Part three: Marking Our Mark – The Revolutionary Communist Party
As a result of the fusion, the Revolutionary Communist Party was founded in March 1944. At this founding conference, all the factions were allowed to put their case. Firstly, we discussed the question of the proletarian military policy, moved by myself. Harber, and then Robinson put forward their positions, but were heavily defeated. Haston moved the resolution on entrism, which was opposed by John Archer and Robinson, but won by an overwhelming majority. Tearse then moved the industrial resolution that was passed with only the "Left" voting against. Finally, the present author moved the WIL perspectives document, The World Revolution and the Tasks of the Working Class. Again only the "Left" were opposed.
After a debate, the name Revolutionary Communist Party was chosen. Following elections to the Central Committee, all factions, except the Left faction of Robinson, which soon split from the party, announced their dissolution. Arthur Cooper got up as a speaker for the Trotskyist Opposition and said: "We have absolutely no political differences whatsoever with the leadership". And this was true at that time; there were no political differences. He concluded, "therefore, we can’t continue as a faction and so we’re dissolving the faction." This remark was greeted with laughter and jeers on the part of the delegates. The comrades had known these people for a number of years and knew the value of such speeches. Mangan, the representative of the International Secretariat, and a stooge of Cannon, stood up, holding up his hands in holy horror: "Comrades," he pontificated, "when good comrades give an undertaking like this, it is unprecedented that they should be treated in this way." Of course, we just laughed and left it at that. Nobody even bothered to reply.
Although the conference had taken very clear decisions, we didn’t force everybody into line. We were never advocates of the "big stick" approach of Cannon, but were always flexible in internal Party affairs. Those who had been in the Labour Party could remain in the Labour Party for the time being. We wouldn’t insist that they leave the Labour Party. On the contrary, we said they should participate in our LP fraction, which in any case had two or three times as many members in the Labour Party as the RSL had! Although they styled themselves the "Labour Party fraction" they had collapsed, for reasons I’ve already explained, whereas we had developed a modest base in the Labour Party in certain areas. Thus, even though we were overwhelmingly outside the Labour Party, we had succeeded with our methods where the others had failed. As long as the official position was put publicly, we accepted that these opposition comrades had the right to hold their views, continue their activity, and publish articles in the internal bulletins if they so wished.
Despite all the talk about "unity", that very same night Sherry Mangan held a secret faction meeting in his room in the Dorchester hotel. Present at the meeting was John Lawrence, Gerry Healy, John Goffe and Arthur Cooper – the leaders of the Trotskyist Opposition. And what was the purpose of this gathering? It was to decide how best to get rid of the ’anti-internationalist’ leadership of the RCP, headed by Haston and Grant. Without a single political difference they were already organising an anti-leadership clique, because that is what it amounted to. Hand-in-glove with Cannon, they wanted to get rid of a leadership that had demonstrated its viability, and political correctness during the course of the war and had demonstrated that it could build a real Trotskyist movement. We had shown in practice that we were conducting possibly the most effective wartime revolutionary work of any Trotskyist organisation. But they weren’t concerned with that. They were only concerned with settling personal scores. Lenin once remarked there is nothing more destructive in politics than spite.
During the war, Cannon had developed a swelled head. After the death of Trotsky, he and the other SWP leaders thought that they must control the International movement, as they had controlled the American Trotskyist movement. They therefore needed pliable people who would follow their line. They had forgotten that with these methods, the methods of Zinoviev, and later the methods of Stalin, they would build nothing. They had forgotten the main principle that Lenin had tried to teach Bukharin: that if you demand unconditional obedience from the different tendencies within the International, you will get obedient fools. Not only that, but – as we predicted in relation to Cannon and CLR James – when it comes to the first big conflict, the stooges will end up on the opposite side of their erstwhile "Leader". That actually happened with the SWP on a number of occasions.
In the 1938 unity negotiations prior to the Founding World Congress, Cannon had brought over with him a couple of young comrades from the youth organisation of the SWP, Frank Denby and Nathan Gould. We predicted at the time that the cynical manoeuvres of Cannon would have a bad effect on these youngsters, who would be completely mis-educated and start to behave in a similar fashion. We predicted that at the first serious test of opposition, they would come into collision with Cannon. And that is how it turned out. Gould entered into a bloc with Shachtman against Cannon and became a leader of the rival American Workers Party. In Britain, we saw that Cannon was spawning a monster in the person of Healy. Although Healy became an obedient tool of Cannon and Pablo, ending up as a complete political zombie and quizling, we predicted that he would come into violent opposition and the 100 percent support would turn into 100 percent opposition. As we know, after a period, that is what happened.
