Part four: In Defence of Trotskyism – Our Struggle with the International
From 1945 onwards, a whole new series of differences began to appear between the International leadership and ourselves. Firstly, they arose on the assessment of the world situation. We understood that a fundamental change had been taking place in the relationship of forces internationally. The victory of Russia in the war constituted a decisive change. After the occupation of France, the world war was really a European war between fascist Germany and Stalinist Russia, with Anglo-American imperialism as onlookers. In effect, Britain and the US were sitting on the sidelines watching this Homeric struggle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Anglo-American imperialism had calculated – or rather miscalculated – that Russia and Germany would exhaust themselves in the war, and become so debilitated, that the American and British imperialists could then step in, subjugate them both and decide the fate of the world. This miscalculation on the part of the imperialists had completely changed the world situation
In 1945 the United States had a reservoir of fresh troops, while Russia’s armed forces had suffered 25 million casualties. However, the Red Army, having defeated the Germans almost single-handed, was now stationed in the heart of Europe and had occupied half of Germany. Thus, the strategic position had fundamentally changed. As a warning to the Russians, the American imperialists dropped the atom bomb on Japan. This was nothing to do with defeating Japan, as Japan was already defeated and suing for peace before the bomb was dropped. The real reason for dropping the atom bomb was fear of the Soviet Union.
Not many people realise this, but the Red Army, having smashed the Wehrmacht in the West, had gone onto the offensive against Japan in the east. Against the wishes of Anglo-American imperialism the Red Army entered Manchuria threatening to defeat the Japanese army within ten days. The American imperialists found themselves in a very difficult situation. Although their military forces were intact, and they had huge reserves of soldiers and two thirds of the world’s gold supplies, they were incapable of intervening militarily against their Russian "allies". The revolutionary ferment throughout Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, as well as the general war-weariness of the Allied troops, stayed their hand. If the imperialists had attempted to intervene, their armies would not have accepted it and they would have faced a series of mutinies.
However, the IS was blind to all these developments. In a document presented by the IS to the first International Pre-Conference after the war in April 1946, it stated that as a result of the weakness of the USSR, the imperialists, by diplomatic means alone could restore capitalism in Russia. So weak was Russia supposed to be, that counter-revolution could be carried through "in the near future, even without military intervention, through the sole fact of economic, political and diplomatic pressure of American and British imperialism, and its military threats", we read in the IS document. They actually wrote such an absurdity! We were horrified when we received this material because it showed a complete lack of understanding, politically, diplomatically, and strategically. It was a completely false evaluation of the situation of the Soviet Union, which had emerged vastly strengthened, and not weakened, as they imagined.
Disagreements now opened up on a whole range of questions: perspectives for the Chinese revolution, disagreements about the world economy, disagreements over the character of the regimes that would emerge in Europe; and of the tactics and strategy that the class should pursue throughout this period. If you examine the material of the International at this time it is a catalogue of bankrupt ideas. They saw slump everywhere. Of course, if it hadn’t been for the billions of dollars handed out in Marshall aid, as people like GDH Cole pointed out at the time, the standard of living of Britain would have dropped to the level of the middle of the nineteenth century. Certainly, that would have produced a revolutionary situation in Britain. But, of course, American imperialism had no alternative but to try and save capitalism in Europe and in Britain. They saw Britain as the solid anchor for its plans in Europe. If the American imperialists were compelled to intervene against the revolution in Europe, they needed Britain as a bridgehead. So they first gave some 1,500 million dollars to Britain to help prop up the economy. Soon afterwards, Marshall aid was given to West Germany, France and then the rest of Europe for the purpose of putting their economies back on their feet.
In the meantime – as is typical of this tendency – they were accusing us of all sorts of things. We were denounced as being "revisionists", "neo-Stalinists" in relation to our perspectives and characterisation of Eastern Europe, as "reformists" because we had predicted the economic boom, and as "petty-bourgeois pessimists", for failing to be as r-r-r-revolutionary as themselves! They accused us of everything instead of actually analysing and arguing on the basis of the material itself. True, in polemics it is sometimes legitimate to use terms such as "revisionist", "reformist", provided they are used in a scientific manner, and not as terms of abuse. One must argue against the ideas of an opponent, and do so honestly and loyally, showing the arguments to be false. But for these people, they were simply terms of abuse and a substitute for political argument.
What they could never forgive was the fact that on all these vital questions we were shown to be correct. Having burned their fingers with ultra-leftism, the International leadership swung over completely to opportunism, and then to an adventurist course. When the break between Tito and Stalin took place in June 1948, they argued that Yugoslavia was now a healthy workers’ state – at least as healthy as the Soviet state between 1917-1921, with perhaps a little wart here and there. According to these "great Marxists", here was a transition from a capitalist state to a healthy workers’ state! How this was possible, nobody knew. But that is what they now argued. The RCP leadership took a different line. We explained that the regime in Yugoslavia was a deformed workers’ state that did not differ in any fundamental way from the USSR under Stalin. While of course we were prepared to give critical support to the Yugoslav people in their fight against Russian Stalinism, we had no illusions in Tito. In a pamphlet by Haston and myself, written in June 1948 entitled Behind the Stalin-Tito Clash, we explained:
"The importance of the present conflict lies in the fact that it is the first important crack in the international front of Stalinism since the end of the war. It is bound to have profound effects on the rank and file members of the Communist Parties throughout the world, especially in Western Europe and Britain. It is the beginning of a process of differentiation within the Communist Parties, which in the long run will lead to splits.
"The extension of the power of the Russian bureaucracy further west from the Russian borders creates new problems for them. While temporarily strengthening them, in the long run it will undermine their position.
"It is clear that any Leninist must support the right of any small country to national liberation and freedom if it so desires. All socialists will give critical support to the movement in Yugoslavia to federate with Bulgaria and to gain freedom from direct Moscow domination. At the same time the workers in Yugoslavia and these countries will fight for the installation of genuine workers’ democracy, of the control of the administration of the state and of industry as in the days of Lenin and Trotsky in Russia. This is impossible under the present Tito regime.
"For an Independent Socialist Soviet Yugoslavia within an independent Socialist Soviet Balkans. This can only be part of the struggle for the overthrow of the capitalist governments in Europe and the installation of workers’ democracy in Russia."
The Chinese Revolution
Meanwhile in China, the most earth-shattering events were taking place. Mao Tse-tung was leading a peasant war against the rotten, reactionary bourgeois regime of Chiang Kai-Shek. Despite the huge amounts of money and weapons given to Chiang by the Americans, the Red Army was advancing rapidly, while Chiang’s army had the biggest rate of desertion of any army in history. Mao’s army was made up of more than a million troops, with maybe twice that number of guerrillas in the countryside. The Chinese Red Army sliced through Chiang’s armies – armed and trained by the USA – like a hot knife through butter. The feeble attempt by British imperialism to intervene by sending four warships to China ended in a humiliating defeat. The Red forces shelled the ships, which were compelled to flee under cover of darkness. The British – who are experts at making a defeat look like a victory – presented the escape of HMS Amethyst as a great triumph!
For Marxists, the Chinese Revolution was the second greatest event in human history, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. A correct attitude to it was therefore absolutely essential. But here too the leaders of the Fourth failed miserably. They merely repeated Trotsky’s pre-war position, when he thought that Mao would betray his peasant base capitulate to Chiang Kai-Shek and fuse with the capitalist elements in the cities, resulting in a "normal" capitalist development.
Their whole approach was ridiculous in the extreme. At an International Conference Cannon and the others still maintained that Mao would never cross the Yangtse river. By the time the conference was over, Chiang had crossed the Yangtse and smashed Chiang Kai-Shek’s army. Max Shachtman, who had broken with the Fourth earlier, had his supporters rolling about laughing, when he joked about Cannon’s "perspectives" for China – "Yes, Mao wants to capitulate to Chiang Kai-Shek. The only problem is Mao can’t catch him!" Even after Mao came to power, the leaders of the Fourth said the regime was still capitalist. They actually kept that position up till the mid-1950s!
In January 1949, before Mao came to power, we predicted what would happen. Given the world balance of forces, the bankruptcy of Chinese capitalism, and the USSR in the background, Mao was able to win a victory by granting land to the peasants, and resting upon them to carry through, in a distorted fashion, a social revolution. Given the passivity and repression of the working class, the only road was the creation of a regime of proletarian Bonapartism. As I wrote at the time:
"While supporting the destruction of feudalism in China, it must be emphasised that only a horrible caricature of the Marxist conception of the revolution will result because of the leadership of the Stalinists. Not a real democracy, but a totalitarian regime as brutal as that of Chiang Kai-Shek will develop. Like the regimes in Eastern Europe, Mao will look to Russia as his model. Undoubtedly, tremendous economic progress will be achieved. But the masses, both workers and peasants, will find themselves enslaved by the bureaucracy.
"The Stalinists are incorporating into their regime ex-feudal militarists, capitalist elements, and the bureaucratic officialdom in the towns who will occupy positions of privilege and power.
