Part Two

Trotskyism of a New Type

[Section 3]

Tactical flexibility

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'."[6]

The death of Trotsky

During the summer of 1940 for personal and health reasons, Ralph Lee had decided to go back to South Africa. Haston and the other comrades had not long come back from Dublin. Lee's departure was certainly a blow to us at the time. He was without doubt the most important leader of the tendency, but nevertheless, despite his absence, we continued to develop the organisation. When Ralph returned to South Africa, he resumed his revolutionary work, and established a new group also called the Workers International League. The South African WIL was engaged in a number of struggles, which ended in defeat and resulted in the collapse of the organisation in 1946. Ralph, who was already ill, was terribly worn down by all these setbacks. Having spent his last penny on the revolutionary movement, he fell on extremely difficult times. Unfortunately, we, who at least could have given him some assistance, knew nothing about it until it was too late. Tragically, Ralph Lee took his own life. It was a sad end for such a giant of a man, my comrade and friend, whose historic contribution will always be remembered by our movement.

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 Mexico. The comrades were all devastated by the news. Although we never raised it publicly at the time, we were deeply critical of the leadership of the American SWP, which was responsible for Trotsky's security in Coyoacan. After the first assassination attempt in May, why was Trotsky left alone in his study with a complete stranger? But we didn't raise or pursue the matter as it now served no real purpose - Trotsky was dead. It now fell on our shoulders to carry on the struggle for the socialist revolution. As a prolific writer, Trotsky had left behind a rich legacy of writings and experience from which we could draw to build a genuine revolutionary movement. In Britain, Trotsky's death and the start of the world war served to provide us with a new sense of urgency to develop and build the Workers International League. We took his last words to heart - "Go Forward! I am convinced of the victory of the Fourth International!"

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..."[7] 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.

"The last 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 America, where the masses are far less politically conscious than in Britain, in a recent Gallup Poll, two thirds of the people interviewed differentiated between the German people and the Nazis on the question of responsibility and punishment after the war. This, despite all the propaganda of the bourgeoisie. If this is the case in America, it is a hundred times more true of Britain.

"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 Britain in the left wing has done this as vigorously as WIL? But we must go further. The Transitional Programme, if it has any meaning at all, is a bridge not only from the consciousness of the masses today to the road of the socialist revolution, but also for the isolated revolutionaries to the masses.

"The RSL 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 good...if 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 Britain as well as other countries. The workers in Britain, as in America 'do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say, "let us have a peace programme" the workers will reply: "but Hitler does not want a peace programme." Therefore we say, we will defend the United States [or Britain] with a workers' army with workers' officers, and with a workers' government, etc.' (Trotsky, ibid)

"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."[8]

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 Dunkirk to one of the very few Labour Parties that was still functioning. He lectured them on the following lines: "Comrades, the victory of Hitler is a lesser evil than to support our own ruling class." He then wondered why he was immediately expelled from the Labour Party - with the full support of the rank and file! As a good sectarian, he consoled himself that he had been expelled because of his revolutionary intransigence and perhaps these workers would eventually come to understand the error of their ways.

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 situation in Britain. With the Labour Party in a national coalition government, there was no activity in the Party at all. The activity of the working class, in so far as it existed, had begun to shift towards the industrial front. Strikes began to break out after 1941, and we intervened in them with as much drive as possible. Towards the end of 1940 and the beginning of 1941, we became convinced that the main area where we could get results was in the trade unions generally, among the members of the CP where we could get a certain response, and also in the ILP, which had gained an audience thanks to its pseudo anti-war activity. As they seemed to be the only anti-war opposition, the ILP began to make gains during the course of the war. So we paid attention to it.

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 Party...the 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."[9]

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..."

Stalinist slander campaign

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 Soviet Union. Within a short space of time, the bulk of our new members were coming from the CP. In Nottingham, for instance, we won the convenor of the Royal Ordinance Factory, John Pemberton, and then a group of shop stewards around him were won to our organisation, including Claude Bartholemew and Jack Nightingale.

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 Scotland, where we later established the Clyde Workers Committee.

