The industrial front
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 South Wales areas. The exact numbers involved was not published at the time, but there were certainly far more men on strike than at any time since 1926. One hundred and twenty thousand miners were officially out in Yorkshire, one hundred thousand in Wales and several thousand more in Lancashire, Staffordshire, Durham and Scotland. Eventually the government had to back down and agree to a complete overhaul of the wage structure in the industry - which partially appeased the miners.
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:
"Ernest Bevin 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 Sheffield had been bombed. That morning he had attended the Cabinet and that afternoon he called in at a meeting of the General Council of the TUC. He told them that as a result of the strikes, which, in his opinion, were being incited by persons outside the industry concerned, a paralysis was developing in some of the major industries in the country. Under the existing law he had no powers to deal with incitement to strike. That was the power he must have."
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 Chichester Road, near Paddington. The printing press was originally stored in Jock's place in Warwick Avenue, not far from Millie's. We had used the basement for the purposes of the organisation. We then moved to a loft, at 61 Northdown Street, in Kings Cross. We considered it a great step forward at that time. When the strikes were taking place during the war we had a great deal of press coverage. If you read the pages of the capitalist press at that time, it was full of stories about this loft headquarters. We had reporters coming up to the place, from the backyard near Kings Cross Station and reporting how the class war was being waged from this dingy hide-out. They wrote spine-chilling stories in a conspiratorial and exaggerated style, as you can imagine. They were accompanied by pictures of the office taken from the road. From there, they conducted interviews with Jock Haston, Millie Lee and myself.
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, London, I found yesterday the home of the Trotsky organisation which has been accused by miners' leaders of subversive and pro-Nazi activities in the coalfields." (Daily Mail, 15 July 1942). When the Daily Express turned up at the loft, I showed the reporter my discharge papers and my true wage of £2/10 shillings a week. The Express described me as "…shock-headed, getting a salary of one pound a week, which is made up to two pounds ten shillings by comrades who subscribe from their own wages." I was reported as saying: "We used to have to produce the paper from our private homes but now we are getting support, membership at about 500, we have been able to take over this office for a rental of 27 shillings a week. Our sales like all other papers are on a quota basis from the Ministry of Supply and it has been cut back like all other papers. But fortunately we had in a supply." (Daily Express, 15 July 1942). These facts served to undercut Hall's allegations.
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 Durham and in Cumberland, which we attempted to use to maximum effect.
Herbie Bell deserves a special comment. Herbie was a courageous fighter for the working class. Born in 1885 in Northumberland, he became a farm labourer. He joined the British army and Christmas 1915 took part in the fraternisation between British and German troops. Herbie told many a tale of the victimisation and punishment he received for spreading disaffection and "mutinous" ideas among the ranks. In 1920 he joined the Independent Labour Party, and during the 1926 General Strike he was a dispatch carrier for the No.2 Central Joint Strike Committee. He was sent to Durham prison for his activities. In 1945, in protest at the expulsion of Trotskyists from the ILP, he resigned and joined the RCP. In the same year he stood as the RCP candidate for Wallsend Borough Council, his election agent being Bill Landles, who continues to support the tendency to the present day. Herbie was an active trade unionist and shop steward, and used to sell 100 copies of every issue of our paper Militant [established in 1964] around the pit villages until well into his retirement. He was a man very widely read and with a profound interest in Marxist theory - which he never lost. Even in his last days he was reading Anti-Dühring and Hegel. His dedication was a tremendous inspiration to those who knew him and his death in July 1978 at the age of 83 marked the loss of an outstanding working class revolutionary.
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 Britain.
"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."
"In contrast 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 Britain."
"Preparing for power"
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 Britain, especially in the ILP, CP and the trade unions. Together with this, it highlighted the vital role of the subjective factor, the party, as the most decisive factor.
"In Britain, more perhaps than in any other country in the world, a correct policy towards the trade unions and factory committees is necessary for a young revolutionary party", stated the document. "Without a correct attitude on this question, our organisation would doom itself to vegetate in sectarian isolation. This is especially the case today when the workers are beginning to stir and awaken - from the period of relative 'peace' in industry which followed the debacle of the Labour Party in 1931, and when the whole of the working class is undergoing a transformation in its outlook.
"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.
"The 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 Russia, revealed the true face of Stalinism: the Communist Party has come forward as the principal strike-breaking force at the service of the ruling class.
"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.
"The disproportion in the situation in Britain lies in the lack of relationship between the ripeness of the objective situation and the immaturity and weakness of our organisation. Prospects of a swift impulsion of the masses leading to a spectacular growth of the organisation on the lines of the POUM in the Spanish revolution are rooted in the situation. But only if we realise the scope of the tasks and possibilities which history has placed before us. We will rise to the situation only if in the interim, skeleton cadres are built throughout the country. These cadres would serve as the bones on which the body of a powerful organisation could be built up from the new and fresh recruits who will come towards us as the crisis develops.
"These tasks 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 Britain - but only if we find the road to the masses.
"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."
Our work in the armed forces
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 Cairo to such effect that the army chiefs were forced to close it down. In Cyrenaica, Arthur Leadbetter was elected Prime Minister and Home Secretary of the Benghazi Forces' Parliament, but he was posted back to Cairo and the experiment with "parliamentarism" in the armed forces terminated.
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.