"On the basis of such a backward economy, a large scale differentiation among the peasants (as after the Russian Revolution during the period of the NEP) aided by the failure to nationalise the land: the capitalist elements in trade, and even in light industry, might provide a base for capitalist counter-revolution. It must be borne in mind that in China the proletariat is weaker in relation to the peasantry than was the case in Russia during the NEP owing to the more backward development of China. Even in Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries similarly, where the capitalist elements were relatively weaker, nevertheless the danger of a capitalist overturn existed for a time. The fact that the workers and peasants will not have any democratic control and that the totalitarian tyranny will have superimposed upon it the Asiatic barbarism and cruelties of the old regime, gives rise to this possibility. However, it seems likely that the capitalist elements will be defeated because of the historical tendency of the decay of capitalism on a world scale. The impotence of world imperialism is shown by the fact that whereas they intervened directly against the Chinese revolution in 1925-7, today they look on helplessly at the collapse of the Chiang regime."
Given the development of an independent nationalist bureaucracy in China, we predicted that it would also come into conflict with Stalin. "However, it is quite likely that Stalin will have a new Tito on his hands", continued the article. This was to come about in the Sino-Soviet conflict that developed in the late 1950s.
And the article concluded: "The shrewder capitalist commentators are already speculating on this although they derive cold comfort from it. Mao will have a powerful base in China with its 450-500 million population and its potential resources, and the undoubted mass support his regime will possess in the early stages. The conflicts which will thus open out should be further means of assisting the world working class to understand the real nature of Stalinism."
A little later in February 1949, David James, a member of the Central Committee of the RCP, questioned our analysis of what was taking place in China and Yugoslavia, and issued an internal document titled Some Remarks on the Question of Stalinism. This discussion served to clarify the characteristics of proletarian Bonapartism and answer some doubts about the position of the leadership. I wrote a reply to James on this question:
"Where comrade James makes the mistake here, is in assuming that once the class basis has been decided, the problems are simple, and that all tendencies which are manifest must be a direct reflection of the interests of opposing classes. But he has only to ask himself the question: what class does Stalin represent in the struggle against Tito? And what class does Tito represent when he has already agreed by definition that the class basis of the regimes are ’basically identical’? Is there a struggle between the Yugoslav working class and the Russian working class? Clearly there is something wrong here.
"First, we want to take up James’s reference to Trotsky in this connection. It is true that Trotsky argued that different sections of the bureaucracy would tend to reflect class interests, one faction going with the proletariat and the other with the bourgeoisie. Butenko went over to the fascists in Italy. He did not represent any social grouping within Russia, but was merely an isolated case with no roots. Reiss represented the proletarian wing and as such found himself in the Fourth International. Trotsky did visualise the development of strong capitalist currents, as well as the strong proletarian currents at a time of crisis – that there would be a split in the bureaucracy under the pressure of class forces. But the differentiation that he expected, particularly during the war, did not take place. But Trotsky did produce arguments which were far more to the point in explaining clearly what forces are represented in the struggle within the bureaucracy, or as in the present discussion, between the two different workers’ bureaucracies. We refer here to the Ukraine.
"The Old Man pointed out that in the Ukraine after the purge of the Trotskyists and Bukharinites, nine-tenths of all Stalinist officials in the heads of the departments of government in the national republic were imprisoned, exiled and executed. Did they represent a different class from Stalin? Of course not! They reflected the pressure and discontent of the Ukraine masses against the national oppression of the Great Russian bureaucracy. The Ukrainian masses were oppressed not only as workers and peasants by the bureaucracy, but as Ukrainians. Hence the struggle for national liberation in the Ukraine. This was not confined to the Ukraine. The same process took place in all the national republics of Russia, oppressed by the Russian bureaucracy. The Stalinist officialdom in all these were, to one degree or another, affected by the prevailing mood of hatred against the bureaucratic centralising tendencies of Great Russian chauvinism centred in Moscow. According to Colonel Tokaev, writing in the Sunday Express, there were national uprisings during the war in the Crimea, the Caucasus and some of the other national republics. After the war, the great Russian bureaucracy punished this ’disloyalty’ by banishing the entire populations of some of the national republics of the Crimea and others and dissolving the republics, in violation of even the paper constitution of Stalin. Clearly this was intended as a warning against disaffection in other republics.
"This is the analogy with Yugoslavia. In the purge in the Ukraine, Trotsky showed that here it was not a case of different classes involved, but of different nations oppressed by the bureaucracy. The Ukrainian Stalinists did not represent the fraction of Butenko, nor did they represent the fraction of Reiss. What they wanted was more autonomy and more control for the Ukrainians (which meant themselves) over the national destiny of their republic. The fact that a national struggle of this character can take place after the proletarian revolution, is merely an indication of how far the revolution has been thrown back under Stalinist domination. (Here let us add that Lenin, with his far-sighted national policy, surprisingly raised in advance the possibility of clashes between different nationalities even after the abolition of capitalism. National cultures and aspirations will remain long after the proletarian revolution has taken place, even on a world scale and will constitute an important problem.)
"One can say that in Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe, Stalin has attempted to carry through a similar bureaucratic policy as in the republics in Russia. The only difference in Yugoslavia is that the Russian bureaucracy did not have as firm control over the state machine as they had in the other satellite states. This was, of course, due to the fact that while in the other countries it was the entry of the Red Army which smashed the bourgeois state and precipitated the movement of the masses, in Yugoslavia, Tito had a mass base and built up a machine which he had under control, even under the Germans. The Red Army assisted in the liberation of Belgrade, but undoubtedly Tito had a far more popular base among the masses than in the other satellite states. In the eyes of the Yugoslavs, their liberation from German imperialism was achieved under the leadership of Tito and the Yugoslav CP. Thus, Stalin’s attempt to completely subordinate Yugoslavia to the Moscow bureaucracy met with resistance from the local bureaucrats, who felt confident that they would have the backing of the masses. As distinct from this, the regimes in the other satellite states felt the need to lean on the Moscow bureaucracy, owing to a fear of the difficulties at home in the event of a conflict.
"Stalin encountered difficulty in applying in Yugoslavia a Ukraine solution, or even a pseudo-independent solution as in Poland, where the joke circulates that Cyrankiewicz phones the Kremlin to find out if he can take the night off to go to the cinema. Stalin’s attempts to intervene in Yugoslavia resulted for the first time, in the arrest of his stooges instead of vice versa. It was as if the Ukrainian Stalinists had had their own state forces and the backing of the masses, separate and powerful enough to oppose the Russian MVD [secret police], etc. On that basis, they could have resisted the demands of complete subordination to the Moscow bureaucracy.
"This explained why Trotsky considered the national question to be of such importance that he put forward the demand for an independent socialist soviet Ukraine. At first sight this would appear to come into conflict with the strategy of the unification of all Europe in a socialist united states. From a purely pedantic point of view it would appear that the enemy of the Ukrainian and Great Russian masses is the same and the task is a simple one of unifying their struggle for control in one unified state. Merely to find the class basis does not supply the answer. The class basis of the Ukrainian bureaucrats is no different from that of the Russian bureaucrats. Yet they come into conflict with one another and the victorious section savagely executes the other.
"Similarly, it is clear that the mere fact that Tito is, for the time being, victorious, no more turns him into an unconscious Trotskyist than the Ukrainian bureaucrats.
"Through the dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy is expressed indirectly the rule of the proletariat. For the Soviet Union to return to a healthy basis, a new revolution, a political revolution, is necessary. The economic basis will remain the same, though of course the social consequences will result in profound changes in the overall plan, the division of income, the culture, etc. As in the case of France – where a regime of bourgeois autocracy required revolution before it could become bourgeois democracy, so in Russia, revolution will be required to transform the bureaucratic totalitarian regime into a really democratic one. The political revolution in France resulted in profound changes in its social consequences – different division of income, freer development of the productive forces, culture, etc. But the fundamental structure of the system remained the same. So in Russia, the class basis will remain: the superstructure will change. On this there is common agreement with James. But what of Yugoslavia?
"What was an unconscious process in the early stages of Stalinist degeneration in Russia, is a semi-conscious or even conscious process in Yugoslavia. The regime of Tito is very similar to the regime of Stalin during the period of 1923-8. After the experience of Russia, it is clear that where there is no democracy, where no opposition is tolerated, where a totalitarian regime exists, then developments will proceed on the same pattern as in Russia. Here precisely it is not a question of the psychology of Tito or Stalin, but the relentless interests of the differing tendencies at work within society.
"The state, as a special superstructural formation standing over society, of necessity tends to form a grouping with habits of thought, used to command, with privileges of education and culture. The tendency is to crystallise a caste with an outlook of its own, different from the class it represents. This is accentuated where the state takes over the means of production; the sole commanding stratum in society is the bureaucracy. Not for nothing did Marx and Lenin emphasise the need for the masses to retain control of the state or semi-state, because without this, new trends and tendencies are introduced which have a law of motion of their own.
"If one would assume theoretically (abstracting the Stalin regimes for the moment from the world relationships and the internal social contradictions) that such a caste could maintain itself indefinitely (the modest estimate of a leading Siberian Stalinist was 1,000 years) – it could not lead to an amelioration of the social contradictions or to the painless withering away of the state into society. All the laws of social evolution, of the development of the classes and castes in society speak against this. Far from developing in the direction of communism, such a society, if it depended on the will of the bureaucracy, would inevitably develop into a slave state with a hierarchy of castes such as visualised by Jack London in his picture of the oligarchy under the Iron Heel.
