPGB to support the left wing of the Russian Party. After the discussion, Reade’s motion received, according to the report of the Weekly Worker, 10 votes. (Workers Weekly, 23 January 1925). On 30 January, Reade wrote to the paper complaining that there were only 200 present, and that his motion for adjournment was only defeated by 81 to 65, and in the final vote, his motion received 15 votes. In any case, the leadership won hands down.
The British CP,
which had shown little interest in political theory or disputes over
'socialism in one country', had fully swung behind the party leaders
Murphy was forced to recognise, even at this time, Trotsky’s colossal reputation and authority within the ranks of the Comintern. In his preamble he states: 'Comrade Trotsky’s name has always been associated in our minds with Comrade Lenin. ’Lenin and Trotsky!’ These were the names with which we conjured up in all our thoughts and feelings about the Russian Revolution and the Communist International. As the news of the Russian Revolution spread westward, these two figures loomed gigantically above our horizon and we never thought of differences We saw only leaders, Soviets and masses, and over all the great historical giants, Lenin and Trotsky.' Nevertheless, a string of articles, which filled the majority of this book from Comintern leaders, were used to reinforce the myth of 'Trotskyism'.
It is interesting
to note that every one of the people who wrote these anti-Trotsky articles was
either expelled or in disfavour with
of the Communist International had serious effects in
'The book,' wrote Trotsky later, 'was aimed essentially at the official conception of the Politburo, with its hope of an evolution to the left by the British General Council, and of a gradual and painless penetration of communism into the ranks of the British Labour Party and trade unions.'
This was no mere speculation. At the Fifth Congress of the Communist International in 1924 Zinoviev, who was still in alliance with Stalin, after referring to the British CP as the most important section of the International, stated: 'We do not know exactly when the Communist Mass Party of England will come, whether only through the Stewart-MacManus door or through some other door.' The 'other door' was through a 'deal' with the left wing of the Labour Party and trade unions, which was to have disastrous consequences in the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee and the disorientation of the British CP during the General Strike of 1926.
As a result of the
acceptance of Stalin’s policies, which now veered sharply towards opportunism,
the British Communist Party increasingly lost sight of its independent role in
the scheme of things. After a TUC delegation had visited the Soviet Union in
In the course of the General Strike, the Communist Party grew to around 10,000 members, but within a short time space of time, the bulk of the new recruits dropped away and left the Party. During the strike, the CPGB had failed to act as an independent revolutionary party, warning of the dangers from the left as well as the right. Despite the demands of the Left Opposition for the Soviet trade unions to break with the British TUC over their betrayal of the strike and resign from the Anglo-Russian committee, the Stalinists instead held on to their coat-tails, until they were unceremoniously dropped by their fair-weather friends. For the advanced workers, it was not only the treacherous actions of the left reformists that were discredited, but also the role of the Communist Party, which acted as a 'revolutionary' cover for the fake lefts. This was the result of the opportunist line that was imposed on the British Communists by the Russian leadership.
A few months after
Palme Dutt had written his article praising Trotsky, Thaelmann, the German
Communist leader, remarked that the British CP was the only major party that
had no differences with the Executive Committee of the Communist International
(ECCI). It was regarded as the most 'loyal' and its leaders, after a
period of selection, considered the most pliable by the Kremlin. Pollitt and
Co. simply followed every change in the party Line. On all occasions, they were
with the 'majority'. The British Party accepted the official Line
The right-opportunist policy of the Stalinists in appeasing the 'lefts' in the British TUC had seriously undermined the British Communists. But this betrayal paled in insignificance beside the terrible catastrophe of the defeat of the Chinese Revolution, which was caused by the policies of Stalin and Bukharin.
Between 1925 and
1927, the unfolding drama of the Chinese Revolution gripped the imagination of
the Communist movement internationally. At this time, the Chinese CP was the
only mass working class party in existence. It was poised to play a leading
role within the revolution and had every chance of carrying through a Chinese
'October'. However, the opportunist policy pursued by Stalin was also
affecting developments in
Trotsky alone had
warned against the policy of collaborating with Chiang Kai-Shek. But the defeat
The expulsion of
the Left Opposition in November 1927 constituted a defeat for the genuine
forces of Leninism within the Communist Parties. This opened the way for the
shift to the left by Stalin and his elimination later of the Right Opposition
of Bukharin. It marked a further step in the consolidation of the bureaucracy
From 1924 onwards,
Stalin repeatedly carried out purges in one Communist Party after another. In
was in complete contrast to the situation in
From this time
onwards, there was complete and uncritical support by the British leadership
for the Stalinist Line. Among the most servile followers of
This lack of understanding
of theoretical issues had long been a hallmark of the British labour movement.
As Marx and Engels noted, theory was never a strong point in the British
working class, which tended towards empiricism and pragmatism. But without
theory there can be no genuine Marxist-Leninist Party. The slavish support for
By 1927, the
balance of forces inside
1927-28 it was clear that there was a real danger of counter-revolution in
their fingers with the previous right wing policy, the Stalin wing now swung
one hundred and eighty degrees to the left and adopted an adventurist policy
also on an international scale. Taking their lead blindly from
As a corollary to
this lunacy, the Stalinists proclaimed that all other parties except themselves
were 'fascist'. In particular, the social-democratic organisations
were said to have become fascist – or 'social fascist' – in
character. 'Social democracy and fascism', said Stalin, 'are
twins and not opposites.' Social democracy was therefore considered the
main enemy of the working class. As a result, everywhere, the Stalinists split
and paralysed the working class movement. The worst results were experienced in
The second Labour
Government, elected in 1929, was a government of crisis. The crisis hit
In 1931 the crisis
manifested itself in the collapse of big banks and industrial concerns in
Europe, beginning with the collapse of the Anstalt-Kredit bank in
On the other hand, the ruling class now wanted to get rid of the Labour Government and replace it with a more reliable instrument for carrying out an all-out offensive against the working class. They set out to split the Labour Party, making use of the services of the right wing led by MacDonald. In 1931 they carried out a parliamentary coup that established a National Government, when MacDonald and the right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party joined forces with the Tories and a section of the Liberals. They then organised a panic election on the 'National Unity' ticket, which won an overwhelming majority later in the year.
In this election,
the Labour vote fell sharply to 6,648,000, while the Tories got 11,800,000 –
almost double the Labour figure – and the total 'National' vote was
14,500,000. Labour seats that had been safe for 20 years were lost in the
debacle. Every Labour minister lost his seat except for George Lansbury. Only
49 Labour MPs remained in
However, in the short run, the labour movement was in a state of complete turmoil, which expressed itself in the rapid crystalisation of a mass left wing around the Independent Labour Party (ILP). The leaders of the ILP were insistently demanding the right to act as a separate party. In fact, they virtually had this right anyway, since Lansbury, the new leader of the Labour Party, was on the left and inclined to make compromises to keep them inside the Labour Party. However, as typical confused centrists, the ILP leaders made this organisational question into a question of 'principle'. They were convinced that the Labour Party was completely counter-revolutionary and that to accept its discipline in any way would be 'treachery'. The Stalinists who were attempting to win the ILP over encouraged this childishness. In actual fact, the programme and policy of the ILP was not qualitatively different from that of the Labour Party, which moved sharply to the left after 1931. By splitting away – which they did in Easter 1932 – the ILP leaders cut the advanced workers off from the mass, which was also moving to the left, but needed time to draw all the conclusions.
Up until this
point those who had developed an interest and sympathy in Trotskyism in
Towards the end of
the 1920s, a couple of middle-class intellectuals, Frank Ridley and Chandu Ram,
(the same Ridley who later on played a role as an adviser to the ILP
leadership) got in touch with Trotsky with a view to founding a Left Opposition
group in Britain. But Trotsky, although keen to establish a base in
Ridley and Ram
were wildly sectarian and ultra-left and had no idea of how to build a genuine
movement. They saw the results of the 1931 general election as a transitional
stage between bourgeois democracy and fascism. Trotsky answered their arguments
point by point, rejecting their perspective of imminent fascism in
situation had a profound impact on
From the small
Sometimes, accidents can play an important role in history. Old Hegel long ago said that necessity expresses itself through accident, and what happened at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern was a good example of this dialectical law. In 1928, the American Communist James Cannon and his Canadian comrade Maurice Spector, while attending the Sixth Congress in Moscow, by accident got hold of a copy of Trotsky’s brilliant document entitled the Critique of the Draft Programme of the Communist International, which sharply criticised the erroneous position of Bukharin and Stalin, and especially exposed the anti-Marxist theory of 'socialism in one country', which had been put forward by Stalin at the end of 1924. This critique was a landmark in the ideological arming of the Left Opposition internationally. In a truly prophetic statement, Trotsky warned that if this position were adopted by the Communist International, it would inevitably mark the beginning of a process that would lead to the nationalist and reformist degeneration of every Communist Party in the world. Three generations later, his prediction – which was ridiculed by the Stalinists at the time – has been shown to be correct.
Stalin had no intention of circulating Trotsky’s document. But by a strange accident of history, that is what happened. At that time, when the Stalinist regime had not yet been consolidated, the Communist International still had to observe certain norms of democratic centralism, which permitted the circulation of minority opinions. Although Trotsky had been expelled from the Russian Party a year earlier, he took advantage of the Congress to appeal to the Communist International. In the process he submitted his document on the Draft Programme. Through a blunder in the apparatus, they circulated Trotsky’s document to the heads of the delegations, including members of the programme commission. It was here that James Cannon and Maurice Spector first saw and read Trotsky’s document.
slip-up in the apparatus in
comrades James Cannon, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, who were members of the
Central Committee of the American Communist Party, together with Spector in
Communist League began to publish a newspaper called The Militant in
November 1928. Using some good old American enterprise, they got their hands on
the Communist Party’s mailing lists and then sent bundles of papers to as many
progressive bookshops worldwide as they could, including in
opposition arose in the two branches of the Communist Party in south
When faced with a
Trotskyist opposition within the British CP, the leaders of the Party, Pollitt,
Gallacher, and Palme Dutt naturally came down hard. They wrote material in The
Communist, the theoretical journal of the CP, and in the pages of the Daily
Worker, denouncing the united front of workers’ organisations in
'Question: Cannot the socialist and communists unite? Cannot all workers’ organisations – the Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the trade union and the co-operatives come together and do something to resist the drive to fascism?
'Answer: It is undoubtedly necessary to create working class unity but this must be unity between the workers in the factories and the streets, and not unity between the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, which is not a working class party’ For the Communist Party to unite with such a party would be to become an accomplice in the drive to fascist dictatorship.' (Daily Worker, 13 August 1932)
On 11 February 1933, the Daily Worker stated: 'He [James Maxton, ILP leader] presents the Social Democratic leadership as though it stood for the working class struggle against capitalism and was not in fact the chief support of capitalism. He conceals the fact that building the united working class front is only possible by a steady determined struggle against those whose policy is to split the front and disorganise the working class ranks - viz the Social Democratic leadership.' (Daily Worker, 11 February 1933)
And again on 4 May 1933, three months after Hitler’s victory: 'The enormous treachery of the social democracy has called forth such a storm of indignation among the workers of all countries that other parties of the Second International have even declined to come forward in their defence.
'But the social democrats have found one ally. And this is Trotsky. As a political cipher in the working class movement he has nothing to lose. He slobbers over the fascist jack-boot, calculating that he can make people talk about him, with the object of reappearing from his political oblivion for even one small hour at any price whatever.' (Daily Worker, 4 May 1933)
For these Party hacks, faithfully following Stalin’s Line, the social democrats were the main enemy of the working class, the main agency of capitalism within the ranks of the working class. The Stalinists talked glibly of a united front 'from below', as if the rank and file could be easily separated from its leadership. This ultra-left policy lead to disaster. This suicidal policy pursued by the German Stalinists led in the end to the victory of Hitler and the crushing of the German working class, and prepared the way for the Second World War.
Trotsky took a
personal interest in these developments in
In August 1932,
the majority of the comrades in the Balham and Tooting branches of the CP were
expelled for 'Trotskyism'. Excluded from the party, they had no
alternative but to form themselves into an openly Trotskyist organisation,
campaigning for a return to Leninist ideas. They called their group, made up of
a dozen people, the 'Communist League' and started to publish in May
a monthly paper called the Red Flag. The founding of the Communist
League represented a qualitative leap forward in the establishment of a genuine
Trotskyist organisation in
As soon as the Red Flag appeared Trotsky wrote a letter on 22 July 1933 welcoming this 'modest step forward', with the advice to study the policy of the CPGB alongside that of the Left Opposition in order to educate their ranks. 'While persistently striving to widen our influence among the workers, we must at the same time concentrate on the theoretical and political education of our own ranks', wrote Trotsky. 'We have a long and laborious road ahead of us. For this we need first-class cadres.'
The expulsion of the Balham Group from the CP resulted in complete isolation from the ranks of the Party. Yet while the road to the communist workers was closed, new opportunities for revolutionary work opened up elsewhere. The world economic crisis and the experience of the Labour Government 1929 -1931 had produced a massive left current within the ranks of the Labour Party. This reflected itself in the sharp swing to the left of the ILP, an affiliated section of the Labour Party with some 100,000 mainly working class supporters. Led by the group of Clydeside MPs, Maxton, McGovern and Campbell Stevens, they had waged a struggle against the capitalist policies of the McDonald government. The ranks of the ILP, under the hammer blow of events, were in ferment and were moving in a revolutionary direction. They were in the process of shifting from reformism in a centrist direction, and were endeavouring to draw revolutionary conclusions from their experience. For Marxism, centrism signifies a confused spectrum of ideas somewhere between reformism and revolution, which is an inevitable stage in the process of radicalisation of the masses.
The working class
learns through its experience, and especially through the experience of great
events that shake and transform the existing consciousness. Gradually, the
class begins to draw revolutionary conclusions. But this process is not
automatic. The mass cannot proceed immediately to a fully worked out
revolutionary programme. In the first place, when the masses move into
political action they always express themselves through their traditional mass
The crisis of capitalism therefore expresses itself in the formation of a mass left wing inside the existing mass organisations. This will at first inevitably have a left reformist or centrist character. The task of the Marxists is to participate in the mass left wing, to fertilise it with revolutionary ideas and assist the leftward-moving workers to draw revolutionary conclusions. Trotsky, who wrote in an article on the ILP, very well understood this: 'Similar processes are to be observed in other countries. A left wing forms within the social-democratic parties which splits off at the following stage from the party and tries with its own forces to pave for itself a revolutionary path.'
At its Easter 1932 conference, after MacDonald’s open betrayal and the formation of the National Government, the ILP took the decision to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. The disputed issue was over Labour’s standing orders and the independence of ILP Members of Parliament. According to Trotsky, this decision to disaffiliate was a mistake, splitting for the wrong reasons, using the wrong methods and at the wrong time. Nevertheless, Trotsky recognised that this split represented an attempted break with reformism, and opened possibilities for the emergence of a mass revolutionary current. After the victory of Hitler, Trotsky entered into an energetic correspondence with the ILP with a view to drawing it closer to the Trotskyist movement. At this time, the ILP leaders had moved close to the Communist Party on the basis of a so-called united front, and were under the influence of Stalinism. Trotsky sought to counteract this pernicious influence in a series of articles written for the ILP press, urging the party to clarify its ideas and join the initiative of the International Communist League in an international venture for a new workers’ international.
'The ILP can
save the workers’ movement of
Trotsky saw in these developments inside the ILP an enormous opportunity for the weak forces of British Trotskyism to overcome their isolation and connect with the mass movement of the working class. He was no stranger to the need for flexible tactics and a bold turn when events required it. Therefore, for the first time, in mid-1933 Trotsky raised the question of the entry of the Trotskyists into the ILP. His advice broadly speaking was that there were a hundred thousand workers moving towards revolutionary ideas, and it was therefore necessary that the comrades should actively participate in this mass movement in order to give it a revolutionary direction. The British Trotskyists should participate and try to win over the best elements if not the majority of the party to the programme of Bolshevism-Leninism, i.e. to the programme of Trotskyism.
Trotsky was scathing in his criticism of the sectarians who proclaim the independence of the party as a 'principle' – whether it is a party of one or one million. 'A Marxist party should, of course, strive to full independence and to the highest homogeneity', he wrote to the British comrades. 'But in the process of its formation, a Marxist party often has to act as a faction of a centrist and even reformist party. Thus the Bolsheviks adhered for a number of years to the same party as the Mensheviks. Thus, the Third International only gradually formed itself out of the Second.' He continued, 'It is worth entering the ILP only if we make it our purpose to help this party, that is, its revolutionary majority, to transform it into a truly Marxist party.'
When it was necessary to have a flexible attitude, the leadership of the British group simply dug in its heels and reiterated the so-called principle of the independence of the revolutionary party. In reply to Trotsky, they maintained that they would build a mass revolutionary party outside of the ILP, and outside of the Communist Party, simply by raising their banner. The argument over this issue lasted almost a year, and therefore valuable time was lost. In the meantime the field was left open to the Stalinists, who had finally realised the possibilities of work in the ILP. Unlike these hidebound sectarians, the Stalinists quickly sent forces into the ILP and established their faction around the Revolutionary Policy Committee.
The dogmatic attitude of the leading comrades was therefore a big obstacle. They refused point blank to countenance entry into the ILP. 'Doctrinaire intransigence is an essential trait of Bolshevism, but it makes up only 10 percent of its historic content; the other 90 percent is applying principles to the real movement; its participating in the mass organisations, above all the youth, who ask only for our support', warned Trotsky. Eventually, after a prolonged and heated argument, the issue led to a split in the organisation. While the experienced majority stuck rigidly to their guns, the minority of younger and more inexperienced comrades took Trotsky’s advice and entered the ILP.
Secretariat, rather than condemning the minority, under the circumstances urged
both groups to see what they could do, once they had freed themselves from the
factional atmosphere that had consumed the group over the previous period. For
the time being,
As could have been
predicted, these 'principled' leaders, who had so haughtily rejected
Trotsky’s advice to enter the ILP, very rapidly performed a complete
sommersault and ended up in the Labour Party on an entirely opportunist basis.
This is a law with the ultra-lefts everywhere. Their opportunism was only the
reverse side of their earlier ultra-left attitude. Very quickly they sank
almost without trace.
A small minority
of comrades, led by Denzil Harber and Stewart Kirby, entered the ILP in March
1934. They clearly faced an uphill struggle. Valuable time had been lost. The
ILP was already in decline, and rapidly losing membership. The Trotskyists were
numerically small – no more than a dozen strong. As a result of their political
inexperience, but also – it must be said – of their middle-class composition
and mentality, they failed to make the gains that Trotsky had thought possible.
But not all was lost. Despite the difficulties, they did make certain progress.
Their ideas had an effect on the best elements in and around the ILP and they
managed to win over some talented individuals, such as CLR James. James was a
West Indian who came over to
evolution of British Trotskyism was influenced in a decisive way by the
participation of new arrivals from
It is difficult
now for people to realise the terrible difficulties that faced the workers’
Ralph (or Raff,
which is short for Raphael) played an important role in the birth of South
African and British Trotskyism. He had been a member of the South African
Communist Party since 1922, but was expelled during the first Stalinist purges.
Ralph Lee had made contact with the international Trotskyist movement in early
1929 via the American Militant which had been dispatched to
Ralph Lee, himself
still only in his early twenties, was also closely associated with another
young Trotskyist, Murray Gow Purdy, who in turn had been a pupil of the very
first South African Trotskyist, Frank Glass - a founding member of the
Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). Glass and his wife, Fanny Klennerman,
had established a left-wing bookshop in
boarding school at 15, I got a job in a shipping company chasing up invoices.
This allowed me to travel around and also gave me free time to read. This I put
to full use studying the classics of Marxism. Ralph Lee organised a group of a
handful of people – apart from myself there was Purdy, Millie Kahn – who later
became Lee’s wife –
Millie had joined
the Trotskyists, having been at first influenced by her mother who was a friend
of Fanny Klennerman. Her sister, however, had joined the Communist Party, and
they would not speak to one another for years. After joining the group, she
moved to live with Lee in
In June 1934,
Purdy had become Organising Secretary of a revived African Laundry Workers’
After they were married, Ralph and Millie moved into a shack next to the union headquarters, and began to raise funds for the union. 'We lived next to the union offices,' recalls Millie. 'Sure, it was damned uncomfortable, but what did we care? They used to hold the union meetings in our back yard. We tried to raise money in various ways. I remember we collected bottles, cut off the tops, and then painted them. Raff was pretty good at art. But otherwise it was a dud financially.'
Within a matter of
months, and after a successful recruiting drive, a strike took place towards
the end of August, which resulted in the union winning recognition at a number
of firms. Millie recalls marching with the black strikers through the streets
Before the war,
the black working class in
Those who remained behind faced a very difficult time. The terrible problems are alluded to in the correspondence of the time. 'The caretaker in the tenement where Mil and I live,' wrote Lee, 'has objected to the ’Kaffirs’ who visit our room. We have been d’class’ for a long time with our neighbours, the usual riff-raff of billiard room rats, odd jobs gentlemen, canvassers, taxi drivers and trollops that inhabit ’buildings’. So now we pack up and move again.'
Purdy, who was an adventurer and somewhat unstable, clashed repeatedly with Lee. 'Our personal relations are now strained to the utmost', wrote Lee, 'the way he glowers openly at me during branch meetings is ludicrous, and we can hardly exchange a civil word, let alone discuss any questions.' To add to the strains, Purdy latched onto the 'French Turn' to create a fuss, increasing the internal difficulties of a small isolated group. In May Lee wrote, 'I feel quite despondent at this moment about the immediate prospects of the International and the Workers Party of South Africa’ Our immediate pressing task is to discover links with the masses of workers.' However in June, Lee wrote to Paul Koston, the secretary of the WPSA, 'party affairs are in a hell of a mess here.' Eventually, Purdy was expelled and the group reorganised.
Lee acted as the general secretary of the WPSA, which was the official section
of the International. Known to the Stalinists as '
The comrades had provided tremendous financial and moral support to the strike. Lee had 'worked tirelessly’ performing a score of tasks, approaching other organisations, collecting funds and even selling his few possessions to do so.' The Africans also paid testimony to the support they had received from 'coms. Heaton, Frieslich, Kahn, etc.'
Purdy, who had
developed extreme ultra-left tendencies, went off to Abyssinia, and then on to
after the laundry workers’ strike', writes Ian Hunter, 'two of the
youngest members of the group left
Together with Sid
Frost (Max Basch), I took a German-owned passenger-cargo ship, which took about
six weeks to reach Europe, stopping at numerous ports along the coast of
After a long
journey, our ship reached its final destination in
Trotsky was living
Sedov discussed a number of things with us, including the 'French
turn' and the situation in
Sid Frost and
myself arrived in
By this time,
within the ILP the supporters of the Revolutionary Policy Committee had built
up a significant left wing opposition to the leadership. They attempted to pull
the ILP in the direction of Stalinism. While this group had some criticisms of
the 'third period' ultra-leftism, they leaned towards the position of
Bukharin and the Communist Right Opposition. Their leading lights, Dr. CK
Cullen and Jack Gaster, worked hard to influence the ILP towards a fusion with
the Communist Party. These days, the Right Opposition of the Communist
International, the supporters of Buharkin-Brandler-Lovestone, are totally
unknown to most people even on the left. They have disappeared completely as a
political current not only in
In contrast to the
Right Opposition, Leon Trotsky, ever since his expulsion from the
At this time, the ILP leadership, true to its centrist position, wanted to maintain its 'independent' affiliation to the so-called London Bureau, an international body of centrist organisations. The ILP leaders, who had initially moved closer to the Communist Party, now pulled back in order to maintain their 'independence', by which they meant the right of the ILP leadership to have control over their own internal affairs, which they wanted to conduct without any outside interference – including from Moscow. By the time of its Easter conference in 1934, the ILP had severed its links with the Comintern. This constituted a major blow to the Stalinists but it opened a window of opportunity for the Trotskyists to forcefully raise the question of support for a Fourth International.
However, the ILP was determined to maintain their customary centrist stance of a so-called middle road between two 'extremes' – that is, to sink ever deeper into the centrist swamp. In the words of Brockway, 'The ILP experimented in many directions, at one time approaching the Communist International, at another moving towards the Trotskyist position.' For more than two years Trotsky had conducted a vigorous correspondence with the leaders of the ILP, hoping to break the best of them away from centrism and open the way for the development of a genuine revolutionary party. However, the ILP leadership chose to ignore Trotsky’s arguments and led the ILP into a political and organisational blind alley.
Throughout this period, the inexperienced forces of Trotskyism tried their best to influence the ranks of the ILP. However, their lack of authority, as well as their lack of understanding of how to work, made it difficult for these young comrades to make significant headway. Nevertheless, over a period, the organisation managed to get a toehold within the ILP. It was a beginning, but the opportunities within the ILP were disappearing fast.
The events in
In reality, it
would have been far better for the German workers to have fought – even if they
were defeated, which is not at all certain – than to surrender without a fight,
which is what happened. In such cases, the effect is total demoralisation. It
In 1934, 1935 and
1936, the British Union of Fascists, led by Sir Oswald Mosley, went onto the
offensive, lavishly supplied with money from big business and buoyed up by the
victories of fascism in
Roused by the
victory of Hitler, the British workers prepared to fight to defend their organisations.
We waged an energetic campaign for a workers’ united front against fascism.
Together with workers from the Communist Party, Labour Party, ILP and trade
unions, the Trotskyists, including myself, participated in the famous battle of
In October 1935
Mussolini’s fascist troops marched into
In the run up to
the general election of
Trotsky intervened in the discussions to oppose this position. For Trotsky, whether one was for or against sanctions was not of fundamental importance. In seats where the ILP was not contesting, he insisted, the ILP must give support to the Labour Party candidates, whether they supported sanctions or not. It was a class question of supporting a workers’ party against a bourgeois party. 'Moreover', stated Trotsky, 'the London Division’s policy of giving critical support only to anti-sanctionists would imply a fundamental distinction between the social-patriots like Morrison and Ponsonby or – with your permission – even Cripps. Actually, their differences are merely propagandistic. Cripps is actually only a second class supporter of the bourgeoisie.'
The Marxists wanted Labour to win the election in order to put the Labour leaders in power, so that their reformist policies could be put to the test. Here we can see the way in which Trotsky posed matters, very clearly, very soberly, very cautiously, but at the same time, posing a bold theoretical perspective for the movement.
By 1935, the Labour Party had recovered from the crushing blow of the 1931 defeat. The ILP on the other hand, as a result of its centrist politics, began to disintegrate and lose its active membership. Centrism is the most fatal position for a would-be revolutionary tendency. It was a halfway house that sought a middle path between Stalinism and Trotskyism, reformism and revolution. In the beginning, the ILP hankered after the Communist Party, which gave it a revolutionary aura. In doing so, it failed to turn its attention towards the mass organisations – the Labour Party and the trade unions. Trotsky said that the ILP, even with a hundred thousand members, was a very small organisation compared to the Labour Party.
Trotsky advised the ILP firstly to clarify their ideas and adopt a Marxist programme, secondly to face towards the workers in the reformist mass organisations – the unions and the Labour Party, and thirdly, to join the movement for a new Fourth International. He urged them to turn their back decisively on the Communist Party, which had dropped the old 'third period' ultra-leftism, but was now leaning towards opportunism, as expressed in the theory of the Popular Front. This represented a serious danger to the leftward-moving workers. Instead, he recommended them to turn towards the Labour Party. The Labour Party, he argued, was based on the trade unions, and the trade unions were composed of millions of workers. He considered that the ILP leaders had split from the Labour Party prematurely – at the wrong time and on the wrong issue:
split from the Labour Party chiefly for the sake of its parliamentary
fraction', wrote Trotsky. 'We do not intend here to discuss whether
the split was correct at that given moment, and whether the ILP
gleaned from it the expected advantages. We don’t think so. But it remains a
fact that for every revolutionary organisation in
Trotsky sharply criticised the ILP leaders for their confused policies, their pacifism and their failure to face towards the Labour Party. Trotsky wrote many letters to the ILP explaining these issues and urging them to reconsider their position. But this advice fell on deaf ears. The ILP leaders simply ignored Trotsky’s advice. 'What does Trotsky know of the real position in Britain being so far away in Norway – on the heights of Oslo?' they jibbed. They appreciated his views against Stalinism – which they used to great effect – but completely ignored his revolutionary criticisms of centrism.
Although at the time of the split the ILP may have had the support of around 100,000 workers, they were soon reduced to impotence. The mass of workers could not see any fundamental difference between the confused centrist ideas of the ILP and the left reformist policies being advocated by Lansbury and Attlee, who, under the pressure of the working class, began to talk very 'left'. Where there are two reformist parties with no fundamental difference in programme and policy, the workers will always tend to support the bigger of the two.
The false policies and orientation of the ILP leaders eventually resulted in a sharp decline in their membership and support. From a large organisation - with the potential of becoming a mass movement – instead, the ILP became a rump. Thousands and thousands of members of the ILP simply drifted into inactivity, and moved out of the movement altogether. All that was left of the ILP in the end was an empty shell – and the enormous property the ILP had built up. They possessed a big apparatus. In every part of the country, in every district, there were ILP rooms and buildings. But that was all. The ILP, which started with so much potential for developing a mass revolutionary party, due to its false policies and sectarian approach, squandered everything. The hopes of hundreds of thousands of revolutionary-minded workers were dashed. Within a measurable space of time the Labour Party recovered and began to move to the left.
As early as April
1935, there were growing doubts about our work in the ILP and also about the
functioning of the Marxist Group. Having worked closely with the British
comrades for a number of months, we became increasingly dissatisfied with the
leadership and the way in which the group was functioning. In April
1934 Annual Conference the decline in the membership and influence of the ILP
has continued steadily', the letter explained. 'A year ago the then
secret Bolshevik-Leninist fraction in the ILP had a little under thirty
members, almost all active. All these were in
Regarding the real gains that were made in the ILP, the letter states: 'Since the entry of the Minority of the old Communist League into the ILP not one member of the party has been won over to our position in the London Division, all our support having come from either new members (whom, in most cases, we had converted to Bolshevik-Leninism before they joined the ILP), or from old ILPers who had, to a greater or lesser extent, adopted our position before we had entered – in most cases owing to the propaganda carried out by the old Communist League.' (Emphasis in original).
The letter then turned to the internal situation within the Marxist Group. 'With regard to the internal position of the group of Bolshevik-Leninists, the position is far worse today than it was a year ago.' We observed a dangerous growth of centrist tendencies within the group itself. There was a 'fetish of doing ILP work and of ’loyalty’ to the ILP leadership and constitution.' As an example of this, it says 'recently two South African comrades said in a private discussion with comrade [Margaret] Johns, a member of the committee of the Marxist Group, that they thought that under certain circumstances, the Labour League of Youth (youth organisation of the Labour Party) might be found to be a better field for our work than the ILP. At the next meeting of the Holborn Branch of the ILP (of which both comrade Johns and the South African comrades are members), comrade Johns, in the absence of the South African comrades, accused them of disloyalty to the ILP, in as much as they thought the Labour League of Youth a better organisation than the ILP, and on these grounds moved their expulsion from the branch and from the party [sic!]. Certain of our comrades managed to get this matter postponed for a time so that the comrades in question should have an opportunity for defending themselves.'
The two South
Africans referred to were Sid Frost and myself. We had been in
This letter must
have influenced the views of the International Secretariat about the situation
In analysing the
Trotsky wrote to our comrades in the ILP urging them to make the necessary turn towards the Labour Party. He told them they should prepare the ground by campaigning for the ILP to affiliate to the Labour Party. If the ILP refused to re-affiliate to the Labour Party, or even consider the question seriously, we should call on all revolutionaries to leave with us and join the struggle within the Labour Party. In the process, we would need to explain that the ILP was doomed as a revolutionary force, and we needed to draw all the necessary conclusions. The ILP could not now play the role that they had once hoped it would play, and it was necessary now to take all revolutionary forces into the Labour Party. Above all, in Trotsky’s view, it was from the Labour Youth that the future major forces of British Trotskyism would emerge.
At each historical turn in events, there tends to be a split in the movement. What happened in 1933 would be repeated again in 1936. Trotsky raised this question of entry into the Labour Party, but the majority of the ILP comrades, including the leadership, were opposed and not prepared to follow his advice. They had, in effect, adapted themselves to life within the ILP. They were again determined to cling to the corpse, maintaining that black was white and the ILP offered the only way forward. For them work in the ILP was a 'principled question', when in reality it was a question of tactics, as the Old Man pointed out:
'It is not enough for a revolutionist to have correct ideas', wrote Trotsky. 'Let us not forget that correct ideas have already been set down in Capital and in The Communist Manifesto. But that has not prevented false ideas from being broadcast. It is the task of the revolutionary party to weld together the correct ideas with the mass labour movement. Only in this manner can an idea become a driving force’
'To conclude: the Koran says that the mountain came to the prophet. Marxism counsels the prophet to go to the mountain.'
Denzil Harber, as we have already pointed out, had entered the Labour Party in early 1935 to set up the Bolshevik-Leninist Group. I had joined the Labour Party myself, following the line of Trotsky at that time. CLR James, Arthur Cooper and other comrades who were the leadership of the ILP faction completely rejected entry into what they regarded as a reformist swamp. As I was in touch with both groupings, I had discussions with James, but he had developed other ideas. James and Cooper had illusions that they could influence Brockway and build a big movement inside the ILP. They failed to recognise that years of centrism had produced a certain ossification within the party. For the centrist ILP leaders, it had become an organic way of life. To a certain extent, this outlook had even affected the ILP rank and file. So the best way to influence the ranks of the ILP, as Trotsky explained, was to go into the Labour Party and build a revolutionary tendency there. They had to show by deeds what could be done and the way in which such a movement would develop. 'I deem it absolutely necessary', wrote Trotsky in the summer of 1936, 'for our comrades to break openly with the ILP and transfer to the Labour Party where, as is shown especially by the experience in the youth, much more can be accomplished.' Again, 'the most important thing is to get in', urged Trotsky impatiently.
arguments produced a massive crisis within the Marxist Group. There was a split
and over a period a growing minority drifted into the Labour Party and began
the task of building the 'Bolshevik-Leninist Group'. Unfortunately,
once again valuable time had been lost. Trotsky was very critical of this
time-wasting. 'In Spain, where our section is carrying out a miserable
political line, the youth, who were just becoming interested in the Fourth
International, were handed over to the Stalinists', he said. 'In
The question of
how revolutionaries should work within the mass organisations was dealt with
many times by Trotsky, and not only in relation to
'He [Naville] called the entry ’capitulation’ because basically he was frightened by the prospect of a ferocious battle against a powerful apparatus', states Trotsky. 'It is much easier to defend ’intransigent’ principles in a sealed jar’. Since then Naville has entered the Socialist Party. But he abandoned the banner of the organisation, the programme. He does not wish to be more than the left wing of the SP. He has already presented motions in common with the left wing, confused opportunist motions, full of the verbiage of so-called centrism.'
CLR James, who was a key leader of the Marxist Group, and had been expelled from the ILP for publishing Fight, suddenly, without any real preparation, discovered the 'principle' of the independent party. Like so many others before and since, he became hooked on this so-called principle. So, James, together with Arthur Cooper, organised his supporters into an independent Marxist Group, which continued to publish the Fight as its paper. James moved closer to Wicks, who assisted him in the writing of his well-known book World Revolution. In early 1938 they fused the two disintegrating groups to produce the Revolutionary Socialist League. Naturally, this fusion was predictably to prove completely barren.
When Trotsky later reviewed James’ World Revolution he commented on it in a generally favourable way, but then pointed out that its main failing was the lack of a dialectical method, an arbitrary and formalistic approach to history. The same undialectical formalism can be seen in the attitude towards tactics and party building, not only on the part of CLR James but also of all the others who rejected Trotsky’s advice on the Labour Party. They all had the same defect – formalism instead of Marxist dialectics.
In late 1937, the Militant Labour League was set up by the Bolshevik-Leninist Group, as a front organisation for its work inside the Labour Party. The Bolshevik-Leninists had by this time become known as the Militant Group, after the name of their paper. The Militant Labour League was supposed to be a left-wing organisation, not completely Trotskyist, aimed at organising the left inside the Labour Party. But it proved to be a dead letter. Our position in the Labour Party was confused with the contradictory position of an outer organisation and an inner organisation. This was bound to lead to friction as all members of the Militant Labour League, the open organisation, realised that the inner group was taking all the decisions. It also meant a duplication of apparatus, because nine-tenths of the members of the Militant Labour League were also members of the Militant Group. There was only a tiny periphery in the Militant Labour League who was not already members. The whole thing proved to be an extra burden with no results.
Militant Labour League was stillborn and destined to play no practical role. It
had one or two centrists, and one or two left reformists looking for a
platform, but it had no real importance. On the other hand, the Militant Group
had won over a considerable portion of the Marxist Group. They had managed to
grow inside the Labour Party, and had won over a layer of supporters in
The Deane family
had a long and proud revolutionary history. Gertie’s father had been a member
of the old Social Democratic Federation, the original British Marxist organisation,
and was Labour’s first councillor in
In relation to work in the Labour Party, Trotsky rejected entry into the left reformist Socialist League, which was a remnant of the ILP that had remained in the Labour Party under the leadership of Stafford Cripps. Trotsky regarded it as a grouping composed of mainly middle class elements. He argued that we should turn our back on the Socialist League and concentrate the bulk of our work on other possibilities in the Labour Party and especially in the Labour League of Youth. In the course of this discussion, Trotsky made a remarkable prediction that Stafford Cripps, the leading left reformist, who at that time was demagogically talking about revolution, the abolition of the monarchy, and so on, would inevitably betray the movement and end up on the right wing. This was the case. Sir Stafford Cripps, as he later became known, was one of the most rabid right wing ministers in the post-war Labour government.