Our revolutionary 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 North Africa. The Eighth army - or the "desert rats" as they were popularly known - was responsible for inflicting the first serious defeat on the German army in North Africa at the battle of Alamein in 1932. This is held up by British military historians as a turning point in the war. But this should be kept in proportion. At Alamein the British defeated fifteen enemy divisions. The Russians were facing one hundred and seventy six enemy divisions on the eastern front.
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 Cairo, as I have already mentioned, our comrades were actually elected to the positions of Prime Minister and Home Secretary. Obviously, they put forward a Trotskyist position. From the reports of our soldier comrades, the Eighth Army soldiers were saying that after the war they would refuse to disarm, and return to Britain with their guns to ensure that things would change. This was the mutinous mood that was developing amongst these troops. At the 1943 conference of our tendency, I made the point, to illustrate the thing graphically, that the military establishment though it their army, but in fact, the soldiers of the Eighth Army were in rebellion. This reflected the revolutionary developments in the army. It was our Eighth Army in that it was being transformed. It was becoming revolutionary and in the process of moving over to the side of the working class. That was the precise meaning of my remark and no other:
"We have a victorious army in North Africa and Italy, and I say, yes", I stated to the WIL conference. "Long Live the Eighth Army, because that is our army. One of our comrades has spoken to a number of people who have had letters from the Eighth Army soldiers showing their complete dissatisfaction. We know of incidents in the army, navy and other forces that have never been reported, and it is impossible for us to report. It is our Eighth Army that is being hammered and tested and being organised for the purpose of changing the face of the world. This applies equally to all the forces."
"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".
Militants in industry
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.
Given the 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 Nottingham near the ROF factory. It quickly involved shop stewards committees and even District Committees, especially of the engineering workers union. Wherever there were strikes, anywhere in the country, the WIL was there. As Roy Tearse stated later:
"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."
Under wartime 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 Liverpool and Roy Tearse, who were subsequently co-opted onto the strike committee. These comrades assisted with the detailed strategy and tactics of the strike throughout its duration, and countered the barrage of attacks from the Communist Party and the government.
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 situation in Britain and internationally.
"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:
"Trotskyists also took some part in the strikes at the Rolls Royce aircraft works, Glasgow, in August 1941 and July 1943, in a strike at the Barnbow Royal Ordnance Factory in June 1943 and in the Yorkshire Transport strike in May 1943, but their activity has consisted in advising and encouraging the strike leaders rather than in provoking the strikes."
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.
"All the objective conditions for tremendous explosions are maturing in the factories, mines and transport of Britain. Arising out of the struggles that have already taken place, the question of leadership is being raised more and more sharply in the minds of the working class. The workers have learned, whenever they have been forced to stand and fight, that the Labour and trade union leadership, together with the Communist Party and the National Council of Shop Stewards, have deserted them, and indeed, sabotaged their struggle at every turn."
Demise of the Comintern
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:
"This policy of Stalin and the 'stinking corpse' of the Comintern suffered irretrievable ruin when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. The Comintern had to execute a right about turn and convert itself once again into a doormat for Roosevelt and British imperialism. But with the increased dependence of Stalin on American and British imperialism, has come the increased pressure on the part of the capitalist 'allies'. American imperialism especially has demanded the ending of the Comintern as a final guarantee against the danger of social revolution in Europe after the downfall of Hitler.
"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.
"The coming 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 Russia, was a workers' Bolshevik Party and a Bolshevik leadership. The great days of the Comintern of 1917-23 will live again. The growth in support for the ideas of Marxism internationally, based on the traditions of Bolshevism, the rich experience of the past, and learning the lessons of defeats of the working class, can once again lead the oppressed to the overthrow of capitalism and to the world socialist republic."
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 New York as the Nazi occupation of Europe made it almost impossible for it to function. Its existence now depended completely on the American SWP. So Gordon arrived in reality as an emissary of James Cannon.
Cannon couldn't have this terrible mess in Britain. The official British section was an absolute embarrassment. It was a disaster, and they knew it. The Americans had been republishing articles from our press in the American Militant, particularly on our application of the military policy as well as intervention in industry. They reprinted a lot of our material because they could see the enormous progress that was being made on the basis of the policy of Trotskyism. Cannon and the rest of the leaders lamented this position and said: "It's terrible. It's unprecedented that an unofficial organisation had the official policy of Trotskyism and the official organ, the RSL, has nothing to do with Trotskyism. The RSL is completely sectarian, completely ultra-left and also completely opportunist in their attitude towards the Labour Party". So the Cannon leadership of the International sought a way out of this dilemma, but of course, in their own inimical fashion.
Firstly, they 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 in Britain, we had to go through a farcical unification procedure. We didn't object to unification. But as we said at the time, if there is to be unity in the movement, it will not add up to much. The WIL will simply swallow up what was left of the RSL. That was our open and frank position.
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 Europe to oversee the fusion. He was the correspondent for Life and Time magazines, and was in a position to travel quite extensively. He was very well off, probably earning a few thousand dollars a year, which was a lot of money in those days. He came to Britain with the purpose of getting unification at any cost. To his horror, he found we had been in touch with the Harber tendency, the old leaders of the RSL, who had informed us of the real situation in their ranks, in terms of numbers, and so on. We explained the position to Mangan and he quickly realised that we were in a very strong position. In the end, they were quite prepared to accept unity on our terms and so a conference was arranged.
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.
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 Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, vol. 1, p. 388.
 Quoted in War and the International by Bornstein and Richardson, London 1986, p.89.
 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 Claudin, London 1975, p.23.