"Socialism does not arise automatically out of the development of the productive forces themselves. If it were purely a question of the automatic change in society once the productive forces are developed, revolution would not have been necessary in the changes from one society to another. As has been explained many times, the nationalisation of the productive forces alone does not abolish all social contradictions - otherwise there would be socialism in Russia. Once the bureaucracy gets a vested interest of its own, it will never voluntarily relinquish its privileged position. A further development of the productive forces will merely create new needs and open new vistas for the bureaucracy to dispose of the surplus in their interests. This is already shown by the development of the bureaucracy as a more and more rapacious and hereditary caste, instead of less and less with the development of the productive forces in Russia. (Here we are not dealing with inevitable movements of revolt on the part of the masses, the contradictions engendered by bureaucratic misrule, which must lead to explosions, etc. This whole problem requires further elaboration).
"The degeneration of Russia was not accidental. Where the proletariat has control, its position in society determines its consciousness and determines the evolution of that society in the direction of the liquidation of the state and the establishment of communism. Where the bureaucracy has control, its position in society determines its consciousness and determines the evolution of that society not towards its voluntary liquidation and communism, but to its own reinforcement. Conditions determine consciousness. And the methods, the organisation, the outlook and ideology of Tito and Mao are the same as those of the Russian Stalinists: not democratic centralism, but its opposite – totalitarian bureaucracy is what they base themselves on. The Cominform criticism of the ’Turkish terror’ is well founded. All that Tito could reply in answer to the accusation that the discussion for the Party Congress was a farce, that no-one dared to oppose the resolution of the Central Committee, or even vote against it for fear of immediate arrest, that there was a dictatorship in the party and in the country – all that he could reply was to liken the criticism of the Cominform to that of the Left Opposition at the 1927 Congress of the CPSU.
"Almost word for word the description of the situation was the same, except that in Russia in 1927 there was more democracy as a lingering survival of the past than there is in Yugoslavia today. At least before their expulsion, the Opposition was allowed to put forward its position at the Congress, and Stalin had not yet evolved the complete totalitarian technique of suppression. There was still the faction of Bukharin, etc, in the party. Stalin still had no idea of which way he was going. Tito has taken over in toto, the organisation, the ideology, the technique of Bonapartist rule.
"The only difference between the regimes of Stalin and Tito is that the latter is still in its early stages. There is a remarkable similarity in the first upsurge of enthusiasm in Russia where the bureaucracy introduced the first Five-Year Plan, and the enthusiasm in Yugoslavia today.
"While Stalin can only rule through more and more unbridled terror, Tito, for the present, probably retains the support of the big majority of the population of Yugoslavia. But this is not a fundamental difference, it is a question of tempo and the experience of the masses."
"Stalinism, leaning on the proletariat can, under given conditions, balance between the opposing classes to strengthen itself for its own ends", stated the reply. "We have seen how this was accomplished in Eastern Europe. We now have a similar development taking place before our eyes in China. Whereas it would he impossible for the revolutionary Marxist tendency to make a coalition with the bourgeoisie, precisely because of the need to ensure the independent self-mobilisation of the masses in the struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie, Stalin has no need for such inhibitions. Stalinism makes a coalition under conditions where the back of the bourgeoisie has been broken, in order to play off the bourgeoisie against the danger of an insurgent proletariat. Thus the coalition which the Stalinists are proposing in China will not mean the victory or even the survival of the bourgeoisie. It will be used in order to gain a breathing space for the organisation of a Stalinist, Bonapartist state machine on the lines of Moscow. Not at all a state or a semi-state on the lines visualised by the Marxists – as the free and armed organisation of the masses, but a state machine separate and apart from the masses, entirely independent and towering over them as an instrument of oppression.
"It is evident that the Chinese movement draws its viability from the ’innermost needs of the economy’. However, while a genuine revolutionary, Trotskyist leadership in a backward country would draw its strength from the proletariat, welding the peasant masses behind it, Mao rests on the peasantry and not only bases himself on the passivity of the proletariat at this stage, but ruthlessly suppresses any proletarians who dare to take measures against the bourgeoisie on the basis of independent class action. At a later stage, Mao will lean on the proletariat when he needs it against the bourgeoisie, only later to betray and ruthlessly suppress it. In this it would be far more correct to say that Mao, as Tito, is a conscious Stalinist, adopting consciously many of the Bonapartist manoeuvres which Stalin was forced to adopt empirically.
"While the armies of the Kuomintang have melted away under the revolutionary agrarian programme and propaganda of the Stalinists – ’land to the tiller’ – one thing is clear: the programme of propaganda of Mao has not been directed to the revolutionary mobilisation of the proletariat and the organisation of soviets. Nor has it been directed to the overthrow of the Kuomintang regime in the towns through the conscious initiative and movement of the workers. On the contrary, it is his policy to ruthlessly crush any move in this direction. This refusal to mobilise the masses is not accidental. It expresses the fear of a mass movement in the cities at this stage. The difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism is no more strikingly illustrated than in this fact. There is an unbridgeable gulf between Marxism, which bases itself on the conscious movement of the masses, above all the proletariat, and Bonapartist Stalinism which manoeuvres between the classes and utilises the revolutionary instincts of the masses in the interests of this new caste.
"Mao’s regime will follow the pattern of the other Stalinist regimes. Having consolidated itself, it will become a military-police dictatorship with all the other malignant aspects of the Russian regime. The signs are already visible."
The "theoreticians" of the International were tying themselves up in knots on the question of the class nature of the new regimes in China and Eastern Europe. According to them there was a healthy workers’ state in Yugoslavia; capitalist states in the rest of Eastern Europe – and a deformed workers’ state in Russia. This position was absolutely hopeless. It was totally incoherent even from the standpoint of formal logic, let alone Marxism. For the so-called leaders of the Fourth, however, lack of consistency presented no problem. They simply changed their position without any explanation. It was a completely dishonest method that failed to show any process of reasoning. At one conference in 1946, when we raised the question of Trotsky’s prediction that in ten years not one stone upon another would be left of the Stalinist and Social Democratic organisations with one of the representatives of the SWP, he said: "Don’t worry, comrades! Trotsky wrote that in 1938. There are still two years to go." That was the level of their understanding of events.
If it had been handled properly, an honest discussion on these questions could have raised the political level of the cadres of the International. But that would have undermined the prestige of the leaders. The fact that they sacrificed theoretical principle to considerations of personal prestige demonstrated the complete bankruptcy of this tendency. In fact, it is fortunate that the Fourth International did not succeed in becoming a mass tendency. At the head of mass parties of the working class, these "leaders" with their bankrupt attitudes and policies, would have quickly led to one catastrophe after another. As it turned out, the absurd antics of Mandel, Cannon, Frank, Pablo and the rest of them, served only to discredit Trotskyism in the eyes of a big layer of workers. With their fatal combination of false policies and Zinovievite organisational methods they succeeded in undermining the movement which Trotsky had built and wrecking what small forces of Trotskyism existed in Europe and elsewhere before they got the chance to build a serious base.
In Britain we were educating our cadres, raising their political level by scrupulously taking up all the theoretical questions that arose. However, within the organisation Gerry Healy commenced his disruptive activities, firstly as the agent of Cannon and the American SWP, and then as the agent of Pablo. As far as the so-called International was concerned, Healy was a very good obedient errand boy who did and said exactly what the International leadership told him to do and say. On all these key questions he could be relied upon to put forward their political line, attempting to build up a clique against the Haston-Grant leadership.
On political matters Healy had no ideas of his own. One rather amusing instance comes to mind that proves the point. In 1946, there was a discussion about the occupation of Germany and other countries by the Red Army – as well as by Allied troops. The RCP came out firmly for the withdrawal of all armies of occupation including the Red Army and for the right of national self-determination. The faction that had now begun to crystallise around Healy put forward the position that we must stand for the withdrawal of the imperialist armies from occupation areas, but not the Red Army. This was the army of the workers’ state, etc. Healy waged a long campaign on this question within the organisation calling us "revisionists" for the stand we had taken. The International leadership had been silent on this question, so in order to get clarity on this issue, we wrote a letter to the International Secretariat in Paris demanding an urgent reply.
Now it just so happened that on the day this letter from the IS arrived we had invited Healy and a supporter of his called John Goffe to the Political Committee to discuss some organisational question or other. In front of Healy, Millie Lee reported that a letter had arrived from Paris and this was duly read to the committee. It was a short note that read:
"Concerning the question raised by the letter of Comrade Lee of 7 May 1946 on the subject of the interpretation of the passage of the Manifesto concerning the Red Army, a political reply will be made by the IS in some days specifying that our position must be in fact – ’for the withdrawal of all occupation armies, including the Red Army’ – and no ambiguity must henceforth exist on this matter."
Quite naturally we all looked at Healy, like the man in the advert who sneezed. After all, he had been waging a vehement campaign for weeks and months against our alleged revisionist position. Healy turned as white as a sheet. He threw up his hands and said, "Well, so now we’ve got agreement." Goffe remained silent – not uttering a single word at the PB meeting on the subject.