This is no accident. Inherent in reformism, explained Trotsky, is betrayal. As a consequence, it would be a profound mistake to put any faith in the 'left' leaders of the Labour Party, any more than the right wing leaders. In fact, said Trotsky, the real danger to the movement is more often from the left than from the right, because they will sow even greater illusions. However, it is not a question of the bad faith or lack of sincerity of this or that individual. It is a political question. Both the right and the left wing of reformism accept capitalism. The difference is that the Lefts want a kinder, more humane capitalism with reforms and class peace. They do not understand that, if you accept capitalism, then you must also accept the laws of capitalism. In the end that must mean attacking the wages, jobs and conditions of the working class. As the Bible says: you cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve God and Mammon.
Needless to say, while maintaining complete independence from the left reformists, our arguments with them are never posed in the lunatic way of the sectarians who imagine that hysteria and abuse are a good substitute for argument. Our criticism of the reformist leaders is aimed at convincing the honest reformist workers, and is always put forward in a friendly fashion. We do not make concessions to reformism on principled questions. We always put forward a sharp and penetrating criticism of their policies based upon facts, figures and sound arguments.
On this question too, we follow the advice of the Old Man: 'The greatest patience, a calm, friendly tone, are indispensable', said Trotsky. Only in this way can you get the ear of the reformist workers and win them to a consistent revolutionary position.
In July 1937,
Ralph Lee and his wife Millie, Heaton Lee (no relation to Ralph) and Dick
Frieslich, who were members of the Trotskyist movement in
Ralph wanted to
see at first hand the different Trotskyist groups that existed in
This was the
typical sort of over-weaning remark of
The Stalinists had
by now abandoned the old discredited policy of 'social fascism'.
Nevertheless, their policy of 'fighting fascism' was thoroughly opportunist,
although the ordinary CP workers were obviously sincere in their desire to
fight fascism. At first the Stalinists raised the slogan of the united front,
which they had so cavalierly rejected when Trotsky urged them to implement it
This fitted in
with Stalin’s policy, which after about 1935 consisted in appeasing the
'Western democracies' – particularly
Then left, two, three,
Then left, two, three,
To the work that we must do.
March on to the workers’ united front,
For you are a worker too.
To which we used to answer:
There’s a place, duchess, for you!
March on to the bourgeois united front.
For we are bourgeois, too!
However, their opportunism did not get them very far. The attempts of the Stalinists to unite with the Labour Party – having previously denounced the Labour Party as 'fascists' – obviously met with a dusty answer. Herbert Morrison, who had been the target of the attacks in their ultra left period, subjected them to merciless mockery and carried the Labour conference easily. The Labour Party conference in effect threw out the Communist Party’s proposal for a 'united front' by 2,116,000 votes to 331,000.
Their opportunist policy was too much even for the ILP, which up till then had been flirting with Stalinism. As GDH Cole recalls: 'Following the new Moscow policy of close alliances with all nominally democratic parties, and of throwing aside programmes which might antagonise them, the Communists were more eager to collaborate with Liberals than ILPers.' The antagonisms between the two became especially bitter at the time of the Spanish Civil War, when Stalin’s GPU were murdering members of the POUM – the ILP’s sister party in Spain. At this time the Stalinists even started calling the poor old centrists of the ILP 'Trotskyists'.
From 1935, Stalin had been preparing to move against all potential opposition within the party. With the murder of Kirov (by Stalin), a key Stalinist bureaucrat in Moscow, wheels were set in motion that would lead to the murder of all the Old Bolsheviks in notorious Purge trials extending over more than three years. These Old Bolsheviks faced horrendous charges of aiding the counterrevolution and even the attempted murder of Lenin! All this was supposedly organised by a terrorist centre abroad, led by Trotsky and his son Leon Sedov. Not only the leaders of the Party, but millions of suspected Trotskyists were tortured and murdered in the prisons and labour camps of Stalin’s GPU. By means of these monstrous trials, the Stalinist bureaucracy consolidated its position over the corpses of Lenin’s Party.
In 1936 Stalin
began his purge of the Old Bolsheviks with the trial of Kamenev and Zinoviev.
During the show trial, the defendants 'confessed' to plotting the
The Daily Worker followed the same theme under the editorial The Malice of a Renegade.
'The revelations of the terrorist plot to assassinate the Soviet leaders, a plot instigated by Trotsky and engineered in all its details by Zinoviev and Kamenev will fill all decent citizens with loathing and hatred.
'These people long ago abandoned every socialist principle, they worked energetically to retard, hinder and destroy socialist culture, they conspired to murder George Kirov, a Bolshevik leader beloved of the whole country, they accepted political responsibility for the murder, abjured their own view and deeds at their trial only in order to cover up the actual machinery of their murder organisation.
'Crowning infamy of all this is the evidence showing how they were linked up with the Nazi Secret Police which provided false passports for their agents. So they stand revealed as tools of a world fascist attack.' (Daily Worker, 17 August 1936)
Having been framed
and forced to confess, the defendants were then shot. The Stalinists
immediately applauded this monstrous frame-up internationally. Taking its cue
Stalinists like Campbell and Pritt wrote whole books, attempting to show that
The Purge Trials
were a kind of one-sided civil war that Stalin and the bureaucracy waged
against the Bolshevik Party. Stalinism and Bolshevism are completely
incompatible, and Stalin could only consolidate his bureaucratic regime over
the dead body of Lenin’s Party. One crime led to another. The Trial of the
Sixteen was followed the next year by the Trial of the Seventeen, including
Radek, Sokolnikov and Piatakov. Later Stalin arrested the hero of the Red Army
Tukhachevsky and other prominent Soviet generals, who were all executed. Pravda
exulted: 'The reptile of Fascist espionage has many heads but we will cut
off every head and paralyse and sever every tentacle.' In reality, by
destroying the finest cadres of the Red Army, Stalin encouraged Hitler to
One of the reasons
for the murder of the Old Bolsheviks was the revolution that had broken out in
The policy of the
Stalinists – reflecting the Moscow Line – was openly pro-bourgeois and
The Spanish events
greatly intensified the antagonism between the ILP and the Stalinists. In May
of that year the Spanish Stalinists staged a provocation in
'In opposition to the People’s Front in France and Spain, its refusal to appreciate the difference between certain democratic states and open fascist states, its foul slanders against the Soviet Union, its support of the POUM which daily stabs the Spanish people in the back – all this forms clear evidence that certain elements inside the ILP have, while disclaiming the name of Trotsky, fully developed the whole stock-in-trade of the Trotskyists.
of the fascist rising in
'[’] The Trotskyist criminals in Barcelona acted as the tools of the fascists, carried out the rebellion that the fascists wanted, and only by the steadfastness of the Catalan people [sic!] was this rebellion defeated.
'It was this foul policy which received the support of a section of the ILP leaders.'
Trotskyists not only rallied to the support of the Spanish Revolution, but also
denounced the counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinists. In particular, we
waged a campaign to expose the Moscow Trials as the biggest frame-up in
history. The ILP leaders played a scandalous role in refusing to support our
initiative of an international committee of inquiry into the Moscow Trials. In
May 1937, Fenner Brockway, in the name of the London Bureau, rejected the
invitation to endorse the American Inquiry, because, he said, it was set up by
a 'partisan' Committee for the Defence of Trotsky. This hypocritical
stance was even more scandalous since the London Bureau supported the centrist
In the Paddington
branch of the Militant Group, we had nine members. One of the new recruits at
this time was Gerry Healy, who ended up a complete gangster. One amusing
episode was the way in which Haston recruited Gerry Healy. Healy was a member
of the Communist Party at that time, and he came across Trotskyism when he met
Haston selling the Militant paper at
were only nine of us in Paddington, out of a national membership of about fifty
or so, we were by far the most active members of the organisation. Out of the
800 copies of the paper that were sold, 500 of them were sold by our group in
Paddington. It may sound amazing but it is an actual fact. We sold at Speakers Corner
As a result of our
energetic work and the extraordinary ability of Ralph Lee, it soon became
obvious that the Paddington tendency, as you might call it, was playing the
leading role in the organisation. Recognising this, Lee was co-opted onto the
Executive Committee of the group. Haston was also elected to the EC. Given his
leading role in
It was later
established that the rumour had originated from the South African Stalinists.
It had been picked up by Hermann Van Gelderen, a member of the Trotskyist group
Of course, as soon as we discovered this scandal we went through the roof. We demanded that the matter be raised openly at the next aggregate. So at the following aggregate in December, the allegations were brought out into the open and Lee raised charges of 'irresponsibility' against the officers of the group. This, as expected, caused a terrible row. Lee demanded that there should be an inquiry into what had taken place. Immediately Harber and Jackson, who felt their positions threatened, launched a vicious attack on us, saying we were splitting, undermining and disorganising the movement by raising this question. In reality, they were responsible for the mess. In sheer disgust Haston walked out of the meeting in protest, and as a gesture of solidarity we all walked out. That is all we intended to do. There was no question of a split. We were absolutely disgusted, and that was all. But as soon as we had walked out the door, Harber moved that we should be expelled and in our absence this was passed! The very people, who accused us of being splitters, themselves split the organisation by immediately expelling us. This completely poisoned our relations with the old group.
Some time later,
the truth came out. The secretary of the Workers’ Party of South Africa
condemned Van Gelderen as 'an irresponsible person'. The
'The negligent manner in which this whole matter has been handled by responsible members of your group is thoroughly unbecoming a revolutionary organisation and we trust that you will give this communication the widest publicity in an endeavour to clear comrade RL’s name of the slanders cast upon him. We also hope that you yourself will regard this communication in a very serious and sober light and will thereby avoid repetition of such catastrophic errors in the future.'
A letter was also
received from RTR. Molefe, member of the Committee for the African Metal Trades
Union, and signed by ten former strikers which outlined Lee’s tremendous role
in helping the union. 'During the strike comrade RL and comrade Sapire
worked their duties satisfactorily. Our secretary RL shall never be forgotten
in our minds. Even today our members wished him back. Comrade RL left for
Even the IS condemned Harber and Van Gelderen. But while this cleared Lee’s name, the whole atmosphere within the group had been thoroughly poisoned by the affair. How could we have any trust in such leaders in the future? The damage had been done.
The question was
immediately raised of what to do. We discussed this continually for three or
four nights that week, and the discussions lasted for a full week or more. We
knew that if we waged a struggle for re-entry into the organisation that we
would be allowed back. But we asked ourselves, what would that accomplish. We
came to the conclusion that the organisation at that stage represented only the
embryonic stage of the Trotskyist movement. We needed to break out of that type
of immature politics. We also knew that every great revolutionary movement in
the beginning tends to attract mainly middle class types. The social
composition of the Militant Group was pretty bad. It was composed to a large
degree of bohemians and people of that sort. There were people who wore cloaks
and sandals, and grew beards, which, at that time, was a sort of exotic fashion
in certain 'intellectual' circles. You can just imagine the type of
individuals. They were your typical
We came to the conclusion that it would be pointless to return to the old group. Certainly, comradely and personal relations had become impossible and there was a huge amount of distrust as a result of the intrigue. If we re-entered this group, we would have a long and perhaps fruitless struggle to transform the internal life. So after considerable deliberations, we finally came round to the view expressed by Old Engels, that sometimes a split, even on an apparent organisational question, can reflect certain underlying major differences and tendencies. For example, the Bolshevik split from the Mensheviks in 1903 initially had nothing to do with political questions. There were no fundamental political differences at that stage. But the split revealed a difference in outlook, a difference in approach, and attitude. It was only later that fundamental political differences emerged between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. Therefore, we concluded that a split from a dead organisation could give an impulse to the movement.
Trotsky also thought on similar lines. In dealing with the French Trotskyists five years earlier he favoured separating out the healthy elements from those who held the organisation back.
'A revolutionary organisation cannot develop without purging itself, especially under conditions of legal work, when not infrequently chance, alien and degenerate elements gather under the banner of revolution. Since, in addition, the Left Opposition formed itself in the struggle with monstrous bureaucratism, many quasi-oppositionists have concluded that inside the Opposition ’everything is permitted’. In the French League and on its periphery prevail practises that have nothing in common with a revolutionary proletarian organisation. Separate groups and individuals easily change their political position or in general are not concerned about it, devoting their time and effort to the discrediting of the Left Opposition, to personal squabbles, insinuations and organisational sabotage’
'To be able to cope with the new tasks, it is necessary to burn out with a red-hot iron the anarchist and Menshevik methods from the organisations of the Bolshevik-Leninists.
'We are making an important revolutionary turn. At such moments inner crises or splits are absolutely inevitable. To fear them is to substitute petty-bourgeois sentimentalism and personal scheming for revolutionary policy’ Under these circumstances, a splitting off of a part of the League will be a great step forward. It will reject all that is unhealthy, crippled and incapacitated; it will give a lesson to the vacillating and irresolute elements; it will harden the better sections of the youth; it will improve the inner atmosphere; it will open up before the League new, great possibilities. What will be lost – partly only temporarily – will be regained a hundredfold already at the next stage.'
There was only one
thing to do. It was impossible for us to return to the poisoned atmosphere of
the Marxist Group. We weren’t going to abandon the movement, so we had no
alternative but to organise a group of our own. And this we did – all nine of
us. We gave the new group the name of Workers International League. Perhaps at
a later stage even the question of unity between the two groups might arise. We
did not discount it. But for the time being, we branched out on our own,
determined to develop a healthy Trotskyist movement in
As an interesting aside, one of those to walk out of the meeting and protest against the actions of the leadership of the Militant Group was a young musician by the name of Michael Tippet. He had joined the Militant Group after leaving the Communist Party before the war. He later joined the WIL, but developed pacifist leanings, for which he was expelled in 1940. I know we were still in touch with him up until his imprisonment for refusing to go into the army in 1943. Tippet later became a world famous composer. He was knighted and become the Master of the Queen’s Music. He died a few years ago, and very few people suspected that Sir Michael Tippet was a one-time Trotskyist! Looking back on it, we may have been a bit hard on him.
At the time, Tippet protested energetically against the shenanigans of the leadership around Harber. 'Why are GMM minutes to be declared correct or incorrect by an EC? And then by an EC which declared itself unconstitutional? What a further muddle and confusion! Is this going to be cleared up?' He went on, 'They (the EC) deferred the original issue for a month, and proceeded to initiate censure and expulsion against the original sufferer of the provocation and his associates. The commencement of the proceedings to elect an EC were eminently revealing, and not being able to contain my disgust, I left.'
The International Secretariat had condemned the Militant Group’s leadership for the mess they had created, but also attacked our split and called on us to return. The WIL replied that we had not split, but were expelled and rejected the advice of the IS. We wrote back to them:
'If the comrades of our group accepted the expulsion and did not appeal to the ’national membership’, it was because:
1) The national membership is fictitious
2) Because the actions of the leadership after our expulsion reinforced the conclusion we formed before the expulsion that both leadership and membership were irresponsible’'
In late December 1937 the Workers International League came into being. At the start there were myself, Ralph and Millie, Jock Haston, Betty Hamilton, Heaton Lee, Jessie Strachan, Dick Freislich and Gerry Healy. We were confident of the ideas and the responsibility that rested on our shoulders. With the world war looming, we engaged in an energetic campaign to build up our forces. The old methods had proved ineffective. It was time to cut a new path.
Ibid., vol. 3, p.72.
Ibid, pp. 87 and 89, emphasis in original.
Writings of Leon Trotsky supplement 1934-40, p. 540.
See Ian Hunter, 'Raff Lee and the Pioneer
Interview with Rob Sewell,
Lee to Koston, 12 April 1935.
Lee to Koston, 17 May 1935.
Quoted in Hunter, op. cit. p.76
Quoted in Bornstein and Richardson, Against the
Stream – a History of the Trotskyist Movement in
Trotsky, Writings on Britain, vol. 3, p.119.
Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935-36, p.203.
Ibid., 1934-35, pp.33 and 38.
Ibid., 1935-36, p.366.
Ibid., supplement 1934-40, p. 553.
Ibid., 1935-36, p.268.
GDH. Cole, The Common People, p. 605.
It Can be Done, Report of the Fourteenth Congress of the CPGB, p. 61.
From the archives of Revolutionary History.
Trotsky, op. cit. 1933-34, pp. 90-91.
Quoted in Revolutionary History, vol.7, no.1, pp. 185-6.
Quoted by John Archer in his unpublished Ph.D. thesis
on Trotskyism in
We began first of all
to publish a monthly called Workers International News, and our
orientation was towards the Labour Party as Trotsky had urged.
When we began the
work in developing our tendency, we decided, consciously and deliberately, to
turn our back on the little squabbling sects, the Militant Group, the Marxist
Group, and other remnants. Instead, we would face towards the mass movement. We
would face towards the working class, and begin the real process of
constructing of a strong Marxist organisation. Although we originally had only
nine members, these nine were very dedicated people. Millie had private funds
So the nine of us began an energetic campaign to build the WIL. The first task was to publish our material. It was too expensive to get stuff printed commercially as we didn’t have the money. However, Ralph managed to pick up and repair a battered old Ardena printing machine for next to nothing. Those of you who are familiar with such machines, which specialise in turning out small cards, will know that is more like a toy rather than a printing press. Anyway, we got a little Ardena and we found a typesetter to do the typesetting. We managed to do the compositing ourselves. Both Lee and Haston possessed some mechanical skills, so we soon learned how to do the printing work. But to say the least, the Ardena printing was a backbreaking job!
We wrote the
articles, proof-read them, prepared them for printing, worked the printing
machine and sold the magazine. As I recall, till perhaps one, two or three in
the morning, we were busy, in
certain spots to sell the magazine:
After some time, we scraped together the money to buy a second-hand treadle-printing machine that was foot-operated. We manage to pick one up very cheap – about twenty pounds, I think. I am sure it would be very antediluvian by modern standards! But it was a tremendous leap forward when compared to the little handle-cranking Ardena machine. This treadle machine allowed us to publish a bigger size than the small magazine format. We also printed the bulletin of the Paddington branch of the Labour League of Youth, called Searchlight. Our comrades actually started this publication as a duplicated paper for the socialist youth as we politically controlled the Paddington youth branch. Later this became Youth for Socialism, which we maintained until 1941.
One of the first
pamphlets we produced was The Lessons of Spain by Trotsky, in July
1938, for which Ralph and myself wrote the introduction. We sent Trotsky a
copy, and he sent back an enthusiastic letter congratulating the WIL on this
great achievement, and particularly the fact that we had got our own printing
press. We felt we were on our way, and had grown within six months to 30
comrades. Although mainly based in
I must say, even at that early stage we had already attracted the attention of the Special Branch. Although we had only a small group they became interested in our activities. Later on, MI5 actually sent people to penetrate our organisation, but even at this time they started sniffing around. I remember one chap called Jones who came along and said he was a gas worker and wanted to join our organization. Later, quite by accident, we found out he was a Detective Inspector Jones. But we had our suspicions straight away. We just took one look at the size of his feet and it was quite obvious where comrade Jones came from! At this time the headquarters of the organisation was in the basement of Ralph and Millie’s house. As he said he had a job at the gas works, we made it our business to find out the truth. We fobbed him off, and for a few days we watched the gas works and asked the workers what shift Mr. Jones worked on. The workers were bemused. They had no knowledge of this Mr. Jones. He told us that he was a member of the CP – in fact he had a CP card in his possession – so he was obviously also doing work for the police in the Communist Party!
We continued to put him off from joining with one excuse or another. Firstly, before joining, we told him that he had to show his revolutionary integrity by giving money to the organisation. Of course, being a good agent we got money out of him. Then, having a sense of humour, we decided to play a trick on D.C. Jones. He showed a great interest in getting copies of every paper and leaflet we had published. He had to get his hands on these leaflets! We had just issued the first issue of Searchlight, when he got in touch with us. So we decided to skip issue number 2 and just put number 3 on the second issue. Poor old Detective-Inspector Jones was in a terrible panic over trying to trace the phantom issue No. 2! He must have been hauled over the coals at Scotland Yard for this failing, because he tried frantically to get hold of the missing number. For months he tried and, of course, failed miserably!
Having failed with him, the Special Branch next sent along a woman undercover detective. We also sized her up as just another agent and we told her the same story: 'if you want to join the organisation you have to make a financial sacrifice.' At that time we wanted to publish Trotsky’s Transitional Programme, which cost ’12 and 10 shillings. So she dutifully produced the ’12 and 10 shillings, but, of course, we gave her the run-around as well. Afterwards, when Haston was arrested and being questioned by Detective Whitehead - the head of the Special Branch dealing with the Fourth International - Whitehead asked: 'Where do you get your money from?' Haston replied: 'Well, as far as I remember, you paid for the Transitional Programme!' which of course shut him up. Anyway, having given us the ’12 and 10 shillings, she also failed to get into the organisation.
In the middle of
1938 plans were being laid by the International Secretariat in
As a prelude to
the founding Congress of the Fourth International in
So this was the
state of things when Cannon came to this country. We looked up to Cannon, who
had a long revolutionary history in the movement. He was the leader of the SWP
and was in regular contact with Trotsky in
Cannon said, 'Yes, but the RSP tendency and the James tendency would never accept that.' So we countered: 'If they’re not prepared to accept that then, of course, there won’t be any unity as far as we are concerned'. Cannon tried to persuade us but failed to convince any of our leading comrades. We told Cannon that we would give him every opportunity to speak to the rank and file of our organisation, and we invited him to speak at our monthly aggregate meeting. He accepted the invitation and asked us how many members did we have? We told him we had thirty members. He looked at us, and figured American-style, if you had thirty members, you simply doubled it and say you had sixty; if you had sixty, you doubled it and say you had 120, and so on. So when we said we had thirty members, Cannon said, 'you mean fifteen'. This was clearly the method used elsewhere in calculating the membership. Cannon continued, 'Well, I understood from others you had ten or fifteen members'. This was probably the figure he had been told by Harber and Jackson, who had no idea of how fast we had grown. As usual, they were completely out of touch. So we said firmly, 'No, we have 30 members', and Cannon, who clearly didn’t believe us, just nodded.
meeting was held in a room in Jock Haston’s house in
Cannon spoke forcefully to our members, arguing for unity at all costs. However, his arguments fell on stony ground and he failed to convince a single comrade. The WIL membership was homogeneous, firm, and clear on the unity question, both the leadership and the rank and file. We pointed out to him the weaknesses of the other groups. We said, 'You haven’t had a meeting with the rank and file of the Militant Group, or with the rank and file of the RSL. Only our tendency is prepared to let you meet with the membership and discuss things out openly.' We told him that the reason for this was that the other tendencies were very loose, petty bourgeois and politically woolly.
In our discussions with Cannon, he told us that on the tactical questions, he could see we were not sectarian in relation to the trade unions, or in our attitude towards the Labour Party. According to him, our general approach was correct. We were just sectarian on this question of unity! We told him that on the contrary, we took a Marxist principled stand on the question of unity. After seeing he was getting nowhere, he asked if we would at any rate attend the Unity Conference that was about to take place. We said, 'Certainly we’ll come to the Unity Conference, and we’ll put our position there'. We had no objection to that, and neither did Cannon. In fact, we presented our own document on perspectives and tactics. The only ones to offer a clear and full political explanation.
Conference took place in
started about an hour late. They were still going round and round in circles
from one room to another, trying even at that late stage to patch up an
agreement that could be acceptable to everybody. At any rate they succeeded
after an hour or so in getting the other groups together. Then, if you can
believe it, it only took them about twenty minutes to patch up an agreement
between the leaders. We heard afterwards that Cannon had persuaded James to
The session was
introduced by the young American, Nathan Gould, the IS representative in
We rejected this assertion. At this point, I intervened. 'Even if Comrade Trotsky himself had come here we would have acted no differently. The need to state differences clearly is a principle of our movement, as opposed to the Stalinists. Each comrade should be allowed to say what he or she honestly believes.' And I concluded, 'If Comrade Trotsky himself stood before us and put forward a position we did not agree with, we would have every opportunity of putting forward our case. And he would have been in favour of that.' After that, the whole argument was dropped.
Cannon then got up again to put a stop to this infantile line of argument - I’ll give him credit for that – and said that he didn’t object to these attacks. He continued, 'we can take it, but we can also dish it out'. He then proceeded to 'dish it out' to us, but without having any effect on our membership. We weren’t the least bit bothered because we knew what was going to happen. The new united organisation, which claimed 170 members, took the name of Revolutionary Socialist League. However, the Militant Group was committed to entrism; the old RSL was for independent work, and the RSP was against entrism in principle. It was a dog’s dinner, and would be shown to be so by events. Meanwhile, the 30-strong Workers International League, which refused to endorse the Agreement, continued to pursue its work within the Labour Party, as well as having a flexible approach to opportunities outside.
Haston and myself, but Haston in particular had a number of discussions with Cannon. He was clearly impressed with the WIL. After the conference he asked if we would see him and we agreed. Cannon told us frankly: 'Well, you haven’t joined the organisation, but I hope you will have good relations with the RSL.' He asked us if we would send a delegate to the Founding Congress of the International on the condition that relations between ourselves and the united tendency would be harmonious. Obviously, we had absolute agreement with the programme and policy of the International. We agreed fully with the Transitional Programme, written by Trotsky, which put forward the idea of the International conducting mass work on the basis of transitional demands. We said that we agreed completely with the ideas, the methods, the policies and the programme of the International. We explained we would like very much to apply, at least for sympathetic affiliation to the International. So he asked if we would send a delegate to the World Congress, and we told him we would discuss the question, and do our best to send someone. If we could raise the money, which was always a stumbling block, we would certainly be represented. In his discussions with us, Cannon was emphatic that we should be present at the Congress. He must have wanted us to attend, as he probably thought that the Congress would have exerted sufficient pressure to push us into unification with the other groups. Anyway, that was probably the idea in the back of his mind.
However, when we
came to discuss the question in our Executive Committee, we realised that we
didn’t have the money to send anyone to
At the World Congress in early September, the report of the British Section was presented. This contained a sharp attack on the WIL for refusing to unite with the other groups. I understand it was one of the French delegates who moved that we be treated as a sympathising group of the Fourth International. Then Cannon launched a vicious attack on us, accusing the 'Lee group' of splitting on 'purely personal grievances', obstructing unification, and refusing to send a delegate to the World Congress. He told a whole lot of lies, saying that our letter to the Congress was a statement to 'the world at large', an open statement to our enemies, purely on the basis that it was duplicated and not typed. As a result of Cannon’s attack on the WIL, sympathetic affiliation was rejected. From that time onwards, Cannon was to nurture a deeply held grudge against the WIL and its leadership, which was to have serious repercussions in the future.
Shortly after the Congress, on 12 October, Cannon wrote a report to Trotsky which referred to the 'Lee Group'.
Group in the past six months had suffered from an unfortunate split led by Lee
which resulted in the creation of another group without any principled grounds
for the split (the Workers International News). This could only
introduce confusion and demoralisation – the more so since both groups work
exclusively in the Labour Party. At the same time the
At the Unity Conference in London, 'We carried on a strong crusade against irresponsible splits and made it clear that the international conference would do away with the possibility of a multiplicity of groups, and recognise only one section in each country’
'The Lee group consists of about thirty, mostly youngsters, who have been deeply poisoned with personal antagonism to the leadership of the Militant Group. They attempted to obstruct the unification but were pounded mercilessly at the Unification Conference, and their ranks were badly shaken. Their attitude was condemned by the international conference.
during his visit in
'Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The English comrades, alas, are gentlemen. They are not accustomed to our ’brutal’ (i.e. Bolshevik) treatment of groups who play with splits. However, I think they learned something from our visit, at least they said they did.
'I will not attempt to prophesise the outcome of the British experiment in unification. Friction undoubtedly exists, and still worse, there are undoubted differences in conception. Some of the members of the James group were still debating the French turn from the point of view of Field-Oehler.'
As Cannon’s report
mentions, following the Congress, Max Shachtman arrived back in
As could be
expected, Shachtman got a cool reception from the members, who were totally
unconvinced by his arguments. After he left for
'The initial cadres of the Left Opposition in the Communist Party of Great Britain, were in the main petty bourgeois', stated the WIL document. 'While accepting the ideas and principles of the International Left Opposition, they made no attempt to concretise these ideas and apply them to the British movement. The spirit of a petty bourgeois discussion circle was fostered in the early meetings. No real attempt was made to acquaint the youth members and sympathisers of the theoretical differences between the Bolshevik-Leninists and the Stalinist bureaucracy nationally or internationally, or with the programme of the Left Opposition. The leadership showed the greatest incapacity to train the younger elements or to conduct any decisive political action.
'During the period of the campaign of the Left Opposition for re-entry into the Communist Parties, it was possible for a loose collection of individuals to hold together, for in this country it enabled them to appear in public as 'critics' while binding them to no real programme of activity. However, when the German betrayal impelled the Left Opposition to consider the reform of the Comintern no longer possible and adopt the perspective of orientation towards the new Fourth International, the basic weakness of the British Bolshevik-Leninists was revealed.
'The directive given to the British comrades was to turn towards the centrist organisations as the main field of work. This perspective worked out by comrade Trotsky, was fundamentally correct. But due to the complete incapacity of the Trotskyists to carry out this tactic, the outcome resulted in failure. This turn towards the centrists marked the first of what was to be a series of splits. Incapable of acting as a unified body, the opposition burst asunder, one group entering the ILP, the other at first remained independent and later entered the Labour Party. This initial split took place without any thorough discussion or preparation, the factional lines running parallel to the personal alliances of the various individuals.
Party’s turn to the Socialist Party and the Oehler split in
'During the whole of this period, the International Secretariat was completely misinformed as to the real situation in the British movement – its strength, the forms of work it conducted, its support among the workers, and in every other aspect of its activities. The loose connection between the IS and the British movement facilitated this.
Trotskyist groups which evolved and disappeared were myriad. The Communist Left
Opposition, the Marxist League, the Marxist Group, the Militant Group, the
Chelsea Action Group, the Revolutionary Socialist League, the Unified
Revolutionary Socialist League, the Militant Labour League, the Revolutionary
Workers League, Workers International League – all these in the
1938 there were three distinct groups in existence in the
'There also existed the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Edinburgh, which was moving towards the Fourth International and was about to affect a unification with the RSL on the basis of the independent tactic. The leaders of this group were Maitland and Tait.
'Each year – and sometimes twice a year – a ’unity’ Conference was called, but without any serious preparation or intention. The soft elements that had proved themselves incapable of any continuity of organised work, who had dropped out of the movement from time to time, appeared on the platform and played a predominant role in the ’discussions’. Each year it became more and more obvious that a genuine unification among the old elements was absolutely precluded, because of the determination of the ’leaders’ to retain their independence and resist any encroachment on their positions, and most important, because of the absence of a genuine rank and file. It was evident that unification would only take place on the basis of a common programme of action, on the basis of common work.
'Such was the
position in the British movement when the ’Peace and Unity Conference’ took
place in September
We had turned our
back decisively on the so-called united tendency, the RSL - as we had done with
the old Militant Group. And, just as we expected, as soon as Cannon and
Shachtman had gone back to
The RSL, seeing us
as an enemy group, immediately declared war on us. We in turn went onto the
offensive. Our wings weren’t clipped and our hands weren’t tied by any
agreement, so we got stuck into a vigorous campaign to win over the best
elements in the RSL branches, which were in a state of crisis. Very quickly, in
the early part of 1939, we won over the comrades in
Up to the onset of
the war, we had begun a systematic publication of Trotskyist pamphlets. For
example, as I have already mentioned, we issued the Lessons of Spain
by Trotsky with our own introduction. 'The experience of
On re-reading it
after many years, I must say, it was a very good introduction. Trotsky sent us
a very enthusiastic letter in response. Although it wasn’t very well printed,
the Old Man was very encouraged by our small efforts. We were not the official
section of the international, but Trotsky could see from the introduction that
we had a very healthy approach and were a genuine Bolshevik-Leninist tendency,
and not a sect. It is significant that the only split in the whole of our
history in which Trotsky did not intervene, or denounce was our split with the
Militant Group. We believe that this was for two reasons. Firstly, Trotsky knew
the limitations of Cannon and didn’t accept all his opinions at face value.
Secondly, he was not prepared to pass judgement on groups until he was certain
of how the different tendencies were developing. He would not intervene
We made sure Trotsky
got our material, and I am sure he would certainly have compared it very
favourably with the material of the RSL. Trotsky was waiting, if you like, to
see which way the wind was blowing in
policy – which was supposed to avoid war and defend the
The feebleness of
Chamberlain in the face of Hitler at the time of the
Finally, after the
British imperialists had handed
this, the Germans and Russians occupied
These events caused considerable shock internationally. Ordinary members of the labour movement were shocked and disquieted by Stalin’s Purges and scandalised by the Hitler-Stalin Pact. We made life as difficult as we could for the Stalinists, of course. And although these events were of a deadly serious character, we never lost our sense of humour. After all, humour also has a place in working class propaganda and agitation, and is especially effective in the British labour movement. I remember we lampooned them mercilessly in a song set to the music of 'Oh my darling Clementine', which went like this:
Leon Trotsky is a Nazi.
Yes, I know it for a fact!
First I read it, then I said it,
Before the Stalin-Hitler Pact.
Oh my darling, Oh my darling,
Oh my darling Party Line.
Never break thee or forsake thee
Oh my darling Party Line.
In the Kremlin, in the Kremlin,
In the Fall of thirty nine,
Sat a Russian and a Prussian,
Working out the Party Line.
In Siberia, in
Where the Arctic son doth shine
Sat an old Bolshevik
Who they called a dirty swine.
Party comrade, Party comrade,
What a sorry fate is thine!
Comrade Stalin does not love you
’Cause you left the Party Line.
To this, we added a couple of lines to the tune of Auld lang syne:
And should old Bolshies be forgot
And never brought to mind,
You’ll find them in
With a ball and chain behind.
A ball and chain behind, my dear,
A ball and chain behind,
For Stalin shot the bloody lot
For the sake of old lang syne.
In the second half
of the 1930s there were signs of an upturn in the class struggle in
In September 1939
As an anecdote,
just after the war began, we were surprised by the sudden appearance in Britain
of Pierre Frank. He was considered a political opponent, as he had broken with
the Trotskyist movement in
Frank had escaped
Having failed to convince us on unity with Molinier, Frank tried every means possible to organise some sort of faction inside our group. He managed to convince one of our comrades, Betty Hamilton (who ended up with Healy), that we had an unhealthy internal regime within the WIL. This was supposedly due to the fact that we didn’t have any real differences within our ranks. For Pierre Frank that was unhealthy! Frank, who was staying at her place, convinced her that an organisation without factions was un-Bolshevik. Even if there were no political differences, he argued, you must have factions within the organisation! In the end, we were not prepared to countenance this nonsense and we expelled Betty Hamilton for intriguing with a hostile grouping.
As a further aside, Healy, just a month or two before the war, announced he was starting a new career in Lever Brothers. He worked for them in some sort of scheme where leaflets were distributed round the houses, and he was about to net an important supervisor’s job in the company. So he began to drift out of activity and was preparing to leave the movement altogether. Perhaps I shouldn’t really confess this, but I managed to persuade him to stay! 'Now look here, you can get a job as a supervisor. You might even go higher up. But what would be the use of it?' I told him. 'The war is coming in a few months and what happens to your job then? Your job won’t last. So the plan is a stupid idea.' After the discussion, he chose to remain in the movement. At that time, Healy did positive work as an industrial organiser for the tendency. But that was not to last long.
Needless to say, we were in complete agreement with Trotsky’s position, which formed the basis for our later development and deepening of the idea of proletarian Bonapartism.
WIL opposed the
imperialist war from the start. In the September 1939 issue of Youth for
Socialism, I wrote an article under the banner heading of Down With
the War. However, unlike the drawing room 'Marxists' of the RSL,
who were effectively paralysed by the war, we took our agitation to the
factories and workplaces in an attempt to connect with the working class. Just
before the fall of
Trotsky pointed out that Lenin in the course of the First World War had laid down the Marxist attitude towards war. However, if the truth is to be told, because the revolutionary movement had been caught by surprise by the betrayal of August 1914, Lenin and the other leading internationalists had tended to pose things in a slightly ultra-left manner. The internationalists defended the ideas of internationalism, class solidarity and raised the question of revolutionary defeatism. They put forward the idea that in war, the defeat of your own ruling class is the lesser evil. Posed in a crude and unqualified way – which is exactly what the sectarians have been doing for the last 80 years – this policy can be interpreted as support for the foreign bourgeoisie. The ignorant sectarians have no idea of the concrete circumstances that determined Lenin’s stance in 1914.
The reason why
Lenin expressed himself in such a way was to draw a clear line between the
revolutionary vanguard and the social patriotic traitors of the Second
International. The betrayal of the leaders of the Second International was
entirely unexpected – even by Lenin and Trotsky. It caused tremendous
disorientation and confusion. For this reason, Lenin tended to bend the stick
in one direction. However, his emphatic policy of revolutionary defeatism was
aimed at the cadres of the International, and not the broad masses.
Revolutionary defeatism was not the means whereby the working class would be
won to the revolutionary party. Far from it. In 1917 the masses in
While the Second World War was an imperialist war, not qualitatively different to the war of 1914-18, nevertheless the concrete circumstances were different and this had to be taken into account as far as tactics and slogans were concerned. As Trotsky explained in an unfinished article, dictated just prior to his assassination in 1940:
'The present war, as we have stated on more than one occasion, is a continuation of the last war. But a continuation does not signify a repetition. As a general rule, a continuation signifies a development, a deepening, [and] a sharpening. Our policy, the policy of the revolutionary proletariat towards the second imperialist war is a continuation of the policy elaborated during the last imperialist war, primarily under Lenin’s leadership. But a continuation does not signify a repetition. In this case too, continuation signifies a development, a deepening and a sharpening. We were caught unawares in 1914.
