Part One

Fighting Against the Stream - The Origins and Early Years

[Section 2]

The International Left Opposition

From the small island of Prinkipo in Turkey, Leon Trotsky continued his lonely battle against Stalinism. Despite all the efforts of Stalin and his powerful apparatus to crush the Opposition and silence Trotsky, the voice of the Opposition was getting stronger and gaining new adherents among those Communists who wished to defend the real programme and traditions of Bolshevik-Leninism.

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.

"Through some slip-up in the apparatus in Moscow," recalls Cannon, "which was supposed to be airtight, this document of Trotsky came into the translating room of the Comintern. It fell into the hopper, where they had a dozen or more translators and stenographers with nothing else to do. They picked up Trotsky's document, translated it and distributed it to the heads of the delegations and the members of the programme commission. So, lo and behold, it was laid in my lap, translated into English! Maurice Spector, a delegate from the Canadian Party, and in somewhat the same frame of mind as myself, was also on the programme commission and he got a copy. We let the caucus meetings and the Congress sessions go to the devil while we read and studied this document. Then I knew what I had to do, and so did he. Our doubts had been resolved. It was as clear as daylight that Marxist truth was on the side of Trotsky. We had a compact there and then - Spector and I - that we would come back home and begin a struggle under the banner of Trotskyism." (History of American Trotskyism, New York, 1944, pp. 49-50). 

The American comrades James Cannon, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, who were members of the Central Committee of the American Communist Party, together with Spector in Canada broke with the Stalinists in 1928 and went over to Trotskyism. Within a short time, they were expelled from the Party and they organised themselves into the Communist League of America, together with a small grouping in Canada. This was an historic breakthrough as it served to break the isolation of Trotsky and the Opposition. This was a turning point in the fortunes of the Left Opposition and greatly facilitated the spread of Trotsky's ideas throughout the world - a fact that played a role in my own recruitment to Trotsky's International Left Opposition shortly afterwards.

The American 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 Britain, South Africa, and elsewhere. That is how the South African comrades, including myself, got in touch with the ideas of Trotskyism. We saw this material in the bookshop in Johannesburg, got hold of it and read it avidly from cover to cover. It contained all of Trotsky's criticisms of Stalinism, including his analysis of the aborted revolution in China in 1925-27. We used to wait eagerly for the arrival of each new batch of papers. The same happened in Cape Town. Out of this began, in around 1930, the development of Left Opposition groups in South Africa, in which I first got involved. The same was true in Britain. Material was sent to a left bookshop in London, and the comrades in Balham came across it, and this served to put them in touch with the international Trotskyist movement.

The Balham Group

In 1932, opposition arose in the two branches of the Communist Party in south London, Balham and Tooting. Certain local leaders, Reg Groves, Harry Wicks, Hugo Dewar and Henry Sara, who were on the district committee of the Party, came into political opposition to the CP national leadership. They had got hold of this Trotskyist material from the United States and agreed whole-heartedly with its political position. They recognised that what Trotsky was arguing for was absolutely correct, and that a united front in Germany between Social Democrats and Communists was essential to prevent Hitler's victory. In contrast to the Trotskyist sympathisers and individuals of the past, the Balham group represented the real genesis of Trotskyism in Britain. The Balham Group, as they became known, raised the question of Germany and the united front within the ranks of the Communist Party. During their interventions, they also raised the issue of applying the united front tactic to the party's struggle against fascism in Britain. From 1929 to the victory of Hitler in January 1933, the whole campaign of the International Left Opposition was focused on this vital question.

For Trotsky, Germany was the key to the international situation. The struggle in Germany was an elementary question of survival for the workers' movement. At all costs, the German workers had to prevent Hitler from coming to power. Failure would mean the total destruction of the strongest working class movement in Europe, if not the world. "Germany is now passing through one of those great hours upon which the fate of the German people, the fate of Europe, and in significant measure the fate of all humanity, will depend for decades", stated Trotsky.[7]

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 Germany and Trotsky.

"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 Britain, engaging in correspondence with the Balham comrades. He urged them repeatedly to organise and place their work on a sound footing. "The British Left Opposition must begin systematic work", wrote Trotsky to Reg Groves. "You must establish our staff-centre though a small one. You must build your publication, even on a modest scale…It is necessary to have a steady, uninterrupted activity, to educate our cadres, although in the first stages few. The fundamental power of history is in our favour. When, in Britain, more so than elsewhere, communism in a short time can conquer the consciousness of the wide masses, so can conquer; in the same short time, within the communist movement, the supremacy of the ideas of the Left Opposition, that is, the ideas of Marx and Lenin."[8]

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 Britain. Following Trotsky's advice, they established themselves as an expelled faction of the Communist movement, and sought to fight for the party's return to its original ideas and programme.

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.

Trotsky and the ILP

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 organisations. In Britain that means the trade unions and the Labour Party, of which until 1932, the ILP was an affiliated part.