We had got agreement alright! It was agreement reached by telegraph – just like the Comintern representatives who received their marching orders by a telegraph from Moscow, without explanation of any kind. If there had been an argument or at least a document of ten, or twenty, or thirty pages, you could at least argue that Healy had been convinced by the argument or the document. But the IS letter consisted simply of a few lines! The Cannon/Pablo leadership was engaged in methods that had nothing in common with those of Lenin and Trotsky. They formed blocs not on a political basis, but on the basis of organisational manoeuvres. That is why their political stooge in London had abandoned his original position and announced that we now had agreement immediately, without hesitation, without even thinking. Indeed, no thought was required. When Paris said turn, Healy turned.
Healy’s behaviour disgusted every member of the Political Committee who was present. This episode illustrated the rottenness of this tendency and also clearly indicated what the International Secretariat and the SWP really wanted to build. What they wanted in other countries were people who would bow down in front of them, and accept without question their words of wisdom as if from the mouth of the Divine Oracle. It was a disgusting method. With such means you can build nothing but political zombies – people like Healy. Their conception, even at that stage, of an International was entirely opposed to the conceptions of Lenin and Trotsky and the traditions of the best days of the Third International.
We wrote a statement about the affair in the Internal Bulletin which stated:
"It is obvious that under conditions such as outlined above, political discussion with members of our Minority reduces itself to a farce. One cannot seriously discuss with an opponent who not only changes positions without motivation, and at a moment’s notice, but who then denies that he ever held them. Already disgust and apathy has started to spread among the membership, who prefer to stay away from aggregates than waste their time in such farcical discussions.
"We therefore appeal to all members of the Minority who have any sense of revolutionary integrity, to combat these deplorable methods. We further appeal to all members of the Party to create that necessary atmosphere of Bolshevik accounting for one’s political positions, changes and transformations within the Party, as to make the use of such methods impossible in our ranks."
But these words fell on deaf ears, and the Healy minority continued his intrigues as before.
The RCP and the Nuremberg trials
Following the Neath by-election campaign, we initiated an important campaign over the Nuremberg Trials and an attempt to exposed the Stalinists. Within a few months of the war ending, the Allied Powers began to put the Nazi gangsters on trial in order to put the complete responsibility for the war onto their shoulders. The RCP immediately saw them as a tremendous opportunity to expose the crimes and frame-ups of the Moscow Trials.
In the Stalinist Show Trials, the Trotskyists, and alleged Trotskyists, including Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Red Army generals like Tukhachevski, had been framed and murdered by Stalin. Nuremberg would give us an opportunity to expose the lies that the Trotskyists were Nazi agents. Above all, it would allow us to demand the rehabilitation of Trotsky and those who had perished in Stalin’s Purges. In due course, this campaign would also expose those who had shamelessly supported the Moscow Trials – professional liars like Kingsley Martin of the New Statesman and a whole layer of the Labour leaders who, for the sake of their popular front with Stalinism, had gone along with their slanders against Trotskyism.
So we gathered together a committee of leading lights, intellectuals and some Labour MPs, and set up a campaign to demand that at the Nuremberg trials questions should be asked of the defendants concerning their alleged relations with Trotsky. We advocated that there should be a thorough examination of the allegations made at the Moscow trials that Trotsky had been an agent of German fascism. We wrote a letter to Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee, and we received an acknowledgement from his secretary saying that our suggestions were noted. We conducted a campaign for months while the Nuremberg Trial were going on. Finally, we raised the demand that Natalia Sedov, Trotsky’s wife, should be allowed to question the top Nazi defendants at the trial, as she had been directly involved in the slanders, and should have the opportunity to rehabilitate her husband.
We waged quite a successful campaign given the limited resources of the organisation. Every issue of Socialist Appeal had articles on the question. We campaigned vigorously in the labour movement and raised quite large sums of money. We also received support from the famous writer and Fabian socialist HG Wells. He deserved credit for this, particularly considering the fierce attack made on him by Trotsky in the past. Wells and a whole series of other writers and intellectuals gave valuable assistance to the campaign. We believed that Bernard Shaw probably never received our campaign material, in any case, he never replied, which was not like him. He was always polite and would have at least replied. So we figured he probably had a Stalinist secretary and never saw the material.
"The Nuremberg Campaign conducted by the Party has been one of the most important aspects of our activity in the struggle against Stalinism and the Moscow Trials", stated The Party Organiser (September 1946). "The Manifesto signed by prominent intellectuals had international repercussions. The campaign was taken up by our sections in other parts of the world. 40,000 leaflets were distributed throughout the country, mainly at Communist Party meetings, and a number of trade union branches were addressed on the subject."
As stated, we gave the campaign a labour movement slant and raised the issue in the trade union branches, calling for resolutions to be sent to Downing Street and to national union conferences. We even sent a letter to the Communist Party inviting them to participate, as we were sure that in the interests of truth, they would like to assist! We sent it as a registered letter, but, as expected, we got no reply. Nevertheless, we used this fact against them. In trade union branches where we had comrades, we put the Communist Party members on the spot by asking them why their party was not prepared to support this campaign. The other sections of the International, including the French, Italians, Belgians, Dutch, as well as the South American sections, reproduced material from the Socialist Appeal and organised their own committees on similar lines.
Incredibly, the American SWP was silent. They failed to organise any such campaign. The French comrades said that the only reason why the Americans had not done so was because of the political differences with the British section. It was due to petty spite. Towards the end of the Nuremberg trials, Shachtman of the Workers Party took up the campaign, and put the American SWP in an impossible position. Shachtman conducted an enthusiastic campaign reproducing our material on the question of Trotsky’s rehabilitation. The failure of the SWP really showed the way in which Cannon conducted politics.
James Cannon was, without doubt, a workers’ leader, as Trotsky said. However, he didn’t have the necessary theoretical depth and neither did the other leaders of the SWP. You couldn’t imagine Lenin and Trotsky, or Marx and Engels, or Luxemburg being concerned about their personal prestige – or allowing it to affect their political judgement – especially over such an issue. If Trotsky had been alive, he would have immediately taken up the Campaign and roundly condemned the SWP. The behaviour of the Americans was symptomatic of a sickness that was already prevalent in the International at that time.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Britain, the little clique around Healy, Cooper and Goffe, saw it as their "internationalist duty" to get rid of the RCP leadership. Backed by the Americans, as the "real" internationalists, Healy’s faction would fight to become the leadership of the tendency. At that time, John Lawrence, who had originally sided with Healy, had come over to us because we had made him a full-time organiser in Wales. Lawrence had a certain capacity and flair, and we thought he would develop his talents in a full-time capacity. But, as it turned out, we were shown to be wrong. He lacked real stamina or endurance, and was infected by the moods of pessimism that now began to affect certain layers. Healy and his group now tried to latch onto every difference they could find in their struggle with the leadership. Soon, they stumbled on our position over redundancies that affected certain industries after the war, and used that to whip up some opposition.
Obviously, the Marxist tendency is opposed in principle to redundancies in the workplaces. These attacks have to be resisted by all means possible. That is our starting point. However, where the bosses impose lay-offs upon a factory, and there is no alternative, it is the duty of activists to defend the workers’ organisation in the workplace. Any attempt to transfer labour should only be undertaken under the control of the trade unions. If there are lay-offs in a factory, then they should be carried out on the basis of non-unionists first, and then on the basis of seniority, i.e. last in, first out. Such a procedure will prevent the bosses from carrying through a policy of victimisation of trade union militants.
The great Marxists always had a principled position on this question. For instance, in Where is Britain Going? Trotsky explains that it was important to defend the organised workers in any factory. He even went so far as to propose that not only should non-unionists be expelled from the workplace, but even trade unionists who refused to pay the political levy to the Labour Party. He described the latter as political blacklegs, who should be treated as such. When we explained Trotsky’s position to Healy and Co., they weren’t able to answer the point. Of course, they still persisted in saying we were wrong, that we had abandoned the Transitional Programme and so on.
At that time, the American SWP had a similar position to us, putting forward the idea that if there had to be redundancies, we must protect the trade union organisation, and the non-unionists must be the first to go. This had been the tradition of both the American and of the British movement on the issue of sackings. But although the SWP had the same position as ourselves, in our debate with Healy, they kept absolutely silent. They allowed their stooges in Britain to run roughshod over this important elementary position, showing once again their Zinovievist approach to principled questions.
Healy was a highly suitable stooge for Cannon. He had neither principles nor scruples, but he was a good organiser. As we have seen, Healy’s intrigues and manoeuvres got him expelled from our organisation on several occasions On each occasion that Healy was expelled, we brought him back, in most cases against the wishes of the rank and file. A certain responsibility rests on Haston’s shoulders and mine for allowing him to return to the organisation. We recognised that Healy had organisational ability, which we wanted to harness for the movement, and we never took a personal attitude toward these questions. We were to pay a high price for such tolerance! Between 1944 and 1947, in his struggle with the RCP leadership, Healy must have raised at least a hundred different disagreements. He was not concerned about the issues themselves either from a theoretical or a practical point of view. He was just desperate to find some key issue upon which he could galvanise some support against us within the organisation. In all of this, Healy gave unconditional support to the International leadership, and was reciprocally supported by them in their fight to replace the leadership of the RCP.