'During the last war not only the proletariat as a whole but also its vanguard, and, in a certain sense, the vanguard of this vanguard was caught unawares. The elaboration of the principles of revolutionary policy toward the war began at a time when the war was already in full blaze and the military machine exercised unlimited rule. One year after the outbreak of the war the small revolutionary minority was still compelled to accommodate itself to a centrist majority at the Zimmerwald Conference. Prior to the February Revolution and even afterwards, the revolutionary elements felt themselves to be not contenders for power but the extreme left opposition. Even Lenin relegated the socialist revolution to a more or less distant future
'In 1915 Lenin referred in his writings to revolutionary wars which the victorious proletariat would have to wage. But it was a question of an indefinite historical perspective and not of tomorrow’s task. The attention of the revolutionary wing was centred on the question of the defence of the capitalist fatherland. The revolutionaries naturally replied to this question in the negative. This was entirely correct. But this purely negative answer served as the basis for propaganda and for training cadres but it could not win the masses who did not want a foreign conqueror.
While it was necessary to maintain a principled and inflexible attitude of irreconcilable opposition towards the imperialist war, it was necessary to put our attitude towards the war in a way that would be understood by the broad masses. It was out of this approach, that the proletarian military policy of the Fourth International, put forward originally by Trotsky, was developed by the Trotskyist movement. Of course, the war was an imperialist war, and a continuation of 1914-18. As such, we were opposed to imperialism, capitalism and its war. In the words of Clauswitz, which Lenin was fond of quoting, 'War is the continuation of politics by other means.'
The Allied powers were simply using anti-fascist propaganda to cover up their war aims. Nevertheless, we had to take into consideration that the mass of workers genuinely wanted to defeat Hitler fascism. That is why they supported the war against Hitler. We also wanted to defeat Hitler, but with our own means and programme. This could only be achieved by the carrying through of a revolutionary war against fascism, which meant the working class taking power. The proletarian military policy was based on the conception that the capitalist class could not fight a real war against fascism. The British bourgeois had supported fascism before the war in its struggle against the socialist revolution. Only the working class could fight fascism, and so they would have to expropriate the ruling class, take over the country and conduct a genuine revolutionary war.
The Communist Party carried out a number of somersaults in the first period of the war. When the war broke out in 1939, the CPGB was still on the 'popular front' Line. So in the first six weeks of the war, they supported the 'just war' against fascism. Then soon afterwards, when Stalin signed his infamous Pact with Hitler, the Line was hastily changed. The CP leaders were taken completely off guard by the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Therefore, for a time, Harry Pollitt continued to push his 'patriotic' Line with the usual vehemence, calling on all true patriots to support the war against Hitler and so on.
Within a few days,
following orders from
Campbell were forced to make a humiliating recantation and confess to their
'social patriotic' mistakes. They were lucky. In
The way in which
they changed gave rise to some amusing incidents. Dudley Edwards, a marvellous
old comrade who at one time had been the secretary of the ILP’s Revolutionary
Policy Committee and who joined us in the 1960s, was at the time a young CP
shop steward in the car factory in Oxford. He was supposed to give a speech on
the war at a public meeting, and was prepared to deliver a speech on the lines
of the old policy, supporting the war. Minutes before he was due to speak,
someone tugged at his sleeve and whispered: 'Comrade, you can’t give that
speech. The Line’s been changed!' And in two minutes,
The abruptness of the change of Line caused a crisis in the Party for a short time. It was not easy to explain to the workers why the enemies of yesterday had suddenly become allies, or why British 'democracy' had suddenly become transformed into British imperialism. The Party lost a lot of support at this time. When Harry Pollitt presented their programme to a working class electorate at the Silvertown bye-election in February 1940, he was rejected by a vote of 12 to 1. Nevertheless, the Party held onto most of its workers, who were relieved by the abandonment of the old policy of open class collaboration. The new policy was an ultra-left caricature of a real communist policy. Most of those who left the CP were middle class types.
The CPGB had organised a 'People’s Convention', that was supposed to be an alternative to Parliament. We participated and sent delegates because layers of trade unionists were involved in this convention. We managed to send delegates through the trade unions to put our position. We counterposed our position against their pacifist, or semi-pacifist, peace position put forward by the Daily Worker. Although our position got relatively few votes, given the character of the Convention, we had a relative success and we made a certain number of CP contacts as a result.
But events were to
plunge the CP into crisis yet again. On June 30 1941 Hitler’s armies attacked
At the 1942 CP conference, the general secretary of the CPGB, Harry Pollitt delivered a real hymn in praise of all strike-breakers: 'I salute our comrade, a docker from Hull, who was on a job unloading a ship with a cargo urgently wanted’ When the rest of the dockers struck work, he fought against it because he believed that the course of action he recommended would get what was wanted without a strike. What courage, what a sacred spirit of real class consciousness, to walk on the ship’s gangway and resume his job’. This is not strikebreaking. That is striking a blow against fascism as vital as any blow a lad in the Red Army is striking at the present time. It sounds peculiar. It can be misunderstood. The Trotskyists and the ILP charge the party and me in particular with being strike breakers. We can face that from people whose political line is consciously helping the development of fascism.' (1942 Conference CPGB)
When we received
the material by Trotsky on the proletarian military policy, we were enormously
enthused. Applying the policy to British conditions, our programme called for
Labour to break with the wartime National Government, and for Labour to power
on a socialist programme. In a socialist
After the German invasion
GDH Cole expressed
the mood of the British workers at that time: 'Momentarily, there was no
time for dissention or recrimination. The workers in all essential industries
During 1940, through the pages of Youth for Socialism, we tried to orientate ourselves along the lines advocated by Trotsky, explaining the role the ruling class was playing in the war in a way that would be understood by ordinary workers. We had to take into consideration the attitude of the workers towards fascism. In the factories, at that time, the working class was working 18 or even 20 hours a day for the purpose of turning out war armaments. As we were immersed in the mass movement, we instinctively understood that this approach by Trotsky, which was a development of Lenin’s position, was absolutely correct. As we had the correct orientation and approach to the workers, we enthusiastically took up the position of the proletarian military policy. To give them credit, the position was also immediately taken up by the American SWP. Cannon made a number of speeches on the question, which we printed in our paper as well as in the Workers International News. However, in other sections of the International there was opposition from the sectarians to this policy. They simply wanted to repeat the position of Lenin in 1914 and the policy of revolutionary defeatism. This reflected a sectarian approach divorced from the real working class movement. They were not able to relate to the real situation on the ground in a flexible, but principled fashion.
The WIL took up Trotsky’s position energetically. I wrote a Socialist Appeal editorial outlining the policy:
workers want to see a real end made to Hitlerism of all varieties and to the
domination of one nation by another', stated the article. 'They want
to win the peoples of
can only become a reality, that is transferred from the realm of words to that
of deeds, when the workers take effective measures against imperialism. Such
measures would necessarily include the granting of immediate freedom to
It was necessary
to take into account the real situation of the working class in
The French ruling
When the defeated
British forces in
early 1940, Pierre Frank, having failed to get a response from our
organisation, got in touch with a tiny little grouping of Oehlerites. This was
a minuscule splinter group led by a man called Hugo Oehler, which had split
from the American Workers Party when they entered the Socialist Party. As in
There was a little
fragment of this grouping in
A couple of days
later, there was a knock on the door of the digs where Rogers and Levin were
staying. In a very conspiratorial fashion, they peeped out from the top floor
to see who was there. To their alarm, down below they saw a policeman clutching
a copy of their leaflet. Predictably, the two heroes panicked, dashed out of
the back door and went 'underground'. They beat it out of
Of course, we did
not have the hysterical position of the ultra-lefts, but nevertheless we did
pay serious attention to the question of security. When the war broke out, it
wasn’t at all clear within the first few weeks what was going to happen. The
police had raided us before, so we weren’t sure which way events were going to
develop. Nobody knew whether the organisation would be declared illegal or not.
As a result, in case of illegality, we decided to send certain comrades to
It was decided to
keep Ralph, Millie and myself in
that Ralph Lee and Ted Grant would be sent to produce the paper and to train
the group that we sent over and we decided to send four or six of the younger
faithfully followed the entrist line. We had contact with the left wing of the
Irish Labour Party in
'At the same time we made contact with the youngsters in the IRA who were fairly active. In the Dublin IRA, the leadership tended to be right wing, as the youngsters tended to be socialist or labour party orientated and we made contact with them and won some of them over to the Trotskyist movement. We kept them in the IRA as a faction until they were finally thrown out, but that was part of our activity.'
Asked about what
the IRA leadership thought about this, Haston replied, 'They didn’t like
it very much at all. In fact, there was a classic occasion when I was running a
class in Liberty Hall, which was the headquarters of the Transport Workers’
At this time we published a small daily duplicated bulletin, called Workers Diary, which was mainly down to the efforts of Ralph Lee, and some help from myself. This was then circulated among our members throughout the country and used effectively to supplement Youth for Socialism and Workers International News. In case we became illegal and were forced underground, we at least would have been able to turn out duplicated material. Every branch of the organisation had a silk screen printing outfit, made by the indefatigable Ralph Lee, so that they would be able to turn out stuff if the leadership at the centre was arrested, and all connections were broken off.
At this time, our work, in the Labour Party, including the youth work in the Labour League of Youth (LLY), was dramatically tailing off. Nothing much was taking place in the Labour Party at that stage. The political truce had choked off life within the Party, and more and more we were forced into independent open work. The Labour League of Youth almost completely disappeared in 1939 as a result of the sabotage of the Stalinists. The young Ted Willis, who later became Lord Willis, had done a very good piece of fraction work for the Communist Party. The Stalinists had sent hundreds of youngsters into the League of Youth and had practically taken it over. As we had only small forces, we weren’t in a position to defeat them. They succeed in taking the majority of the Labour League of Youth into the YCL, but of course, subsequently lost most of these people. In the process, the LLY was practically destroyed.
By 1940, those who were still left in the League of Youth were either conscripted into the armed forces or working long hours in the armament factories. The League of Youth had for all intents and purposes practically disappeared. All political activity ceased in the youth organisation. As for the adult party, the ward branches and constituency parties were hardly functioning at all. The trade union branches still remained and had some life during the course of the war, but this was mainly older workers and a layer from the armaments industries who were in reserved occupations.
Increasingly during 1940, we were being forced to do more and more open work. The ILP, on the basis of its anti-war activity and its pacifist stance, began to grow somewhat so we paid a certain attention to it. We were always very flexible on the question of tactics. Although we recognised the importance of the mass organisations, we never had a fetish about them. Tactics are a question of flexible attitudes, rather than principles on which one must always remain intransigent. During that period, we used our Youth for Socialism and Workers International News to turn not only towards the ILP but also towards the ranks of the Communist Party.
Our turn towards the ILP shows the flexible way in which we dealt with things. In a review of tactics, and to show how they were developed, Jock Haston wrote a piece that is worth quoting.
'There are no short cuts to the leadership of the working class. Nevertheless, a correct application of tactics can assist the process of penetrating the ranks of the workers and in this way hasten the process of gaining the leadership; mistakes in tactics can condemn the revolutionary party to sterility and isolation and dissipate the energy of its cadres in fruitless activity. With every shift in the movement of the workers, the tactical tasks of the revolutionaries alter and assume new emphasis. This is particularly true of WIL. Precisely because of its lack of historical background and lack of support within the ranks of the working class, as well as the youthful and inexperienced composition of its cadres, it has had to impinge itself from the outside upon the labour organisations. But here our very weakness allowed of extreme mobility of tactics which rapidly changing events deem it necessary to review as the need arises.
'Nevertheless, the change in organisational tactics always arouses differences of opinion within the ranks of revolutionary organisations. These differences arise from the appraisal of the political situation; from the conservatism which arises through established routine and reluctance to alter one’s habits over a period; as well as from the genuine political differences ranging from ultra-left sectarianism to centrist capitulation. These are not always clearly demarcated in their lines of divergence.
'As a pre-requisite for our next step it is necessary to review our past tactics in the light of our experiences. From the time of its formation, our organisation has adopted the tactic of entry into the Labour Party. In our document entitled Tasks of the Bolshevik-Leninists in Britain presented to the 1938 Unity Conference, this position was summed up in the slogan ’Full Strength at the Point of Attack.’ Here we proposed to throw the full weight of our membership into the Labour Party.
'Our argument was simple: the main task confronting us was to break down the isolation of our cadres; this could only be done by entry into the mass organisations. The British workers would enter, and were entering a new phase of radicalisation. Though delayed, this movement would be even more revolutionary than the movements of the continental workers. The mainstream of the working class would follow the historical law and pass through the Labour Party. The voluntary isolation of our comrades from the mass organisations as proposed by the lefts who raised the principle of the ’independent organisation’ and the open party, was criminal at this stage. If we worked correctly for a period and dug ourselves into the mass organisations, when the swing came we would be in leading positions within the Labour Party. We would have a base among the workers who had entered in the course of their radicalisation; it was at this point that we would break down our political isolation and reap the results of consistent fraction work; it was at this point that we could contend for the leadership of the working class.
'Objectively the situation did not materialise as we expected it would. The war cut across the movement of the workers. In the ensuing period we were forced to modify our ideas.
'What were the gains of that period? What lessons are to be learned from that episode? These are the two important questions which must be answered now.
'As a prelude to answering them, it is necessary to state that in practise we did not carry out our own tactic; on the contrary, we even contradicted it to a large degree. The publication of WIN and Fourth Internationalist documents as well as the running of independent Trotskyist study circles, became the main axis of our work. Youth for Socialism, in its initial stages attempted to base itself on the entrist tactic. But when the Stalinists broke with the Labour League of Youth leaving only the husk of an organisation, Youth for Socialism became more and more of an open propagandist journal, finally evolving into the Socialist Appeal. For every ounce of energy put into the Labour Party, ten were put into direct open work for the Fourth International. At no time did we allow the work in the Labour Party to interfere with our open work. And it was from the open field that we recruited most of the fresh members into WIL. While it is true we did make a few organisational gains from the Labour Party, we did not succeed in embedding ourselves into its structure as we visualised. From the broader aspect of our accepted tactic, we gained nothing at all. Not a single member of our earlier cadres occupies a leading position from which to influence the local Labour Party in any area. Furthermore we have never been represented at Labour Party National Conferences where our voice could be heard. In this sense our tactic completely failed. Nevertheless, the general basis of our ideas at that period remain true. The workers have not yet broken with the Labour Party and will turn to it yet. This is the background to our transitional slogan that Labour takes power.
'The main achievements of our ’turn towards the Labour Party’ lay in the field of approach and outlook. It was responsible for creating that serious attitude among our membership that we must be with the workers, that we must not isolate ourselves and make the classical blunders of the ultra-lefts in the past. It innoculated the group against the sterile sectarianism, which has isolated the British Trotskyists for years from the bloodstream of the working class.
'Eighteen months ago we substituted the conception of party in place of group in our draft constitution. This was introduced to break down the semi-conspiritorial atmosphere which pervaded our organisation as a hangover from the tactic of entry, as well as the incorrect estimate of the repression we expected would take place when war broke out which resulted in the actions taken by the organisation in preparation for ’illegality’. It also reflected the growth of the group from a local to a national organisation and corresponded to the need to broaden and co-ordinate the scope of our activity
'But to proclaim ourselves as an independent party is not sufficient. All the arguments levelled against the ultra-lefts are as applicable today as yesterday. While it is necessary to present our tendency before the workers under the independent Trotskyist banner around a propaganda group, it is necessary at the same time to understand the limitations which our present forces impose upon our ’independence’.'
During the summer
of 1940 for personal and health reasons, Ralph Lee had decided to go back to
In the summer of 1940, I was called up to serve in the Pioneer Corps. This posed a dilemma. Our policy towards the armed forces was in complete opposition to the pacifist view of conscientious objection. We held to the position that revolutionaries should go with their class, and if called-up, they should go into the armed forces to conduct revolutionary work. This correct revolutionary policy, nevertheless, threatened to undermine the organisation as the call up spread. If the leadership of the organisation were called up, this would be a severe blow to the tendency. However, fortunately, you might say, I was involved in a vehicle accident and suffered a fractured skull, and was invalided out of the Forces. Haston was also relieved from the call up on medical grounds. This situation allowed us to continue to play a full role within the leadership of the organisation.
While I was
recovering in hospital, I heard on the radio the fateful and heart-breaking
news of Trotsky’s assassination in
The exact reverse seemed true for the RSL, the official section, which had ceased publishing any public material. In 1939, the Labour leadership had proscribed the RSL’s front organisation within the Labour Party, the Militant Labour League, and it vanished immediately. It just disappeared without making a squeak. The RSL people were 'intransigent revolutionaries' within the four walls of their bedroom. There, they could convince each other of their great revolutionary integrity, as opposed to the 'social chauvinists', as they called us, who were putting forward a revolutionary military policy. Such a 'chauvinist' policy, they claimed, was a betrayal of Lenin and a capitulation to bourgeois nationalism. The RSL were incapable of understanding anything, especially the vital question of how Lenin’s position on war was to be applied to the concrete condition faced by the working class. Our genuine revolutionary opposition towards the war gave us the opportunity of working among the masses. For the RSL, such a state of affairs only existed in their heads.
After 1940, the remnants of the RSL very rapidly split into three factions. Denzil Harber, which was the centre faction, led one, another led by John Robinson was on the left, and lastly, John Lawrence led the so-called right. The Americans dubbed the latter faction the 'Trotskyist Opposition' as it largely followed the correct line of the International. The proletarian military policy had been rejected by the RSL in September 1941, and this rejection had even been made a condition of membership of the organisation! Only the 'Trotskyist Opposition' adhered to the official military policy. The Robinson tendency accused Lawrence and the leadership of the International of chauvinism, and true to their views, even opposed the demand for deep underground bomb shelters – as this was seen as a 'defencist' policy! Nothing should be supported that assisted the war effort, including deep shelters. The fact that deeper shelters would help protect workers from Hitler’s bombs was not the point! Clearly, they did not get much support in the working class for these crazy ideas. On the other hand, the WIL, having nothing to do with this ultra-left nonsense, did not hesitate to call on workers to force open the London Underground stations for use as air raid shelters.
From their comfortable armchairs, the RSL attacked the WIL for our alleged 'chauvinism'. 'We must state that the basis for all the main political mistakes of WIL is to be found in the defencist position it has adopted with regard to the imperialist war since the fall of France first made the defeat of British imperialism a real possibility', stated the RSL. 'Defencism rarely shows itself in its open form especially in a left-centrist organisation. Concealment is especially necessary in an organisation still professing to stand upon the principles of revolutionary defeatism' WIL was characterised as 'an organisation, not moving politically in our direction, but moving away from us.' Unfortunately for the leaders of the RSL, the International Secretariat could no longer go along with their blatant sectarianism. The International Secretariat, recognising the insane delusions from which the RSL was suffering, wrote on 21June 1942: 'In our opinion your attitude towards the WIL is utterly false. Without ignoring personal differences inherited from the past, it is necessary to recognise that your false attitude flows directly from a false political appreciation of this group. You see in it a centrist group ’moving away from us’. This is an opinion which we can by no means share.'
I wrote an extensive reply to the criticisms and misrepresentations of the RSL in mid-1943, which is worth quoting in order to show where we stood politically:
'Our policy in relation to the problems of the epoch remains on the granite foundation laid down by Lenin. Our attitude towards imperialist war remains that of irreconcilable opposition. We continue the traditions of Bolshevism. But in the epoch of the decline and disintegration of capitalism a continuation, as Trotsky points out, does not mean a mere repetition. In the quarter century that has passed, the objective conditions for the socialist revolution have reached maturity and the decay and disintegration of capitalism have revealed themselves in the abortive attempts at revolution on the part of the masses, in fascism, and now in the new imperialist war. All the objective conditions of the past epoch render the proletariat responsive to the posing of the problem of the conquest of power by the working class.
'As distinct from 1914-18, the cadres of Bolshevism have been trained and educated in the Leninist approach towards imperialist war. The social-chauvinism on the part of the Social Democrats and the Stalinists was anticipated and predicted by the Trotskyists long in advance. The theoretical exposure of social chauvinism is not a live issue for Bolshevism today. We build and construct our party on the Leninist internationalist basis, not least on the fundamental question of war.
'As Trotsky once pointed out, war and revolution are the fundamental test for the policy of all organisations. On both these questions we continue the Leninist tradition. But Marxism does not consist in the repetition of phrases and ideas, however correct these may be. Otherwise Lenin could not have developed and deepened the conceptions first formulated by Marx. And Trotsky could not have propounded the theory of the Permanent Revolution. If all that was required of revolutionaries was to repeat ad nauseam a few phrases and slogans taken from the great teachers of Marxism, the problem of the revolution would be simple indeed. The SPGB would be super-Marxists instead of incurable sectarians. As Trotsky remarked of the ultra-lefts, every sectarian would be a master strategist.
'In the last analysis, the basic principles of Marxism, as developed theoretically by Marx himself, have remained the same for nearly a century. The task of his successors consists, not at all in repeating a few half-digested ideas, parrot fashion, but of using the method of Marxism and applying it correctly to the problems and tasks posed at a particular period. It is now necessary to approach the problem of war, not only from its theoretical characterisation by Lenin, but in the task of winning the masses to the Leninist banner. For the past epoch the cadres of the Fourth International have been educated in the spirit of internationalism. We look at the war from the principled basis established by Lenin, but now from a more developed angle. We do not conduct our propaganda from the standpoint of analysing the nature of the defence of the capitalist fatherland alone but from the standpoint of the conquest of power by the working class and the defence of the proletarian fatherland.
'As Trotsky posed the problem:
’That is why it would be doubly stupid to present a purely abstract pacifist position today; the feeling the masses have is that it is necessary to defend themselves. We must say ’Roosevelt (or Wilkie) says it is necessary to defend the country: good, only it must be our country, not that of the sixty families and their Wall Street.’ (American Problems, August 7, 1940)
'Only hopeless formalists and sectarians, incapable of appreciating the revolutionary dynamic of Marxism, could see in this a chauvinist deviation or an abandonment of Leninism. Our epoch is the epoch of wars and revolutions, militarism and super-militarism. To this epoch must correspond the policy and approach of the revolutionary party. War has come as a horrible retribution for the crimes of Stalinism and reformism. It came through the fact that the traitors in the workers’ leadership frustrated the striving of the masses in the direction of the socialist revolution. It is a reflection of the blind alley in which imperialism finds itself, and of the historical ripeness and over-ripeness for the socialist revolution.
world war was already an expression of that fact that on a world scale
capitalism had fulfilled its historical mission. This objective fact leads
rapidly to the subjective position where the masses of the workers are ripe for
the posing of the problem of the socialist revolution, that is the problem of
power. The events of the past epoch have left the working class with a
psychology of frustration and bewilderment. They regarded with apprehension and
horror the coming of the second blood bath in which they would expect nothing
but suffering and misery. In this war, right from its inception, among the
British workers, especially among the Labour workers, there has been an absence
of hatred towards the German people. Even in
'It is perfectly true, however, that especially among the working class there is an unclear, but deep-seated hatred of Hitlerism and fascism. But with all due respect to the leadership of the RSL, this hatred is not reactionary and chauvinist but arises from a sound class instinct. True, it is being misused and distorted for reactionary imperialist ends by the bourgeoisie and labour lackeys. But the task of revolutionaries consists in separating what is progressive and what is reactionary in their attitude: in winning away the workers from their Stalinist and Labour leaderships who misuse these progressive sentiments. And there is no other way than that mapped out by Trotsky in his last articles, of separating the workers from the exploiters on the question of war.
'The decay and degeneration of British imperialism render the masses responsive to the posing by the revolutionaries of the problem of power; to the problem of which class holds the power. Every issue which arises must be posed from this angle. Our position towards war is no longer merely a policy of opposition, but is determined by the epoch in which we live, the epoch of socialist revolution. That is, as contenders for power. Only thus can we find an approach to the working class. On paper, and in the abstract, the RSL accepts the Transitional Programme as the basis for our work in the present period. Trotsky points out that the objective situation demands that our day to day work is linked through our transitional demands with the social revolution. This applies to all aspects of our work. The plunging of the world into war does not in the least demand a retreat from this position, but on the contrary gives it an even greater urgency. But the same theoretical conception which forms the basis of the Transitional Programme and dictates the strategical orientation of all our activists forms the basis of the strategical attitude towards war in the modern epoch.
'War is part
of the life of society at the present time and our programme of the conquest of
power has to be based, not on peace, but on the conditions of universal
militarism and war. We may commiserate with the comrades of the RSL on this
unfortunate deviation of history. But alas we were too weak to overthrow
imperialism and must now pay the price. It was necessary (and, of course, it is
still necessary) to educate the cadres of the Fourth International of the
nature and meaning of social patriotism and Stalino-chauvinism and its relation
towards the war. Who in
convinces itself of the superiority of its position over that of Stalinism and
reformism. It comforts itself that it maintains the position of Lenin in the
last war. This would be very goodif the RSL had understood the position of
Lenin. However, for Trotsky and the inheritors of Bolshevism, we start
(even if the RSL correctly interpreted Lenin, which it does not) where the RSL
leadership finishes! We approach the problem of war from the angle of the
imminence of the next period of the social revolution in
'Those words of the Old Man are saturated through and through with the spirit of revolutionary Marxism, which, while uncompromisingly preserving its opposition towards the bourgeoisie, shows sympathy and understanding for the attitude of the rank and file worker and the problems which are running through his mind. No longer do we stop at the necessity to educate the vanguard as to the nature of the war and the refusal to defend the capitalist fatherland, but we go forward to win the working class for the conquest of power and the defence of the proletarian fatherland.'
Completely remote from public life, the only activity open to the RSL was this eternal in-fighting between the different factions. This is what passes for political activity in a sect. Of course, this did not affect the WIL, as we weren’t bothered about what they were doing. The RSL was of no importance in the Labour movement, and of no importance to our tendency. After all the other splits, these new divisions with their ranks effectively paralysed them as an organisation. They were busy putting forward one internal bulletin after another and discussing among themselves as to who was holding up the true banner of internationalism, of revolutionary defeatism that had been developed by Lenin during the First World War. Meanwhile, real life passed them by completely.
The RSL maintained
– behind the scenes of course – that Trotsky in the last months of his life had
become a centrist, had returned to his position of the August block of 1912,
and had abandoned Lenin’s position of opposition to the imperialist war. As an
amusing indication of the great success of this policy, John Robinson, the
leader of the Left faction within the RSL (who at least should be given credit
for trying to carry out their policy) gave a speech at the time of
That was the sort of policy and approach being put forward by the RSL. This policy of an absolute out-of-this-world sectarianism and ultra-leftism on the question of war was linked to an intransigent need to continue work inside the lifeless Labour Party! This gave them the opportunity in the privacy of each other’s homes of carrying on what they imagined was political activity: debating the contents of internal bulletins. Whereas, in our tendency, the two things went together: activity in the working class and theoretical clarity. One without the other being useless and completely barren. This situation led to their rapid decline as a tendency.
Very quickly the
WIL had come to the conclusion that entrism did not correspond to the objective
We were forced to answer the RSL on the question not only of the war, but also of entrism. They saw working in the Labour Party in a completely rigid fashion, and not a tactical question.
'Making a fetish of the tactic of entrism, converting it into a mystic principle standing above time and place, sometimes lands the RSL into fantastic positions', wrote the present author. 'For example, the insistence of the RSL in ’critically’ supporting Labour candidates against the Stalinist and ILP anti-war candidates. By this stand they, the principled and implacable revolutionaries, found themselves in a position of critical support for the National Government, because of the coalition of Labour with the Tories! A vote for the Labour candidate could only be interpreted as a vote for the Government and thus for support of the war. Thus they placed themselves in a thoroughly opportunist position on the question of the war. (Here we may say that WIL gave critical support to the Stalinist and ILP anti-war candidates; at no time have we supported pacifist candidates as the RSL lyingly informed the IS in a letter of 7 July 1942.)
'The main idea of entrism, the necessity to operate on a single field in a given set of circumstances, is summed up as in our 1938 document, in military terminology: ’Full strength at the point of attack.’ Posed in this way the situation and the tasks become clearer. It is not without significance that the RSL has not posed the question to WIL from this angle: Why are we not concentrating our forces ’full strength at the point of attack’ in the Labour Party at the present time? For it would raise the reply: It is ridiculous to concentrate one’s army in war on a sector of the front where there are no results to be achieved. Today the ’point of attack’ is the industrial field. But favourable results can be achieved by the adoption of guerrilla tactics. Owing to the development of events, magnificent opportunities for work open up before us in every direction – the trade unions, the ILP, the factories, shop stewards’ movement, and even the Labour Party.
'To concentrate work inside the Labour Partythe least important field at the present stage, would be suicidal. In politics, as in war, a commander who fails to make the necessary changes in the strategic and tactical disposition of his men when the relationship of forces has changed, leads his army to defeat. Such are the commanders of the RSL.'
So we soberly came to the conclusion that nothing much could be gained by maintaining the position of entry into the Labour Party at that stage. The question of entry would inevitably arise at a certain stage in the future as events developed. But for the moment our main activity would have to be on an independent basis. This position was particularly accentuated in June 1941 when the Russians were involved in the war, and the CP did another 180-degree somersault and came out for 100 percent support of the war. They then turned into the chief strikebreaking forces for the capitalist class within the ranks of the working class. 'Coal production in the industry can be increased by regular working of all shifts available', said a CP statement, 'eliminating all avoidable absenteeism, continuation of work after fatal accidents, and the relaxation of overtime restrictions to ensure that all faces are cleared daily'
The Stalinists had become the loudest war-mongering chauvinists within the ranks of the working class. We therefore decided that we would have to go for open activity under our own banner, as a Fourth International tendency. As a result, we changed the name of our paper from Youth for Socialism to Socialist Appeal, not simply a youth paper but an adult paper, while continuing to publish a theoretical journal, Workers International News. We came forward publicly under the banner of the WIL, as an independent tendency within the working class. The pro-war stance of the Stalinists now provided us with great possibilities for an open Trotskyist tendency.
With this pro-war
attitude, large numbers of the best workers in the armament factories, who had
been supporting the CP, as well as those within the ranks of the CP, were
starting to question the line and move into political opposition. They couldn’t
stomach the strikebreaking role and the ultra patriotism that the CP was
developing at that time. So we devoted a lot of attention to the CP and we
began to win some of their best members. While explaining the imperialist
nature of the world war, at the same time we consistently argued, despite
Stalin, for the defence of the
At the Royal
Ordinance Factory at Dalmuirs in the West of Scotland we won Alec Riach, the
deputy convener, who participated in the Invergordon mutiny, and joined the
Communist Party afterwards. When we met Alec, we managed to arrange a debate
between himself and Jock Haston over the CP policy in the war. Feeling a bit
out of his depth, he asked Campbell or one of the other CP leaders to come and
debate instead. But he was told to handle it himself. The CP leaders refused to
come and it was left to Alec to take on the task of trying to defend the
position of the CP. At least the poor bloke was courageous. He admitted later
he’d had a terrible political hammering. At any rate, we won him over and with
him a number of shop stewards in the factory. So out of this approach, the WIL
had begun to establish an industrial foothold in
We had developed a
However, even at this stage, we always had an orientation and approach towards Labour workers, as well as towards the workers in the trade unions. With such a sympathetic approach, free of sectarianism and ultra-leftism, we were able to win the best elements to Marxism. In fact, it would be wrong to think that even when we worked in the Labour Party that our recruits to the tendency came from the ranks of existing Labour Party members. That is completely false. While we maintained this orientation to the mass organisations, our recruits were made from fresh workers and youth, which were then taken into the Labour Party. That is the paradox, but it also contains the secret of how to build the tendency when working in the mass organisations, which our tendency alone understood.
We became a thorn
in the side of the Communist Party, especially after June 1941 when Hitler
'There is a
group of people in
Wainwright continued: 'Trotsky was a Russian who gathered around him an unscrupulous gang of traitors to organise spying, sabotage, wrecking and assassination in the Soviet UnionThey wormed their way into important army positions, working class organisations, even Government posts. They plotted with the Nazis to hand over large tracts of their country once they had weakened it sufficiently to make its defeat quite certainTrotsky’s men are Hitler’s men. They must be cleared out of every working class organisation in the country.'
The pamphlet then concluded: 'Be on the alert for the Trotskyist disrupters. These people have not the slightest right to be regarded as workers with an honest point of view. They should be treated as you would a Nazi. Clear them out of every working class organisation.'
And finally, advice on What to do with the Trotskyists:
'First: Remember that the Trotskyists are no longer part of the working class movement. Second: Expose every Trotskyist you come into contact with. Show other people where his ideas are leading. Treat him as you would an open Nazi. Third: Fight against every Trotskyist who has got himself into a position of authority, either in your trade union branch, local Labour Party or Co-op. Expose him and see that he is turned out.'
Other articles accused us of acting as fascist agents within the factories, attempting to sabotage the war effort. They said that our militant demands, however reasonable, were a cover used to disrupt production and help Hitler. According to them, our agitation for the working class was simply to undermine their patriotic stand against fascism, and so on and so forth. The Stalinist pamphlets were small, but to answer them would have required books, because on every page there were so many lies. So we discussed the question of how to frame such a reply, whether we should deal with it in the detailed manner Trotsky dealt with these slanders, or use some other way. We came to the conclusion that it was not necessary under these circumstances to deal with them in such detail. We decided to choose a different tack.
In the end we found a very effective way of dealing with the Stalinist attacks which silenced the Stalinists in the factories. We published a well-produced little leaflet, entitled Factory Workers: Be on your Guard: Clear Out the Bosses’ Agents. We intended to distribute them in tens of thousands in all the factories where we had people, and in as many workplaces as possible where the CP had an influence. And this is what we did. I must say the campaign was very effective. It really hit them where it hurt and served to throw them onto the defensive. The leaflet answered the Stalinist’s lies point by point, and at the end of the reply we put out an offer of a reward: 'Ten Pounds Reward!' it read. This was a great deal of money in those days, possibly a few hundred pounds in today’s money. 'Ten pounds reward to any member of the Communist Party who could show a single page of their pamphlet that didn’t contain at least five lies', read our statement.
When we gave it
out, and the workers read it, they would just laugh at the CP and their
propaganda. As soon as the CPers raised their slanders, workers would ask:
'Have you applied for the
Given the effect we were having, the CP had to put Wainwright, one of its leaders in charge of following our material, especially the Socialist Appeal. He not only wrote the pamphlet already mentioned, but most of the other stuff in the Daily Worker attacking our position. At the beginning of the war, the Daily Worker had been banned, but now as they were taking a patriotic Line, and waging a campaign in favour of the war, they were allowed to publish their paper again. In the Daily Worker as well as in International Press Correspondence they denounced our material with great hostility. Wainwright twisted and distorted our arguments, but found it increasingly difficult to peddle the nonsense about the WIL being pro-Hitler and all the rest of it, because obviously we were having an effect on the advanced elements of the working class.
The slander of the
Stalinists having proved to be a flop, they decided to seek assistance from the
worst jingoistic elements within the Tory Party, the die-hard elements in the
Monday Club, and so on. They got in touch with Sir Jocelyn Lucas-Tooth the Tory
MP from Portsmouth South, who I believe was also a Colonel. They gave him the
April issue of the Socialist Appeal that was published just after
Obviously, when Willie Gallacher gave Sir Jocelyn a copy of this issue of Socialist Appeal, he must have nearly burst a blood vessel. He sent a copy to Morrison and raised the matter in Parliament. 'In view of the fact that this paper attacks our allies, and war aims, and is entirely subversive, can the Right Hon. Gentleman state any good reason for allowing it to continue?' he asked of Herbert Morrison the Home Secretary. Perhaps we were fortunate that it was Morrison who was Home Secretary in the coalition government, as he replied: 'The House knows that these matters require a great deal of careful consideration, and I think it would be best that I should consider all the circumstances before intimating any decision.' (Hansard, 30 April 1942). It was rumoured at the time that in the corridors of the House of Commons, Morrison was overheard saying, 'If I do have to take action against the Trotskyists, then I’ll certainly have the warm support of Mr. Gallacher.' Gallacher apparently was in earshot, and said agitatedly, 'What do you mean?' And Morrison replied, 'You know and I know what I mean.'
Not long after, in
July 1942, the activities of the WIL in the British coalfields were discussed
in Parliament. According to the Daily Telegraph, 'Capt. Crowder raised the
issue by asking Mr. Morrison what action he proposed to take regarding the
distribution of subversive literature among
Morrison, the Labour Home Minister in the wartime coalition, was clearly concerned about the Trotskyists. He made this clear in a private conversation with James Maxton, the left-wing Scottish MP, who passed the information on to us. However, Morrison had said that he knew we were misguided but honest types. Although he fundamentally disagreed with our views, he saw that we were consistent – unlike the Stalinists – and that we were anti-fascists, and that we had taken a principled position on the war. Later, a full report by Morrison about the WIL appeared in the Cabinet papers (See appendix). They must have even examined our dental records as well as everything else to try and find a way of getting rid of us! But for the moment, Morrison wasn’t prepared to take action. He told Maxton to tell us that we should watch our step, but, despite the Tories pressing him hard, he hung back.
Who knows what
went through Morrison’s mind? He had held a pacifist anti-war position during
the First World War, though he was now on the right wing of the Labour Party.