We had developed a base in Glasgow at that time, as well as in Edinburgh, where the communists had still stayed in the Labour Party. Of course, we still maintained a fraction in the Labour Party. We didn't have this lunatic position like all the ultra-left tendencies of leaving the Labour Party, without leaving behind reserves in case it was necessary to make a turn back to Labour Party work. Even at that time, where the Labour Party was viable, and you could get some results, our comrades still continued to work there. But that was extremely limited at this stage. Wherever possible, we saw to it that in these Labour Parties one of our comrades would try to become the political education officer. As part of this, our comrade would have responsibility for organising literature sales. So in every meeting, there was a table for literature that would have Labour Party and working class literature, and of course, copies of the Socialist Appeal. So even then, our newspaper was being sold openly within the Labour Party.

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 invaded the USSR and they hastily changed their policy yet again. The Stalinists were getting very worried about our activity and the high profile of WIL. They began to pay serious attention to our tendency and publish articles and even pamphlets about us. They denounced us as "fascists" and "counter-revolutionaries", and spread all sorts of slanders and lies about us. One such CP pamphlet was called Clear Out Hitler's Agents, by William H. Wainwright. It said the Trotskyists were Hitler's agents and that we had to be physically driven out of the workers' movement.

"There is a group of people in Britain masquerading as socialists in order to cover up their fascist activities", stated Wainwright. "They are called Trotskyists. You've heard of the fifth column. The Trotskyists are their allies and agents in the ranks of the working class...The Home Guard has been taught a quick way to deal with enemy paratroopers and spies. You must train yourself to round up these other, more cunning enemies on whom Hitler depends to do his work for him in Britain. This book is a simple training manual. It will explain to you the tactics of the strange war Hitler is waging in your factory."

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 Union...They 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 certain...Trotsky'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 10 pounds yet?" The Stalinists were mercilessly ribbed, as you can imagine, by the other workers. We of course published it not only as a leaflet, but also as a feature in the pages of the Socialist Appeal. And by that simple means, these lies and slanders, all this crude poison pumped out by the CP, was being cut across. Needless to say, the reward was not claimed, and we had a jolly good laugh.

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 Japan had entered the war. At this time, with Japan's entry, there was a tremendous campaign about the monstrous crimes of these fiends, how they cut the heads off babies, strung them up, and so on. These were the stories about the atrocities that the Japanese had committed in Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere. The CP held a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, under the slogan "Remember Hong Kong". So we published a special edition of Socialist Appeal with the heading "Remember Hong Kong - and all the rest too". The Appeal carried a picture of the British troops in Burma, holding up the severed heads of Burmese guerrilla fighters. It was a repulsive and monstrous thing, of course. And it showed that the Japanese imperialists did not have a monopoly on such atrocities. The Army tops had to brutalise the British troops in order to get them to do things of this sort. We intervened in the CP demo and were selling papers like hot cakes.

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 Yorkshire miners." It was reported that "Mr. Gallacher, the Communist member, asked facetiously whether Mr. Morrison would inquire into the effect the Daily Worker would have. Mr. Morrison caused a laugh by remarking. 'I ask my Right Hon. Friend not to be too keen on suppressions. This organisation is only pursuing the same political policy as he and his political friends pursued up to some time ago." (Daily Telegraph, 17 July 1942).

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 in Hyde Park, Morrison had to have police protection because the CPers - still peddling the old social-fascist Line - attacked him and tried to beat him up. The hooligan tactics of the Stalinists must have made a lasting effect on Morrison and now he decided to get his own back on them. He knew of all the Stalinists' twists and turns in relation to the war, and that they were dictated by Moscow. He therefore regarded them with contempt. On the other hand, as a result of our clear internationalist position, we had become a thorn in the side of the CP. Needless to say, Morrison didn't like us, but while we were politically embarrassing the CP and hammering them on every possible occasion, he must have taken malicious pleasure in the belting we gave them.

[To be continued]

Back to Contents


[6] WIL Internal Bulletin, 12 March 1942.

[7] Criticism by the RSL of the WIL pamphlet Preparing For Power, 22 December 1942.

[8] Ibid., pp.11-12.

[9] Ted Grant, Reply to the RSL, pp.18-19.