Healy was especially encouraged and helped in his factional activity by his old friend Pierre Frank. Despite Trotsky’s stern warning to keep him out of the International, Frank had managed to find a modus vivendi with the IS and later with the SWP. He now found himself in the good books of the leadership. Incredibly, he began to play the role of a "theoretician" becoming the chief exponent of entrism internationally. This tactic was entirely incorrect at the time, but Healy latched on to it to see what kind of response he would get, with the full backing of the International Secretariat, needless to say. At first, Frank favoured the dissolution of the RCP into the ILP. So Healy took up the demand for our immediate entry into the ILP. I must say, when this was raised, it was greeted with a great laugh by most of the comrades. As explained earlier, we had political control of two divisions of the ILP in the North-east. When these comrades heard the proposal that the RCP should dissolve into the ILP they were absolutely horrified. Of course, none of these comrades were prepared to support such a fantastic notion.
Immediately after the war, the ILP leaders had applied for re-affiliation to the Labour Party. Their pacifist anti-war position had not resulted in the massive gains they anticipated. There was no big anti-war backlash. On the contrary, the overwhelming mass of the population fully supported the war, which they saw as a war against fascism. In many respects, the ILP was facing the same isolation during this period as the RCP. As a result of the measures of the Labour Government, reformist illusions within the working class were growing and being reinforced by their daily experience. Therefore, feeling the cold wind of reality, the ILP leaders wanted to go home to the Labour Party. Fenner Brockway raised the matter of the ILP’s affiliation to the Labour Party in discussions with Morrison. Apparently, Morrison told Brockway that the Labour Party needed a left wing. Labour’s right wing always needed a Left as a kind of shield against the anger of the working class. Morrison said he was in favour of the ILP’s affiliation to the Labour Party and was sure he could get a majority on the NEC - unless, of course, the ILP was seen as "Trotskyist", and in that case there would be no agreement.
To demonstrate that the ILP was not "Trotskyist" or revolutionary, Brockway arranged for our ILP comrades in Durham and Northumberland to be expelled on trumped-up charges. Unfortunately for Brockway, he found his plans to rejoin the Labour Party blocked by the sectarianism that had been fostered in the ranks of the ILP. Although he and the rest of the ILP leadership were anxious to get into the Labour Party, and Maxton and McGovan in particular didn’t want to lose their seats, the majority of the rank and file were opposed to re-affiliation. But Brockway and the rest were in too much of a hurry. Defeated over this issue, they couldn’t wait to get a majority. They simply jumped ship and entered the Labour Party. The anti-affiliationists, such as Ted Fletcher in the North East and Charles Lockland who was also an MP, held out for as long as they could. But they also felt the cold winds of the objective situation. So there was a process of slow disintegration, with one layer after another, breaking from the ILP and joining the Labour Party. The rump of the ILP simply vegetated on the fringes of the labour movement – an amalgam of reformism, sectarianism and centrism, living off the (considerable) resources inherited from the past.
The RCP now found itself in a very difficult position. The objective conditions had become very difficult. During the war thousands of trade unionists were reading the Socialist Appeal regularly. Possibly thousands of members of the Communist Party were also reading our material on a regular basis. However, the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands that we had influenced during the course of the war, now fell into indifference. They said: "The Labour Party is doing the job. The Labour Government is carrying through its programme. What need do we have for the RCP?" Naturally, the sales of the paper declined and we found ourselves with our backs against the wall. On the other hand, those Communist Party workers, who had looked towards us sympathetically in the past in spite of the lies of the leadership, now pointed to China, Eastern Europe, and to the glittering victories of Russia: "Your case is completely discredited", they said. "The Communist Party is carrying though the revolution; the Communist Party is a revolutionary party".
We were in one of those unfortunate positions, which had been described many times by Trotsky. In his writings of 1934-35, he explained that, although the Left Opposition in Russia in the ten years between 1923 and 1933, had a correct position on all the key questions, it was shattered on the basis of the objective situation. The Opposition was isolated and defeated because of the way events developed in Russia and internationally. Similarly the Bolshevik Party was near to collapse as a result of the defeat of the 1905 Russian Revolution. Between 1908 and 1910, the Bolsheviks were reduced to a tiny handful. The black period of reaction in Russia itself inevitably isolated and shattered the revolutionary movement. This explains the dialectical relationship between the objective situation and the subjective factor – the party and the leadership. As Trotsky explained in his article Fighting Against the Stream: "The masses are not educated by prognostic theoretical conception, but by general experiences of their lives. It is the most general explanation – the whole situation is against us. There must be a turn in the class realisation, in the sentiments, in the feelings of the masses; a turn which will give us the opportunity for a large political success." Again, "The current is against us, that is clear. I remember the period between 1906 and 1913 in Russia. There was also a reaction. In 1905 we had the workers with us – in 1908 and even in 1907 began the great reaction."
Although not experiencing a period of deep reaction as in 1908-10 in Russia, Britain was passing through an extremely difficult period that nevertheless, served to isolate the revolutionary forces. Under these conditions, it was a question of holding on to our forces, defending the fundamental ideas and raising the theoretical level of those people we could influence. It was inevitable that there would be a certain disappointment and disillusionment among comrades who had looked forward to a revolutionary development after the war. Instead of this, the old leadership of the working class had betrayed the revolution and the enormous pressures of reformism, Stalinism, and capitalism were bearing down upon our movement.
The RCP had no independent printing press during the war. The old treadle machine of the WIL had been destroyed by bombing in the war, and you couldn’t get a printing press for love nor money. We had tried to buy a press when we were flush with funds from the people who printed our paper. In fact, the proprietor had agreed to give us a 51 percent discount, but unfortunately his accountant had advised him against, so he turned us down. We were quite prepared to pay him a large amount of money at that time, but the chap refused, and we couldn’t budge him. Later on, we had no money anyway.
Our income was affected in many ways. Former wealthy sympathisers were no longer willing to give large sums of money. Sales of the paper and the WIN were dwindling. This added to the pressures on comrades, who found it more and more difficult to sell. We started to lose more comrades than we were recruiting. It was a period of retrenchment for our forces. "Towards the middle of the year", states The Party Organiser, "the Party was forced to retrench on the apparatus costs. In line with the general trend and drop in income after the war, the apparatus costs were out of proportion with the rate of growth and development of the organisation. Five professionals were taken off the pay-roll – two from the centre and three from the provincial areas." (September 1946) The circulation of the Socialist Appeal had dropped to around 10,000 copies per issue.
Although conditions were getting difficult, we still maintained our activity. We continued to make minor gains, no longer on the scale that we had made during the war. Nevertheless, we picked up the more thinking workers here and there. Between 1946 and 1947, the figures show we had gained 40 comrades and lost 48, giving us a membership of 336. There were 60 comrades in the Labour Party. In the organisational report to the national conference in 1947, we read: "Losses are recorded in Newcastle, Liverpool and Wales." The comrades were forced to cease publication of the WIN. The full-time professionals were: Ted Grant, Jock Haston, Heaton Lee (Wales), Roy Tearse (Glasgow), and George Smith (Business Manager). The unpaid professionals were Millie Lee, Tom Reilly, and George Nozeda.
I analysed the situation in an article comparing the Labour Government with the previous one in 1929-31, which was published in the Socialist Appeal in October 1947.
"The striking difference between the position in 1929 and the present", stated the article, "is that in the former case, powerful opposition developed within the Labour Party on home affairs, which assumed terrible urgency in the lives of the workers. In the previous Labour Government, the foreign policy was based on pacifist demagogy and was largely endorsed by the ’lefts’. What feeble opposition has developed in the Labour Party and Parliamentary Party today has been on the issue of foreign policy. But the opposition on foreign policy collapsed because of the weakness of British imperialism, which resulted in the forced withdrawal from India, partly from Egypt, and now the government declaration regarding its preparedness to withdraw from Palestine. Moreover, an opposition, while it is confined in the main to foreign affairs, cannot hope to attract the support of the broad masses away from the right wing. Thus, the right wing Labour leaders have been able, owing to Britain’s weakness, to pose as ’liberators’ of the colonial peoples with a ’socialist’ foreign policy as against the blatantly imperialist policy of Churchill and the previous Tory governments, and even the previous Labour Government.
"The policy of the Government on home affairs has been largely endorsed by the so-called opposition – a striking contrast to the situation in the Labour Party in the previous government. An instructive episode was the difference in attitude of the late James Maxton of the ILP, who welcomed enthusiastically the programme of the Third Labour Government and its suggested legislation.