Maybe he had a bit of a guilty conscience! But I do know that some years before
As the war
continued, the mood of the class began to change. In 1943 there were more
individual strikes in the mining industry – all of them unofficial - than in
any year since the beginning of the century. If we bear in mind that the war
was on and that the CP was vehemently opposed to all strikes, it is obvious
that a deep mood of discontent was building up. Strikes broke out especially in
the Yorkshire and
The strikes were blamed by the right wing President of the miners’ union, William Lawther, on the Trotskyists. This was immediately taken up by the yellow press. The Daily Mail published a sensational 'exposure' by one of its reporters who claimed to have formed a team of special investigators all over the country tracking down the Trotskyists. Ernest Bevin the ex-trade union leader who was now Minister of Labour took up the theme, accusing the followers of Leon Trotsky who, he claimed, not only had plenty of members and money, but 'more influence among certain sections of the workers than His Majesty’s Government and the trade union leaders combined.' In his biography of Aneurin Bevan, Michael Foot recalls the panic in the trade union leadership at the time:
naturally watched the strike movement with growing alarm. Some other smaller
unofficial strikes were taking place in other industries, among engineering
apprentices and gas workers. Newspapers reported that bands of Trotskyists, who
rejected the Communist Line of full support for the war effort, were among the
instigators. Bevin said later that the nation was living on the edge of a
volcano, which might affect three million workers. On April 5 he attended a
luncheon where he underlined the peril – but chiefly the peril in the mines.
The stoppage in the Yorkshire coalfield, he said, was far worse than if
Of course, the strikes that were taking place were not caused by 'outside agitators' – either the RCP or anyone else. They were caused by the growing discontent of the miners and other workers at the bad conditions in industry, the profiteering of the employers and so on. Nevertheless, the RCP was the only organisation that supported strikes in defence of wages and conditions, while the 'Communist' Party was playing a completely strike-breaking role. Therefore, Bevin’s remarks were clearly directed against us. Despite our small size, they took us very seriously and we were regarded as a threat.
Bevin got his way. With the backing of the TUC, the government introduced the notorious Regulation 1AA. Its essential clause reads as follows: 'No person shall declare, instigate, or make any other person to take part in, or shall otherwise act in the furtherance of, any strike among persons engaged in the performance of essential services, or any lock-out of persons so engaged.' This was a draconic, catch-all piece of legislation, which effectively removed the right to strike. The penalty for violating it was five years’ penal servitude or a five hundred pound fine (a fortune in those days) – or both. But in the end it proved to be a dead letter. No-one was ever prosecuted under Regulation 1AA.
We had our
headquarters in a room in Millie Lee’s place in
With each succeeding crisis during the war, we had had the press coming to see what was going on. For instance, when the miners went on strike in the Yorkshire coalfields in the middle of 1942, Joe Hall, the president of the Yorkshire miners, launched an attack on the WIL, saying that these Trotskyist agitators were being paid ’10 a week, which was a fortune in those days – for the purpose of stirring up agitation. Of course, this had no effect on the miners, but merely frightened the middle classes who were looking for reds under the bed. The capitalist press played it up and we challenged them to produce the evidence.
The Daily Mail
reporter came around to gather material about our activities and to write an
article about WIL and Joe Hall’s allegations. He interviewed Haston and myself.
The next day the story appeared with the heading: 'Class War is Waged from
Loft HQ.' The article opened up: 'In a bare loft above a builder’s
yard near Kings Cross,
Between mid-1941, the time of the CP’s pro-imperialist war stand, and 1944, we developed the activity of our tendency to an enormous extent. We maintained a small group in the Labour Party, as explained, ready to take advantage of the situation when it changed. However, in these years, the ILP had developed, and was a far more important field for us. We therefore maintained a fraction in the ILP, and succeeded in winning over people such as Roy Tearse, who became the Industrial Organiser of the WIL and the secretary of the Militant Workers Federation.
We also recruited
T. Dan Smith, the notorious T. Dan Smith on Tyneside, who ended up on the right
wing, became Labour leader in the North East of England and was subsequently
jailed for corruption. Bill Hunter also came from the ILP, and after a period
of good work, ended up after the break-up of the RCP as a hatchetman of Healy.
Other comrades recruited from the ILP, also from the North East, were Ken
Skethaway, Jack and Daisy Rawlings and Herbie Bell, all of whom remained
life-long comrades of our tendency. Throughout the North East, we controlled
two divisions of the ILP, in
deserves a special comment. Herbie was a courageous fighter for the working
class. Born in
Important as the
ILP work was, it was not our most important field of activity. Our main area of
work was in the industrial field and in the main trades unions where we were
beginning to recruit more and more workers. The WIL, while relatively small with
around 300 members, was overwhelmingly – maybe about 90 percent – industrial
working class in composition. In August 1942, the WIL held its first national
conference, where for the first time we saw collected together a galaxy of
working class talent. The conference sent greetings to the Fourth International
and requested that WIL be accepted as the official section in
'This, the first National Conference of the Workers International League, held under the conditions of semi-legality imposed upon us by the present war politics of the British bourgeoisie, sends greetings to the International Secretariat, expressing our solidarity with it and through it to all sections of the Fourth International throughout the world. In addressing ourselves to you, we once again express, by the unanimous vote of our membership, the desire to be acknowledged as an official section of the Fourth International.
'The International Conference of 1938 rejected the appeal of the Workers International League (then only a small minority group) to be accepted as an official section of the Fourth International, or to be recognised as a sympathetic section. This decision on the part of the conference was based on an entirely incorrect estimation of the British movement and its various components. The Conference placed its trust in the ’Unified Revolutionary Socialist League’, in the hands of CLR James, of Maitland and Tate, of Starkey Jackson and DD Harber. Today the ’unified’ organisation has splintered into no less than five fragments; CLR James is now with the Burnham-Shachtman revisionists (his deviation had been noted by the WIL comrades in 1937); Maitland and Tait have adopted the stand of ’Conscientious Objectors’ to the imperialist war on ’ethical grounds’ and have decisively broken with Bolshevism; Jackson and Harber have almost completely disappeared from the political horizon of the revolutionary workers. Meanwhile, despite the loss of comrade Lee who returned to South Africa due to illness, and contrary to the prediction of the Conference that the WIL would splinter into fragments and finish in the mire, the WIL has attracted to its ranks all the genuine militants of our tendency in Britain and stands today as the only representative of the Fourth International with a voice among the British working class.'
The statement recorded the fact that the RSL had 'to all intents and purposes' collapsed. The last issue of its paper Militant appeared more than a year ago. It had produced no publications. It held no meetings. It conducted no discussion circles. 'In name it retains the status of the British section of the Fourth International, in fact it has completely collapsed.'
to this the WIL has moved slowly but steadily ahead. We have produced every
important document of our international movement and sold them in thousands.
The semblance of a genuine national organisation has been formed. Militants
from our ranks play leading roles in workers’ struggles in many parts of the
country – in the trade union and shop stewards movement, particularly in heavy
industry the voices of our comrades are heard at conventions of the working
class. This is a new feature in British Trotskyism. Our publications have
appeared with regularity under the most adverse conditions and today they are
the acknowledged publications of Trotskyism in
As the political secretary of the WIL, I was given the task of drawing up the perspectives document, which was entitled Preparing for Power. It is an important document, which was printed in the WIN, and deserves today to be reprinted and made available to a wider audience. There are those who said that the document, and its title, was out of step with the real situation. But this is false. Our task was the building of a revolutionary proletarian party, whose task was the organisation of the working class to take power. This was based upon the perspective of great revolutionary events that would arise from the war. In 1942, this remained the most likely path in front of us. Our aim was to draw out all the revolutionary possibilities inherent in the situation and to raise the sights of every member to the tasks posed by history. That was the purpose of the perspectives outlined in Preparing for Power.
By its very nature,
the document was very optimistic as it outlined the growing upsurge in
industrial militancy, and the developing mood for social change. It deals with
the international situation, then analysed developments in
'This awakening of the working class is shown by the number of strikes that are taking place in formerly backward areas which were only partially organised before the war. Commencing with Betteshanger Colliery, the unrest among the miners – always a barometer of the temper of the British workers – has been followed by strikes in one coalfield after another. Small strikes have taken place among the dockers, railwaymen, engineers and ship-building workers. All these have for the present been limited to a local scale. But they are the first rumblings that give warning of the coming eruption.
bourgeoisie and the Labour bureaucracy are looking with alarm on these signs of
discontent among the workers, and have been compelled to retreat and
compromise. They are afraid that by too stubborn opposition, they might release
forces beyond their power to control. This process, however, is developing in a
contradictory fashion. It can be seen, for example, that despite the terrific
discontent among the highly class conscious workers in South Wales and Clydeside,
no big movement is taking place in these traditional storm centres. The reason
for this has not been unwillingness on the part of the workers to fight. It is
the stranglehold exercised by the Stalinists over the shop stewards and leading
militants in these districts. Undoubtedly, but for this feature, there would
already have been a general strike on the Clydeside, at least among the
shipbuilding workers. Had the Stalinists been pursuing their pseudo-left line
of the ’people’s government’ period, they would today be at the head of a mass
movement throughout the country. It is no exaggeration to say that they would
probably have captured the rank and file militants in every union in industry.
But the changing of the party Line after Hitler’s attack on
'This offers a tremendous opportunity to the Fourth International, and one which must be utilised to the fullest possible extent. Once again it must be emphasised – face to the factories, the unions, the factory committees!'
Preparing For Power went on to analyse the perspectives for the war and then concluded with great optimism for the future:
'The possibility exists for an unprecedented growth in influence and numbers in the shortest possible time. Today the problem consists mainly in preparing the basis for a rapid increase in growth and influence. The Workers International League will grow with the growth of the left wing. It is necessary to break sharply and consciously, as the group is already doing, with the psychology and perspectives of the past. The most difficult period is in the past – isolated membership and the hostility or indifference of the masses. Big movements and big events which we can influence are on the order of the day. The group must not be caught unawares by the development of events.
'It is necessary that the membership systematically face the workers and penetrate among the masses. Above all, it is necessary to bring the Fourth International before the masses of the workers as an independent tendency.
'It is necessary that the organisation face up critically to the most vital of all factors: the leadership and the organisation are lagging behind the development of events. Objectively, conditions are developing and have already developed, which make for the speediest and most favourable growth and entrenchment of our organisation. But the basic weakness lies in the lack of trained cadres. The membership is for the most part young and untrained and lacks theoretical education. The organisation, despite the leap in influence, still maintains for the most part the habits and attitude of mind of the past - that is, of propaganda circles rather than of branches for agitation among the masses. The difficulties and tasks of the past period of the group’s life are still reflected in its ideas and work. On the basis of the new perspective a sharp break must be made with the past.
'It can be stated without exaggeration that the decisive question of whether the organisation will be able to face up to events will be determined by whether the leadership and membership can base themselves thoroughly in the shortest space of time, on these perspectives and face up to implementing them in the day to day work of the organisation. To develop deep and firm roots and to become known as a tendency and organisation throughout the country, and above all, among the advanced workers in the factories is the basic task of the organisation.
disproportion in the situation in
must be accomplished. Our untrained and untested organisation, will, within a
few years at most, be hurled into the turmoil of the revolution. The problem of
the organisation, the problem of building the party, goes hand in hand with the
revolutionary mobilisation of the masses. Every member must raise himself or
herself to the understanding that the key to world history lies in our hands.
The conquest of power is on the order of the day in
'Revolutionary audacity can achieve everything. The organisation must consciously pose itself and see itself as the decisive factor in the situation. There will be no lack of possibilities for transforming ourselves from a tiny sect into a mass organisation on the wave of the revolution.'
With many of our comrades conscripted into the armed forces, the organisation conducted energetic revolutionary activity within the army. The army was made up overwhelmingly of young conscripts. We had refused to take the pacifist position of the ILP and support the conscientious objectors. On the contrary, we had insisted that all our comrades, except for those needed for the functioning of the organisation, would have to go with their class into the forces. When they were called up they linked their fate with that of their class. This policy of revolutionary activity in the army gained really important results. The past arguments of Lenin and Trotsky had demonstrated the absolute falsity of pacifism and the tactic of conscientious objection as a method of fighting war. The main problem with conscientious objection was that the best elements, the more self-sacrificing, the more courageous elements, would simply separate themselves off from the movement of the working class and those they wanted to influence. Such a policy would leave the working class to the mercy of the reactionary officers and generals of the ruling class.
Our comrades who
went into the army very quickly got a great response wherever they were
stationed. The military establishment, for example, in order to boost the
morale of the soldiers, organised what they called The Army Bureau of Current
Affairs or ABCA. This was used by the officers to explain to the conscript
soldiers exactly what was happening at the different fronts, educate them about
current political events and so on, and to inspire them for their military
struggle against fascism. In many cases, where our comrades were stationed,
together with other lefts, we took over a number of these ABCAs. Our comrades
participated in the Forces’ Parliament in
We always insisted that our comrades should be the best workers in the factories, that they should be punctual and conscientious, otherwise workers would not be prepared to listen or take you seriously. Taking the advice of Trotsky, we extended this analogy to work in the army. That is to say, in times of war we should also be the best soldiers, and demonstrate our technical capacity and proficiency in arms. At the same time, our comrades would fight for the improvement in conditions of their fellow soldiers and link this to the establishment of Soldiers’ Committees and a rounded-out revolutionary position.
This tactic was very successful. So successful in fact that the officers in charge usually wouldn’t know what to do with our comrades. The colonel would grumble that he couldn’t have this Bolshie chap ruining the morale in his unit. So he would look around for another officer who he did not particularly like and say: 'I think I’ll give Percy a little present.' So they would post our comrade to old Percy, or whoever, with the message: 'I’ve got a good bloke for you, very conscientious.' So they would be posted all round the place. And wherever they went, carrying on our revolutionary agitation, they succeeded in 'Bolshevising' the troops, to the dismay of the officers. As a result of this revolutionary work, soldiers were getting in touch with us from all sorts of places.
A classic example of this was what happened with Frank Ward, who unfortunately later ended up on the right wing where he acted as the Labour bureaucracy’s ’expert’ on Trotskyism. Nevertheless at that time he did marvellous work for us in the air force. Frank, a very capable comrade at that time, was an engineer in the RAF where he created waves with his political agitation. On one occasion when Frank was busy tying the officer in charge up in knots, the officer suddenly threw up his hands and said to our comrade: 'Very well then, you conduct the bloody classes.' Seeing an opportunity, Frank stepped in and gave four lectures on the programme of the Fourth International – and got an amazing response from the soldiers into the bargain! Using these methods, we managed to win over whole number of soldiers to our ideas.
Finally, the bigwigs in the War Office must have got wind of what was happening. They decided that there was only one thing to do. They gave Frank Ward an 'honourable discharge' from the air force and sent him home! This was not a dishonourable discharge, of course, because they had no grounds for such an action. Frank’s service record was impeccable, and they didn’t want any trouble. He was informed that he was 'no longer suitable to requirements.' Of course, we wouldn’t let it end there! We waged a campaign concerning this scandalous affair. This man was healthy, we explained, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with him, mentally or physically, and yet the military bosses were kicking him out of the forces. We kicked up a terrible scandal. After his discharge, he became a professional full-time worker for the organisation.
agitation within the armed forces was having a great response. It was around
this time that one of the great myths was created about the alleged
'chauvinism' of Ted Grant – which was peddled around by some of the
sects. This arose from our attitude towards the Eighth Army stationed in
Anyway, the Eighth
Army was regarded as the flower of the British Army, but at that time there was
an enormous revolutionary ferment developing among these soldiers. In the
Forces’ Parliament in
'We have a
victorious army in North Africa and
'Books have their own fate', the Romans used to say, and speeches also have a fate unintended by those who make them. The above remarks were taken completely out of context by the sectarians and twisted in order to give some credence to the false allegation concerning our supposed 'chauvinism'.
We made great advances in the army, and we made important gains in industry. In the engineering industry we were developing an important position, particularly in the Amalgamated Engineering Union. In this union we had established a small but important influence. We had set up a network throughout the country based on key activists. Gerry Healy was our industrial organiser, but we had numerous difficulties with him. This resulted in Healy either resigning or being expelled on several occasions from the WIL. Every time Haston and myself brought him back into the leadership, against the wishes of most of the membership. We managed to convince the comrades of his organisational capacity, and we brought him back. This proved to be a big mistake. The last time this happened, in February 1943, he walked out saying he was joining the ILP. Given his track record, when we brought him back this time, we refused to bring him back into the leadership. We told him he would have to work his way back into a position of trust, which served to push him into organising an opposition to the leadership on any question he could lay his hands on. This was the start of Healy’s factionalism within the WIL, which was later encouraged by the connivance of Cannon and Pablo.
importance of the industrial work, and our need to sink deep roots in industry,
we had no alternative but to replace Healy. Roy Tearse became our national
Industrial Organiser. Tearse, who was an outstanding comrade, had a great feel
for the work, and applied himself with great energy and ability. We set up the
Militant Workers Federation to draw around us the best militants in industry.
Tearse became its secretary and its offices were based in
'Essentially my basic job as the secretary of the Militant Workers Federation was to keep these militants in contact with each other. It was a question of trying to build an alternative base from the Communist Party inside industry. This is what it really meant. There was no secret made of the fact to positively push Trotskyist ideas and to support genuine militant activity on the part of the working class. For instance, this Barrow strike, which is often mentioned, the Militant Workers Federation assisted in the organisation by sending out circulars for support and so on, and collected a considerable amount of money for the strike. In those days, what was collected I don’t remember exactly now, but it was a considerable amount, and it was a question of workers getting assistance, of maintaining contact, where workers needed assistance and so on, and of course arguing all the time for our point of view. This is what it all really amounted to. Its biggest activity was its involvement in the Tyneside Apprentices strike in 1944.'
conditions, all strikes were unofficial and illegal. Workers had not been
involved in struggle for quite a period and so our assistance was invaluable.
We gave them the idea of connecting with other sections of the working class,
and explained how to set up committees and how to conduct the struggle. During
the Barrow engineering workers’ strike of 1943, which was a solid strike
affecting the shipbuilding industry, we sent over Jimmy Dean from
The strike was
taking place as we held our second national conference. There was great
optimism throughout our ranks at the progress we had made, and the developing
'Wonderful day, wonderful possibilities open up in front of us', stated the present author to the assembled 150 or so delegates and visitors. 'You can feel revolution in the air. That attitude must permeate our conference. The correctness of our viewpoint should give us confidence in preparing ourselves for our role in the coming revolution. Whatever its fate may be, it is certain that we can, we must, we will play our part, and stamp our tendency as an influence, as a serious factor in the situation, as an organisation that will play its part in the revolution. When, twelve months ago, we called our thesis ’Preparing for Power’, this was not a mad gesture. That is the serious problem with which we are faced.'
After the Conference, the Barrow strike had been victorious, and was a militant example to workers everywhere. Of course, the press was nosing around the Trotskyists to see what they could dig up, but they couldn’t find anything. Nevertheless, there were campaigns in the press waged by the Sunday Dispatch, the Sunday organ of the Daily Mail, and by other newspapers, with big front page headlines about these ’outside agitators’, and so on. But this had little effect. When the Stalinists attempted to slander our comrades Jimmy Deane and Arthur Farrager, the whole thing backfired. Asked why they weren’t doing their bit for King and Country, they replied: 'I’m doing my utmost – I’m a blood donor', to cheers of delight form the workers. Hundreds of Socialist Appeal papers were sold in the dispute.
The WIL was also involved in a number of other strikes, which were regularly covered by the Socialist Appeal. In the report on the WIL drawn up by Herbert Morrison, it outlines some of these interventions:
also took some part in the strikes at the Rolls Royce aircraft works,
As the resolution on industrial perspectives for our 1943 national conference explained, 1942 saw the largest number of strikes for 16 years, and in the first five months of 1943 there were one-and-a-half times as many disputes as in the same period of 1942. It highlighted the possible development of workers’ committees or soviets as the industrial struggle deepened, and especially the role of the Militant Workers Federation. The resolution stated:
'It is now possible to perceive, not only a broadening out, but a general transformation in the nature of the struggle. Whereas previously the workers who were involved in disputes were isolated, the nationwide support given to the Neptune Engine works on the Tyne, the solidarity of the miners in the South Yorkshire and South Wales coalfields over recent disputes affecting single collieries in the given areas, or the strike of 23,000 Nottinghamshire miners over the imprisonment of a lad – these are demonstrations that the workers are closing their ranks in solidarity. But the latter strike in particular, is an indication of the political character that the struggle is assuming.
'Already the workers are realising the necessity of linking up with, and gaining support of, workers in other parts. The Committees that were established as the directing centres in these disputes are not as yet soviets, but they point to the centres in which the workers, through the efforts of the local leaders, will create fighting committees or soviets on a national scale in the future. All these factors demonstrate that the main strategy of the revolutionary socialists in the field of industry must be to raise consciously in the minds of the industrial workers the necessity to end the industrial truce.
objective conditions for tremendous explosions are maturing in the factories,
mines and transport of
In the same year, in June 1943, Stalin wound up the Communist International as a gesture to the Allies, and to demonstrate that he was not interested in world revolution. According to the Stalinist writer William Z. Foster, who was chairman of the American Communist Party:
'It is significant that the historic decision was taken right at the most crucial moment of the fight to establish the second front. This front was very greatly needed for a quick and decisive victory; but the Western reactionaries (who also believed Goebbels’ lies about the Comintern) were blocking it. Undoubtedly the favourable impression all over the bourgeois world made by the dissolution of the Comintern helped very decisively to break this deadly log-jam. It was only a few months later (in November-December 1943) that there was held the famous Teheran conference, at which the date for the second front was finally decided.'
In a special issue of Socialist Appeal, a manifesto addressed to working class internationalists was issued. I wrote an analysis in the June edition of WIN entitled The Rise and Fall of the Communist International, outlining the history of the International, from a revolutionary body under Lenin to a counter-revolutionary body under Stalin, for use by comrades in discussions with CP militants. It concluded:
of Stalin and the ’stinking corpse’ of the Comintern suffered irretrievable
ruin when the Nazis invaded the
'The long drawn-out pretence is over. Stalin has dissolved the degenerate Comintern. In doing so he openly announces his stepping over to the side of the capitalist counter-revolution as far as the rest of the world is concerned. But the imperialists, in forcing Stalin to make this trade in return for concessions and bargains on their part, have not understood the consequences this will have. It cannot and will not prevent the coming of new revolutions throughout the world. In the less than two decades since the beginning of its degeneration, the Comintern has ruined many favourable situations in many countries.
decades will witness many revolutions with the breakdown and collapse of
capitalism. Even the violently disturbed epoch of the period between the wars
will seem comparatively tranquil compared to the period which lies ahead. On
this background of storms and upheavals a real instrument of world revolution
will be created. What the workers lacked in the last decades, outside
The WIL had really come into its own. We had established a modest apparatus. I was the national secretary, Jock was the national organiser, and Harold Atkinson was our national treasurer. We had four full timers at this stage: myself, Jock, Andrew Scott, who was the assistant editor of Socialist Appeal, and Millie Lee. It was a very good team, although Scott dropped out after being called up. Our offices in Kings Cross were very modest, but they suited our purposes. By this time we must have had 300 members. Things were certainly going in our direction.
In contrast, as we
explained in our statement, the official section of the International, the RSL,
was in a terminal state and split into three warring factions. Its meagre
forces were disintegrating before their very eyes. By the summer of 1943, the
170 members who made up the RSL at its foundation had dwindled to 23. Their
paper ceased publication and they had no paid full timer. In 1943, one of their
factions, the Trotskyist Opposition (TO), the so-called right wing, got in
touch with us with the aim of fusing with our organisation. The Healy faction
had been in regular contact with the TO, hoping, under the guidance of Cannon,
to construct a stronger faction with the TO. However, just at this point when
the right wing was preparing to join us, the leadership, which had become a
minority in the RSL, pulled a brilliant manoeuvre by expelling the majority!
That is an actual fact! They managed to pull off this trick with Harber joining
up with Robertson to expel the ’social chauvinists’, as they called the
Trotskyist Opposition. As soon as that was complete, Harber then turned around
and immediately expelled the supporters of Robertson into the bargain! So by
that means the minority succeeded in expelling the majority. At any rate, the
TO got in touch with us and were getting ready to enter our organisation and,
at that very moment, who should arrive on the scene but Sam Gordon of the
American SWP. By this time, the headquarters of the International had moved to
have this terrible mess in
pulled back the TO from fusing with us, convincing them that their task was to
re-establish the RSL, which was in ruins. So they convened a conference of all
the factions of the RSL in January 1944. An IS resolution was proposed, and
after some arm twisting, accepted as a means of reconstituting the RSL, which
could then formally enter fusion talks with the WIL. The job of the IS was
simply, as they saw it, to unify their rump grouping with the successful WIL.
The International leadership forced the remnants of the RSL at gun-point to
come together by threatening to expel them from the International if they
weren’t prepared to accept this decision. In the words of Don Corleone in The
Godfather, they made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. But before the
International leadership was prepared to recognise us as the official tendency
We insisted that if there was going to be a unification of the organisations, then this could only take place on a principled basis. Tactical, strategic and political positions had to be laid down firmly in advance, then discussed on a democratic basis between both tendencies. This would be followed by a unity conference where the decisions would be made. The minority, whoever the minority might be, had the right to develop and put forward their position, and the organisation as a whole would consider it. But once the conference decided, then that would be the policy of the organisation. Otherwise there couldn’t be any unification. We would never again allow a unification such as took place in 1938 - an unprincipled unification, which, we said, was a sure formula for future splits. In this, we were proved absolutely correct.
So they sent
Sherry Mangan, another American, over to
Of course, before the unity conference we published all the documents. The RSL published documents on the military policy, which described us as having a chauvinist policy. We put forward our position of supporting the proletarian military policy based on the policy of Trotsky and Lenin – developed by us and applied to the present situation. This position was in complete contrast to the barren and ineffective caricature of 'revolutionary defeatism' as put forward by the RSL.
On the question of entrism, we explained that in the long term, even if we had thousands of members, it would still be necessary to enter the Labour Party at a certain stage – but only under the classic conditions that had been laid down by Trotsky. These were: a pre-revolutionary situation, a ferment within the party of social democracy and a developing mass left wing opposition within the party. We explained that although this would provide a golden opportunity, it was nevertheless regarded as a short-term expedient. That was our position at that time, and that was the position of Trotsky. Events in the post war period forced us to modify this position, and, with the break-up of the RCP, we were forced to enter the Labour Party for a very lengthy period indeed. But at that time, entrism was not a viable tactic in building the organisation. It was necessary to maintain an open independent party.
Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, vol. 1, p. 388.
Quoted in War and the International by
Roy Tearse interview by Al Richardson, 6 July 1978.
Quoted in War and the International, pp.77-78.
Quoted in War and the International, p.73.
Quoted in The Communist Movement, Fernando
Page 5 of 8
As a result of the fusion, the Revolutionary Communist Party was founded in March 1944. At this founding conference, all the factions were allowed to put their case. Firstly, we discussed the question of the proletarian military policy, moved by myself. Harber, and then Robinson put forward their positions, but were heavily defeated. Haston moved the resolution on entrism, which was opposed by John Archer and Robinson, but won by an overwhelming majority. Tearse then moved the industrial resolution that was passed with only the 'Left' voting against. Finally, the present author moved the WIL perspectives document, The World Revolution and the Tasks of the Working Class. Again only the 'Left' were opposed.
After a debate, the name Revolutionary Communist Party was chosen. Following elections to the Central Committee, all factions, except the Left faction of Robinson, which soon split from the party, announced their dissolution. Arthur Cooper got up as a speaker for the Trotskyist Opposition and said: 'We have absolutely no political differences whatsoever with the leadership'. And this was true at that time; there were no political differences. He concluded, 'therefore, we can’t continue as a faction and so we’re dissolving the faction.' This remark was greeted with laughter and jeers on the part of the delegates. The comrades had known these people for a number of years and knew the value of such speeches. Mangan, the representative of the International Secretariat, and a stooge of Cannon, stood up, holding up his hands in holy horror: 'Comrades,' he pontificated, 'when good comrades give an undertaking like this, it is unprecedented that they should be treated in this way.' Of course, we just laughed and left it at that. Nobody even bothered to reply.
Although the conference had taken very clear decisions, we didn’t force everybody into line. We were never advocates of the 'big stick' approach of Cannon, but were always flexible in internal Party affairs. Those who had been in the Labour Party could remain in the Labour Party for the time being. We wouldn’t insist that they leave the Labour Party. On the contrary, we said they should participate in our LP fraction, which in any case had two or three times as many members in the Labour Party as the RSL had! Although they styled themselves the 'Labour Party fraction' they had collapsed, for reasons I’ve already explained, whereas we had developed a modest base in the Labour Party in certain areas. Thus, even though we were overwhelmingly outside the Labour Party, we had succeeded with our methods where the others had failed. As long as the official position was put publicly, we accepted that these opposition comrades had the right to hold their views, continue their activity, and publish articles in the internal bulletins if they so wished.
Despite all the
talk about 'unity', that very same night Sherry Mangan held a secret
faction meeting in his room in the
During the war, Cannon had developed a swelled head. After the death of Trotsky, he and the other SWP leaders thought that they must control the International movement, as they had controlled the American Trotskyist movement. They therefore needed pliable people who would follow their line. They had forgotten that with these methods, the methods of Zinoviev, and later the methods of Stalin, they would build nothing. They had forgotten the main principle that Lenin had tried to teach Bukharin: that if you demand unconditional obedience from the different tendencies within the International, you will get obedient fools. Not only that, but – as we predicted in relation to Cannon and CLR James – when it comes to the first big conflict, the stooges will end up on the opposite side of their erstwhile 'Leader'. That actually happened with the SWP on a number of occasions.
In the 1938 unity
negotiations prior to the Founding World Congress, Cannon had brought over with
him a couple of young comrades from the youth organisation of the SWP, Frank
Denby and Nathan Gould. We predicted at the time that the cynical manoeuvres of
Cannon would have a bad effect on these youngsters, who would be completely
mis-educated and start to behave in a similar fashion. We predicted that at the
first serious test of opposition, they would come into collision with Cannon.
And that is how it turned out. Gould entered into a bloc with Shachtman against
Cannon and became a leader of the rival American Workers Party. In
took the name of the Revolutionary Communist Party – in complete contrast to
the strike-breaking patriotic 'Communist' Party. We wanted to
contrast the genuine unblemished revolutionary programme of Trotskyism with the
criminal role of Stalinism. The RCP had begun on a firm basis, continuing the
revolutionary tradition of the WIL. Haston was elected general secretary of the
RCP, and I was made the political secretary. Five-sixths of our membership were
working class. We had a tried and tested leadership, and we had no real
political rivals. It seemed that the future of our tendency and the future of
the working class was assured. On the surface of it, we had solved all the
problems of factionalism. We had become the official section of the Fourth
formation of the RCP, we took out a lease on a new headquarters in
As an amusing
aside, in the early days of the RCP, the 'Left' John Robinson used to
say that he slept on the floor in the East End of London, and that all
revolutionaries should do the same, as that is how workers lived. Well, I do
not know about the workers, but we were forced to sleep on mattresses on the
There was a serious shortage of coal, reflecting the lack of investment of the coal owner for a period of decades and an aging workforce. In an attempt to solve the problem in 1943 the government introduced what was known as the 'Bevin boys' – a system whereby a body of young men chosen by ballot from those conscripted to serve in the army would instead be sent to the mines. This was extremely unpopular, and was aggravated by the bad conditions that the young apprentices had to put up with. The discontent surfaced in the Tyneside apprentices’ strike.
Of course, our comrades, led by Heaton Lee and Ann Keen, gave them support and assistance, and even provided important guidance to the strike through Bill Davy, the apprentices’ leader. Roy Tearse explained:
contact with Bill Davy had been made by the members of Workers International
League on Tyneside. It was purely a political contact at first. Bill was a
political animal, at that time he was in the YCL as well as being an apprentice
in industry, and the first contact that was made, was made by the comrades in
As the strike spread, the actions of the apprentices were gaining enormous sympathy amongst the older engineers in Tyneside and throughout the engineering industry. With this, the Tories and their kept press were screaming about the effects of Trotskyist agitators in the dispute. The Home Secretary, Morrison, was under pressure from the Tories to take action against these 'subversives'.
As always, the
mouthpieces for the ruling class attempted to blame so-called subversives for
the developing militancy in the working class. So, true to form, the Special
Branch, MI5, swung into action, using all the information they had gathered by
phone tapping, spying and the like. In the early hours of the morning,
simultaneously, in a military operation, every important RCP branch in the
country was raided:
Haston knew they
were looking for him when the news came on the radio and decided to play a
little game of hide-and-seek with the police. So he managed to dodge them and
went to a cinema to hide out. As the police searched all around
were all charged with evading the provisions of the Trades Disputes Acts of
1927, and of assisting an illegal strike. It was the very first time that this
piece of vicious anti-labour movement legislation, brought in by
While these arrests and attacks on our organisation rained down, our ranks stayed absolutely firm. They had been well trained and well prepared to meet these difficulties head on. There was not a single defection from the old comrades of the WIL. The majority of the old RSL membership that still remained active, also remained firm. However, there were some resignations from amongst the ex-members of the RSL. These great people of 'revolutionary' principles tended to run for cover at the first shot. Ironically those defections were from the same r-r-revolutionaries, who had this intransigent policy of 'revolutionary defeatism', and not at all from the ranks of the 'chauvinist' Workers International League.
With the Tory
anti-union laws being used against us, we immediately set up an Anti Labour
Laws’ Victims Defence Committee. We got in touch with Maxton, McGovern and the
other ILP MPs, and through them with Nye Bevan, SO Davies and the Labour left.
We succeeded in setting up a solidarity committee to raise support and money
for the defence of our comrades. At the launch meeting in Conway Hall,
The Anti-Labour Laws Defence Committee and its campaign had an immediate success within the trade union and Labour movement. Thousands of pounds were collected to fight our case and to pay for the legal defence. We conducted a campaign above all within the trade union movement, sending speakers around as many branches and shop stewards committees as possible. We circulated nationally all the trade union branches we could reach, which amounted to thousands of branches, and the support and money actually poured in. It was quite significant that the Stalinists within these branches had to keep their mouths firmly shut when this question came up, otherwise, they would have received short shrift from the workers. It was extremely difficult for them to oppose our class appeal and come out with their poison about fascism and all the rest of it. Even the Daily Worker after initial stories about 'saboteurs' had to tread carefully. This didn’t stop the Labour MP, DN Pritt, QC, a Stalinist fellow traveller, and the other hardened Stalinists howling for our blood. 'As for Grant', snarled the Daily Worker, 'all he knows about the British working class movement in his native city, could be put on the back of a penny stamp.' Tearse, in turn, was branded a 'third-rate inefficient shop steward.'
Despite all their sound and fury, the Stalinists were in a difficult position and were forced onto the defensive by our Anti-Labour Laws Victims Defence Committee. We took maximum advantage of the publicity surrounding the case to launch a tremendous campaign, involving every section of the organisation. Our comrades were imprisoned and we would not rest until they were released. Although those arrested were initially denied bail, on appeal they were released as long as they reported to the police station on a daily basis. This allowed them to participate in the Defence Campaign, which was of enormous benefit. Nye Bevan and the other lefts became heads of the Defence Committee, which was of great help and assistance to us in approaching Labour Parties and trade unions nationally. The Defence Campaign really put the organisation on the map. We already had a basis in the trade unions, and on the basis of these attacks by the state, our support was extended further. The influence of the RCP began to grow, and we sunk deeper roots into the working class.
The comrades were tried in camera, under the pretext that the police had not had time to complete their investigations into the alleged offences. Meanwhile, the press whipped up a tremendous hate campaign against us, spreading all manner of scare stories. They actually committed contempt of court on a massive scale, but this was war – so who cared? The Stalinists joined in the chorus against 'Trotskyist wreckers' who were allegedly betraying our boys at the front. But they got their answer from the soldiers of the Eighth Army who passed a resolution pointing out: 'It is the right to strike that we are fighting for.'
The case itself was very important as it was the only time that the Trades Disputes Act was ever used, before its repeal by the post-war Attlee Labour Government. The comrades received a sympathetic response from the jury, and especially from the spectators attending the court hearing. True to form, the comrades took a very dignified and firm approach to the proceedings, and took full responsibility for all their class actions. Without any hesitation, they gave full support to the struggle of the apprentices. They refused to knuckle under, or bend under the pressure of the prosecution or the bourgeois state. However on the day, unfortunately for the authorities, the jury found them guilty only on two counts.
'In so far as the trial and imprisonment was concerned, what was important was the political attitude of the apprentices,' recalled Roy Tearse. 'Now what happened was that I was, according to the judge and the press, the main defender involved, and the prosecution called the strike committee as prosecution witnesses. The entire strike committee was called as prosecution witnesses. What they had to do during the trial was to declare every witness, except one, as hostile witnesses. They were absolutely 100 percent in solidarity with the Trotskyists during the trial, and the stand made by Bill Davy was really exceptional. He was only nineteen at the time. If you look through the transcript of the proceedings, you can see how really able he was, and I think that was most important.
'On the question of the trial, when I was first charged, I was charged with acting in the furtherance of a trade dispute, in the magistrates court. When we got to the assizes there were thirteen charges. If they can’t get you on the swings, they will get you on the roundabouts. They introduced ’conspiracy’ to add to ’the furtherance’. ’Aiding and abetting James William Davy to act as furtherance’. ’Conspiring to aid and abet James William Davy to act as furtherance’. By the end of it, there were thirteen counts.'
In the end, Mr Justice Cassels passed sentence, and Haston got six months and Roy Tearse and Heaton Lee got a year each. Ann Keen was immediately released having already served her 13-day custodial sentence. The comrades launched an immediate appeal, but in the meantime, were forced to serve their sentences while it was being considered.