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."[9]

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 Britain from this new danger [from Stalinism]", wrote Trotsky in November, "only by freeing itself from all unclarity and haziness with regard to the ways and methods of the socialist revolution and by becoming a truly revolutionary party of the proletariat."[10]

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.

Wicks, Groves, Dewar, and Sara largely influenced the newly-formed Communist League. Reg Groves was regarded as the main leader of the group. When Trotsky raised the question of entry into the ILP, it provoked an almighty row in the League. The discussion revealed that the leading lights of the group were very inflexible and had little grasp of revolutionary tactics. They simply stuck rigidly to the idea of an independent party, irrespective of its size or the circumstances. They dismissed Trotsky's position, arguing they could influence the best elements of the ILP from outside. In the end, their methods proved incapable of seizing the opportunities within the ILP.

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."[11]

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.[12] 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.

The International 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, Groves, Wicks, Dewar and Sara carried on as before. They continued to proclaim their ideas and programme at open-air meetings, appealing to the masses to join them. However, their attempt to influence the ILP from outside led nowhere. They were ignored by the mass of workers, who began to move through the trade union movement, and into political activity.

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. Groves was absorbed almost entirely into the Labour Party milieu, being selected as a Labour parliamentary candidate, while the others buried themselves in the National Council of Labour Colleges and the Labour Party. They had made their contribution in the early stage, but were to play no important role in the future development of the Trotskyist movement.

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 Britain to play cricket, and decided to stay on as a cricketing correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. He came into contact with the group in London, was won over to Trotskyism and joined them inside the ILP. He wrote a book called World Revolution in 1937, and a year later his more famous book entitled Black Jacobins, about the slave rebellions during the French Revolution.

However, the evolution of British Trotskyism was influenced in a decisive way by the participation of new arrivals from South Africa, who pushed the movement in an entirely different direction. At this point it is therefore necessary to say a few words about the origins of Trotskyism in South Africa.

Trotskyism in South Africa

It is difficult now for people to realise the terrible difficulties that faced the workers' movement in South Africa in those dark days before the War. Even more difficult was the work of the revolutionary wing. It took a special kind of person to undertake such work, and such a person was my friend and comrade Ralph (Raff) Lee, the man who recruited me to the movement when I was still 15 years of age and who remained loyal to the ideas of Trotskyism until his tragic and premature death.

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 South Africa by the newly-founded Communist League of America. It was a revelation that changed our lives completely and I started on a political road that now spans more than seventy years.

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 Von Brandis Street, Johannesburg called Vanguard Booksellers, and it was here that I picked up my first copy of the American Militant. Like many others, Glass left South Africa for greater opportunities elsewhere. He ended up in China in 1930 where he played a pivotal role among the Chinese Trotskyists.

After leaving 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 - Raymond Lake, John Saperstein, Max Basch, as well as my sister Zena. In April 1934, we constituted ourselves as the Bolshevik-Leninist League of South Africa, and established links with another newly founded Trotskyist group in Cape Town.[13]

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 Johannesburg. My family also moved to Kerk Street in Johannesburg, where my mother ran the grocery store. Eventually, I left home and moved in with Ralph. From the centre of Johannesburg we were able to develop our political work more effectively.

In June 1934, Purdy had become Organising Secretary of a revived African Laundry Workers' Union. In an attempt to build a base amongst the black working class, the group turned its whole attention to this work. This was the first practical initiative aimed at recovering the field of black trade union work, which the Stalinists had first wrecked and then abandoned.[14]

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."[15]

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 of Johannesburg. "I was on my own as the other comrades were away I believe, and I got quite a lot of abuse from people shouting from the buildings. But we remained defiant." However, the agreement with the employers was broken, arrests were made and a number of strikers victimised. Purdy himself was imprisoned. It was, nevertheless, an historic struggle and a landmark in the history of the black South African working class. If nothing else, the struggle of the Laundry Workers' Union left behind an important tradition.

"Broader horizons"

Before the war, the black working class in South Africa was far smaller than today. The possibilities for our work were really very limited. The young South African Trotskyists looked for greater possibilities for socialist revolution in Europe, with its mighty working class and traditions. I took the decision to leave South Africa in the search for broader horizons for revolutionary work in Europe. Given the Commonwealth connections and language, Britain was the obvious choice.

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 déclassé 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."[16]

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."[17] 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."[18] However in June, Lee wrote to Paul Koston, the secretary of the WPSA, "party affairs are in a hell of a mess here."[19] Eventually, Purdy was expelled and the group reorganised.

Between 1936-37, Lee acted as the general secretary of the WPSA, which was the official section of the International. Known to the Stalinists as "Johannesburg's chief protagonist and defender of Leon Trotsky", the group was under tremendous pressure. Their turn towards the black working class led them into a close alliance with a number of metal workers, who began to take up some militant demands. In February 1937, the group provided invaluable support to these workers who went on strike for higher wages and better conditions. After ten days, the strike was broken with the connivance of the Stalinists and 16 strikers were arrested. Lee and another comrade, Max Sapire, paid the fines, but the strike had gone down to defeat.