"The collapse of the ’lefts’ at the past two conferences of the Labour Party since the formation of the Labour Government, especially the miserable and ignominious defeat at the last one, was not at all accidental but rooted in the objective development of events. In contrast to the previous Labour Governments, far from the lefts gaining in support, the present period has been marked even during the dollar crisis, by a strengthening of the right wing leadership in the Labour Party. It reflects the mass consciousness in the past two years. It is a law of development within the mass organisations of the working class, that left reformist or centrist currents develop on the basis of deep-seated opposition to the right wing leadership on the part of the rank and file. Currents of opposition within the Labour movement will not flourish without mass backing. The ’leaders’ are pushed from below by the pressure of the rank and file. It is thus that the processes in the country reflect themselves through the opportunist leaders inside parliament and within the mass movement. Where deep-seated processes of differentiation have not taken place, the ’opposition’ can only make the feeblest of gestures."
Only on the basis of huge events would the situation change. However, in the meantime, this difficult situation was having repercussions in our ranks. The so-called leadership of the International, and Healy in particular, were attempting to feed on the understandable mood of disappointment. As always, under such circumstances, some comrades began to look for miracles or some short cut to solve our problems and offer a way out of this impasse. Then Pierre Frank – the Molinierite of yesterday (who incidentally had the delusion that we would actually win the seat in the Neath by-election), gave Healy the idea of entry into the Labour Party.
Healy moves to a split
Having been decisively defeated in the organisation on all the other questions, Healy began to beat the drum for immediate entry into the Labour Party and, given the prevailing mood, began to get an echo on this question. This was especially the case among those sections of the tendency that were faltering and becoming increasingly tired and disillusioned. These layers began to see entry into the Labour Party as a magic solution and it began to gain certain support. In the North East, T. Dan Smith and a few other ILP people went over to Healy’s position. Smith was actually absorbed by the Labour Party, where he went to the right, gained a controlling position on the council and eventually achieved national notoriety in a huge corruption scandal. A similar process took place in a number of branches throughout the country. Those comrades who were worn out, and were in effect moving towards reformism, or even dropping out of the movement entirely, found in the slogan of Labour Party entry a golden excuse to pursue their inclinations. So, whereas Healy and his supporters had been a tiny minority in the past, for the first time he was now able to build a certain base inside the RCP.
We explained in the discussions that this position was entirely false. Examining the question objectively it was quite clear that the classic conditions for entry as laid down by Trotsky did not exist in any shape or form. These conditions were the development of a pre-revolutionary crisis, the capitalist regime in a blind alley, and the radicalisation of the working class. This would in turn reflect itself within the Labour Party as the development of a mass left wing, the growth of centrist tendencies, a weakening of the Labour bureaucracy, and the possibility of a rapid development of a revolutionary tendency. Of course, there had been a certain radicalisation preceding the election of the Labour Government, arising from the war, and just after the election, which stemmed from the measures that the Labour Government initially took. But this certainly was not the radicalisation Trotsky spoke of, and did not constitute even the beginnings of the classical conditions for entry into a reformist organisation.
The internal life of the party was at a very low ebb at this time. Rather than a party in the throes of crisis, the grip of reformism inside the Labour Party had been greatly increased. The Party was solidly in the grip of a right wing that was confident and moving forward. It was firmly controlled by a reinforced and strengthened bureaucracy. This was especially the case in the early post-war years. There were objective reasons for this. In contradiction to what we had predicted, the reformists, were actually carrying through reforms. From the standpoint of the Labour Party rank-and-file the reformist leadership appeared to be implementing a socialist programme of the nationalisation of the basic industries. Of course, as revolutionaries, we knew that the Government was only carrying through a certain re-organisation of the system in the interests of capitalism. Expressed in Marxist terms it was a programme of state capitalism. But this is not how the members and supporters of the Labour Party saw it.
The very first act of the Labour Government was to repeal the anti-trade union Trade Disputes Act of 1927, introduced by the Tories after the defeat of the General Strike. They also introduced the National Health Service which for the first time provided a universally free health service. In contrast to the great depression that preceded the war, there was full employment. Living standards were beginning to rise. These factors conditioned the outlook of the workers. Such was the credit extended by the working class to the Labour Government, that by 1948, both the TUC and the Labour Party Conferences had accepted without protest the need for "austerity" to assist the Government, including a wage freeze.
Knowing this to be the case, Healy and the others attempted to dress things up, presenting a completely false perspective and going from one mistake to another. Healy now maintained that the conditions for entrism would quickly develop as Britain was facing immediate slump, mass unemployment, and so on. The Healy faction spoke of the situation as if it was the beginning of the end of capitalism and the last crisis of capitalism. They echoed all the stupid arguments of the Stalinists in the "social-fascist" period. Mirroring the arguments of Mandel and Pablo, Healy really believed that we were in a classical slump. When the fuel crisis hit Britain, they repeated the same things, saying it was the end of capitalism. We had to explain to them that the fuel crisis was only temporary, and that in fact it was caused by a lack of fuel, precisely as a result of the expansion of the economy. This was clearly the opposite of what they were arguing – not a crisis of over-production, but a crisis of under-production. Britain at that time was certainly not experiencing the capitalist crisis that Marx spoke of!
Despite this, Healy wrote a document in the middle of 1946 saying that Britain was on the edge of an economic disaster:
"In Britain itself there has been an absolute and relative decline in the conditions of industry, a deterioration of the productive apparatus and a fall in the productivity of labour, with the exception of the war industries – aviation, engineering, shipbuilding and chemicals, etc...
"From this it is evident that British capitalism is on the edge of an abyss... the carefully patched-up internal economy will collapse into either uncontrolled inflation or later, when the competition relates to world price values, into equally disastrous deflation...
"Our perspectives must be based upon the developing crisis which will exceed in scope and magnitude the depression that set in during the winter of 1920."
The "theoreticians" of the International backed up this ridiculous view. Ernest Mandel is apparently regarded as an expert on Marxist economics, on account of a very bad book on the subject that he wrote some years ago. In fact, Mandel was a vulgar eclectic with an extremely superficial grasp of Marxist economics and Marxism in general. This will immediately become evident to anyone who takes the trouble to read what he wrote over the years, beginning with the period we are considering here.
In reply to the RCP leadership, Mandel wrote that "in the period of capitalist decadence British Industry can no longer overgrow the state of revival and attain one of real boom." There was "at most a boom in some isolated industries which does not determine the general aspect of the economy", and that "the situation of the British economy is not that of a boom if one wishes to give this term the significance that Marxists have always given to it." The history of the last fifty-five years has dealt rather harshly with his remark that "if the comrades of the RCP majority were to take their own definition seriously, they would logically conclude that we are confronting a ’boom’ in ALL CAPITALIST EUROPE, because in all these countries production is ’expanding’". This shows how shallow this great Marxist "economist" really was when dealing with real process, despite his later economic tomes.
At the time, all the International leaders were peddling this line. Closing their eyes to reality, they obstinately refused to admit that capitalism had entered into a phase of economic upswing. In the IS Pre-Conference resolution, they stated that "this restoration of economic activity in the capitalist countries hit by the war, and in particular in the countries on the European continent, will be characterised by its particularly slow rhythm and these countries will thus remain on a level approaching stagnation and slump."
The only ones who resolutely opposed this position was the leadership of the British section. In an amendment on economic perspectives to the World Congress, drafted by myself, the RCP explained that
"the argument of the comrades of the American SWP, which has been echoed by the Minority of the British Party, that only after the proletariat has been decisively defeated would American imperialism give loans to assist the recovery of Western European capitalism, has already been demonstrated to be a false one. The proletariat has not been defeated, but loans have already been granted. Equally false is the argument that only if the proletariat is decisively defeated can economic recovery and revival take place. Such an argument lumps together political-economic problems visualising an immediate reflection of one upon the other.
"Undoubtedly, a decisive defeat of the proletariat gives the bourgeoisie stability and confidence. But unless the economic pre-conditions for a boom are present, a boom would not necessarily follow even in that event. It is not a law of the development of capitalism that only the defeat of the proletariat in a revolutionary situation can lead to a boom, any more than a slump automatically leads to a revolution. History teaches us that capitalism, even in its death agony, recovers after a slump, despite the revolutionary possibilities, if the proletariat is paralysed or weakened by its organisations and rendered incapable of taking advantage of its possibilities...
We also stated in the amendment that "apart from these political considerations, there are laws of capitalism which themselves ensure the upswing of economy and make a new ’boom’ inevitable. Particularly in view of the fact that this crisis is not a crisis of over-production and that the capitalists are not being attacked in Western Europe by the mass organisations, but receive the direct assistance and support of social democracy and Stalinism a cyclical upswing is inevitable." (WIN, Nov-Dec 1946)
Healy discovered economic crisis and mass unemployment at a time of full employment in Britain. He actually argued that in order to deal with mass unemployment in Britain, the government was setting up factories in Wales to build alarm clocks so that the unemployed would wake up in time to sign on the dole! Of course, it was all nonsense. The purpose of it was to convince people that a crisis was imminent and that therefore the conditions for entry would be present.
In the same way, they also tried to discover a phantom left wing in the Labour Party. When some semi-fellow traveller in the Labour Party got through a resolution about foreign policy, they made a big fuss: "there look, there’s the left wing". In answer, we explained that this was an anecdote, and entirely without importance. Our comrades in the Labour Party - and we had far more than Healy’s minority – were asked to give us concrete evidence of any left developments within the party. As Trotsky had suggested, the time for entry will be shown by the people that you already have inside the party. They would give you a realistic picture according to the results they were achieving, and in the mood that existed.