'I remember what was staggering, when the jury came back, as far as I was concerned, that the first eleven were ’Not Guilty’ and I thought, Jesus, what’s going to happen?', recalls Tearse. 'But on the last two they found us guilty. And of course, we won the appeal, and the reason why we won the appeal was because the jury had actually been contradictory, so the convictions were actually quashed, but Heaton Lee and I got a year each of two counts to run concurrently, Jock Haston got six months and Ann Keen got thirteen days which meant that she was released because she had been inside.'
footnote: when Haston and the other comrades went to
'On another occasion', recalled Jock Haston, 'it was the anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination, I made an application to see the governor to have a commemoration meeting with the other two [Heaton Lee and Roy Tearse]. He denied the application and I pointed out he couldn’t deny the application because it was a religious meeting, and we had a very philosophical discussion about what was meant by ’religion’. My argument was the regulations were that if there were three or more members of any denomination they had to be given opportunities to meet together. In the end, he denied the actual application, but he said, ’I’ll see that you get together during the course of the day’, which he subsequently did. So we actually had a commemoration meeting in jail.'
While in prison, Haston spent time studying law, which allowed him to give some sound advice to his lawyers. He was so diligent that he gave the lawyers the technical information relating to previous cases, where similar points of law applied. Especially as a general principle in law, you couldn’t act in furtherance of something before it actually happened. The case against them had been ill prepared. That was a fact, and shows the superiority of Marxism, even on these questions!
The prosecutor, who was supremely confident, was beaming with satisfaction at such a request. The appeal was surely about to be rejected out of hand! On the other hand, our legal counsel had a long face – and so did we. We thought the day was totally lost and that they had already made up their minds. So the prosecutor said, 'certainly, your Lordships, I accept the submission. I rest my case.' When he had sat down, Justice Wrottesley turned round and said the judges did not accept his submission on this case and that they would give a full judgement in writing later. But in the meantime, they dismissed the charges on the point of law that in acting in furtherance of a strike, before the strike had taken place, was not in breach of the Act. We had won! The convictions were quashed, and our comrades were released forthwith.
acquittal, which was a great victory for the RCP, we won over the leader of the
apprentices, Bill Davy and a number of young strikers. As soon as this battle
had finished, another opportunity opened up for us. This was in a totally new
area for us: the parliamentary front.
It was a foregone conclusion that Labour would win the Neath seat. However, as there was an electoral truce, the Tories obviously wouldn’t oppose a Labour candidate. So we decided to put up a candidate, standing on a programme to end to the Coalition and explaining the revolutionary alternative. Given the sluggish way things worked in the by-election process, it allowed us a few months of energetic revolutionary campaigning within the Neath constituency. All the comrades who could take their holidays arranged to take them during the campaign. Comrades came from all over the country and we waged a tremendously successful campaign. It kicked off with a meeting, addressed by Jock Haston, our candidate, at the Miners’ Welfare Hall in Gwaun-cae-Gurwen. We began with small meetings, ten or fifteen people, gradually building up towards the end of the campaign with meetings of a hundred, two hundred and three hundred throughout the constituency. Miners, tin-plate workers, steelworkers, transport workers and others came to hear what we had to say. We began to get a mass audience for our ideas.
To answer the attacks of the Stalinists, who raised the question of so-called 'Trotsky-fascism', we challenged them to a public debate, but at first, this challenge fell on deaf ears. We conducted an energetic electoral campaign, which had nothing in common with the kind of ultra-leftism and opportunism which is always the hallmark of the sects when they engage in electoral politics. Lenin explained long ago that ultra-leftism and opportunism are head and tail of the same coin. The sects are totally incapable of approaching the labour movement, or speaking the language of the rank and file workers. They appear as something totally alien to the labour movement. But this was not at all the case with the RCP that had its finger on the pulse of the working class and knew how to present its ideas in a way that ordinary Labour workers could appreciate.
Our campaign was waged openly as an anti-war campaign. While explaining that we were opposed to Hitler and the Nazis, we put forward a class position, that we had no confidence in the British ruling class to wage the war. We also explained that the German workers were not our enemies and that it was the duty of the working class of all countries to struggle for socialism. We argued for Labour to break the Coalition government with the Tories, and for Labour to fight for power on a socialist programme to transform the situation nationally and internationally. It was an entirely internationalist case, and it connected with the mood of the workers in this solid Labour constituency. So solid was the Labour majority that they used to say that in an election in those parts they did not count the votes – they weighed them! Yet so successful was our election campaign in Neath that the Labour candidate actually started to panic. He became alarmed because, with no real campaign by the Labour Party, his own meetings were a fiasco – three men and a dog – while our meetings were the best attended in the whole campaign.
The Communist Party, of course, was foaming at the mouth. We were influencing their supporters and threatening their position in the area. True to form, they were putting forward their slanders about the Trotskyists being agents of fascism, agents of the Nazis, stooges of Hitler and all the rest of it. They constantly raised the slogan: 'A Vote for Haston is a Vote for Hitler!' Of course, it had no effect at all. They only succeeded in damaging and discrediting themselves in the course of the campaign. In their delirium, they even denounced the Labour candidate, DJ Williams, who had previously been an NCLC organiser, as a 'counter-revolutionary Trotskyist'! In reality, Williams was a fairly left semi-pacifist type. The Welsh Nationalists were also standing. But they also failed to get the high attendance at meetings that we were getting.
We hired an office
in the centre of Neath, a building with a shop front in the middle of the town.
We had to put in a load of bed bunks so that the visiting comrades could have
somewhere to sleep. There were all sorts of rumours going round the area,
spread by right wingers, about these bed bunks and strange Trotskyist
agitators coming into the town from all over the country. During the campaign,
we made contact with members and ex-members of the Communist Party, as well as
members of the ILP. We even managed to draw a layer of ILP members around us,
which we recruited and, as a consequence, formed a branch of the RCP in Neath.
In G-C-G, we recruited half a dozen miners, with Johnny Crown Jones as the local branch secretary. He and his three brothers, all miners, joined the organisation. He was a fine self-taught writer, and contributed often to the Socialist Appeal. Years later he recalled what it was like in the Trotskyist movement at the time: 'Selling the Socialist Appeal at the pit head always ended in a punch-up with the Stalinists, who were very strong in this area. But we were tough lads', remarked Johnny.
After a gap of
more than twenty years, one of those miners, Olwyn Hughes, rejoined the
The same was true
of Olwyn Hughes himself, who remained true to the ideas of Trotskyism and the
tendency until his death a few years ago. This was testament to the theoretical
training of worker comrades in the RCP. We always understood the importance of
theoretical education and of the importance of raising the political level of
the workers who are drawn into the tendency. An avid reader and self-taught
man, this Welsh miner never forgot the education that was given him. Thus, despite
being formally separated from the tendency for many years, he was soon able to
regain his bearings, to involve himself in our ranks and play an important role
in attempting to re-establish a branch in the
The Neath by-election campaign was pursued with great vigour and was getting a significant response. The main election leaflet distributed everywhere appealed to Working men and women of Neath. It outlined the nature of the war, the reactionary foreign policy pursued by Churchill, and called for the Socialist United States of Europe. It ended with a rallying call:
'In this election you can play your part; you can give a lead to the workers in the rest of the country by rejecting the policy of class collaboration and voting for class independence and class struggle.
'Down with capitalism and its bloody wars and unemployment!
'Free the colonial people from imperialist domination and brutality!
unity of the workers of
'Down with the Churchill Government!
'End the Coalition!
'For a Communist Britain as part of a Communist Europe and a Communist World!'
Party poison about 'Trotsky-fascism' fell completely flat with the
workers. A leading miner in the
The only argument
that these active people in the unions and in the Labour Parry could come up
with for refusing to vote for the RCP was, 'Well, we agree with you, but
you should be in the Labour Party. Your candidate should be our candidate.
Haston should be the candidate of the Labour Party. We should have the same
socialist ideas. They should be the ideas of the Labour Party.' Generally
these people were very sympathetic, even though we were standing against the
Labour Party. They said quite openly that they were delighted that we came to
Neath. 'You have put forward a full socialist campaign, which has served
to revive all the socialist aspirations of the area, not only this area, but as
far as Merthyr,
We sold over 7,500
copies of a special election issue of the Socialist Appeal, putting
our full case in relation to the war, in relation to
As a result of the
campaign, we managed to establish a firm base in the
So under those
last minute conditions, the CP was forced to accept the challenge. When the
time came, the Town Hall was absolutely jam-packed. There may have been two
thousand workers trying to get in. They had come from all around to hear this
debate. In the end, given the limits of the Gwyn Hall, many were turned away at
the doors. The debate took place between the CP organiser, Alun Morgan and Jock
Haston. The debate ranged over a whole series of questions from the
'We challenged them to a debate, and we spoke to the leader of the Communist Party in the area, and we slaughtered their Line on the public platform', stated Haston. 'They were standing on the windows, there was an overflow meeting of a couple of hundred, and outside were even more trying to get in. It was quite an unusual thing at that stage, and we debated with him and we absolutely shattered him.'
While the Labour candidate was panicking, we ourselves realised that Labour would win overwhelmingly. Paradoxically, this was the result of our campaign. We had stirred up political interest for the election. If it wasn’t for our campaign, there would probably have been a very low turnout. But as a consequence of our activity in the area there was a great political interest, which served to give the Labour Party a record vote of over 30,000. That the workers were sympathetic to the ideas we put forward was evident from the turnouts at our public meetings, but we recognised in advance that the result of this heightened interest in socialism would be that the vote for the Labour Party would be very high. Nevertheless, we polled a respectable 1,781 votes. If one bears in mind that these votes were cast for a revolutionary internationalist programme during the war, this was a tremendous achievement. Moreover, this was in an area where we didn’t have a single member before the campaign. The electoral field is also a very difficult arena for a small revolutionary tendency. However, out of this work we established branches of the RCP in Neath, G-C-G, Pontypridd and also strengthened our position elsewhere. It was a great step forward for us.
Our whole approach
and activity was in complete contrast compared to the sterile approach of the
earlier Trotskyist groups. We had different methods and a different approach, a
non-sectarian approach to the working class in the area. Under the prevailing
conditions, we were really pleased with the result as well as the recruits we
made. It was really astonishing given the fact that polling day took place a
few days after Victory in
In the Organisation Report in the Socialist Appeal (mid-August 1945), we read:
'During the Neath campaign the Party distributed over 100,000 leaflets. We put up 8,000 posters and sold 15,000 copies of the Socialist Appeal and some hundreds of assorted pamphlets. 70 indoor public meetings were held, the two outstanding ones attracting 750 and 1,500 workers respectively.
practically no base in
'The name of the Party has proved to be one of our best assets. The workers who were turning to Communism sensed that there was something wrong with the Stalinist version of ’communism’ and we were able to demonstrate their role with the Stalinists on the defensive throughout.'
It concluded, 'the result 1,781 votes for the Trotskyist programme in face of V Day, the chauvinism of the mass organisations, the first incursion into the territory by the Party – was a very fine vote.'
The German army
was defeated by the
The most decisive
battle of the war was fought in
Up to this point
the British and Americans had been mere onlookers of the war in
To show the real
attitude of the British imperialists, we can cite one little-known incident.
While the battle of Stalingrad was raging, there was a sizable British army
In July 1943 Mussolini
was overthrown by a coup in the fascist grand council, involving the king and
marshal Badoglio. Churchill hastily expressed his support for Badoglio. But the
overthrow of Mussolini opened the door to revolution. The workers came out onto
the streets all over north
The British and
American landings in
character of British imperialism – and also Stalinism – was shown in
The cynicism of both Stalin and Churchill was revealed with astonishing frankness by the latter in his book Triumph and Tragedy: 'So far as Britain and Russia are concerned,' he said to Stalin, 'how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent predominance of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty in Yugoslavia?' A paper with these percentages was passed to Stalin, who wrote a tick on it and passed it back to Churchill. 'It was all arranged,' says Churchill, 'in no more time than it takes to set down.' But Churchill was concerned that this might be seen as 'rather cynical' and wanted to burn the piece of paper. 'No,' said Stalin. 'You keep it.'
partisans, having fought bravely against the German invaders, were effectively
in control in
Having reached his
secret deal with Stalin, Churchill decided that it was time to act. On
On 7 November,
some three weeks after the arrival of the British force, Churchill sent a message
to Anthony Eden: 'In my opinion, having paid the price we have to
The last phrase
shows that Churchill was preparing a provocation. The British forces acted as a
cover for right wing royalist troops under the fascist Colonel Grivas.
Churchill sent instructions to General Scobie: 'Do not hesitate to act as
if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress’We have
to hold and dominate
On 1 December, the
EAM representatives left the government and called a general strike and a mass
demonstration, which led to the massacre on
When Churchill reported the events to the British parliament he stated that the demonstrators had 'collided with the police'. This was a lie. The police, backed by the government and the British army, had deliberately fired on unarmed demonstrators and kept firing when they were on the ground. The aim was clearly to provoke civil war in which British troops would be used against the partisans. Between them, Stalin and Churchill plotted the downfall of the Greek revolution.
Ever since 1941,
Stalin had insistently demanded that his British and American
'allies' should open up a second front against Hitler. This was
ignored – until events in
At this time we
had a perspective, in common with the entire International, and based upon the
prognosis of Trotsky, that the world war would create a revolutionary wave in
We believed that
similar conditions would occur after 1945, and that the post-war period would
be very favourable for the building of a revolutionary tendency. We also had
the perspective of a Labour Government as the next stage, and we knew the
masses would need to go through this experience before they would begin to draw
revolutionary conclusions. We envisaged that this government would be a
government of crisis as in 1929-31. Under conditions of deep capitalist crisis,
there would be the crystallisation of a left wing, or a centrist current within
the ranks of the Labour Party. We also understood that under those conditions,
the RCP would have to enter the Labour Party and, on the basis of its ideas,
win over a sizeable section of the radicalised workers. This would prepare the
way for the creation of a mass Trotskyist tendency in
By 1944 the mood had become more radicalised, and the coalition government was losing support among the workers and soldiers. This was reflected in the 1944 Labour Party conference, which passed very radical resolutions, including the nationalisation of the land, large-scale building, heavy industry, fuel and power and all forms of banking. The Labour leaders were mostly in favour of continuing the wartime coalition, and the CP was enthusiastically in favour of this. But the rank and file of the Party was resolutely opposed to any such proposal. The slogan of the RCP – Labour break the coalition, and carry out a socialist programme – accurately reflected the mood of the workers at that time. The mood of radicalisation, which we had detected in the armed forces, was now clear to all.
Victory in Europe Day, the Labour Party broke with the wartime Coalition and a
General Election was called for July 15. At this point, the CP was still
calling for the continuation of a government of National Unity, which should include
themselves! In the run up to the General Election, they had to drop that idea
like a hot potato. Of course, we supported the election of a Labour Government
– but based on a Socialist programme – and threw ourselves into the campaign.
It is interesting to see the reaction of workers at that time. Winston
Churchill, the 'great' war leader put himself forward as the great
statesman, the man who had won the war and could lead
Despite the fact
that Churchill had been built up as a 'great war leader', his posters
were everywhere and he was given four times more time on the radio than Attlee
the Labour candidate, he was overwhelmingly rejected. Sure, there were tens of
thousands of people who turned out, mainly out of curiously, to see the
'Great War Hero'. The problem was, these tens of thousands had turned
out not to support Churchill but to oppose him! In
On 26 July the results of the election were announced. Labour had won 393 seats (or 397 if we add those of the ILP and Common Wealth) out of a total of 640. It had a total of 11,992,292 votes against 9,960,809 cast for the Conservative-Liberal National Alliance. True, the Party won an even higher vote number of votes in the 1951 election, but in percentage terms, the Labour Party got over 48 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives had lost 200 seats and Labour had gained as many. It was an absolute landslide.
The Labour leaders were almost as astonished as the Conservatives at this result. The stain of the defeat of 1931 was now completely wiped away. For the first time the Labour Party had a parliamentary majority. The same result was repeated a few months later in the local elections in November. The masses desired a fundamental change and expressed this by voting Labour. Had the Labour leaders wanted it, they could have carried through the socialist transformation of society through parliament. Nothing could have stopped them. But, of course, they had no intention of doing anything of the sort.
Ironically, the Labour Party organisation prior to the election was an absolute shambles. The Tory Party organisation existed simply on the basis of their paid agents. But the Labour Party, during the Coalition period was extremely weak in most areas of the country. Labour Party wards didn’t meet. The Constituency Parties weren’t meeting, or if they were, it was only in a skeleton form. In reality, there was hardly a Labour organisation at all. The Tory Party thought that if they could precipitate an election before the Labour Party was back on its feet, they would gain a quick victory. But they completely miscalculated. The mood of the masses was such that despite the lack of Labour organisation, the mass of workers turned out enthusiastically to vote for the Labour Party, which reflected a colossal radicalisation of the working class.
The soldiers returned home in the same militant frame of mind that we had already observed in the Eighth Army – 90 per cent of the soldiers voted Labour. This was indicative of the revolutionary mood that existed in the armed forces. The ruling class was alarmed. Churchill made demagogic speeches urgently demanding that the soldiers be demobilised as quickly as possible. When this was done, he then made speeches accusing the Labour government of leaving the country defenceless.
In August 1945 the RCP held its second Conference with over 200 delegates and visitors present. We recognised that the election of the Labour Government marked 'the first wave of the radicalisation of the masses,' and noted that 'for the first time in any of the important capitalist countries of the West, the reformists have been returned to power with an overwhelming majority.' A full-page report appeared in the Socialist Appeal about our conference, which concluded by saying that 'the Second National Conference marked a great step forward in the history of the British Trotskyist movement, as of the working class. Despite our small forces in relation to the mass organisations of the Labour and Communist Parties, the growth of the Party and of the Trotskyist tendency in the course of the war, during which period our Party established itself as the revolutionary wing of the working class, was a heartening sight of the change which was taking place in the advanced sections of the working class’ Our comrades went back to their districts with renewed determination and vigour to participate in the daily struggles of the workers and to apply the principles of our International programme which alone is the guide post for the emancipation of our class.' (Socialist Appeal, mid-August 1945).
In September, our
building worker comrades organised an unofficial mass demonstration through the
Building Workers’ Shop Stewards Committee over pay and conditions, which
attracted 100,000 workers in
As I have
explained, we had the perspective that with the coming to power of a Labour
Government, on the basis of a deep economic crisis, the situation would develop
on the same lines as outlined by Trotsky before the war. Namely, once the
reformists were in power, given their incapacity to deliver real reforms, they
would begin to expose themselves in the eyes of the masses. However, before
dealing with that perspective, I would like first to deal with the differences
that had developed from
The period after
1945 was characterised by new developments on a world scale that had not been
foreseen by the Trotskyist movement. The Stalinist and reformist leaders of the
working class betrayed the mighty revolutionary tide that swept
We discussed the situation within the leadership of the RCP and soon realised that important changes were taking place, which rendered the old perspective obsolete. Arising from these discussions, we amended our analysis and perspectives accordingly. The leaders of the International, however, were blind to the new developments. With the assassination of Leon Trotsky in August 1940, the leaders of the Fourth were left to their own devices, and proved woefully inadequate of analysing the new period and reorienting the Trotskyist movement. Unlike the RCP, they utterly failed to rise to the level of the tasks posed by history. James Cannon and the other leaders of the Fourth International clearly never grasped the method of Trotsky, the method of dialectical materialism. They simply repeated Trotsky’s words and formulations parrot-fashion, and clung to them even after they had been falsified by events. Of course, this led them to make one blunder after another.
First of all, they refused to face facts. They refused to recognise the war was over! 'We disagree', said Cannon, 'with some people who carelessly think that the war is over’ The war is not over.' Then they said there would be no economic recovery, only an economy 'bordering on stagnation and decay', when all the facts indicated the opposite! 'It is necessary to abandon right now any juggling with a boom that has not existed and that British capitalism will never experience again', wrote Ernest Mandel.
Then they insisted
that there could only be military dictatorships in
Lastly, they held
to the view that the
Not one of the
'leaders' of the Fourth – James P. Cannon, Michael Pablo and Ernest
Mandel – proved capable of recognising reality, and this fact was to have
profound consequences for the future of the International. There was not a
single major question on which they did not make a fundamental mistake. Pierre
Frank, for instance, advanced the 'theory' that only Bonapartist
regimes could exist in
Just compare this confusion to the positions adopted by the British Trotskyists, which can be read in numerous documents that we intend to make public. From a reading of this material it will immediately be clear that the RCP was able to understand and apply the Marxist method to the new situation and able to reorientate the Trotskyist movement. Unfortunately, this fact has never been recognised, and most people are completely unaware of it, since the relevant material has been unavailable for decades. Moreover, there are many people who have a vested interest in concealing the truth in order to hide their own mistakes and boost their personal prestige – a very pernicious tendency in politics.
Tony Cliff was a second-line leader in the RCP who later became the chief proponent of the erroneous theory of state capitalism. In a recently published pamphlet entitled Trotskyism after Trotsky, Cliff blatantly ignored the great achievements of the RCP. In a typically dishonest fashion, he remains totally silent about the role of the main leaders of the Party – Jock Haston and myself – and our fight against the positions of Cannon and the other leaders of the Fourth International after the War.
For the readers of Cliff’s account, the principled stance of the RCP simply never existed. He gives the impression we all supported the policies of the International, which is completely untrue – although, with astounding hypocrisy, the same author pontificates about the need to be 'truthful'! According to Tony Cliff, it was only 'the few comrades who started the International Socialist tendency' (i.e. his own group) who 'in the years 1946-48' had to 'wrestle with very difficult questions.' Nothing could be further from the truth!
a terrible role in politics', Trotsky once wrote. Cannon had never
forgiven the Lee-Haston-Grant leadership of the WIL, for having opposed him in
1938, when it had refused to accept his terms for the unification of the
Trotskyist groups in
As we have seen, although Healy was an energetic organiser, he had been expelled or walked out of the WIL on six or seven occasions. On one of these occasions, in early 1943, he stormed out of a WIL central committee meeting saying he was joining the ILP. According to the CC minutes, after Healy’s resignation was accepted unanimously, Ajit Roy, a CC member stated: 'He was a menace to the organisation. But if he worked with us, with his energy and ability, he was of some use to us. A breach was certain in the future, but it was possible to harness him.' (6 February 1943) He subsequently reapplied for membership and was once again accepted back as a member. But he returned not as a loyal member but as an incorrigible intriguer, always looking for allies in his struggle against the WIL leadership. These he found in the unscrupulous leadership of the International.
In October 1945 at a meeting of the SWP National Committee, Cannon led a verbal assault on the SWP minority led by Albert Goldman and Felix Morrow. In this Cannon linked an attack on the British RCP: 'You are helping Haston and Grant to fight Healy right now. You are sending personal letters to Haston to help them in the fight against Healy – to utilise against Healy’ we will fight it out and see what happens in the International.'
Of course, Cannon
had been helping Healy from 1943 but that was not mentioned. The American SWP
majority was constantly intriguing against the RCP majority, using Healy as its
stooge. 'The SWP members were especially helpful to us during the period
between 1943 and
In April 1953,
Cannon revealed his real attitude towards the leadership of the RCP – and the
reasons for it – in a private letter to Farrell Dobbs: 'All the crimes and
mistakes of this rotten-to-the-core Haston faction are directly traceable to
its origin as an unprincipled clique in 1938. When I was in
As far as 'the theses they wrote or voted for', these were a closed book for the membership of the International. The positions of the RCP were either suppressed by the International, systematically distorted or ignored. 'Early in the post-war period', states Cannon, 'the Haston gang became captivated by the expansion of Stalinism and thought they saw in it ’the wave of the future.’ They bestowed the honorific title of ’workers’ states’ on every strip of territory the Red Army occupied the moment this occupation took place. Haston and Co. are the real godfathers of the Vern tendency which currently pollutes the atmosphere of the L.A. Local.'
These lines – both
in form and in content – are quite typical of Cannon’s methods. They are a
complete distortion from the first word till the last. As far as I can see from
the documents of the Vern-Ryan group within the SWP, they did not hold the
position that workers’ states were created as soon as the Red Army had occupied
intolerance of minority views is clearly expressed in his vitriolic tone
towards the 'polluter' Vern. Whether the Vern tendency was right or
wrong, and they were certainly confused, Cannon’s attitude was simply
monstrous. It was a reflection of his whole approach to political opposition,
Trotsky always dealt with things in a political fashion, including organisational issues. He always displayed the greatest tact and patience when correcting erroneous views in other comrades. His attitude to the faction fight in the American SWP was a case in point. While maintaining a firm position on the principled question of the class nature of the USSR, he never approved of Cannon’s treatment of the opposition in the SWP, and was even prepared to reach an accommodation with the Shachtman/Burnham minority in 1939/40 – an 'accommodation' that was sabotaged by Cannon, if the truth is to be told.
The RCP understood
the nature of the changed world situation well before the so-called
International leadership. The RCP recognised the strengthened position of the
The same process
subsequently took place throughout all the so-called Peoples Democracies.
A similar process
took place in
At the time of the Stalin-Tito clash, these great 'leaders' of the Fourth jumped overnight from a position that Yugoslavia was ’capitalist’ to one where Tito was seen as the head of a relatively healthy workers’ state. They capitulated to Tito and became cheerleaders for the Yugoslav regime. In an Open Letter to Tito, the American SWP wrote: 'The confidence of the masses in it [your party] will grow enormously and it will become the effective collective expression of the interests and desires of the proletariat of its country.'
The protests of
the RCP, to the effect that the Tito regime was still Stalinist in nature were
conveniently ignored. In a statement written in 1950 just after I was expelled
by Healy, I listed as the first of three reasons for the collapse of the Fourth
This degeneration and collapse of the Fourth International after Trotsky’s death was partly due to objective factors – the mighty economic upswing of world capitalism, and the renewed illusions in reformism and Stalinism. This meant that, for a whole period, the forces of genuine Marxism could not expect big gains. However, the subjective factor played a crucial role. In times of war, during periods of advance, good generals are important. But in a period of retreat, they are more important still. With good generals you can retreat in good order, with a minimum of losses, keeping your forces intact, to prepare for a more favourable situation. Bad generals turn a defeat into a rout. The so-called leaders of the 'Fourth' directly contributed to the undermining and destruction of the Trotskyist movement.
This is not the place to go into the details of the disastrous policies pursued by the 'leaders' of the so-called Fourth International. Suffice it to say, that their personal actions and policies spelled disaster for the International, which under the leadership of the epigones, was stillborn.
The International is first and foremost a programme, perspectives, traditions and method. Only secondly is it an organisation to carry through these policies. The so-called Fourth International repeatedly trampled on these principles. In the end, nothing was left of the Fourth International founded in 1938 – except for those who kept the genuine traditions and programme alive. It was the leaders of the British section, who waged a battle to defend these principles of Trotskyism. After the destruction of the RCP, it was our tendency that kept the flame alive.
Rather than correct their mistakes or reply politically to the criticisms of the British leadership, Cannon, Mandel, Frank, Pablo and the others resorted to organisational manoeuvres and intrigue in order to undermine the British section. It was a classic case of Zinovievism, of using organisational methods to deal with political questions. First, the material of the British section was suppressed or distorted. Then the International leadership organised a secret faction inside the RCP around Healy in order to undermine and remove the leadership. These disastrous methods played a fatal role, which eventually undermined and destroyed the International movement. Obsessed with the attempt to undermine and destroy the Haston-Grant leadership at every opportunity, Cannon, Healy, Pablo, Frank and Mandel, played a wrecking role in relation to the British Trotskyist movement.
Up to that point,
there had not been even a dot or a comma of a difference between us and the
International, except the disagreement in 1938 when we refused to enter into a
rotten fusion despite Cannon’s insistence – an issue where we were proved to
have been absolutely correct. But the situation was now different. Trotsky was
no longer alive to give guidance. Moreover, because of the Nazi occupation of
Europe, the International Secretariat had been transferred to
Pierre Frank, who had rejoined the International at the end of the war, gave a false report to the IS about the August 1945 Conference, saying the RCP was facing 'grave difficulties', and, 'moreover, the main responsibility for these difficulties rests with the leadership which has shown great concern, not to clarify political questions [sic], but to maintain an uncontested hold on the organisation.' Soon afterwards, Haston wrote a letter to the European Executive Committee: 'For our party, we did not think too highly of his capabilities.' Although an understatement, it certainly must have stung Frank.
It is no accident that – despite the fact that in the World War the RCP was the largest and most important section of the Trotskyist movement in Europe – in Frank’s potted 'history' of the Fourth International there is not a single mention the WIL or the RCP, let alone its political views. All he says is, 'After the war, the International had come out in favour of the British Trotskyists entering the Labour Party.' Which meant, in effect, backing Healy.
This is typical of the methods by which the leaders of the Fourth attempted to falsify the history of the International and conceal the role of the RCP. They were solely motivated by the desire for personal prestige, and laid claim to papal infallibility. The Leaders must not make mistakes! This is a recipe for the destruction of any revolutionary organisation. Lenin and Trotsky were always honest in relation to mistakes and prepared to admit them and learn from them. But Cannon and Co. could not tolerate the fact that the British Trotskyists pointed out their errors and – even worse – were consistently shown to be in the right.
never had a good word for Pierre Frank, and wanted him expelled. 'We have
fought constantly against the Pierre Franks in
Frank, as well as his co-thinkers in the SWP, 'sought to clarify political
questions' by stating that what were developing in
On behalf of the RCP leadership I wrote a reply to the arguments of Frank:
attempts to equate all regimes in
Frank indiscriminately mixes the terms bourgeois democracy with Bonapartism,
not explaining the specific traits of either. He interchangeably speaks of
’Bonapartism’, ’elements of Bonapartism’ and he contrasts democratic liberties
with ’a regime, which one can correctly define as democratic.’ Yet the reader
has to seek in vain for a definition of his ideal ’democratic regime’ as
distinguished from the very real bourgeois democracy. He denies the existence
of democratic regimes in
The analysis of
the RCP leadership explained that, as a result of the movement of the masses in
Europe, and the class balance of forces, there would be a period of bourgeois
democracy, or to give it its correct name, a period of democratic counter-revolution
RCP has characterised the regimes in Western Europe (
Trotsky foresaw and prepared theoretically for a similar situation with the
collapse of fascism in
above comes the question of the ’transitional’ period in
’Does this mean
’Can it be said,
for example, that the present German republic constitutes a conquest of the
bourgeois revolution? Such an assertion would be absurd. There was in
saved the capitalist system in
'Of course, the bourgeoisie cannot stabilise itself for any length of time on the basis of the democratic counter-revolution. Where the revolution is stemmed by the lackeys of the bourgeoisie, the class forces do not stay suspended. After a period, which can be more or less protracted according to the economic and political developments internationally and within the given country, the bourgeoisie shifts to Bonapartist or fascist counter-revolution.'
Our argument was
not the same as was argued by Morrow and Goldman in the SWP - who were now in
opposition to Cannon – and who argued that we were in for a period of
democracy, a period of 'democratic revolution' in
explained that because of a) the enormous power of the Socialist Parties and
Communist Parties, and b) the revolutionary wave that was sweeping the
Continent at the time, it would be impossible for the bourgeoisie to impose
Bonapartist military regimes in
In Europe, there
was a movement in the direction of socialist revolution, with revolutionary
developments in one country after another –
From this false perspective of Bonapartism, the International leadership began to make one mistake after another. A whole series of disagreements between ourselves and the IS, which was symptomatic of the later degeneration that was to take place, soon opened up. I am not going to deal in detail with these questions because they are dealt with more fully elsewhere (See appendix and Programme of the International). However, it is necessary to explain in outline the differences that now began to appear.
See resolution on The New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the Fourth International, April 1946.
Quoted in The Unbroken Thread, p.372
Fourth International, December 1944. See also The Changed Relationship of Forces in Europe and the Role of the Fourth International, by Ted Grant, March 1945
Tony Cliff, Trotskyism after Trotsky, The Origins
of the International Socialists, p.23,
Cannon, op. cit., p.183,
Trotskyism versus Revisionism, volume 4,
Cannon, Speeches to the Party, pp.296-7,
Frank, The Fourth International: the long march
of the Trotskyists,
Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section
From 1945 onwards,
a whole new series of differences began to appear between the International
leadership and ourselves. Firstly, they arose on the assessment of the world
situation. We understood that a fundamental change had been taking place in the
relationship of forces internationally. The victory of
In 1945 the
Not many people
realise this, but the Red Army, having smashed the Wehrmacht in the West, had
gone onto the offensive against
However, the IS
was blind to all these developments. In a document presented by the IS to the
first International Pre-Conference after the war in April 1946, it stated that
as a result of the weakness of the USSR, the imperialists, by diplomatic means
alone could restore capitalism in Russia. So weak was Russia supposed to be,
that counter-revolution could be carried through 'in the near future, even
without military intervention, through the sole fact of economic, political and
diplomatic pressure of American and British imperialism, and its military
threats', we read in the IS document. They actually wrote such an
absurdity! We were horrified when we received this material because it showed a
complete lack of understanding, politically, diplomatically, and strategically.
It was a completely false evaluation of the situation of the
opened up on a whole range of questions: perspectives for the Chinese revolution,
disagreements about the world economy, disagreements over the character of the
regimes that would emerge in
In the meantime – as is typical of this tendency – they were accusing us of all sorts of things. We were denounced as being 'revisionists', 'neo-Stalinists' in relation to our perspectives and characterisation of Eastern Europe, as 'reformists' because we had predicted the economic boom, and as 'petty-bourgeois pessimists', for failing to be as r-r-r-revolutionary as themselves! They accused us of everything instead of actually analysing and arguing on the basis of the material itself. True, in polemics it is sometimes legitimate to use terms such as 'revisionist', 'reformist', provided they are used in a scientific manner, and not as terms of abuse. One must argue against the ideas of an opponent, and do so honestly and loyally, showing the arguments to be false. But for these people, they were simply terms of abuse and a substitute for political argument.
What they could
never forgive was the fact that on all these vital questions we were shown to
be correct. Having burned their fingers with ultra-leftism, the International
leadership swung over completely to opportunism, and then to an adventurist
course. When the break between Tito and Stalin took place in June 1948, they
importance of the present conflict lies in the fact that it is the first
important crack in the international front of Stalinism since the end of the
war. It is bound to have profound effects on the rank and file members of the
Communist Parties throughout the world, especially in Western Europe and
'The extension of the power of the Russian bureaucracy further west from the Russian borders creates new problems for them. While temporarily strengthening them, in the long run it will undermine their position.
'It is clear
that any Leninist must support the right of any small country to national
liberation and freedom if it so desires. All socialists will give critical
support to the movement in
Independent Socialist Soviet
For Marxists, the
Chinese Revolution was the second greatest event in human history, after the
Bolshevik Revolution of
approach was ridiculous in the extreme. At an International Conference Cannon
and the others still maintained that Mao would never cross the Yangtse river.
By the time the conference was over, Chiang had crossed the Yangtse and smashed
Chiang Kai-Shek’s army. Max Shachtman, who had broken with the Fourth earlier,
had his supporters rolling about laughing, when he joked about Cannon’s
In January 1949,
before Mao came to power, we predicted what would happen. Given the world
balance of forces, the bankruptcy of Chinese capitalism, and the
supporting the destruction of feudalism in
'The Stalinists are incorporating into their regime ex-feudal militarists, capitalist elements, and the bureaucratic officialdom in the towns who will occupy positions of privilege and power.
'On the basis
of such a backward economy, a large scale differentiation among the peasants
(as after the Russian Revolution during the period of the NEP) aided by the
failure to nationalise the land: the capitalist elements in trade, and even in
light industry, might provide a base for capitalist counter-revolution. It must
be borne in mind that in
development of an independent nationalist bureaucracy in
And the article
concluded: 'The shrewder capitalist commentators are already speculating
on this although they derive cold comfort from it. Mao will have a powerful
A little later in February 1949, David James, a member of the Central Committee of the RCP, questioned our analysis of what was taking place in China and Yugoslavia, and issued an internal document titled Some Remarks on the Question of Stalinism. This discussion served to clarify the characteristics of proletarian Bonapartism and answer some doubts about the position of the leadership. I wrote a reply to James on this question:
'Where comrade James makes the mistake here, is in assuming that once the class basis has been decided, the problems are simple, and that all tendencies which are manifest must be a direct reflection of the interests of opposing classes. But he has only to ask himself the question: what class does Stalin represent in the struggle against Tito? And what class does Tito represent when he has already agreed by definition that the class basis of the regimes are ’basically identical’? Is there a struggle between the Yugoslav working class and the Russian working class? Clearly there is something wrong here.
want to take up James’s reference to Trotsky in this connection. It is true
that Trotsky argued that different sections of the bureaucracy would tend to
reflect class interests, one faction going with the proletariat and the other
with the bourgeoisie. Butenko went over to the fascists in
'The Old Man
pointed out that in the
is the analogy with
'One can say
encountered difficulty in applying in
explained why Trotsky considered the national question to be of such
importance that he put forward the demand for an independent socialist soviet
'Similarly, it is clear that the mere fact that Tito is, for the time being, victorious, no more turns him into an unconscious Trotskyist than the Ukrainian bureaucrats.
dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy is expressed indirectly the rule of
the proletariat. For the
'What was an
unconscious process in the early stages of Stalinist degeneration in
'The state, as a special superstructural formation standing over society, of necessity tends to form a grouping with habits of thought, used to command, with privileges of education and culture. The tendency is to crystallise a caste with an outlook of its own, different from the class it represents. This is accentuated where the state takes over the means of production; the sole commanding stratum in society is the bureaucracy. Not for nothing did Marx and Lenin emphasise the need for the masses to retain control of the state or semi-state, because without this, new trends and tendencies are introduced which have a law of motion of their own.