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."[20]

Purdy, who had developed extreme ultra-left tendencies, went off to Abyssinia, and then on to India where he established a party called the Trotskyist Mazdoor Party. Muddled politically, Purdy developed an erroneous theory that India's untouchables were the proletarian vanguard. He was however fully involved in the struggle for national independence from Britain, and was sentenced in early 1946 to 10-years imprisonment as a result of a "revolutionary expropriation". On his early release after Independence in 1947, he was deported. Subsequently, in the same year he attended the Second World Congress of the Fourth International, and also visited me in London. But disillusioned with Trotskyism, he subsequently dropped out of the movement.

"Not long after the laundry workers' strike", writes Ian Hunter, "two of the youngest members of the group left Johannesburg to begin making their way to the centre of world action in Europe. These were Max Basch and Ted Grant. The Cape Town and Johannesburg groups had by then been in contact with each other for some time, and Grant and Basch were able to stop with the Cape Town Trotskyists whilst waiting for a suitable ship. Grant took the opportunity to deliver his first public speech, an account of the events of the laundry strike, to one of the Lenin Club's open air street meetings outside the Castle Street Post Office, and chaired on this occasion by Charlie Van Gelderen."[21] Unfortunately, as I remember, I didn't speak too well.

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 West Africa. I recall one stop-off at Lagos, where we disembarked for a coffee. We followed the other passengers and ended up in a small coffee place, and we laughed like hell when the other South Africans sat down. They were horrified, being used to "white only" places, when blacks deliberately sat next to them. "Bloody Kaffirs!" they muttered, powerless to do anything about it. Oh, we had some great laughs then!

After a long journey, our ship reached its final destination in France. We took a train to Paris to meet with the French Trotskyists, who had adopted the "French turn" a few months earlier and, following Trotsky's advice, had just entered the French Socialist Party. Among others, we met Trotsky's son, Leon Sedov, who was a member of the International Secretariat and co-ordinator of the work of the International Communist League. He was later murdered by Stalin's agents whilst in hospital. We also met Jeanne Martin, Erwin Wolff, who was murdered in Spain, as well as Pierre Frank, Raymond Molinier and Erwin Bauer. The last-named, who was opposed to the "French turn", and looking for allies, was keen to speak with us. Molinier and Frank were expelled within a year on Trotsky's insistence, after breaking with the French group.

"I came across to Britain with Ted in the autumn of 1934, arriving in England in December," recalled Sid Frost. "We sailed from South Africa in a ship that was German-owned, which the comrades thought a bit risky at the time, in view of Hitler's recent accession to power, but we docked safely in France and made our way to Paris in an eight-hour night train journey. We had been given details on how to make contact with the comrades there before we left South Africa. We were to walk along a famous boulevard (Montparnasse, I think) opposite a certain café, and after about an hour someone came out and made contact. The Trotskyists used to meet in the café there, and soon we met Leon Sedov, his wife [Jeanne Martin], Erwin Wolff, Pierre Frank, Bauer and Raymond Molinier."[22]

Trotsky was living in France at this time, and we were obviously keen to meet him, but we were doomed to disappointment. The political situation in the country was highly unstable. In February, the fascists had attempted to bring down the government, and the Stalinists were waging a constant campaign against Trotsky. Given the tight security surrounding his household, Trotsky was completely isolated in the mountain village of Domesne, near Grenoble. Under these circumstances, it was not possible for two unknown young comrades from South Africa to visit him.

Instead, Leon Sedov discussed a number of things with us, including the "French turn" and the situation in France and Britain. I had the impression that he wasn't very happy with the way things were progressing in Britain and in particular with the leadership of the group, who had only recently commenced work within the Independent Labour Party. My later experience showed me why.

[To be continued]

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Notes

[7] Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, New York, 2001, p.152.

[8] Trotsky's Writings on Britain, volume 3, London 1974, p.64.

[9] Ibid., vol. 3, p. 68.

[10] Ibid., vol. 3, p.72.

[11] Ibid, pp. 87 and 89, emphasis in original.

[12] Writings of Leon Trotsky supplement 1934-40, p. 540.

[13] See Ian Hunter, "Raff Lee and the Pioneer Trotskyists of Johannesburg", Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no. 4, Spring 1993, pp. 60-65.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Interview with Rob Sewell, London, 19 January 2002.

[16] Lee to Koston, 12 April 1935.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Lee to Koston, 17 May 1935.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Quoted in Hunter, op. cit. p.76

[21] ibid, p.65

[22] Quoted in Bornstein and Richardson, Against the Stream - a History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain 1924-38, London 1986, p.169.