When we asked these comrades in the Labour Party to report on the situation, they unanimously held the opinion that the time was not right. In the report to the 1946 RCP conference, our Labour Party fraction stated "gains in this sphere have been negligible. Our Labour Party faction paper Militant has found no echo inside the Labour Party, and reflecting the situation within the Labour Party expresses no live movement within it’" And this was also the opinion of the former Harberites, who were very keen to develop this work. There was nothing much happening in the Labour Party, and no left wing developing at that stage. So on all accounts, the time was not ripe to enter.
However, this cut no ice with the minority. Healy had the support of a minority – perhaps 20 percent of the organisation. Of these, however, a layer went out of the movement very quickly. T. Dan Smith was one of them. Healy could count on the support of 60 or 70 people out of around 350 RCP members. Healy’s minority convinced very few industrial workers. He mainly attracted the more middle class elements in our ranks – the typical weathercocks of the party. Under difficult conditions, they were dropping away from the movement and they found a way out in their support for Healy’s entrist platform.
The RCP was an extremely democratic party with a healthy internal regime. We did not fear differences but made use of them to educate the membership. For two years or so – from 1945 to 1947 – the conferences of the RCP had conducted full and exhaustive debates on a series of questions, and in particular on entry. Regular bulletins were published covering all the political positions. We had six to eight weeks of intensive discussion before every conference, as well as access to the internal bulletin on disputed questions. These should be reprinted at some stage. They are of great importance historically and essential for the education of the newer comrades in the history of our movement.
Throughout the whole of 1946, the International was pressing the RCP leaders to enter the Labour Party. At the June International Executive Committee (IEC) a resolution was passed urging the British section to concentrate our forces within the Labour Party. The only people to vote against this proposal at the IEC were the RCP comrades. Once again they pressed us in early 1947 to dissolve the RCP and enter the Labour Party. They were backing the Healy minority all the way along the line. In the middle of the year Healy’s supporters stated that if they failed to get a majority for entry, they would urge the International to split the British section and allow the minority to enter the Labour Party under their own discipline. The RCP leadership correctly saw this as an ultimatum and a threat to split the organisation. Our conference, which had a further discussion on the question of entry, opposed this attempted split. Positions were now entrenched and Healy failed to gain any further adherents. The factions were set and we had the overwhelming majority of the organisation supporting us – some 80 percent of the tendency. Despite the support of the International and the difficulties we faced in Britain Healy still failed to convince a majority of his position.
At the conference, we decided that we had had a full and free discussion for two years on the question of entry. It had been an exhaustive discussion and that there was no more to be said on the question for the time being. We therefore moved a resolution at the conference that the question was now closed. The discussion could only be opened again in the internal bulletin or at the following conference, when, of course, all questions were open for discussion. Healy and the others opposed this and voted against it. But it was overwhelmingly carried by the conference.
It was clear that the support for Healy had reached its peak. They weren’t going to win anybody else and feared that their existing support would melt away if they remained within the organisation. It was only the Labour Party issue that gave them a basis. This was Healy’s last opportunity. There was no better time to act. So Healy raised the question of a split. No doubt pre-planned, the IS intervened to back the Healy minority. Healy, now with the open support of the International, wanted to carry through the "international policy" of entrism. He demanded the separation of his tendency from the organisation. Against our wishes, and against the statutes of the International, the IS decided to separate the two organisations under the guidance of the International. Eventually, under protest, the RCP leadership had no alternative but to accept this fact as a fait accompli. The RCP majority accurately described this action as "a disgraceful manoeuvre to get rid of the democratically elected leadership of a section of the Fourth International."
The International supported Healy’s plan for his faction to enter the Labour Party under their own banner, with their own discipline, and as a recognised official section of the International. They were to be rewarded for what they had done in later years, when Healy would turn against them, but for the time being they were united with Healy against the Haston-Grant leadership. So in October 1947 Healy and his tendency entered the Labour Party, while the RCP carried on the construction of a revolutionary party independently. "After the split took place", according to one of the leading members of Healy’s group, "we were instructed to break off all personal relations with supporters of the majority!" This was an indication of what was to come later. The split-off group began to operate the policy known as "deep entrism", or liquidationism, functioning clandestinely within the Labour Party, concealing their ideas and referring to themselves only as "The Club".
In a certain sense, the departure of the Minority was greeted with great relief. We could now concentrate on building the movement free from factional activity. A thorn had been removed from our side – or so we thought. But the removal of the Minority did not change the fact that the objective situation both nationally and internationally was adverse to the building of a revolutionary tendency. Despite all our efforts we became further isolated from the working class, as illusions in the Labour government became more widespread. Of course, there were times when we would intervene in the class struggle and give a lead. There were times when we succeeded in connecting with the workers, but these successes were becoming less and less frequent. We felt ourselves getting boxed in.
Marxism and the unions
Despite all the problems, we intervened in the class struggle wherever we could – for example, in the strike in the London docks in June 1948. The union (Transport and General Workers) was under the control of the right wing. Therefore, this was a spontaneous rank and file unofficial strike. Contrary to the ultra-left attitude of the sects in strikes, we went to the dockers offering some basic class assistance and advice. We got a friendly response from the workers, who appreciated our help. Disgusted at the role of the right wing leadership of the union, thousands of dockers in all the ports were prepared to tear up their union cards. Some raised the idea of a new breakaway dockers’ union, as some kind of panacea to the problems that they faced.
We explained to any militants who would listen to us that such a road would be disastrous for the union and the workers. They should remain and fight within the ranks of the union and try to change it. They had to attend their official union meetings and their branches and start to organise an opposition that could challenge the rule of the right wing. Difficult as that might be, we told them, it was the only real way forward. If they split away from the union, they would separate the more advanced militant layers of the union from the more backward layers. This would then leave the union in the grip of the right wing. In fact it would consolidate their hold on the union. This had always been the classic position of Marxism on this question. Lenin explained this in his book Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder. After a period of discussions with the workers and shop stewards, we managed to convince these activists of the correctness of our position.
Incidentally, a few years later, in 1954, the Healyites took the completely opposite stance. Unbelievably, they urged the dockers to leave the Transport and General Workers Union and join the so-called "Blue" Union, the NASDU. This proved disastrous, as we warned at the time. It resulted in the spread of non-unionism on the docks. The NASDU ended up on the right and was eventually absorbed into the TGWU in 1973. The same insane tactics seem to be a constant feature in the conduct of ultra left elements in the unions. Thus, in 1970 the Cliff group urged workers in the Pilkingtons Glass factory to leave the General and Municipal Workers Union, which was under the control of the rightwing, and create their own Glass Workers Union. This also ended in disaster and many workers were victimised as a result of this debacle. These sectarians never learn, and they do a great deal of damage wherever they are able to get a toe-hold in the workers’ movement.
The dock strike revealed the mood in the trade union movement towards the Labour Government at that time. The strike had the sympathy of the majority of the working class. Despite the fact that the dockers – thanks to their organisation and militancy – were among the highest paid workers, there was complete solidarity from other workers. Yet when the Labour Government sent troops into the docks to break the strike and introduced a state of emergency, there were no protests within the Labour movement – except the ones that we tried to organise. This was something that would have been unthinkable under the 1924 or 1929-31 Labour Governments. It showed the different atmosphere that now prevailed. The workers had great illusions in the Labour Government. They could be critical of the government, but the overwhelming majority still believed in it. They regarded it as their Labour Government. So the workers were not prepared to oppose the actions of the government. Even when the government sent the troops into the docks as strike-breakers, there was no question of sympathetic strike action from other sections of the working class.
The situation had changed, and we had a hard period in front of us. How long this would last was impossible to say, maybe a year or two, maybe longer. We certainly never expected it to last 25 years! In any case, we were caught between hammer and anvil – squeezed by the reformists on the one hand, and the Stalinists on the other. The period 1947-49 was also one of the Chinese Revolution. Although it was carried through in a distorted and deformed manner, the revolution in China nevertheless further increased the prestige of the Stalinists. True, the CP also faced difficulties arising from the successes of the Labour Government, but they could bask under the glow of the victories of the Red Army and the achievements of the Stalinists internationally. They regarded themselves as part of an international movement that was registering huge successes in China, Eastern Europe and so on.
At that time, the prestige of the Soviet Union was colossal. So they latched even more slavishly onto the strength of the USSR, which served to sustain them. They had also managed to gain two MPs in the 1945 General Election, Gallacher and Piratin, which was a high point for the Communist Party on the parliamentary plane. At this time, as the Cold War was developing apace, the support they had built up in the Labour Party was largely undermined. The CP had a number of fellow-travellers in the Parliamentary Labour Party – about 18 MPs who were either secret members of the CP or very close to the Party. But they were drastically weakened by their attempt to defend Russian foreign policy. A witch-hunt was launched against the CP within the Labour Party and the trade unions, and a number were expelled for various reasons. This included MPs such as John Platts Mills, Zilliacus, Solley, Lester Hutchinson and DN Pritt. Not only these, but a whole series of other leading people and activists in the Labour Party up and down the country were expelled. This again showed the strong position that the bureaucracy had in the Labour Party.