'If one would assume theoretically (abstracting the Stalin regimes for the moment from the world relationships and the internal social contradictions) that such a caste could maintain itself indefinitely (the modest estimate of a leading Siberian Stalinist was 1,000 years) – it could not lead to an amelioration of the social contradictions or to the painless withering away of the state into society. All the laws of social evolution, of the development of the classes and castes in society speak against this. Far from developing in the direction of communism, such a society, if it depended on the will of the bureaucracy, would inevitably develop into a slave state with a hierarchy of castes such as visualised by Jack London in his picture of the oligarchy under the Iron Heel.
does not arise automatically out of the development of the productive forces
themselves. If it were purely a question of the automatic change in society
once the productive forces are developed, revolution would not have been
necessary in the changes from one society to another. As has been explained
many times, the nationalisation of the productive forces alone does not abolish
all social contradictions - otherwise there would be socialism in
for word the description of the situation was the same, except that in
difference between the regimes of Stalin and Tito is that the latter is still
in its early stages. There is a remarkable similarity in the first upsurge of enthusiasm
can only rule through more and more unbridled terror, Tito, for the present,
probably retains the support of the big majority of the population of
leaning on the proletariat can, under given conditions, balance between the
opposing classes to strengthen itself for its own ends', stated the reply.
'We have seen how this was accomplished in
'It is evident that the Chinese movement draws its viability from the ’innermost needs of the economy’. However, while a genuine revolutionary, Trotskyist leadership in a backward country would draw its strength from the proletariat, welding the peasant masses behind it, Mao rests on the peasantry and not only bases himself on the passivity of the proletariat at this stage, but ruthlessly suppresses any proletarians who dare to take measures against the bourgeoisie on the basis of independent class action. At a later stage, Mao will lean on the proletariat when he needs it against the bourgeoisie, only later to betray and ruthlessly suppress it. In this it would be far more correct to say that Mao, as Tito, is a conscious Stalinist, adopting consciously many of the Bonapartist manoeuvres which Stalin was forced to adopt empirically.
'While the armies of the Kuomintang have melted away under the revolutionary agrarian programme and propaganda of the Stalinists – ’land to the tiller’ – one thing is clear: the programme of propaganda of Mao has not been directed to the revolutionary mobilisation of the proletariat and the organisation of soviets. Nor has it been directed to the overthrow of the Kuomintang regime in the towns through the conscious initiative and movement of the workers. On the contrary, it is his policy to ruthlessly crush any move in this direction. This refusal to mobilise the masses is not accidental. It expresses the fear of a mass movement in the cities at this stage. The difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism is no more strikingly illustrated than in this fact. There is an unbridgeable gulf between Marxism, which bases itself on the conscious movement of the masses, above all the proletariat, and Bonapartist Stalinism which manoeuvres between the classes and utilises the revolutionary instincts of the masses in the interests of this new caste.
'Mao’s regime will follow the pattern of the other Stalinist regimes. Having consolidated itself, it will become a military-police dictatorship with all the other malignant aspects of the Russian regime. The signs are already visible.'
'theoreticians' of the International were tying themselves up in
knots on the question of the class nature of the new regimes in
If it had been
handled properly, an honest discussion on these questions could have raised the
political level of the cadres of the International. But that would have
undermined the prestige of the leaders. The fact that they sacrificed
theoretical principle to considerations of personal prestige demonstrated the
complete bankruptcy of this tendency. In fact, it is fortunate that the Fourth
International did not succeed in becoming a mass tendency. At the head of mass
parties of the working class, these 'leaders' with their bankrupt
attitudes and policies, would have quickly led to one catastrophe after another.
As it turned out, the absurd antics of Mandel, Cannon, Frank, Pablo and the
rest of them, served only to discredit Trotskyism in the eyes of a big layer of
workers. With their fatal combination of false policies and Zinovievite
organisational methods they succeeded in undermining the movement which Trotsky
had built and wrecking what small forces of Trotskyism existed in
matters Healy had no ideas of his own. One rather amusing instance comes to
mind that proves the point. In 1946, there was a discussion about the
Now it just so
happened that on the day this letter from the IS arrived we had invited Healy
and a supporter of his called John Goffe to the Political Committee to discuss
some organisational question or other. In front of Healy, Millie Lee reported
that a letter had arrived from
'Concerning the question raised by the letter of Comrade Lee of 7 May 1946 on the subject of the interpretation of the passage of the Manifesto concerning the Red Army, a political reply will be made by the IS in some days specifying that our position must be in fact – ’for the withdrawal of all occupation armies, including the Red Army’ – and no ambiguity must henceforth exist on this matter.'
Quite naturally we all looked at Healy, like the man in the advert who sneezed. After all, he had been waging a vehement campaign for weeks and months against our alleged revisionist position. Healy turned as white as a sheet. He threw up his hands and said, 'Well, so now we’ve got agreement.' Goffe remained silent – not uttering a single word at the PB meeting on the subject.
We had got
agreement alright! It was agreement reached by telegraph – just like the
Comintern representatives who received their marching orders by a telegraph
Healy’s behaviour disgusted every member of the Political Committee who was present. This episode illustrated the rottenness of this tendency and also clearly indicated what the International Secretariat and the SWP really wanted to build. What they wanted in other countries were people who would bow down in front of them, and accept without question their words of wisdom as if from the mouth of the Divine Oracle. It was a disgusting method. With such means you can build nothing but political zombies – people like Healy. Their conception, even at that stage, of an International was entirely opposed to the conceptions of Lenin and Trotsky and the traditions of the best days of the Third International.
We wrote a statement about the affair in the Internal Bulletin which stated:
'It is obvious that under conditions such as outlined above, political discussion with members of our Minority reduces itself to a farce. One cannot seriously discuss with an opponent who not only changes positions without motivation, and at a moment’s notice, but who then denies that he ever held them. Already disgust and apathy has started to spread among the membership, who prefer to stay away from aggregates than waste their time in such farcical discussions.
'We therefore appeal to all members of the Minority who have any sense of revolutionary integrity, to combat these deplorable methods. We further appeal to all members of the Party to create that necessary atmosphere of Bolshevik accounting for one’s political positions, changes and transformations within the Party, as to make the use of such methods impossible in our ranks.'
But these words fell on deaf ears, and the Healy minority continued his intrigues as before.
Following the Neath by-election campaign, we initiated an important campaign over the Nuremberg Trials and an attempt to exposed the Stalinists. Within a few months of the war ending, the Allied Powers began to put the Nazi gangsters on trial in order to put the complete responsibility for the war onto their shoulders. The RCP immediately saw them as a tremendous opportunity to expose the crimes and frame-ups of the Moscow Trials.
In the Stalinist
Show Trials, the Trotskyists, and alleged Trotskyists, including Zinoviev,
Kamenev, and Red Army generals like Tukhachevski, had been framed and murdered
So we gathered
together a committee of leading lights, intellectuals and some Labour MPs, and
set up a campaign to demand that at the
We waged quite a successful campaign given the limited resources of the organisation. Every issue of Socialist Appeal had articles on the question. We campaigned vigorously in the labour movement and raised quite large sums of money. We also received support from the famous writer and Fabian socialist HG Wells. He deserved credit for this, particularly considering the fierce attack made on him by Trotsky in the past. Wells and a whole series of other writers and intellectuals gave valuable assistance to the campaign. We believed that Bernard Shaw probably never received our campaign material, in any case, he never replied, which was not like him. He was always polite and would have at least replied. So we figured he probably had a Stalinist secretary and never saw the material.
'The Nuremberg Campaign conducted by the Party has been one of the most important aspects of our activity in the struggle against Stalinism and the Moscow Trials', stated The Party Organiser (September 1946). 'The Manifesto signed by prominent intellectuals had international repercussions. The campaign was taken up by our sections in other parts of the world. 40,000 leaflets were distributed throughout the country, mainly at Communist Party meetings, and a number of trade union branches were addressed on the subject.'
As stated, we gave
the campaign a labour movement slant and raised the issue in the trade union
branches, calling for resolutions to be sent to
Incredibly, the American
SWP was silent. They failed to organise any such campaign. The French comrades
said that the only reason why the Americans had not done so was because of the
political differences with the British section. It was due to petty spite.
Towards the end of the
James Cannon was, without doubt, a workers’ leader, as Trotsky said. However, he didn’t have the necessary theoretical depth and neither did the other leaders of the SWP. You couldn’t imagine Lenin and Trotsky, or Marx and Engels, or Luxemburg being concerned about their personal prestige – or allowing it to affect their political judgement – especially over such an issue. If Trotsky had been alive, he would have immediately taken up the Campaign and roundly condemned the SWP. The behaviour of the Americans was symptomatic of a sickness that was already prevalent in the International at that time.
the scenes in
Obviously, the Marxist tendency is opposed in principle to redundancies in the workplaces. These attacks have to be resisted by all means possible. That is our starting point. However, where the bosses impose lay-offs upon a factory, and there is no alternative, it is the duty of activists to defend the workers’ organisation in the workplace. Any attempt to transfer labour should only be undertaken under the control of the trade unions. If there are lay-offs in a factory, then they should be carried out on the basis of non-unionists first, and then on the basis of seniority, i.e. last in, first out. Such a procedure will prevent the bosses from carrying through a policy of victimisation of trade union militants.
The great Marxists always had a principled position on this question. For instance, in Where is Britain Going? Trotsky explains that it was important to defend the organised workers in any factory. He even went so far as to propose that not only should non-unionists be expelled from the workplace, but even trade unionists who refused to pay the political levy to the Labour Party. He described the latter as political blacklegs, who should be treated as such. When we explained Trotsky’s position to Healy and Co., they weren’t able to answer the point. Of course, they still persisted in saying we were wrong, that we had abandoned the Transitional Programme and so on.
At that time, the
American SWP had a similar position to us, putting forward the idea that if
there had to be redundancies, we must protect the trade union organisation, and
the non-unionists must be the first to go. This had been the tradition of both
the American and of the British movement on the issue of sackings. But although
the SWP had the same position as ourselves, in our debate with Healy, they kept
absolutely silent. They allowed their stooges in
Healy was a highly
suitable stooge for Cannon. He had neither principles nor scruples, but he was
a good organiser. As we have seen, Healy’s intrigues and manoeuvres got him
expelled from our organisation on several occasions On each occasion that Healy
was expelled, we brought him back, in most cases against the wishes of the rank
and file. A certain responsibility rests on Haston’s shoulders and mine for
allowing him to return to the organisation. We recognised that Healy had
organisational ability, which we wanted to harness for the movement, and we
never took a personal attitude toward these questions. We were to pay a high
price for such tolerance! Between 1944 and
Healy was especially encouraged and helped in his factional activity by his old friend Pierre Frank. Despite Trotsky’s stern warning to keep him out of the International, Frank had managed to find a modus vivendi with the IS and later with the SWP. He now found himself in the good books of the leadership. Incredibly, he began to play the role of a 'theoretician' becoming the chief exponent of entrism internationally. This tactic was entirely incorrect at the time, but Healy latched on to it to see what kind of response he would get, with the full backing of the International Secretariat, needless to say. At first, Frank favoured the dissolution of the RCP into the ILP. So Healy took up the demand for our immediate entry into the ILP. I must say, when this was raised, it was greeted with a great laugh by most of the comrades. As explained earlier, we had political control of two divisions of the ILP in the North-east. When these comrades heard the proposal that the RCP should dissolve into the ILP they were absolutely horrified. Of course, none of these comrades were prepared to support such a fantastic notion.
Immediately after the war, the ILP leaders had applied for re-affiliation to the Labour Party. Their pacifist anti-war position had not resulted in the massive gains they anticipated. There was no big anti-war backlash. On the contrary, the overwhelming mass of the population fully supported the war, which they saw as a war against fascism. In many respects, the ILP was facing the same isolation during this period as the RCP. As a result of the measures of the Labour Government, reformist illusions within the working class were growing and being reinforced by their daily experience. Therefore, feeling the cold wind of reality, the ILP leaders wanted to go home to the Labour Party. Fenner Brockway raised the matter of the ILP’s affiliation to the Labour Party in discussions with Morrison. Apparently, Morrison told Brockway that the Labour Party needed a left wing. Labour’s right wing always needed a Left as a kind of shield against the anger of the working class. Morrison said he was in favour of the ILP’s affiliation to the Labour Party and was sure he could get a majority on the NEC - unless, of course, the ILP was seen as 'Trotskyist', and in that case there would be no agreement.
that the ILP was not 'Trotskyist' or revolutionary, Brockway arranged
for our ILP comrades in
The RCP now found itself in a very difficult position. The objective conditions had become very difficult. During the war thousands of trade unionists were reading the Socialist Appeal regularly. Possibly thousands of members of the Communist Party were also reading our material on a regular basis. However, the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands that we had influenced during the course of the war, now fell into indifference. They said: 'The Labour Party is doing the job. The Labour Government is carrying through its programme. What need do we have for the RCP?' Naturally, the sales of the paper declined and we found ourselves with our backs against the wall. On the other hand, those Communist Party workers, who had looked towards us sympathetically in the past in spite of the lies of the leadership, now pointed to China, Eastern Europe, and to the glittering victories of Russia: 'Your case is completely discredited', they said. 'The Communist Party is carrying though the revolution; the Communist Party is a revolutionary party'.
We were in one of
those unfortunate positions, which had been described many times by Trotsky. In
his writings of 1934-35, he explained that, although the Left Opposition in
experiencing a period of deep reaction as in 1908-
The RCP had no independent printing press during the war. The old treadle machine of the WIL had been destroyed by bombing in the war, and you couldn’t get a printing press for love nor money. We had tried to buy a press when we were flush with funds from the people who printed our paper. In fact, the proprietor had agreed to give us a 51 percent discount, but unfortunately his accountant had advised him against, so he turned us down. We were quite prepared to pay him a large amount of money at that time, but the chap refused, and we couldn’t budge him. Later on, we had no money anyway.
Our income was affected in many ways. Former wealthy sympathisers were no longer willing to give large sums of money. Sales of the paper and the WIN were dwindling. This added to the pressures on comrades, who found it more and more difficult to sell. We started to lose more comrades than we were recruiting. It was a period of retrenchment for our forces. 'Towards the middle of the year', states The Party Organiser, 'the Party was forced to retrench on the apparatus costs. In line with the general trend and drop in income after the war, the apparatus costs were out of proportion with the rate of growth and development of the organisation. Five professionals were taken off the pay-roll – two from the centre and three from the provincial areas.' (September 1946) The circulation of the Socialist Appeal had dropped to around 10,000 copies per issue.
conditions were getting difficult, we still maintained our activity. We
continued to make minor gains, no longer on the scale that we had made during
the war. Nevertheless, we picked up the more thinking workers here and there.
Between 1946 and 1947, the figures show we had gained 40 comrades and lost 48,
giving us a membership of 336. There were 60 comrades in the Labour Party. In
the organisational report to the national conference in 1947, we read:
'Losses are recorded in
I analysed the situation in an article comparing the Labour Government with the previous one in 1929-31, which was published in the Socialist Appeal in October 1947.
difference between the position in 1929 and the present', stated the
article, 'is that in the former case, powerful opposition developed within
the Labour Party on home affairs, which assumed terrible urgency in the lives
of the workers. In the previous Labour Government, the foreign policy was based
on pacifist demagogy and was largely endorsed by the ’lefts’. What feeble
opposition has developed in the Labour Party and Parliamentary Party today has
been on the issue of foreign policy. But the opposition on foreign policy
collapsed because of the weakness of British imperialism, which resulted in the
forced withdrawal from
'The policy of the Government on home affairs has been largely endorsed by the so-called opposition – a striking contrast to the situation in the Labour Party in the previous government. An instructive episode was the difference in attitude of the late James Maxton of the ILP, who welcomed enthusiastically the programme of the Third Labour Government and its suggested legislation.
'The collapse of the ’lefts’ at the past two conferences of the Labour Party since the formation of the Labour Government, especially the miserable and ignominious defeat at the last one, was not at all accidental but rooted in the objective development of events. In contrast to the previous Labour Governments, far from the lefts gaining in support, the present period has been marked even during the dollar crisis, by a strengthening of the right wing leadership in the Labour Party. It reflects the mass consciousness in the past two years. It is a law of development within the mass organisations of the working class, that left reformist or centrist currents develop on the basis of deep-seated opposition to the right wing leadership on the part of the rank and file. Currents of opposition within the Labour movement will not flourish without mass backing. The ’leaders’ are pushed from below by the pressure of the rank and file. It is thus that the processes in the country reflect themselves through the opportunist leaders inside parliament and within the mass movement. Where deep-seated processes of differentiation have not taken place, the ’opposition’ can only make the feeblest of gestures.'
Only on the basis of huge events would the situation change. However, in the meantime, this difficult situation was having repercussions in our ranks. The so-called leadership of the International, and Healy in particular, were attempting to feed on the understandable mood of disappointment. As always, under such circumstances, some comrades began to look for miracles or some short cut to solve our problems and offer a way out of this impasse. Then Pierre Frank – the Molinierite of yesterday (who incidentally had the delusion that we would actually win the seat in the Neath by-election), gave Healy the idea of entry into the Labour Party.
Having been decisively defeated in the organisation on all the other questions, Healy began to beat the drum for immediate entry into the Labour Party and, given the prevailing mood, began to get an echo on this question. This was especially the case among those sections of the tendency that were faltering and becoming increasingly tired and disillusioned. These layers began to see entry into the Labour Party as a magic solution and it began to gain certain support. In the North East, T. Dan Smith and a few other ILP people went over to Healy’s position. Smith was actually absorbed by the Labour Party, where he went to the right, gained a controlling position on the council and eventually achieved national notoriety in a huge corruption scandal. A similar process took place in a number of branches throughout the country. Those comrades who were worn out, and were in effect moving towards reformism, or even dropping out of the movement entirely, found in the slogan of Labour Party entry a golden excuse to pursue their inclinations. So, whereas Healy and his supporters had been a tiny minority in the past, for the first time he was now able to build a certain base inside the RCP.
We explained in the discussions that this position was entirely false. Examining the question objectively it was quite clear that the classic conditions for entry as laid down by Trotsky did not exist in any shape or form. These conditions were the development of a pre-revolutionary crisis, the capitalist regime in a blind alley, and the radicalisation of the working class. This would in turn reflect itself within the Labour Party as the development of a mass left wing, the growth of centrist tendencies, a weakening of the Labour bureaucracy, and the possibility of a rapid development of a revolutionary tendency. Of course, there had been a certain radicalisation preceding the election of the Labour Government, arising from the war, and just after the election, which stemmed from the measures that the Labour Government initially took. But this certainly was not the radicalisation Trotsky spoke of, and did not constitute even the beginnings of the classical conditions for entry into a reformist organisation.
The internal life of the party was at a very low ebb at this time. Rather than a party in the throes of crisis, the grip of reformism inside the Labour Party had been greatly increased. The Party was solidly in the grip of a right wing that was confident and moving forward. It was firmly controlled by a reinforced and strengthened bureaucracy. This was especially the case in the early post-war years. There were objective reasons for this. In contradiction to what we had predicted, the reformists, were actually carrying through reforms. From the standpoint of the Labour Party rank-and-file the reformist leadership appeared to be implementing a socialist programme of the nationalisation of the basic industries. Of course, as revolutionaries, we knew that the Government was only carrying through a certain re-organisation of the system in the interests of capitalism. Expressed in Marxist terms it was a programme of state capitalism. But this is not how the members and supporters of the Labour Party saw it.
The very first act of the Labour Government was to repeal the anti-trade union Trade Disputes Act of 1927, introduced by the Tories after the defeat of the General Strike. They also introduced the National Health Service which for the first time provided a universally free health service. In contrast to the great depression that preceded the war, there was full employment. Living standards were beginning to rise. These factors conditioned the outlook of the workers. Such was the credit extended by the working class to the Labour Government, that by 1948, both the TUC and the Labour Party Conferences had accepted without protest the need for 'austerity' to assist the Government, including a wage freeze.
Knowing this to be
the case, Healy and the others attempted to dress things up, presenting a
completely false perspective and going from one mistake to another. Healy now
maintained that the conditions for entrism would quickly develop as
Healy wrote a document in the middle of 1946 saying that
'From this it is evident that British capitalism is on the edge of an abyss the carefully patched-up internal economy will collapse into either uncontrolled inflation or later, when the competition relates to world price values, into equally disastrous deflation
'Our perspectives must be based upon the developing crisis which will exceed in scope and magnitude the depression that set in during the winter of 1920.'
The 'theoreticians' of the International backed up this ridiculous view. Ernest Mandel is apparently regarded as an expert on Marxist economics, on account of a very bad book on the subject that he wrote some years ago. In fact, Mandel was a vulgar eclectic with an extremely superficial grasp of Marxist economics and Marxism in general. This will immediately become evident to anyone who takes the trouble to read what he wrote over the years, beginning with the period we are considering here.
In reply to the RCP leadership, Mandel wrote that 'in the period of capitalist decadence British Industry can no longer overgrow the state of revival and attain one of real boom.' There was 'at most a boom in some isolated industries which does not determine the general aspect of the economy', and that 'the situation of the British economy is not that of a boom if one wishes to give this term the significance that Marxists have always given to it.' The history of the last fifty-five years has dealt rather harshly with his remark that 'if the comrades of the RCP majority were to take their own definition seriously, they would logically conclude that we are confronting a ’boom’ in ALL CAPITALIST EUROPE, because in all these countries production is ’expanding’'. This shows how shallow this great Marxist 'economist' really was when dealing with real process, despite his later economic tomes.
At the time, all the International leaders were peddling this line. Closing their eyes to reality, they obstinately refused to admit that capitalism had entered into a phase of economic upswing. In the IS Pre-Conference resolution, they stated that 'this restoration of economic activity in the capitalist countries hit by the war, and in particular in the countries on the European continent, will be characterised by its particularly slow rhythm and these countries will thus remain on a level approaching stagnation and slump.'
The only ones who resolutely opposed this position was the leadership of the British section. In an amendment on economic perspectives to the World Congress, drafted by myself, the RCP explained that
'the argument of the comrades of the American SWP, which has been echoed by the Minority of the British Party, that only after the proletariat has been decisively defeated would American imperialism give loans to assist the recovery of Western European capitalism, has already been demonstrated to be a false one. The proletariat has not been defeated, but loans have already been granted. Equally false is the argument that only if the proletariat is decisively defeated can economic recovery and revival take place. Such an argument lumps together political-economic problems visualising an immediate reflection of one upon the other.
'Undoubtedly, a decisive defeat of the proletariat gives the bourgeoisie stability and confidence. But unless the economic pre-conditions for a boom are present, a boom would not necessarily follow even in that event. It is not a law of the development of capitalism that only the defeat of the proletariat in a revolutionary situation can lead to a boom, any more than a slump automatically leads to a revolution. History teaches us that capitalism, even in its death agony, recovers after a slump, despite the revolutionary possibilities, if the proletariat is paralysed or weakened by its organisations and rendered incapable of taking advantage of its possibilities
We also stated in
the amendment that 'apart from these political considerations, there are
laws of capitalism which themselves ensure the upswing of economy and make a
new ’boom’ inevitable. Particularly in view of the fact that this crisis is not
a crisis of over-production and that the capitalists are not being attacked in
economic crisis and mass unemployment at a time of full employment in
In the same way, they also tried to discover a phantom left wing in the Labour Party. When some semi-fellow traveller in the Labour Party got through a resolution about foreign policy, they made a big fuss: 'there look, there’s the left wing'. In answer, we explained that this was an anecdote, and entirely without importance. Our comrades in the Labour Party - and we had far more than Healy’s minority – were asked to give us concrete evidence of any left developments within the party. As Trotsky had suggested, the time for entry will be shown by the people that you already have inside the party. They would give you a realistic picture according to the results they were achieving, and in the mood that existed.
When we asked these comrades in the Labour Party to report on the situation, they unanimously held the opinion that the time was not right. In the report to the 1946 RCP conference, our Labour Party fraction stated 'gains in this sphere have been negligible. Our Labour Party faction paper Militant has found no echo inside the Labour Party, and reflecting the situation within the Labour Party expresses no live movement within it’' And this was also the opinion of the former Harberites, who were very keen to develop this work. There was nothing much happening in the Labour Party, and no left wing developing at that stage. So on all accounts, the time was not ripe to enter.
However, this cut no ice with the minority. Healy had the support of a minority – perhaps 20 percent of the organisation. Of these, however, a layer went out of the movement very quickly. T. Dan Smith was one of them. Healy could count on the support of 60 or 70 people out of around 350 RCP members. Healy’s minority convinced very few industrial workers. He mainly attracted the more middle class elements in our ranks – the typical weathercocks of the party. Under difficult conditions, they were dropping away from the movement and they found a way out in their support for Healy’s entrist platform.
The RCP was an extremely democratic party with a healthy internal regime. We did not fear differences but made use of them to educate the membership. For two years or so – from 1945 to 1947 – the conferences of the RCP had conducted full and exhaustive debates on a series of questions, and in particular on entry. Regular bulletins were published covering all the political positions. We had six to eight weeks of intensive discussion before every conference, as well as access to the internal bulletin on disputed questions. These should be reprinted at some stage. They are of great importance historically and essential for the education of the newer comrades in the history of our movement.
Throughout the whole of 1946, the International was pressing the RCP leaders to enter the Labour Party. At the June International Executive Committee (IEC) a resolution was passed urging the British section to concentrate our forces within the Labour Party. The only people to vote against this proposal at the IEC were the RCP comrades. Once again they pressed us in early 1947 to dissolve the RCP and enter the Labour Party. They were backing the Healy minority all the way along the line. In the middle of the year Healy’s supporters stated that if they failed to get a majority for entry, they would urge the International to split the British section and allow the minority to enter the Labour Party under their own discipline. The RCP leadership correctly saw this as an ultimatum and a threat to split the organisation. Our conference, which had a further discussion on the question of entry, opposed this attempted split. Positions were now entrenched and Healy failed to gain any further adherents. The factions were set and we had the overwhelming majority of the organisation supporting us – some 80 percent of the tendency. Despite the support of the International and the difficulties we faced in Britain Healy still failed to convince a majority of his position.
At the conference, we decided that we had had a full and free discussion for two years on the question of entry. It had been an exhaustive discussion and that there was no more to be said on the question for the time being. We therefore moved a resolution at the conference that the question was now closed. The discussion could only be opened again in the internal bulletin or at the following conference, when, of course, all questions were open for discussion. Healy and the others opposed this and voted against it. But it was overwhelmingly carried by the conference.
It was clear that the support for Healy had reached its peak. They weren’t going to win anybody else and feared that their existing support would melt away if they remained within the organisation. It was only the Labour Party issue that gave them a basis. This was Healy’s last opportunity. There was no better time to act. So Healy raised the question of a split. No doubt pre-planned, the IS intervened to back the Healy minority. Healy, now with the open support of the International, wanted to carry through the 'international policy' of entrism. He demanded the separation of his tendency from the organisation. Against our wishes, and against the statutes of the International, the IS decided to separate the two organisations under the guidance of the International. Eventually, under protest, the RCP leadership had no alternative but to accept this fact as a fait accompli. The RCP majority accurately described this action as 'a disgraceful manoeuvre to get rid of the democratically elected leadership of a section of the Fourth International.'
The International supported Healy’s plan for his faction to enter the Labour Party under their own banner, with their own discipline, and as a recognised official section of the International. They were to be rewarded for what they had done in later years, when Healy would turn against them, but for the time being they were united with Healy against the Haston-Grant leadership. So in October 1947 Healy and his tendency entered the Labour Party, while the RCP carried on the construction of a revolutionary party independently. 'After the split took place', according to one of the leading members of Healy’s group, 'we were instructed to break off all personal relations with supporters of the majority!' This was an indication of what was to come later. The split-off group began to operate the policy known as 'deep entrism', or liquidationism, functioning clandestinely within the Labour Party, concealing their ideas and referring to themselves only as 'The Club'.
In a certain sense, the departure of the Minority was greeted with great relief. We could now concentrate on building the movement free from factional activity. A thorn had been removed from our side – or so we thought. But the removal of the Minority did not change the fact that the objective situation both nationally and internationally was adverse to the building of a revolutionary tendency. Despite all our efforts we became further isolated from the working class, as illusions in the Labour government became more widespread. Of course, there were times when we would intervene in the class struggle and give a lead. There were times when we succeeded in connecting with the workers, but these successes were becoming less and less frequent. We felt ourselves getting boxed in.
Despite all the
problems, we intervened in the class struggle wherever we could – for example,
in the strike in the
We explained to any militants who would listen to us that such a road would be disastrous for the union and the workers. They should remain and fight within the ranks of the union and try to change it. They had to attend their official union meetings and their branches and start to organise an opposition that could challenge the rule of the right wing. Difficult as that might be, we told them, it was the only real way forward. If they split away from the union, they would separate the more advanced militant layers of the union from the more backward layers. This would then leave the union in the grip of the right wing. In fact it would consolidate their hold on the union. This had always been the classic position of Marxism on this question. Lenin explained this in his book Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder. After a period of discussions with the workers and shop stewards, we managed to convince these activists of the correctness of our position.
few years later, in 1954, the Healyites took the completely opposite stance.
Unbelievably, they urged the dockers to leave the Transport and General Workers
Union and join the so-called 'Blue'
The dock strike revealed the mood in the trade union movement towards the Labour Government at that time. The strike had the sympathy of the majority of the working class. Despite the fact that the dockers – thanks to their organisation and militancy – were among the highest paid workers, there was complete solidarity from other workers. Yet when the Labour Government sent troops into the docks to break the strike and introduced a state of emergency, there were no protests within the Labour movement – except the ones that we tried to organise. This was something that would have been unthinkable under the 1924 or 1929-31 Labour Governments. It showed the different atmosphere that now prevailed. The workers had great illusions in the Labour Government. They could be critical of the government, but the overwhelming majority still believed in it. They regarded it as their Labour Government. So the workers were not prepared to oppose the actions of the government. Even when the government sent the troops into the docks as strike-breakers, there was no question of sympathetic strike action from other sections of the working class.
The situation had
changed, and we had a hard period in front of us. How long this would last was
impossible to say, maybe a year or two, maybe longer. We certainly never
expected it to last 25 years! In any case, we were caught between hammer and
anvil – squeezed by the reformists on the one hand, and the Stalinists on the
other. The period 1947-49 was also one of the Chinese Revolution. Although it
was carried through in a distorted and deformed manner, the revolution in
At that time, the
prestige of the
It is true that after 1947, the first cracks began to appear in the edifice of the Attlee government, coinciding with the beginning of counter-reforms. There was talk of ’austerity’ and the first cautious attacks on the working class. At first, these attacks were not considered serious by the labour movement, which saw them as temporary setbacks in the forward march of the Labour Government. Later, the Attlee Government introduced certain charges in the National Health Service, which provoked the resignation of Nye Bevan and Harold Wilson from the government. This served to strengthen the support for Bevan and the other Lefts, and they succeeded in getting themselves elected to Labour’s National Executive Committee. Bevan was regarded increasingly as the leader of the Left at this time. Nevertheless, the Left was still very weak. It represented the first rumblings of discontent within the Party. But it certainly did not represent the development of a mass left wing inside the Labour Party, as the Healy group maintained.
The betrayal of
the Stalinists and reformists had provided the political preconditions for the
revival of capitalism. In
In the colonial
world it was a completely different picture. The Chinese Revolution was
reverberating throughout the continent of
After their heroic struggle against British imperialism, the LSSP became the dominant working class party. In 1939, they affiliated to the Fourth International, which provided the International with a mass party. The leadership of the LSSP looked to the International for support and guidance. However, over time they became increasingly disillusioned with the false policies and antics of the International leadership. The seeds of the reformist degeneration of the LSSP, present at this stage, were accentuated by the inability of the international leadership to intervene. This was to constitute a great tragedy for Trotskyism in the Indian Sub-continent. A great part of the responsibility for this development lay with the International leadership, which was not prepared to analyse the situation or its mistakes made in the period 1945-1949.
also developed a mass following in Indo-China. However, there the movement
faced a crushing defeat at the hands of the Stalinists. In late 1945, with the
end of the War, the Stalinists seized power in the north under Ho Chi-Minh. The
Vietnamese Trotskyists were labelled counterrevolutionaries and brutally
massacred by the Stalinist regime. When British troops landed in
underdeveloped countries, as a result of the weakness of the revolutionary
forces and because of the paralysis of Stalinism and reformism, the revolution
did not take place in the classical fashion as in
provided the bourgeoisie with a new lease of confidence. Despite the losses
they sustained in Eastern Europe and
The Neanderthal rightwing had big support within the Labour Party and the trade unions. We were entering the long period of domination of the British trade union movement by extreme right wingers like Deakin, Lawther and Carron. Even the Bevanite Left was pretty muted and weak. It had support in the local Labour Parties, but did not represent any tidal movement towards the left. It was a weak and very irresolute tendency. It stood on a far lower political level than the pre-war Lefts in the Labour Party. They could not be compared to leaders like Jimmy Maxton. Even if you compare the speeches of Stafford Cripps and the Socialist League before the war, you will see that they were on a much higher level than the Bevanite Left in the post-war period.
With no mass left
wing in the Labour Party the Healyites, despite all their illusions, found a
very cool atmosphere within the Party. John Lawrence, who had now returned to
the Minority, had made a mess of the position in
We understood that times were difficult, and that losses were inevitable, but we could at least hold the majority of our forces together until things improved. We had succeeded in consolidating the tendency nationally on the basis of Marxist education and sober perspectives and a practical explanation of the situation. We inoculated the best of our worker comrades against the pressures, and so in most areas, we had kept our forces relatively intact in the period 1947-1949.
When the Minority entered the Labour Party, they adopted a completely opportunist position. 'Healy was arguing in favour of comrades concealing their political views, and the main job of comrades was to get into positions in the Labour Party, trade unions, etc., and keep one’s political position as dark as possible’' relates Ellis Hillman, a supporter of Healy at the time, who later broke with him and came over to us. Instead of growing, as they had expected, the Healyite organisation was suffering from stagnation and going through a crisis. From the bits and pieces of information we got, the Healyites were in the doldrums. They had no publication of their own, and were floundering in their efforts to recruit to their tendency. Despite all their boasts about a mass left wing in the Labour Party, they hadn’t got the results that they had expected.
Of course, Healy
and Co. tried to put the responsibility for their failings onto the shoulders
of the RCP. They accused us of obstructing their work, and so on. All of which
was complete nonsense. They complained that our Labour Party comrades were
deliberately blocking and undermining their work in the Party. So Healy
complained bitterly to his supporters in the International leadership. He
cynically manipulated and used the International for his own ends, whereas the
International leadership, of course, imagined that they were manipulating
Healy. As a result, we had a visit from one of Pablo’s faithful henchmen,
Jacques Privas. He was one of the leaders of the French Trotskyists and also a
member of the IS. He came to see us at our headquarters at
Privas, as we expected, believed Healy’s story. Then he dropped his bombshell. He told us that he had an ultimatum from the IS. Unless we were prepared to withdraw our forces from the Labour Party, or place our forces in the Labour Party under Healy’s control, the International would be forced to reconsider our whole position as an official section of the International. He was simply holding a gun to our head. This was a position that we could not accept. This whole business was having a demoralising effect, especially on Jock Haston, who became disorientated by the experience.
Ngo Van, Revolutionaries They Could not Break,
Quoted in War and the International, p. 210.
Page 7 of 8
In the period between 1947 and 1949 we were painfully attempting to construct a tendency piecemeal. We were gaining ones and twos, and we were also losing small numbers. In general, our forces were relatively intact, but our financial resources were constantly depleted. All our difficulties became focused largely on financial questions. When the movement is going ahead you get money from sympathisers, contacts, and supporters. But when things go badly, these sources of finance dry up to a large extent. During the war, we had had a couple of well-off sympathisers who had given us reasonable sums of money. Now, their sympathies had changed. They were influenced by the moods that were developing in society. They said, in effect, we are in business, and we only deal with results. We want to see the revolutionary movement developing. But this is no longer the case and from being enthusiastic supporters of the revolution, they now started to look towards other things.
One sympathiser I have in mind made a fortune out of paintings. It started as a hobby with him. But as his enthusiasm for the revolution waned, his attention turned increasingly towards art and paintings. Then, one day, he decided he didn’t want to waste any more money on the revolution, and so this source of funds dried up. He turned his energies to paintings, and he made a fortune. Our main rich backer, however, was a hat manufacturer called Spiregen. He gave us a lot of money and sustained the movement for a long time. But that source also dried up. So, recognising our difficulties, we were forced to cut down on the number of full-time professionals from sixteen to around six or seven. The costs of the paper had to be paid for and printing costs were rising astronomically at that time. So we had to cut down the size of the Socialist Appeal. In the end, because of lack of resources, we had to shift from a fortnightly to a monthly paper. We still looked forward confidently to a change in the situation, even if the current position should last some years. However, at this point, we were certainly swimming against the stream.
It was at this point that Jock Haston was feeling the pressure. He was ill and was suffering from stomach ulcers at that time. He was clearly run down. He had done an enormous amount of work during the war and in the years that followed. Jock was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the leaders of the International. It must be said, he had certain illusions in the International - illusions that were not shared by other comrades, myself included. Towards the end of the war and in the immediate post war period, Jock had become increasingly despondent with the wrong perspectives that we had put forward during the course of the war, epitomised by our 1942 pamphlet Preparing for Power. Of course, we had corrected the perspective, and analysed the situation that was unfolding. However, Jock was sick and worn out, and tended to see things in a negative way.
The roots of our difficulties lay in the objective situation. It bore down on all of us, including the leadership. Haston was a giant of a man. I have no qualms about saying this, despite his later abandonment of Trotskyism. He had without doubt tremendous qualities. However, although he had a lot of political acumen and a certain theoretical level, he tended to be more of a political activist and an organiser than a theoretician. Under these growing pressures, by the autumn of 1948, Haston began to look for a way out. He was becoming less active. In disgust at the way things were turning out, and no doubt influenced by his subjective doubts about the movement, he raised the question of entry into the Labour Party.