It is true that after 1947, the first cracks began to appear in the edifice of the Attlee government, coinciding with the beginning of counter-reforms. There was talk of ’austerity’ and the first cautious attacks on the working class. At first, these attacks were not considered serious by the labour movement, which saw them as temporary setbacks in the forward march of the Labour Government. Later, the Attlee Government introduced certain charges in the National Health Service, which provoked the resignation of Nye Bevan and Harold Wilson from the government. This served to strengthen the support for Bevan and the other Lefts, and they succeeded in getting themselves elected to Labour’s National Executive Committee. Bevan was regarded increasingly as the leader of the Left at this time. Nevertheless, the Left was still very weak. It represented the first rumblings of discontent within the Party. But it certainly did not represent the development of a mass left wing inside the Labour Party, as the Healy group maintained.
The betrayal of the Stalinists and reformists had provided the political preconditions for the revival of capitalism. In Britain, the Labour Government saved capitalism. In Italy and France, the Stalinists played the same role by entering the coalition governments. This effectively eliminated the threat of socialist revolution, provided a valuable breathing space, and allowed, at least in the west, a certain period of social stability. The temporary rehabilitation of western capitalism by the United States was serving to stabilise the situation. Based on huge investments from the United States, there was an enormous development of productive forces taking place in America, Japan, and in Western Europe generally. Capitalism throughout Europe was experiencing a new lease of life.
In the colonial world it was a completely different picture. The Chinese Revolution was reverberating throughout the continent of Asia. The struggle of the colonial peoples unleashed the greatest movement of social and national liberation in history. The struggle against British imperialism in India reached such a peak, that the British were forced to beat a hasty retreat, but not before dividing the living body of India and killing over a million people in the process. In Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, Trotskyism built a mass following. In contrast to the rest of the Communist movement, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party expelled the Stalinists from its ranks at the beginning of the war.
After their heroic struggle against British imperialism, the LSSP became the dominant working class party. In 1939, they affiliated to the Fourth International, which provided the International with a mass party. The leadership of the LSSP looked to the International for support and guidance. However, over time they became increasingly disillusioned with the false policies and antics of the International leadership. The seeds of the reformist degeneration of the LSSP, present at this stage, were accentuated by the inability of the international leadership to intervene. This was to constitute a great tragedy for Trotskyism in the Indian Sub-continent. A great part of the responsibility for this development lay with the International leadership, which was not prepared to analyse the situation or its mistakes made in the period 1945-1949.
Trotskyism had also developed a mass following in Indo-China. However, there the movement faced a crushing defeat at the hands of the Stalinists. In late 1945, with the end of the War, the Stalinists seized power in the north under Ho Chi-Minh. The Vietnamese Trotskyists were labelled counterrevolutionaries and brutally massacred by the Stalinist regime. When British troops landed in Saigon, the Stalinist chief of police, Duong bach Mai, rounded up all the Trotskyists at gunpoint. "Having carried out this operation", says Lu sanh Hanh, leader of the LIC, "Tran van Giau, with the agreement of the government in the north, ordered the systematic killing of all Trotskyist elements in the country. Tran van Thach, Ta thu Thau, Phan van Hum and dozens of other revolutionary militants were murdered in circumstances that, to this day, have not been properly established."
In the underdeveloped countries, as a result of the weakness of the revolutionary forces and because of the paralysis of Stalinism and reformism, the revolution did not take place in the classical fashion as in Russia in 1917. Even the mighty Chinese Revolution, the second greatest revolution in history, could not be a pole of attraction for workers in the West because of the deformed way in which it had taken place, and the totalitarian system that had been installed. It was predominantly a peasant movement, and the workers played no independent role in it. Without this there could be no workers’ democracy and the movement towards socialism in China. Based on the image of Moscow, the revolution was deformed from the very beginning. As a consequence, it had no great rallying effect on the working class in the advanced industrial countries, particularly in Britain. Thus, on an international scale, the forces of Trotskyism were extremely isolated in this period where capitalism was able to consolidate itself and Stalinism also emerged enormously strengthened.
Weakness of the Left
This situation provided the bourgeoisie with a new lease of confidence. Despite the losses they sustained in Eastern Europe and South Asia, they had managed, with the help of the Stalinists and reformists, to stabilise the situation. The confidence of the bourgeois in their system was also reflected inside the British labour movement, with the strengthening of right wing of reformism. This was later shown by the crushing domination of the Gaitskellites - the Neanderthal right wing, as I baptised them – in the Labour and trade union movement. They contemptuously referred to Marxism as an old-fashioned doctrine left over from the Victorian era. In actual fact, it was the ideas of the reformists that were pre-Marxian. They had already been answered by Marx 120 years previously. But since these ignoramuses who criticised Marx had never read a single line of his, how could they be expected to know this?
The Neanderthal rightwing had big support within the Labour Party and the trade unions. We were entering the long period of domination of the British trade union movement by extreme right wingers like Deakin, Lawther and Carron. Even the Bevanite Left was pretty muted and weak. It had support in the local Labour Parties, but did not represent any tidal movement towards the left. It was a weak and very irresolute tendency. It stood on a far lower political level than the pre-war Lefts in the Labour Party. They could not be compared to leaders like Jimmy Maxton. Even if you compare the speeches of Stafford Cripps and the Socialist League before the war, you will see that they were on a much higher level than the Bevanite Left in the post-war period.
With no mass left wing in the Labour Party the Healyites, despite all their illusions, found a very cool atmosphere within the Party. John Lawrence, who had now returned to the Minority, had made a mess of the position in Wales. From the fifty-odd members that we had there at our height after the successes of the Neath by-election, the RCP had dwindled. This was partly the objective situation, and partly because of Lawrence’s own incapacity to stand up against the pressures. He complained about the lack of possibilities, and had delusions about speaking to mass movements as in the good old days of the Neath election. But instead we were reduced to a tiny movement that held small meetings in Neath every Sunday. The crowds that originally wanted to hear what we had to say had melted away. Over a period, Lawrence reduced the organisation in Wales to a shambles.
We understood that times were difficult, and that losses were inevitable, but we could at least hold the majority of our forces together until things improved. We had succeeded in consolidating the tendency nationally on the basis of Marxist education and sober perspectives and a practical explanation of the situation. We inoculated the best of our worker comrades against the pressures, and so in most areas, we had kept our forces relatively intact in the period 1947-1949.
When the Minority entered the Labour Party, they adopted a completely opportunist position. "Healy was arguing in favour of comrades concealing their political views, and the main job of comrades was to get into positions in the Labour Party, trade unions, etc., and keep one’s political position as dark as possible’" relates Ellis Hillman, a supporter of Healy at the time, who later broke with him and came over to us. Instead of growing, as they had expected, the Healyite organisation was suffering from stagnation and going through a crisis. From the bits and pieces of information we got, the Healyites were in the doldrums. They had no publication of their own, and were floundering in their efforts to recruit to their tendency. Despite all their boasts about a mass left wing in the Labour Party, they hadn’t got the results that they had expected.
Of course, Healy and Co. tried to put the responsibility for their failings onto the shoulders of the RCP. They accused us of obstructing their work, and so on. All of which was complete nonsense. They complained that our Labour Party comrades were deliberately blocking and undermining their work in the Party. So Healy complained bitterly to his supporters in the International leadership. He cynically manipulated and used the International for his own ends, whereas the International leadership, of course, imagined that they were manipulating Healy. As a result, we had a visit from one of Pablo’s faithful henchmen, Jacques Privas. He was one of the leaders of the French Trotskyists and also a member of the IS. He came to see us at our headquarters at Harrow Road. He arrived on the scene inquiring about Healy’s complaints against the RCP leadership and their allegations that we were destroying their work. We could see straight away that it was just a set-up. We told him we had no interest in the Healyites or their Labour Party work. We were certainly not interested in "fingering them" to the bureaucracy and the rest of it, as they had also claimed. We scrupulously avoided even mentioning the Healy group in our public material. We let them carry on with their own devices, and we carried on with ours. But as Healy was in difficulties, he tried to put the responsibility on our shoulders.
Privas, as we expected, believed Healy’s story. Then he dropped his bombshell. He told us that he had an ultimatum from the IS. Unless we were prepared to withdraw our forces from the Labour Party, or place our forces in the Labour Party under Healy’s control, the International would be forced to reconsider our whole position as an official section of the International. He was simply holding a gun to our head. This was a position that we could not accept. This whole business was having a demoralising effect, especially on Jock Haston, who became disorientated by the experience.
 Reply to David James, 1948.
 See RCP Internal Bulletin, 4 August 1946.
 Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, p.252.
 H. Finch, G. Healy, J. Goffe and J. Lawrence, The Turn to Mass Work, 17 July 1946, in Internal Bulletin of the RCP. pp.1-6, quoted in War and the International, p.189.
 Quoted in War and the International, p.190.
 Quoted in WIN, Nov-Dec 1946.
 The Party Organiser, No. 8, September 1946, p.7.
 Ratner, op. cit., p.123.
 Ngo Van, Revolutionaries They Could not Break, London 1995, p.162.
 Quoted in War and the International, p. 210.