In December 1948 this question was formally raised by Haston in the Political Bureau. At the meeting of the Political Bureau he maintained that this proposal was being made without the illusions of Healy. There was no suggestion that big gains could be made in the Labour Party at this time. But what it amounted to, in effect, was that Haston was throwing in the towel. There was a discussion and a vote, and he found himself in a minority of one in the Political Bureau. He was completely isolated. So Haston decided to resign from his position as general secretary in order to argue his case within the ranks of the organisation.
who was one of the leaders and organisers of the RCP, had just returned from
'We propose therefore, to raise as the key question before the party, the dissolution of the RCP as an independent organisation and the entry of our members into the Labour Party.
'We propose that the dissolution should be by public declaration. The supporters of our tendency should be prepared by a series of articles and the leadership of the party should approach the Labour Party with the object of securing the best results from the public entry of the RCP into the Labour Party. It follows that the IS should be informed of the proposed orientation, and if it is accepted by the majority of the party, negotiations should be opened with the object of working together with our co-thinkers.' (Statement on the Perspective of the RCP, by J. Haston, H. Atkinson, R. Tearse, and V. Charles).
On the Political Bureau, only Jimmy Deane and myself were strongly opposed to entry. We were now in a minority within the leadership. The majority of the top leadership of the RCP had now gone over to a position of entrism – not the classical entrism that Trotsky had put forward, with a great perspective of growth. But entrism that would allow us just to hold our forces together within the framework of the Labour Party. The PB Majority wrote:
'At the September 1947 Conference of the RCP, after a drawn out and bitter struggle around the tactic of entry, the Party set its course with the utmost confidence on the basis of the open tactic.
'We believe we could go forward on the basis of modest gains, entrenching and consolidating our position, and thus maintaining our forces in the best possible way until the economic and political situation changed to our advantage. But the cumulative effect of our position has necessitated a reassessment of our past perspective’
'In this document we hope to place before the members our positive outlook on the future perspectives and tasks of the party. We leave aside here a number of problems which have been raised, some of which have already been dealt with in the Reply to the IS, others which we hope to deal with in future bulletins’
'It is now our opinion that it is wrong to wait until the Labour Party milieu is in ferment, then step into the left wing already formed and hope to take over the leadership. It is clearly an illusion to imagine that workers will follow us merely on the basis of our ideas. The workers will follow us when they have learned to trust us in the course of working together. An acceptance of the perspective that future political developments will centre mainly around the Labour Party, means acceptance of the need to participate in the left wing’.
'We cannot, of course, build the revolutionary left wing in conditions which are not favourable for its formation. But we can create a basis for our tendency by building up a cadre of national and local leaders and crystallise the left critics who undoubtedly exist in the Labour Party’
'The whole nature of the objective situation determines that we face a period of hard and patient work. We hold no illusions of rapid growth. It is rather a question of building up over the next period a revolutionary trend in the labour movement which will form the basis for the future.'
The International lost no opportunity in sticking in the boot, accusing the Majority of liquidationism.
'This document is the expression of liquidationist tendencies', stated the IS. It went on to denounce the RCP for taking a quick 'position which helped the opponents of the International, Morrow, Shachtman’ Halt! Out of the road of Shachtman, Morrow, Demaziere and other deserters of the Fourth International!.. To enable the International to cooperate with you in drawing a clear political and organisational balance-sheet of your activity which has ended in bankruptcy’', etc. etc.
'There is great danger because the policy of the comrades depends on nothing. Nothing is to be done because reformism is transforming the working class; nothing is to be done because Stalinism is achieving victories for the working class. They have not much hope to build the Trotskyist organisation; they have no hope in the development of the Fourth International. The proposal of entry looks like the act of a desperate man drowning himself in deep water.'
Jimmy Deane and myself, isolated in the leadership, were in a profound dilemma. It was clear that entry into the Labour Party could not solve our problems. That is why we originally opposed it at the Political Bureau and the Central Committee. That didn’t mean that the open party was going to produce miracles either. To be honest, given the objective situation, entry or non-entry would not have made any fundamental difference. Outside the Labour Party we wouldn’t gain much under the existing circumstances, but inside the Labour Party we wouldn’t gain much either! Looking back on it, we made an opportunist mistake. It was difficult to see at the time. In hindsight it is much clearer.
We believed that we had a fundamental responsibility to maintain the organisation. The WIL and the RCP had shown its mettle in the period 1938-48. The organisation had been reinforced by the experience of the whole period, during and after the war, when we had been educated in the debates on a whole host of question, including entrism and revolutionary tactics. We knew that if we conducted a political struggle over this question to maintain the open party, we would undoubtedly have gained the overwhelming majority of the organisation. Haston and the majority of the Political Bureau would have certainly been isolated. But the problem that we faced was that they were the top leaders of the organisation. We had built up this leadership in a period of common work for ten years or so, and we didn’t want to throw it away.
are precious. They are created in the course of struggle. Our cadres had been
tested in the course of the war, the
We stated that we wouldn’t campaign on the question in the ranks of the organisation. At this point, myself, Jimmy and George Hansen, the PB minority, issued a statement to all members.
'The discussion has not convinced us that in the present situation entry would constitute a superior tactic', it said. 'However, faced with the fact that the overwhelming majority of the leadership and the trained cadres, and substantial sections of the rank and file are in favour of entering the Labour Party, and given that the objective situation will be a difficult one for the Party, we believe that a struggle would be sterile’
'We do not believe that there are great opportunities for the growth of our movement at present wherever we operate. In this period the most important task consists in the maintenance of the unity of the organisation, the intensification of the education of our cadres and raising the theoretical level of the entire organisation. These tasks will pose themselves as vital for the future, whether we are inside or outside.'
The statement then concluded:
'Under these circumstances, we do not believe it is in the best interests of the movement to wage a struggle on this issue.' (Letter to the Members by Ted Grant, Jimmy Deane and George Hanson).
Whatever we did – in or outside the Labour Party – we might gain ones and twos and very small numbers at best. It was a hard choice. In the present climate, it was difficult to sell papers, gain contacts, and generally get an audience for revolutionary ideas. We understood that inside the Labour Party or outside the Labour Party, it wouldn’t make all that much difference. Under the circumstances, we were not prepared to wage a struggle. We said quite openly that our aim was to save the leadership. If we can go into the Labour Party and keep our organisation intact, then, perhaps at a later stage when the classic conditions for entrism existed, which would inevitably arise at a certain stage, we would be able to connect with the mass left wing. The conditions for entrism would inevitably arise in the future, and if we remained outside, we would have then had to enter the Labour Party under those circumstances. So, at this stage, and from that point of view, it wouldn’t matter all that much if we were inside or outside.
Our overriding aim was to maintain intact as many of the forces as possible, particularly the leadership. Had we succeeded, there would have been no problem. In any case, it would not have been as disastrous as it eventually turned out to be. But, looking back on it, it is now clear we would probably have lost Haston anyway. We may also have lost Roy Tearse, as well as Atkinson, and some other leading comrades. It is not absolutely certain what would have happened. But, at any rate, most of the forces within the movement would have been retained, particularly the active rank and file. We would have at least kept the core of the RCP and had a national organisation and profile.
On 8 and 9 January 1949, the Central Committee endorsed the PB Majority statement, signed by Haston, Atkinson, Tearse and Charles. But then in February, the younger rank and file comrades of the organisation, led by Sam Bornstein, Sam Levy, Alf Snobel, Arthur Deane – none of whom were on the Central Committee of the organisation – raised the banner of the Open Party, and declared themselves a faction. They refused to go into the Labour Party and wanted to maintain the open party at all costs. They produced a statement entitled The Case for the Open Party signed by 14 comrades. The statement concluded by pointing to the low level of industrial struggle, the right wing ascendancy within the Labour Party and 'that the conditions are the most unfavourable for entry that we know of, and the complete negation of the conditions necessary for entry outlined by Trotsky and by our party since.' It also attacked myself under the heading of The Strange Case of Comrade Grant, stating that my position was contradictory. That the open party was correct for this period, but given the position of the leadership, I had acquiesced.
A further document was produced by the Open Party faction entitled Once Again – the Real Situation in Britain, which gave a fuller explanation of their position and quoting the past position of comrades who opposed entry, who had come out now in favour of entry. In conclusion it stated, 'we believe not merely that the open party can be maintained, but that there is even the possibility of small growth. They accused the entrists of 'clutching at ’entry’ in sheer despair.'
Jimmy Deane and I were taken completely by surprise. We weren’t prepared for this and were taken off our guard. If we had foreseen this development, we possibly would have taken a different attitude. Given our 'neutral' position, and our unpreparedness to engage in a struggle, these comrades regarded Jimmy Deane and myself with complete hostility. Because they did not have sufficient authority in the ranks, they could not gain a majority. As far as they were concerned, we had let the party down. So they organised an Open Party faction and gained support, possibly about 25 percent support, among the rank and file. The Haston position also got around 25 percent support, while the rest were mainly undecided.
In an endeavour to frighten the organisation, and as a result maybe of inexperience, and possibly even of a certain political spite, the Open Party faction said that if the RCP decided to go into the Labour Party – and they saw this as a distinct possibility – then we would have to accept the leadership of Healy. My God! That was a terrible prospect. The Open Party comrades said Healy would have been shown to be correct in 1947. After all, he raised the question of entry into the Labour Party first, although completely incorrectly, and had pursued an opportunist path. Nevertheless, if the RCP dissolved and we entered the Labour Party, we would have to accept the leadership of Healy. Both Jimmy and myself were absolutely horrified at this idea, and we objected vehemently to this proposal, as we understood what would happen. I insisted on certain conditions otherwise we must totally oppose the fusion. But Haston, disoriented by the tiredness and ill health that was affecting his judgement, went along with this incredible idea of accepting Healy’s leadership at least for a period.
We couldn’t believe our ears! We had set the avalanche in motion and we couldn’t stop it. There is always the danger, if you take an opportunist position, if you do not take a firm and principled attitude, even on a tactical question, you can box yourself into a corner. The Open Party faction was saying that there could not be two separate groups operating the same tactic. Although we opposed firmly the question of giving the Healyites leadership of the tendency, we couldn’t stop the ground shifting under us. We argued that we had three times as many members as Healy, and it was ludicrous to accept his leadership. Then the International leadership intervened with great joy written all over their faces. Privas, following the orders of Pablo, underlined the point that the RCP would be disaffiliated from the Fourth International if they did not accept Healy’s leadership. This was seized on by the Open Party faction comrades, who stressed the point that to enter the Labour Party meant to fuse with Healy on his terms, since this was the position of Pablo and the leadership of the International.
could possibly have accepted the leadership of Healy – if the leading body, the
national committee of the organisation represented the actual political balance
within the organisation, as we had a majority of the membership. But that was
certainly not Healy’s idea. And he had the backing of the International. On 4,
5, and 6 June
that James’ conclusions have not been dealt with by Grant. How can you say
that? James has illusions in Tito and Mao. We believe Grant answered in the
only convincing and educational way – by dealing with the reactionary aspects
of Titoism and Chinese Stalinism. The major part of Grant’s reply deals
precisely with the question of whether Tito and Mao are ’unconscious Trotskyists’
’bypassing’ the Fourth International in the struggle against the Stalinist
(Russian) bureaucracy. We cannot fail to comment here that your uncritical
letter to the Yugoslav Communist Party precisely lends weight to the point of
view that Tito is an ’unconscious Trotskyist’. If you think Grant’s reply
inadequate, the task is for you to reply to James. Nobody can prevent you from
condemning us for failing to answer James in the way you think it should have
been done. But having done so, you have to realise that theoretical problems
are not solved by denunciations, particularly when these are not accompanied
with any theoretical rebuttal. You cannot expect us to counter James with your
theoretical ideas, particularly in the light of your position on
In the end the Special Conference voted by a majority in favour of dissolving the RCP and entering the Labour Party. On the issue of Healy’s leadership of the organisation, we voted against, but we found ourselves in the minority. One of the reasons for this was that the Open Party faction voted in favour of the proposal! The last special issue of Socialist Appeal, announcing the dissolution of the RCP, came out in July 1949. It read as follows:
two-day debate, this fully representative Conference decided, by a substantial
majority, to dissolve the organisation and call upon the members of the Party to
enter the Labour Party – to which the majority already pay the trade union
political levy – as individual members. Within the Labour Party they would
carry on the fight for the overthrow of the capitalist system and for a
'We would prefer to have the right to enter the Labour Party as an organised body, affiliated in the same manner as the Fabian Society and other organisations. But this is not possible owing to the 1946 decision of the Labour Party regarding organisations seeking affiliation. We have therefore dissolved our organisation and will fight as individual members, within the framework of the Constitution of the Labour Party, for the policy outlined above. By dissolving the Revolutionary Communist Party and entering the Labour Party as individual members we consider we will best play our part in aiding the British workers to reach their socialist goal.' This was signed by Jock Haston on behalf of the Committee of Dissolution.
Looking back on things, this was a big setback for the movement. The conference set up a commission to carry through the fusion. As expected, with the backing of the International, Healy got a majority on the Political Bureau and a majority on the National Committee. Despite the size of our support, we weren’t even going to get a single full-timer, as the leading bodies, which were dominated by Healy, would choose these positions. Under the fusion terms, the majority had to accept the leadership of the minority until the following conference. This conference would be organised to assess the fusion and then elect a new leadership. The problem was, Healy being Healy, he would use every rotten means to destroy the old RCP leadership and take control of the organisation. The man was a gangster and would revert to any means to get a majority, as events subsequently proved.
This was the fatal thing about entry. It wouldn’t have been so damaging if we had entered with our own forces under the control of the RCP leadership. That was our position, but Haston as well as the Open Party fraction had rejected it. The other option, which also could have avoided the break-up, would have been to support the Open Party faction. But after the liquidation of the RCP, things started to unwind at a considerable speed.
accomplished what he had set out to do Healy received a new access of
confidence. He experienced an injection of adrenaline. As far as he was
concerned, he had been shown to be correct in the struggle he had started in
1943. Then he began, as one might expect, a real campaign against the RCP
leaders. He wanted to make sure that he had the majority by the time of the
next conference. We didn’t have any full-timers, and so were compelled to seek
work. Then Healy went up and down the country and for anyone who was in
opposition, it was chop, chop, chop. Anyone who wasn’t prepared to accept
Healy’s domination completely was expelled even without a report to the
National Committee. This happened for instance to Bill Cleminson, a leading
engineering worker in Sheffield, and a member of the Central Committee, as well
as other comrades in
However, in the period leading up to the conference, Haston came up to me and said that he had had enough, and that he was leaving the organisation. He said he still considered himself a Trotskyist – a position he held for some time after leaving. 'I still maintain my position of Trotskyism', he said, 'but I can’t stand the atmosphere in this organisation any longer.' We pleaded to him, 'For God’s sake, Jock, wait until the conference itself. At least keep quiet and let us wage a struggle, while we still have the opportunity of getting a majority in the organisation. We can then put it on the same footing as the best days of the RCP. But if you walk out now, we can see what will happen. You will simply give the Healyites an opportunity to destroy the organisation altogether.'
But all our efforts were in vain. Haston was obviously a broken man. He wasn’t really concerned about the movement any longer; he was only interested in himself. That was what it amounted to in the end. He had completely lost his perspective and faith in the revolutionary movement. He was totally demoralised, even at that stage, though he still considered himself a Trotskyist. He refused to accept our argument to wait until the conference, and sent a letter of resignation from the organisation to the Political Bureau in February 1950. Haston was then formally expelled from the Club the following month.
This was just the
opportunity Healy had been waiting for. As soon as Healy received Haston’s
letter of resignation, he said, 'Ah! We’ve got them at last!' He immediately
called a special meeting, an aggregate in
Of course, we fought against this hooligan attitude of Healy. It may have been possible, if we could have retained friendly relations with Haston, to have saved him politically and brought back into the movement. This has happened before, when individuals have fallen by the wayside and been drawn back in later. At least a friendly approach and sympathetic attitude could have politically neutralised Haston. But for Healy, such an approach was impossible. It was completely ruled out. Healy wanted revenge for the past. For him, Haston was now an enemy of the movement, and a traitor to the working class! Of course, treated in this fashion, branded a class traitor, Haston began to shift to the right, ending up sadly in the camp of the reformist bureaucracy.
Healy used the
opportunity to carry through a widespread purge throughout the organisation. He
set about creating a climate of absolute intolerance. Up and down the country
he closed or amalgamated branches before the conference. In the RCP, I had been
a member of the
Following the aggregate, Healy came down to my branch to explain his resolution against Haston. Once Healy had finished, a comrade called Dave Black objected: 'But Comrade Healy, what am I to do when you are moving a resolution like that in relation to Haston? I have a wife who is a member of the IKD. [An organisation in opposition to the International] 'Do you expect me to refuse to talk to my wife?' Healy’s answer was typical of the man: 'Well, comrade, get another wife!' This is an actual fact. Needless to say, the comrade concerned immediately left the movement. Healy was a complete hooligan. I do not need to say any more on this because I think these examples speak for themselves.
The decision to move me to another branch just before the conference was completely unprincipled. But Healy was not satisfied with this. After being forced to give up full-time work, I managed to get a job as a door-to-door salesman, which at least allowed me some free time to organise our political intervention. It allowed me the opportunity to participate actively in the pre-conference period and in the discussions that went on in the run up to the conference. So Hunter moved, through Healy, obviously on Healy’s instructions, that I should give up my current job and get a job in a factory. Of course I refused to accept this proposal. I just laughed at the idea. I asked Hunter what sort of a manoeuvre was this? It was clearly an attempt to stop my political preparations before the conference. Then when I refused, Hunter moved my expulsion at the branch and they voted to expel me. It seems difficult to imagine, doesn’t it? But this was absolutely typical of Healy and his stooges. However, they were forced to backtrack, under pressure from the International, which preferred to take a more cautious line on my expulsion.
With Haston out of the way, and his hands completely freed, Healy’s next move was to proceed against his 'enemies', as he called them. Before the collapse of the RCP, Tony Cliff had about a dozen people supporting his state capitalist position. He now gained about twenty or thirty people out of the debacle that took place. A layer now supported Cliff as a reaction against the pro-Stalinist position of the Healy leadership. It is clear that Healy by his very nature was a totalitarian. He had nothing in common with the genuine methods of Trotskyism, and everything in common with the methods of Stalinism.
Healy decided to call an aggregate to 'deal with' Tony Cliff. The supporters of Cliff put forward their views on state capitalism, and Healy was furious. I simply waited to see what line Healy would put forward. Healy turned to me and said, 'why don’t you answer him?' I replied, 'you are supposed to be the leader, you answer him!' But they were politically incapable of answering Cliff’s arguments on state capitalism. So, of course, Healy just expelled Cliff and his supporters on various charges. When Cliff’s supporters wanted to present their document to the conference, they were refused. Later in the year, Cliff set up the Socialist Review group.
When Haston was expelled from the IEC and the International, he was accused of 'shameful desertion', which was 'the logical outcome of all the opportunist and liquidationist policy and of the hostility to the International which Haston, as the head of the ex-RCP, has personally shown during the whole of the last years’' The resolution asserted that his abandonment of Trotskyism was a reflection of 'the pressure of the class enemy on the ideologically weaker and more confused elements in the movement.' Then the IEC gave Healy the green light for an all-out purge, having approved 'all the measures of revolutionary discipline taken by the English leadership against the deserters for the safeguarding of the programme and the organisation.' It went on to demand 'that all the British Trotskyists, loyal to revolutionary Marxism and the International, should fight with the utmost energy all complacency towards Haston and those demoralised elements who have followed him.'
expelled Cliff for his ideas, they then moved a resolution that anybody in the
branches who voted against the expulsion of Cliff’s supporters was
automatically expelled. This is an actual fact. Although I opposed them
politically, I protested against this violation of their democratic rights, and
I was expelled. Following this, Arthur Deane, Sam Levy, Sam Bornstein, Roy
Tearse, and many others were expelled. We also heard that they had expelled
Jimmy Deane and the
We were left with
the difficult job of organising all those who were driven out by Healy’s
purges, and who remained faithful to the political line and methods of the RCP.
We attempted to gather together the remnants of the movement in Liverpool and
We held a meeting to discuss what to do next. I was nominally a member of the International Executive Committee and, in order to appear impartial, they had suggested that I came back to the organisation. I suggested that I should go back and appeal against my expulsion and fight until I was expelled again, which would have been my third time. But the comrades said that it was a waste of time and voted against my proposal to return and fight. I believe now that the comrades were correct, and it was obviously stupid to go back under those conditions. So I accepted the decision of the group and we began the hard job of gathering together the forces once again.
To begin with, we
had a small base in
There are those who have written off the whole experience of the WIL and the RCP as a failure. They are incapable of understanding our history. Unfortunately, life does not proceed in a straight line, and neither does the revolutionary movement. We can see this not only from the period 1938 to 1949, but also from the entire history of the Marxist movement since the founding of the First International in 1864. We have to understand developments in their broad historical context; otherwise we would draw pessimistic and false conclusions concerning the future of Marxism and the revolutionary movement.
weep nor laugh but to understand' – this was a phrase of the great
philosopher Spinoza which was often quoted by Trotsky. The experience of
Trotskyism in those years is a treasure-house of ideas which, taken in their
totality, teaches us how a genuine Trotskyist movement can be built and sink
roots in the working class. The experience that I went through personally, as
the principal theoretician of British Trotskyism, added enormously to my
understanding of events and served to enrich our collective knowledge that was
to lay the basis for our future work. In the Militant tendency, we
created the most powerful base for Trotskyism in
As Ted Grant’s history finishes in 1950, the reader will obviously want to know what has happened since that time. Given its scope, writing a postscript on such a subject is a daunting task. A serious undertaking, however, would require at least another book if not several. That is a luxury that we cannot afford, but we will return to in the future. Nevertheless, I will attempt to give at least a brief outline of subsequent developments. Despite the inevitable gaps and omissions, it will, I hope, serve to set the present work in context and provide it with a certain continuity.
In 1950, after his expulsion by Gerry Healy from the Club, Ted attempted to regroup and salvage as much as possible from the wreckage of the RCP. It must be said – and was admitted by Ted later – that he had made a big mistake, in hindsight, by not backing the Open Party faction. He was still hoping to salvage the leadership – above all, Haston. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off. If it had succeeded, at least the basic core of the RCP would have been kept largely intact. They would have intervened much more effectively in the crisis that hit the Communist Party in 1956. However, that opportunity was lost with the destruction of the RCP by the Healy-Cannon-Pablo-Mandel conspiracy.
By the autumn of
1950, Ted’s supporters amounted to a handful of around thirty people, mainly in
Just after his
expulsion Ted issued an open letter, Statement to the British Section of
the Fourth International, in an attempt to define his political position
on a series of issues. Without any full timers or apparatus, the comrades
struggled to hold things together. Minutes of their meetings record attempts to
follow up contacts for the group. Visits to other areas outside of
In May 1951, the
first national conference took place in
'For Marxism neither pessimism nor spurious optimism can play a role in determining the analysis of events. The first necessity is to understand the meaning of the conjuncture of historical forces leading to the present world situation.
overthrow of Stalinism in the areas in which it holds sway will most likely be
a long process. It is true that Stalinism remains a regime of permanent crisis.
In it, the element of socialism, in the state economy, is in permanent
contradiction to the Bonapartist state apparatus and the privileged caste whose
interests it serves. Thus the regime of Stalinism in
This analysis provided the organisation with a more coherent perspective and was used as a basis for recruitment to the group. The conference endorsed the document unanimously and it was issued as a duplicated public pamphlet the following month. A decision was also taken to launch a theoretical magazine every two months. Figures like Jimmy Deane and his brothers Arthur Deane and Brian Deane, Alec Riach, Sam Levy and others helped to gather funds to launch the new publication. The first issue of the new magazine called International Socialist, with Ted as its editor, appeared in February 1952. However, the lack of resources and a paucity of funds meant that the magazine appeared only spasmodically between February 1952 and April 1954.
For the Grant tendency, the key question was how to work in the Labour Party. The Healyites – as Ted predicted – 'joined the Labour Party at the wrong time, and would inevitably leave the Labour Party at the wrong time.' Within the Labour Party, the Healy group had no idea of how to work and was simply pursuing an opportunist policy. They were chasing a phantom left wing that didn’t exist, while hiding their 'Trotskyism' and dressing themselves in the clothes of left reformism.
Even worse, they had the false idea of 'building the left' in alliance with a layer of the left reformists. Healy had set up the Socialist Fellowship in 1948 and then launched a paper called Socialist Outlook with such 'left' luminaries as Bessie Braddock, and her husband, Councillor Jack Braddock, who moved far to the right and ruled the Liverpool Labour Party with the methods of Tammany Hall.
The Healy group was conducting a policy of 'deep entrism'. They simply liquidated themselves into the Labour Party. The Socialist Outlook, following Pablo’s line, was distinctly left reformist and pro-Stalinist in character. It was no different in essence from Tribune, the paper of the Labour Left. For instance, its issue of 19 September 1952 had the banner headline: For a Bevan Victory at 1952 Conference! [Nye Bevan was one of the leaders of the Left]. The issue of 27 November 1953 thundered: The Tories Must Resign – Let’s have a petition to get them out! And so on, and so forth.
Even so, this luke warm left reformism was still too much for the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party who banned the Outlook in 1954. Fearing expulsion, Healy’s supporters immediately closed down the paper. When Transport House banned the Fellowship, the Outlook published a statement: 'As loyal members of the Labour Party who have never had any interests separate and apart from the Labour Party we are obliged to accept the decision of the NEC.' In other words, they capitulated without a squeak.
After the closure of the Fellowship and the Outlook, the Healy group deepened its opportunist line within the Labour Party – which was in effect Pablo’s policy of entrism of a 'new type'. They began to sell Tribune instead of their own paper. In fact, after the closure of the Outlook, they didn’t have their own newspaper for two years. As Harry Ratner later admitted, 'we wanted to help create a broad left current in the Labour Party and unions’' and 'this was consistent with our strategy of deep entrism into the Labour Party.'
expulsion, Ted’s 'open letter' to members of the British section of
the 'Fourth' analysed the role of Outlook. 'The
political role of the Socialist Outlook was determined not by the
anaemic editorials,' stated Ted, 'but by the leading articles of
those MPs, etc., whose policies were transparently one of sweetening the bitter
pills of the right wing. At the same time, the editorials were coloured by the
need not to ’offend’ the Stalinist fellow travellers on the Editorial Board.
The editorial produced a line of ’criticism’ which is worthy of the notorious
’Friends of the
He went on to
quote examples from the Outlook: 'The leadership’ would like it to
be.' 'We are far from suggesting that the Russian Government at all
times and under all conditions supports progressive movements.'
'There is a distinct flavour of power politics about
opportunism and pro-Stalinism of the Healyites went hand in hand with
perspectives of immediate slump and Third World War. 'Economic necessity
As was seen
earlier, the leaders of the International had capitulated to Titoism and
Maoism. This adaptation to Stalinism was clearly evident in the political
position of the resolutions of Pablo, Mandel, Frank and co. In 1951, the Pablo
leadership came out with a perspective of an impending Third World War. Under
prevailing conditions, Pablo maintained that this 'new reality'
corresponded to 'the conception of Revolution-War’ upon which the
perspectives and orientation of revolutionary Marxists in our epoch should
rest.' Instead of a struggle of classes, there was now a struggle between
the camps of imperialism and Stalinism. This meant a policy of 'deep
entrism', where the Trotskyists would hide their identities. Cannon, Healy
and the rest of them supported this position whole-heartedly. 'We consider
these documents to be completely Trotskyist', wrote Cannon on 29 May 1952.
While Healy was organising 'work brigades' to go from
As an aside, it is
opportune to deal with a myth that has been peddled around by the Healyites
over the years. Bill Hunter, a former supporter of the RCP majority, had
slavishly gone over to Healy after the break-up of the RCP. A leading Healy
acolyte, he was expelled from the Labour Party by the NEC in late 1954,
following the proscription of Socialist Outlook. He was in the same
Constituency Labour Party as Ted Grant, in
correct stand taken by Ted was the position that Healy had endorsed a few years
The position that Ted took in 1954 to abstain in a vote in face of disbandment of the local Labour Party was absolutely correct. While protesting against the expulsions, it was madness to allow the bureaucracy to simply close down the party and empty out all of the left wingers on a question like this. Of course, in an attempt to slander Ted Grant, the Healyites, including Ratner and Hunter, were prepared to use Ted’s abstention to cast a slur on his revolutionary character.
'This [Pablo’s] general analysis was endorsed by the Third World Congress of the Fourth International in August 1951', noted Harry Ratner. 'It was at first only opposed by the majority of the French section – the Parti Communiste Internationaliste. When they were instructed by the International to enter the French Communist Party, they refused to do so. In January 1952 Michael Pablo, using his authority as Secretary of the International, suspended a majority of the PCI’s Central Committee. The PCI split, and, a few months later, the majority, led by Lambert and Bleitreu, were expelled from the International.
and the general line of the International were generally supported, in
particular by the American Socialist Workers Party and by Healy’s group [the
When the row broke
out into the open, Ratner admits they 'were taken by surprise.' So
Cannon and Healy were in fact the original Pabloites. Healy’s leading
collaborator and editor of Socialist Outlook, John Lawrence, together
with his supporters, faithfully carried on with their pro-Stalinist line. Healy
subsequently expelled them – not for their Stalinism, but for their support of
Within two years,
the crisis developing within the Communist Parties following the
earth-shattering revelations by Khruschev at the Twentieth Congress of the
CPSU, exposing many of the crimes of Stalin, provided the Trotskyist movement
with renewed possibilities. These events unfolding in the
Sam Bornstein, who
was in touch with the International, urged Pablo to get in contact with Ted
Grant’s group. After some discussions, this led to a fusion with some other
supporters of Pablo in
Recognition by the International came however with the promise of resources to pay for two full timers and a new magazine. By the end of the year Ted, together with Pablo supporter, John Fairhead, became full-timers, and a new magazine, Workers International Review, was launched. Pablo wanted Fairhead appointed as an ally against Ted’s dominant political influence within the group. However, Fairhead didn’t last long and he soon left. His political evolution went originally from support for Healy’s Socialist Outlook, into the Communist Party, through the RSL to the Cliff group, then the Posadists and into the Labour Party. From there he joined the Tory Party and became an executive member of the right wing Tory Monday Club! 'I wasn’t surprised', said Ted later. 'He was a public school boy and from a Tory background.'
This attempt to
re-establish a group in
This called for an
abrupt turn by the tendency towards these possibilities in the Communist Party.
A sharp debate took place within the group of how to approach these potential
recruits. Ted raised the question of an open banner and the launch of an open
organisation, as the only effective means of appealing to the dissidents within
the CP. This was resisted by some comrades, such as Sam Levy, but was accepted
by the group. In early 1957, the Revolutionary Socialist League was launched
and the Workers International Review issued an Open Letter to the
Communist Party over
New shocks lie ahead', stated the Open Letter. 'Yesterday
the 20th Congress, today
intervention of Russian troops was designed to prevent the setting up of a
socialist democracy on the borders of
the Communist Party! You can best help in this task by a clear understanding of
the problems of the working class and the theory and practice of Marxism and
Leninism. We are convinced that you will come to understand that the
revolutionary struggle can be carried through to a victorious conclusion in
In a document also written by Ted, entitled The Present Situation and Our Political Tasks (1957), the need for flexible tactics towards Communist Party dissidents was sharply posed:
numbers of key and important cadres can be won for the Fourth International
from this work. To accomplish this task, any attempt at the imposition of a
The document continued: 'The situation demands above all a flexible tactic. Entry must not be made a fetish – any more than the concept of open work. Our tactic at the given time is dictated by the opportunities open to us and the possibility of perspectives for the future. It would be greater madness to adopt a formalistic attitude and turn our backs on the immediate possibilities of work under the independent banner – the modest successes of Workers International Review have underlined this. The essence of tactics, in politics as in war, is to concentrate the greatest forces in that sector of the battlefield where the state of the fight most favours victory. Successful work in the open field can prepare the ground for greater successes in the future within the Labour Party, where the decisive struggles will take place.' 
Ted and other comrades made contact and discussed with a layer of CP dissidents, but were shocked at their very low political level. 'In the past,' recalled Ted, 'the old Stalinists would first of all ask about your programme. But the first question these people would ask is: how many are you?' After decades of miseducation by Stalinism, it was not easy to win such people to a small organisation and the results were very modest. As an example of the pernicious effects of Stalinism on worker activists, it is sufficient to cite the following example.
The Stalinists had
controlled the electricians’ union (ETU) from the top, by completely
bureaucratic means, including ballot rigging. But in
theories and principles did not attract these former Stalinists. They were more
impressed by Healy’s organisation, which was bigger and had far greater
resources, including a printing press. As a result, Healy managed to recruit a
whole layer of people, including Brian Behan (the brother of Brendan Behan, the
famous Irish playwright), Peter Fryer (the former correspondent of the Daily
However, rather than convincing these ex-Stalinists of Trotskyism, they seemed to have recruited Healy to a version of 'third period' Stalinism. Within a few years, Healy had abandoned his extreme opportunist version of work in the Labour Party and launched the Socialist Labour League early in 1959. They swung wildly from the most cowardly opportunism to the most insane ultra-leftism. But the honeymoon did not last long. Healy’s internal regime of bureaucratic centralism, based on bullying and terror, soon led to the expulsion of Behan, Fryer and a whole host of others.
Years later, Healy’s stooge, Bill Hunter cynically turned against his long-standing mentor. He revealed what everyone already knew – that Healy was a petty tyrant and a dictator within his organisation. 'Walking out of meetings', states Hunter in his autobiography, 'which he used as a deliberate method of pressure later in the 1970s, the attempt to resolve party problems with force of will, fear, administrative actions and violence'
It was clear to anyone with the slightest grasp that Healy had absolutely nothing to do with genuine Trotskyism. However much he hides, Hunter cannot escape the fact that he uncritically supported the Healy regime – until it collapsed in 1985 with the expulsion of Healy. 'Healy could never have acted as he did without the support of a whole group of other people around him in the leadership', remarks Harry Ratner, 'people such as Mike and Tony Banda, Bill Hunter, Cliff Slaughter and Bob Shaw, and the failure of people like myself to speak out.'
As already stated, Ted Grant believed that Healy entered the Labour Party at the wrong time, and would also leave the Labour Party at the wrong time. This prediction proved to be absolutely correct. Nevertheless, the zigzags of the Healyites produced a certain questioning within the tendency, so Ted used this experience to write a document in March 1959 to answer these doubts and clarify the situation. The document gave a short history of the Labour Party tactic and analysed the differences with Trotsky’s conception of entrism and the long-term work that we were conducting within the mass organisations.
classical conditions for entry, as laid down by Trotsky, did not exist in
'From every point of view the work is impossible without an understanding of the perspectives, whatever the momentary situation may be', explained Ted. 'Otherwise the work proceeds purely empirically as with the Healyites, in a series of convulsive leaps and jumps in all directions. The tendency is at the mercy of every episodic conjuncture and turn in events, blown hither and thither by momentary favourable and unfavourable winds, instead of – while taking these into account in everyday work and explaining to the membership the meaning of all events – nevertheless fitting them into broad perspectives of the movement. It is the failure to understand the tactic of entrism, and its application, which has resulted in the new tactics of the Healyites. They will produce an abortion.'
Although we were the official section of the International, we were always in political opposition to the leadership on a whole range of questions. Despite the fact that the Hungarian events found us on common ground, other developments produced sharp disagreements. In the Sino-Soviet dispute, for instance, rather than viewing it as a national conflict between two bureaucracies, the International decided to give critical support to the Chinese bureaucracy as allegedly more 'progressive'. In the meantime, Pablo, who had moved into opposition, supported the Russian bureaucracy, claiming that Khrushchev’s 'de-Stalinisation' campaign opened the door to the 'self-reform' of the bureaucracy. Neither position had anything in common with Trotskyism.
Juan Posadas, a
leader based in
'We are preparing ourselves for a stage in which before the atomic war we shall struggle for power, during the atomic war we shall struggle for power and we shall be in power [sic!]. There is no beginning’ there is an end to atomic war, because atomic war is simultaneous revolution in the whole world, not as a chain reaction, simultaneous. Simultaneous doesn’t mean the same day and the same hour. Great historic events should not be measured by hours or days, but by periods’ The working class will maintain itself, [and] will immediately have to seek its cohesion and centralisation’
'After destruction commences, the masses are going to emerge in all countries – in a short time, in a few hours. Capitalism cannot defend itself in an atomic war except by putting itself in caves and attempting to destroy all that it can. The masses, in contrast, are going to come out, will have to come out, because it is the only way to survive, defeating the enemy’ The apparatus of capitalism, police, army, will not be able to resist’ It will be necessary to organise the workers’ power immediately.'
The only authority that a Marxist leadership can have is a political and moral authority. This was what Lenin and Trotsky based themselves on in the formative years of the Communist International. It never occurred to them to use organisational methods to impose their ideas on the International. Only after Lenin’s death, in the period of the bureaucratic degeneration, did Zinoviev begin to use the apparatus to impose the 'Moscow Line' – a development that inevitably ended in the destruction of the Third International.
In the 1930s,
despite all the difficulties, the colossal personal authority of Leon Trotsky
kept the small forces of the Bolshevik-Leninists together. He waged a stubborn
struggle to defend and preserve the genuine ideas and traditions of the October
Revolution and the Bolshevik Party. But the other leaders were not at all on a
similar level. Like Zinoviev, Cannon, Mandel and the others imagined that it
was possible to demand authority and obedience. Lenin once warned Bukharin:
'If you want obedience, you will get obedient fools'. They dissipated
all the political and moral authority which the Old Man had bequeathed to the
Fourth International, and attempted to make up for their lack of authority by
using organisational methods against their critics - as with the British
section. This was a sure way to destroy the Fourth International even before it
had had a chance to build a serious mass base. Most of the sections remained
small and isolated from the mass movement of the working class. One of the main
The Ceylonese Trotskyists in effect founded the labour movement in that country. They even invented the word for socialism, which did not exist in Sinhala. They coined the word Sama Samaja – which means literally 'equal society'. It is not particularly scientific, but it is the nearest equivalent they could find to 'socialism'.
Whereas in other
countries the Stalinists expelled the Trotskyists, in
positions of the leaders of the Fourth International led them to make one
mistake after another. This served to further undermine the credibility of the
International leadership. Over a period of time, this was to have major
repercussions in the largest section of the International, the LSSP. They did
not possess a shred of political and moral authority with the LSSP leaders, who
had a mass organisation. Ted recalls that in meetings of the International in
Without the check
of an authoritative political leadership internationally, the opportunist
pressure on the LSSP leadership inevitably took their toll. In the late 1950s,
under the pressures of the adverse objective situation, the LSSP vacillated
politically, taking a conciliatory attitude towards the government of the newly
emerged SLFP, a split-off from the UNP. Eventually, in 1964, the LSSP voted to
enter the bourgeois government. This was finally too much for the International
leaders to swallow. Having failed to correct the opportunism of the LSSP
leaders for years, in order not to offend them, they were compelled to condemn
the Party’s turn to popular frontism. Needless to say, the complaints from
International leadership played a shameful and destructive role in
From the early
1950s, a small trickle of recruits were made by the Grant tendency, including
The experiment of
the RSL was wound up after possibilities within the Communist Party dried up.
The tendency issued a new publication called Socialist Fight, edited
by Ted Grant, which appeared irregularly from January 1958 to June 1963. Others
on the editorial board included Pat Wall (Liverpool), Dave Matthews (
In 1955, Ted had been chosen as the Labour candidate for Liverpool Walton, the Constituency Labour Party where the tendency had the strongest roots, but was blocked by the Regional Official who had the full backing of the right wing National Executive Committee. 'I would have been expelled anyway', commented Ted. However, another comrade, George McCartney, an experienced comrade from the days of the WIL and RCP, was put forward instead, got selected against the then Tribunite (and later extreme right winger) Woodrow Wyatt. After an NEC inquiry, George finally managed to get endorsed, but failed to win the seat in the 1959 general election, as did the Labour Party nationally. Soon afterwards Eric Heffer, a former member of the CP, became the candidate and won the seat in 1964. Nevertheless, Walton was to remain a bastion for the tendency until the Walton by-election fiasco in 1991. Despite his advanced years, George remains a supporter of Socialist Appeal to this day.
The Labour Party bureaucracy had closed down the Labour League of Youth in 1955 and no national youth structures existed. The tendency correctly predicted on the basis of the 1959 general election defeat that a youth movement would soon be re-established, as the Labour Party would need the youth if it was to fight another general election successfully. That took place in the February of the following year with the establishment of the Young Socialists. This coincided with a ferment amongst young people, with the national apprentices’ strike in 1960 and the development of a mass anti-nuclear war movement around CND.
In 1959, the Healyites swung wildly in the direction of ultra-leftism and set up the Socialist Labour League – typically, proclaimed by Healy without any consultation with the membership of the Club. They applied for Labour Party affiliation and were swiftly and predictably (given the 1946 conference decision) proscribed by the bureaucracy. Healy was keen to provoke expulsion. He advised Ratner to 'let Transport House expel you and fight to get the local party to refuse to accept it, even if it means disaffiliation.' It was clear to Ratner that 'Healy and the Executive Committee adopted a policy of unnecessarily provoking expulsions from the Labour Party.'
clear provocations by Healy, we were attacked for our alleged capitulation to
the right wing by Sean Matgamna, the ex-Healyite, in a pamphlet produced by
However, regarding our 'attitude' to the proscription of the SLL, Matgamna clearly uses Healy’s old methods to manufacture a slander against his opponents. After all, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? He ignores the fact that on the front page of the Socialist Fight for April 1959 there was an article entitled Socialist Labour League. It is worth quoting in order to nail this slander.
'The National Executive of the Labour Party has proscribed the Socialist Labour League and its journal the Newsletter’ this is a blow against democracy in the movement. There should be room in the party for all who stand for a socialist policy. With full and fair debate, it should be left to the membership to decide what policy should be adopted. Heresy hunting and proscription can only damage the party and not assist in building it up. All those in the party who believe in democracy will protest against this decision. Socialist Fight whilst disagreeing with many of the policies of the SLL, will support moves of protest against the banning.' (My emphasis).
At the beginning, as we predicted, the YS attracted a large number of young people. However, Healy, who had gone on an ultra-left binge and had just written off the Labour Party, suddenly realised the possibilities, turned 180 degrees, and threw all his resources into the YS. With Healy’s strong apparatus, and youth paper Keep Left, the Healyites were able to take control of the YS nationally by various dubious means.
The next largest group in the YS at the time was the Cliff group, widely known as the 'state caps', which produced Young Guard, edited by Gus Macdonald (now Lord Macdonald, and a Cabinet Minister in the Blair Government) followed by Ted Grant’s group, made up of a few dozen comrades. YS Conferences became quite heated, with accusations flying around about 'Healyites' and 'Pabloite revisionists' and the like, to the bemusement of the NEC representatives attending the conference. One year, a puzzled Ian Mikardo, the left MP, leaned over to his colleague, and asked, 'why all these attacks on Pablo Picasso and Denis Healey?'
Another vital area
that opened up for our development was in
regularly defeated politically at the YS, and with our grandfather running out
of arguments against Trotskyism, he was eventually won over. In 1963, Alan went
At the time, Alan
was the only comrade in the whole of the South of England. After consistent
work in the university and later in the town, he managed to establish a
powerful group of supporters, including workers such as Dudley Edwards and Ray
Apps, a local bus driver and regular delegate to Labour Party conference.
Dudley, an engineering worker, had a long history in the movement, and played a
leading role in the Revolutionary Policy Committee in the ILP. He subsequently
joined the Communist Party, but left disillusioned. He had also been in
The work of the
The work in
In the early sixties, there was a move to re-unite the two Fourth Internationals – the International Secretariat based in Paris (Pablo, Mandel, Frank, and Maitan) and the US-based International Committee (Hanson, Healy and Lambert). Since the original split lacked any principled basis and was just the result of prestige and clique politics, the question of re-unification should have presented no great political difficulties.
However, as Ted
always says, the pseudo-Trotskyist sects are 'unlucky at fusions and lucky
at splits.' If you do not approach politics in a principled manner, then
every attempt at unification will merely unite two groups into ten. And this
was no exception. Immediately, instead of two Fourth Internationals, there were
four or more. Poasdas and the South American Bureau refused to accept the
unification. So did Healy in
these problems, the International leaders began to beat the unification drum
and put pressure on everyone and his uncle to unite - irrespective of political
differences. It was a case of 'all in together, never mind the
weather.' A sure recipe for disaster. In
These people had
previously joined the Grant group in the late 1950s, and
had a big problem in
However, there was a lot of wish-fulfilment in this. As usual, the leadership of the International displayed bad faith, immediately commencing their manoeuvres against the British leadership. The 'secondary differences' soon developed into sharp differences and things fell apart within a matter of months, with Jordan and Coates boycotting the leading bodies and eventually walking out to build their own separate International Group (later the International Marxist Group).
This was a blow to Pierre Frank, a member of the IS with a grudge against Ted and those other comrades who refused to recognise him as a great Leader and Teacher of the International. By splitting away immediately, Jordan and Coates had deprived him of the possibility of manoeuvring against the British leadership. He did not hide his displeasure at this turn of events, chiding the splitters: 'You are too cowardly to fight.'
The tendency had
learnt a painful lesson on the impossibility of short cuts. Unification with
the Mandelites turned out to be a farce. A misguided attempt to collaborate
with the Cliff group in developing the Young Guard paper also ended in
failure. In both cases, the main mover was Jimmy Deane, who had illusions in
the possibilities of unification. After the failure of these attempts, Jimmy
became disillusioned and moved away from active involvement in the movement,
although he has always remained loyal to the ideas. He is now very ill and
incapacitated after a severe stroke. But this proletarian revolutionist with
This was probably the lowest point in the fortunes of the tendency. We were a tiny, isolated group, with no paper, no money, no full timers and no centre. In the YS we were one of the smallest groups. Alan Woods recalls:
'We faced continuous attacks not only from the bureaucracy but from the sects and from the International which was determined to crush us. But we had something more important than all these things. We had the ideas of Marxism, and we were not downcast in the slightest. We were confident in our ideas and perspectives. Ted played an absolutely key role at this time. He never lost his optimism, his unshakeable confidence or his famous sense of humour.
'Paradoxically, the difficult conditions helped to train us. The young comrades who were coming into activity at that time were used to fighting for the ideas. As a result we were not afraid of anything. It made us tough and determined and also sharpened us up politically and theoretically.'
In the summer of
The Healyites, who had no idea of what to do with their control of the YS, decided to break from the Labour Party and build their own independent youth organisation. They decided to provoke expulsion from the Labour Party by using hooligan methods. Despite their intolerable conduct, involving the use of physical violence to break up meetings, they did not find this very easy. Most Labour Party members are indulgent towards young people, and not enthusiastic about expelling them.
Eventually, in 1965 after a few expulsions, their ultra-left tactics brought the youth into collision with the bureaucracy and they split the majority of the youth away. As a consequence, the official YS was closed down, and later the youth that remained were reorganised into the Labour Party Young Socialists. The hooligan provocations of the Healyites gave the Labour bureaucracy the excuse to clamp down on the youth organisation. The bureaucracy imposed severe restrictions, such as the appointment of the National Committee by the adult party, the YS Federations were banned and discussions at conference were confined to youth issues. Every effort was used to get around these bureaucratic restrictions, including a tongue-in-cheek resolution moved one year 'calling for the support of all members of the Viet Cong under the age of 25'!
On their departure the Healyites spread as many lies as they could about the 'Pabloite Grantists' who allegedly assisted the right wing with their expulsions. In fact, while we totally opposed hooligan methods and violence anywhere in the labour movement, we vehemently opposed political witch-hunts, bans and proscriptions against the left. However, on one occasion the line had to be drawn.
The chairman of the Wandsworth YS was a Ceylonese comrade called Mani. He was an ex-member of the Healyites who had joined the Militant. He became the target of an organised hate campaign, in which members of the SLL recruited raw youth from the streets ('rockers' as they were popularly known) and sent them to break up a meeting where he was in the chair. They had been told that there was a 'black guy who hates the rockers'. On one occasion, Mani managed to persuade them to leave quietly, but the second time they caused a riot, whereupon the Party agent called the police. At that point, Mani closed the meeting in an attempt to defuse the situation. Subsequently, the bureaucracy moved the expulsion of a number of SLL members, and Mani counter-moved the expulsion of one who had personally been involved in violence.
Late on the Healyites tried to make a scandal out of this. In fact, there is no place for violence inside the workers’ movement, and those who resort to violence against members of the labour movement fully deserve to be driven out. Such actions cannot be justified. Trotsky explained this long ago when the Stalinists first introduced these alien methods into the workers’ movement. In fact, the Healy tendency had much more in common with Stalinism than with Trotskyism.
The Healyites did
colossal damage to the image of Trotskyism in
In a statement, entitled A Contribution on Ultra-Leftism, the Militant editorial board stated:
'In more recent times, we have had the activities of the ultra-lefts who, styling themselves Trotskyists, have abandoned all of Lenin’s teachings on left-wing Communism, and repudiated the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International.
'For them it is sufficient to issue ultimatums to the working class, the trade unions, the Labour Party, the Young Socialists’. To give the working class its marching orders. And when the workers and militants pass them by, they ’take off’, denouncing all those who fight, practically, for a consistent revolutionary programme and policy based on Lenin’s principles, as centrists, scabs, and ’Pabloites’.
'Experience has taught the British comrades that those who shout loudest today about betrayals, about sell-outs, fake-lefts, etc., are precisely those ’revolutionaries’ who were the deepest of deep entrists. The ’anti-Pabloites’ of today were in fact the most hysterical of the ’Pabloites’ of yesterday. Those who, in the past, refused to criticise Nye Bevan on the grounds that this would ’disrupt our relations with Tribune, are the same people who now denounce Tribune as the main enemy, and reserve their main fire, not – God forbid! – for the capitalist enemy, the Tories, or even for the right wing Labour leaders, but for the ’Left fakers’, and, of course, the ’Pabloites’.' (The Bulletin, August 1966).
The Grant tendency
had consistently opposed the political position of Pablo and the leadership of
the United Secretariat, as they were called after the fusion of 1963. There
were fundamental differences over
At the World
Congress of 1965, the British comrades decided to put their views in writing.
Since there was no confidence in the willingness of the USFI leadership to
circulate our material, it was decided to duplicate the document Ted had
written on the Sino-Soviet Dispute and the Colonial Revolution and
send it to
At the International conference, Ted was given a total of seven and half minutes, excluding translation, to put the opposition case against the USFI position. A brief letter dated 19 January 1966 from Pierre Frank, who had consistently manoeuvred against the British section since it rejoined the International, informed us of our 'demotion'. The reply of the section simply stated that the leadership of the United Secretariat had no political authority, and was simply taking organisational measures to silence our opposition:
of the International in part derives from a lack of understanding of this
problem. For what fundamentally is the International? It is a programme,
policy, method, and only lastly an organisation to carry out the former. We
remain true to the ideas and methods of Trotsky.' By this time Pablo had
himself been expelled from the USFI (in 1964) and eventually went back to
After this experience, it was necessary to draw a balance sheet of the history of the Fourth International. Ted did this in a document called The Programme of the International. Thirty years of experience was surely enough to allow us to draw a clear conclusion. If a person or an organisation makes a mistake that is one thing. But if the same mistake is constantly repeated and no lessons are learned, then it is no longer a mistake, but an organic tendency. As painful as it might be, it was clear to everyone that this so-called International was dead, that any attempt to revive it was fruitless. After some discussion, it was decided that we should turn our back forever on these gentlemen and face firmly towards the mass organisations of the working class.
By 1967, with the growing disenchantment at the Wilson Labour Government, the Cliff group (The International Socialists, who later became the Socialist Workers Party) and the International Marxist Group followed the SLL and left the Labour Party. They light-mindedly dropped everything they had said previously and ran off in all directions. In a purely opportunist fashion, they ran after the students involved in the anti-Vietnam protests, adapting their position to the prejudices of the students and petit-bourgeois layers.
The Cliff group,
while holding onto their anti-Trotskyist theory of state capitalism
nevertheless gave support to 'state capitalist'
In the early 1960s, Cliff had dropped any claim to Trotskyism and was even distancing himself from Leninist organisation. Rosa Luxemburg became all the rage among the petit-bourgeois enemies of Leninism – but only her weak side, of course. As crude opportunists, the Cliffites simply jumped onto whatever bandwagon was to hand. They drifted in whatever direction the wind was blowing.
A good example of
this is their position on
The Marxist tendency represented by Militant explained that British troops were being sent in the interests of British imperialism, and that the working class should establish its own non-sectarian defence force based on the trade unions. But the Cliffites were 'practical' people, who ended up supporting the instrument of British imperialism:
breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but
vital', wrote Socialist Worker. 'Those who call for the immediate
withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend
themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at
socialists.' Again, 'Because the troops do not
have the same ingrained hatreds of the RUC and B Specials, they will not behave
with the same viciousness’' and that 'The deployment of British
these positions, they now attempt to deny or sweep them under the carpet.
Eventually, Cliff, basing himself on his theory of state capitalism, would end
up being neutral in the capitalist counter-revolution unfolding in the
The IMG too gave
uncritical support to guerrilla struggles everywhere while attempting to set up
'red bases' [sic!] in the universities. They also supported every
action of the
In practise, the
IMG had completely abandoned the position of Marx and Connolly for the methods
of Bakunin and the advocates of individual terrorism. The Militant, on
the other hand, maintained a consistent class position. We, of course,
condemned the repressive rule of British imperialism in
This tiny Mandelite sect, which had been pursuing the deepest of deep entry, now suddenly declared that the Labour Party was a bourgeois party, and actually called on workers to abstain in the 1970 general election (not that anyone heard them). They even went so far as to recommend that people should go to Labour Party meetings and break them up. Needless to say, they never attempted to do so themselves, preferring to confine this verbal demagogy to the university coffee bars, which was their exclusive sphere of 'revolutionary action'.
By 1970, the only tendency of any size, which remained in the Labour Party, was ourselves. The ultra-left sects found this amusing. But in the end the laugh was on them. These vulgar empirics had no perspective whatsoever and could see no further than the end of their noses (they have not changed much today).
Superficially, they seemed to have a point. The right wing policies of the Labour government of Harold Wilson led to a growing sense of anger and disillusionment among the workers. The attempt by Barbara Castle to introduce anti-union legislation resulted in miners’ lodges threatening to disaffiliate from the Party.
After the rampages of the Healyites, the LPYS had been reduced to a rump. I remember that in 1968, I was the only member left in the Swansea YS branch. Activity in the movement slumped. However, in relation to the LPYS, within a few years the Labour leadership relented and restored many of the democratic rights taken away in 1965, including the granting of a youth paper and a youth seat on the NEC.
The 1970s were a
political watershed nationally and internationally. The defeat of the
The mass organisations do not develop in a straight line but dialectically. Directly or indirectly, they reflect the processes at work in the working class and in society generally. The recession of 1974-75 put an end to the period of general capitalist upswing, which had lasted since 1950. This was the first serious economic recession since the war. Prior to that the cyclical recessions of the upswing had been very superficial, and had been barely noticed by the workers, while living standards generally increased. The 1970s were of a completely different character to the period that went before or even the subsequent period 1982-2000.
the slump of 1974-75 had far reaching consequences. There were revolutionary
movements in the ex-colonial world:
In this period the
pendulum of society swung far to the left. In
This radicalisation also reflected itself within the British Labour Party. The Left succeeded in winning a slim majority on the NEC. Official Party policy also reflected the swing to the left, when it adopted a programme containing the nationalisation of the top 25 companies. The Militant tendency intervened in these events in a decisive fashion and began to grow.
From fewer than
100 comrades in 1966, the tendency grew to more than 500 by 1975. We had
acquired our own printing press and the Militant newspaper had gone
weekly in 1972. The tendency gradually built up its position in the Labour
movement. This was only possible because we did not succumb to the pressure of
ultra-leftism, but remained within the Labour Party while others left. This was
one of the secrets of the later success of the Marxist tendency in
Alan Woods, who
played a leading role in the British organisation since the early 1960s, became
the tendency’s first regional full-time professional based in
We had a good base
among the miners as a result of our intervention in the miners’ strikes of 1970
and 1974. The paper was sold in a number of key pits. We led the bakers’ strike
In 1974, with a
tiny handful of comrades in other countries, we set up the Committee for a
Workers International. At this time Alan was given a key responsibility in our
international work – that of building a section of the tendency in Franco’s
But the Spanish bureaucracy had learned from the British experience. After a ferocious witch-hunt by the Socialist Party bureaucracy – the paper was banned and the majority of the comrades expelled. However, we maintained our orientation to the mass organisations, including a flexible approach, and were able to build up an important base for Trotskyism. Today, this has allowed us to wage mass struggles under the banner of the Spanish School Students Union. On several occasions since 1987, the Students Union has led national strikes of three million students.
Alan remained in
It is no accident
that the tendency in
Marxists have never made a fetish of any organisational form or tactic. The golden rule is at all times to find a way of connecting with the working class, beginning with the active layer. This necessitates taking advantage of each and every possibility that presents itself at each stage, while keeping firmly in mind the general orientation and strategy.
The crisis of the
Wilson-Callaghan Government of 1974-79 enabled the tendency to connect with a
wide layer of radicalised workers as never before. The alarm bells were
beginning to ring, not only in the bureaucracy of the Labour Party, but in the ruling
class. For the first time, Trotskyism in
Of course, this was not the main aim of our work, but a by-product. The left reformists had an ambivalent attitude to the Marxists. We were objectively allies in the struggle with the right wing, but we were also competitors and rivals, who were constantly winning ground at their expense. We were forcing them to go much further than they wished to go. Moreover, it is well known that a confused person always hates someone with clear ideas. They were at best unstable and unreliable allies.
In 1976, the
witch-hunt against us began with an 'exposure' in a Sunday newspaper,
The Observer, by the well-known columnist Nora Beloff. Using material
Unfortunately for the organisers of the provocation, however, the mood in the Party was not favourable for a witch-hunt. The tendency had won a lot of respect among activists by its tireless work and principled stance on all questions. We never went in for the kind of abuse and hysteria that is the hallmark of the ultra-left groups and cut them off from ordinary working class people. Ted always insisted that we should stick to defending our ideas with 'facts, figures and arguments', to 'patiently explain' as Lenin used to say.
The 'Left' majority on the NEC refused to take action, and by the end of the year, our comrade Andy Bevan, who was chair of the LPYS, was selected - after an outstanding performance in his interview and a blunder by a Party bureaucrat – as the new national Youth Officer of the Labour Party. After an initial red scare and ruckus by the Labour officials’ union, Andy was eventually established in an office in Transport House, the Labour Party HQ. This gave us a tremendous opportunity to utilise our position in the LPYS to full effect, allowing us to take our ideas into wider sections of the Labour movement.
Following the 1977 national fire fighters’ strike, the following year’s TUC came out in opposition to the government’s wages policy. A month later, at the Labour Party conference, our comrade Terry Duffy, a delegate from Wavertree CLP, moved a successful composite also rejecting the government’s wages’ policy. The coming months saw the biggest movement of low-paid workers in history, in the so-called Winter of Discontent. In 1979, after some prevarication, Callaghan went to the polls and was defeated by the Tory Party under Margaret Thatcher.
Labour’s defeat and the election of Thatcher resulted in a massive radicalisation in the mass organisations. The shift to the left was a reflection of the disgust with Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, and took the form of the rise of Bennism within the Labour Party. Michael Foot had replaced Callaghan as leader, and in 1981 Tony Benn came within a whisker – less than one percent – of defeating Denis Healey, the right wing candidate, for the deputy leadership.
After this leadership election, a section of the right wing split away to form the SDP. This move further reinforced the leftward shift within the party. It was under these conditions that the Militant tendency grew quite rapidly, with 1,000 active supporters registered by 1980. The rise of Trotskyism within the Labour Party alarmed the ruling class, which had long regarded the party as an invaluable prop of the capitalist system. The ruling class was never likely to accept the loss of control over the Labour Party without a struggle. It was obvious to us that a counter-attack was just a matter of time. The capitalist press launched a new witch-hunt against the tendency, demanding our expulsion from the party.
On a personal
note, I joined the tendency in
In the fight
against the witch-hunt, we organised a successful Labour movement conference of
2,000 delegates at the Wembley Conference Centre in
At the end of 1983, I was appointed National Organiser of the tendency – a position I held until the end of 1991. I headed the Organisation Department responsible for Labour Party work, countering the expulsions, media relations, the MPs, councillors, co-ordination of the full timers, recruitment, organisation of the national rallies and meetings, as well as public campaigns, not least the anti-Poll Tax campaign. It was a huge operation. Massive rallies were held all over the county to protest against the expulsions, which in turn, led to greater and greater support for the tendency. This support also translated itself into the tendency’s growth in the trade unions, and development of the Broad Left Organising Committee (BLOC).
In 1984 at the
beginning of the miners’ strike, the BLOC had become the largest left force in
the trade unions and held a successful conference of more than 2,500
representatives from all the main trade unions. For the first time in history,
a Trotskyist, John MacCreadie was elected to the General Council of the Trade
Union Congress. During the year-long miners’ strike, given our position in the
mining areas, we managed to win over 500 miners to the tendency. In 1988, we
On the political
front, two of our comrades, Terry Fields and Dave Nellist were elected to
parliament in 1983. These were to be followed in 1987 by Pat Wall, a marvellous
comrade who had a great rapport with workers and youth. The Militant
leadership of Liverpool City Council from 1983 onwards and its battle with the
Tory Government also served to put the tendency firmly on the map. While our
In October 1985,
Kinnock, who became leader of the Party after Michael Foot had stepped down,
made his infamous speech at the Labour Party conference attacking the
But at the end of the day, all these measures failed. Although they made life very difficult for us (what else could you expect the bureaucracy to do?) the results were really quite poor. By the end of the decade they had only succeeded in expelling around 250 comrades out of some 8,000 supporters.
We had created the strongest Trotskyist tendency since the days of the Russian Left Opposition. From counting the pennies, we now had a turnover of over a million pounds a year, a large premises, a big web printing press, capable of printing a daily paper, and, incredibly, around 250 full time workers - which was more than the Labour Party itself. We had roots in many trade unions and Labour Parties, including about 50 councillors and three Marxist MPs. To their utter exasperation, despite their repeated attempts, the Labour leadership had still failed to separate Marxism from the Labour Party.
third election victory in 1987, the Tory government moved to introduce a
retrogressive Poll Tax in
Despite these enormous successes, there were serious problems in the tendency. The most serious was that the political level of the cadres was declining, and the leadership was doing nothing to counter this trend. In the end the reason for this became clear. Ted Grant continually stressed at editorial board meetings the need to thoroughly educate and train the new comrades who entered our ranks. Unfortunately, these calls went largely unheard. Alan Woods attempted to reverse the trend by building up the theoretical journal, but these attempts were deliberately sabotaged by the leading group around Peter Taaffe, who were already pursuing their own agenda at this time.
The Taaffe group favoured activism over theory, which they privately regarded with contempt. Given the changed objective conditions, which had become much more difficult, we had to run fast to stand still. Of course, the building of the tendency was very important, but activism began increasingly to overwhelm the tendency. The stress on growth alone served to politically dilute the tendency, weaken the cadres and open it up to all kinds of alien pressures and influences. As long as Ted’s political authority in the leadership was strong, this served to hold things together. However, behind the scenes Peter Taaffe, the editor of the paper, had other ideas.
With the wisdom of hindsight it is clear that Taaffe was getting big ideas about the real significance of the tendency and his role in it. Ted had always stressed the need for 'a sense of proportion and a sense of humour'. But a sense of proportion was just what was missing in the leading group in Militant. They were intoxicated with the successes of the tendency. These were real enough, but one has to keep things in their proper context. A tendency of 8,000 was a significant force, yes. But in comparison with the multi-millioned British labour movement it was still very small. Taaffe and his supporters did not grasp this fact. They were rapidly losing contact with reality. In the immortal phrase of Stalin, they were 'dizzy with success.'
A very ambitious man with a morbid fear of rivals, actual or potential, Taaffe decided that his talents were not sufficiently appreciated. Actually, despite a certain flair for organisation, Taaffe was never a theoretician and was deeply jealous of people whom he saw as on a higher level than himself. He surrounded himself with a group of yes-men and yes-women, who encouraged him in his delusions of grandeur and egged him on to confront Ted. But this he could not do openly. Instead, he resorted to behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to isolate Ted, spreading rumours about his allegedly impossible character, and worse.
Slowly but surely,
a clique was forming around the person of Taaffe. He took personal
responsibility for the tendency in
As long as he worked with Ted, his abilities were put to good use in developing the tendency. However, by this time, Taaffe was clearly attempting to boost his own stature by privately undermining those around him. Taaffe worked systematically to isolate Ted in the leadership. Within the space of two years, Ted was accused of 'senile dementia' or, less elegantly, of 'losing his marbles'. He was denounced as 'another Plekhanov' (the founder of Russian Marxism who eventually ended up a Menshevik). Alan Woods, meanwhile, was described as a 'mere theoretician'. Yet, this phrase reveals better than anything else does the narrow organisational mentality of Taaffe and his group and their contempt for theory. They did not understand the elementary fact that our tendency was built on the solid foundation of Marxist theory. Once that foundation was removed the entire edifice would inevitably collapse – which was just what happened.
In reality, Taaffe felt particularly threatened by Alan Woods, who was certainly on a higher theoretical level and was regarded by everyone as an excellent public speaker and writer. Since Taaffe was always looking over his shoulders for rivals, he imagined (wrongly) that here was a threat to his own position. He therefore did everything in his power to isolate Alan at every step, using different means of preventing from speaking at public meetings, withholding funds from the theoretical journal and even blocking the publication of his book on the history of Bolshevism. Alan’s main sin was that he was always close to Ted and consequently would never have countenanced any manoeuvres against him – or anybody else. Taaffe knew that it would be impossible to remove Ted without a battle with Alan Woods – something he feared because of the consequences, above all in the International. He therefore proceeded with great caution, concealing his intrigues as much as possible.
With the end of the Poll Tax campaign, things were coming to a head inside the tendency. Although our intervention in the Poll Tax movement was an outstanding success, because of the policy of 'activism' promoted by the leadership – which at times meant that our most active people were running around aimlessly – there was a clear disproportion between the amount of effort put in and the concrete results in terms of growth. As a result, moods of frustration and impatience began to emerge within the organisation.
This even affected
some of the leadership, particularly in the West of Scotland and
In April 1991,
they convinced Taaffe to launch a 'new turn' in
All of our resources were mobilised to fight the by-election. Wildly exaggerated reports were given at national meetings to the effect that victory was within our grasp. In the end, Leslie, standing as the 'Real Labour' candidate came third with a derisory 2,613 votes, while Kilfoyle won the seat with 21,317 votes. It was a humiliating defeat – bearing in mind that the Militant had recently led a mass movement in the city and effectively controlled the council. But Taaffe and his supporters could not admit this. Instead they resorted to blatant demagogy. 2,613 votes for Socialism! proclaimed the Militant in banner headlines, in an attempt to gloss over the humiliation and to raise the demoralised spirits of the rank and file comrades.
The majority leadership proclaimed the result as a 'success', which should be followed in other parts of the country! In this way, what might have been a small mistake, which could easily have been corrected, was magnified into a colossal blunder that destroyed the Militant tendency. The idea that a small organisation could compete with the Labour Party was ridiculous in the extreme. As we explained many times, history has shown it is not possible for small revolutionary groups to reach the mass of the working class by a direct route. But by this time, rational argument played no role in the Militant leadership. They were hell-bent on pushing the tendency into what Ted aptly described as 'a short cut over a cliff.'
The group around Taaffe was not interested in listening to anybody. The only thing that mattered now was the prestige of the leading group and the infallibility of its Leader. The conclusions they drew were quite farcical. The Merseyside organiser, Dave Cotterill, subsequently wrote: 'The Labour Party would wither on the vine.' This shows the absurd delusions of grandeur that characterised the mentality of these people at the time. Of course, as we predicted at the time, it was the Taaffites who would wither away to nothing.
The Walton episode merely served to intensify the Labour bureaucracy’s witch-hunt against the tendency. 'On the basis of photographic, and other verifiable evidence of Labour members campaigning for Mahmood in the by-election, the NEC Organisation Committee ordered 147 suspected Militant sympathisers to be suspended – the biggest ever crack-down against the organisation', wrote George Drower. 'Proceedings were begun to expel allegedly Militant-supporting Labour MPs, Dave Nellist and Terry Fields.' The Taaffe leadership had deliberately placed their heads on a plate.
Within the leadership, Ted, Alan Woods and I firmly opposed this ultra-left 'turn', which Ted characterised as 'a threat to forty years work.' As we explained in an Opposition bulletin, 'After decades of successful work in the mass organisations, which have permitted us to make unprecedented gains, an attempt is being made to launch the tendency on an adventure which threatens to undermine the entire basis of the tendency.'
One of the things that always set us apart from the pseudo-Trotskyist sects was the extremely democratic and tolerant internal life within the tendency. Expulsions were extremely rare and dissenting views were always given a fair hearing. This was no accident. It was based on the colossal political and moral authority of the leadership, which in turn reflected that of Ted Grant, a man who was never afraid of political debate, but whom even his enemies would have to admit was always fair-minded, tolerant and loyal. But these clean traditions were trampled underfoot. Taaffe and his supporters did not possess the necessary political armoury to take on the Opposition in a fair fight. Instead they used the weight of the apparatus, the full timers, the weapon of slander, gossip and character assassination, to attempt to wear down and crush us.
In the heated faction fight, Ted and the Opposition were treated abysmally. We were presented not as comrades with arguments to be answered, but as enemies to be crushed. They resorted to the pettiest methods of harassment to undermine our morale. When we went to the centre, nobody spoke to us, not even good morning. Later, our bags were searched before we were allowed to leave the building, and so on. As Ted remarked about Taaffe: 'He’s got more tricks than a monkey in a box. He must think that this is what politics is all about! He has the mentality of a provincial politician.'
The methods of the ruling clique in the faction fight were pure Stalinism. In one national meeting, which was an organised 'hate session' against myself in particular, Ted made what must have been the shortest speech of his life. 'I have seen these methods before. This is Healyism! This is Cannonism! This is Stalinism!' And he sat down, to a stunned silence. The fact is that the Taaffites could not tolerate opposition. They found they could not break us – as they had broken others – and so, after a farcical pretence at a 'debate', we were unceremoniously expelled in January 1992.
The expulsion of
the Opposition inevitably led to a split in the tendency in
At the time of the
split, Taaffe took the big majority of the members, including the youth, almost
all of whom he soon lost, the press, the money and the apparatus. He had
apparently everything in his favour. By the end of the decade, the results of
his stewardship were clear to all. He has almost single-handedly managed to
wreck the organisation. The huge centre in
Most of the former
leaders of the majority faction have dropped out in demoralisation. The entire
leadership of the
They light-mindedly threw away the MPs – deliberately provoking their expulsion – as well as other important points of support built up over decades of patient work. On the international front, they have lost entire sections and experienced a series of splits – which still continue. Where they retain some support, it is largely down to the political capital developed by Ted in the past. In their continuing search for a magic formula, they set up an umbrella grouping called the Socialist Alliance. When this was recently taken over by the Cliff group, the Taaffites walked out in a huff. In short, they have shown that they are only good at destroying what others have built. Ten year later, it is all quite clear. It was not the Labour Party, but the Taaffites who have 'withered on the vine.'
Over the past
decade, our tendency has been rebuilt from scratch. In
In 1992 we
launched the Socialist Appeal magazine, which has gained a solid
reputation for serious analysis, comment and militant policies in the labour
This was followed
We can say without
fear of contradiction that the political authority of our tendency, both
nationally and internationally, has never been greater than it is now. In 1997
we launched the extremely successful website In Defence of Marxism
(www.marxist.com), which has had far-reaching international appeal, and has
been visited by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. In the last year
alone we had over one million successful page visits, and the number of visits
is constantly increasing. We deal with a voluminous correspondence from all over
the world, and there is a growing number of international collaborators - many
of them with sister websites – the latest being in
The key to our success has been our firm defence of the ideas of Marxism, which has permitted us to gain an important following in a whole series of countries where we had nothing previously. We base ourselves on the classics of Marxism, and the contribution that Ted in particular has made over the last 60 years. Thus, although we are formally a young tendency, in practice we represent an unbroken thread that can trace its past back to the days of Trotsky’s International Left Opposition.
The contribution of Ted Grant, in close collaboration with Alan Woods, has been of the utmost importance. Ted’s political experience has been the bedrock of the tendency. In the past, his method and orientation, which are rooted in Trotsky’s approach, served to make the tendency a major factor in British politics. This process was unfortunately cut across by a combination of unfavourable objective conditions and the political weaknesses of a leadership that lost its head and was blown off course by events that it did not understand.
Some people imagined that after the crisis in Militant, everything was lost. For our part, the setback ten years ago did not dent our confidence in the slightest degree. On the contrary, in many ways we have been greatly strengthened. We are more convinced than ever in the correctness of our ideas - the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky – which can be modified in this or that detail, but which remain fundamentally the same as they were 150 years ago.
Engels once said
that the party becomes strong by purging itself. The split in the Militant
was part of the crisis of the Left internationally. We have learned valuable
lessons from the experience. True, in
The collapse of
Stalinism, has produced a crisis within the Stalinist or former Stalinist
parties, and opened up greater possibilities for the ideas of Trotskyism than
ever before. Equipped with the correct ideas, methods and approach, we can
build a genuine mass Marxist tendency at home and abroad. Ten years ago, the
fall of the
of the market in
Events in Latin
America, where the revolution in
Ted Grant’s great contribution was to preserve the unbroken thread of genuine Trotskyism. On this unshakeable foundation we will prepare the cadres, theoretically, politically and organisationally, for the great tasks that lie ahead. This book will undoubtedly serve to assist in this historic goal.
We draw our inspiration from that great leader, thinker and martyr of our movement, Leon Trotsky, who, at the height of the Stalinist Purge Trials, wrote the following: 'whoever seeks physical repose and spiritual comfort - let him step aside. During times of reaction it is easier to lean on the bureaucracy than on the truth. But for all those for whom socialism is not an empty phrase but the content of their moral life – forward! Neither threats, nor persecution, nor violence will stop us. Perhaps it will be on our bones, but the truth will triumph. We are paving the way for it, and the truth will be victorious. Under the terrible blows of fate, I will feel as happy as during the best days of my youth if I can join you in facilitating its victory. For, my friends, the highest happiness lies not in the exploitation of the present, but in the preparation of the future.'
March 18, 2002
Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism, pp.663-4.
Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary, p.240 and p.277.
Matgamna, Seedbed of the Left, pp.9-10,
National Circular, 1 October 1964.
Socialist Worker, 11 September 1969.
Socialist Worker, 21 August 1969.
See Ted Grant, Russia – From Revolution to
George Drower, Kinnock,
The New Turn, dated 16 August 1991, p.1.
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