We deliberately took the name of the Revolutionary Communist Party – in complete contrast to the strike-breaking patriotic "Communist" Party. We wanted to contrast the genuine unblemished revolutionary programme of Trotskyism with the criminal role of Stalinism. The RCP had begun on a firm basis, continuing the revolutionary tradition of the WIL. Haston was elected general secretary of the RCP, and I was made the political secretary. Five-sixths of our membership were working class. We had a tried and tested leadership, and we had no real political rivals. It seemed that the future of our tendency and the future of the working class was assured. On the surface of it, we had solved all the problems of factionalism. We had become the official section of the Fourth International in Britain. We could now turn our attention to the really important task of building the movement. It seemed as if the situation was very favourable, and we could now begin to move forward at a rapid pace.
After the formation of the RCP, we took out a lease on a new headquarters in 256 Harrow Road, again in Paddington. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to buy it and we didn’t have a printing press. But it marked a new step forward and a new beginning for the RCP. In the Harrow Road office, we had a meeting hall that we used for party meetings. We had separate rooms for all the full-timers and some of the full-time comrades actually lived in the premises, including myself. Of course, the wages of our professionals were very small. We were earning less than one pound a week in the early stages of the war, which later went up to thirty bob and even the princely sum, in the last years of the RCP, of about ’2 and 10 shillings, which was just about enough to live on.
As an amusing aside, in the early days of the RCP, the "Left" John Robinson used to say that he slept on the floor in the East End of London, and that all revolutionaries should do the same, as that is how workers lived. Well, I do not know about the workers, but we were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor in 256 Harrow Road, not by choice, but because we didn’t have the money to buy furniture! It certainly wasn’t a question of so-called working-class credentials. Of course, we had Cliff Stanton of the old RSL, who became a very successful businessman, who in those days used to go round saying that he didn’t take a bath, because the workers do not bath! That was the type of people who were in the old RSL – middle-class elements who had a completely false and lumpen-proletarian view of the working class.
The apprentices’ strike
There was a serious shortage of coal, reflecting the lack of investment of the coal owner for a period of decades and an aging workforce. In an attempt to solve the problem in 1943 the government introduced what was known as the "Bevin boys" – a system whereby a body of young men chosen by ballot from those conscripted to serve in the army would instead be sent to the mines. This was extremely unpopular, and was aggravated by the bad conditions that the young apprentices had to put up with. The discontent surfaced in the Tyneside apprentices’ strike.
In March 1944, in the middle of the founding conference of the RCP, 100,000 miners went on strike. Haston wrote a front-page article for the Socialist Appeal: 100,000 Miners Can’t be Wrong – Horner Selling Out. Almost within a matter of months, we had a new industrial upsurge, which reflected a new mood developing not only in the working class, but also within the army. First of all, we had the apprentices’ strike in the engineering and shipbuilding industries, and particularly in the shipbuilding on Tyneside. They were striking over the introduction of the Bevin ballot scheme for conscripting youth into the coalmines. We intervened in this strike of apprentices and helped to spread it nationally. It took on a widespread character, but was especially solid in Newcastle and in the Tyneside area.
Of course, our comrades, led by Heaton Lee and Ann Keen, gave them support and assistance, and even provided important guidance to the strike through Bill Davy, the apprentices’ leader. Roy Tearse explained:
"The first contact with Bill Davy had been made by the members of Workers International League on Tyneside. It was purely a political contact at first. Bill was a political animal, at that time he was in the YCL as well as being an apprentice in industry, and the first contact that was made, was made by the comrades in Newcastle, like Heaton Lee, Jack Rawlings and so on. My first contact was really through them. By this time the apprentices’ committee had been formed, Bill had become chairman of the apprentices’ committee, and a possibility of a strike was in the offing. But once having made contact as secretary of the Militant Workers Federation that this meant an important link was being established. For instance, I was invited to speak to meetings of apprentices in Sunderland and elsewhere, and so the Militant Workers Federation, fairly rapidly had a considerable influence. What we were able to do as well, was that the apprentices on the Clydeside, with whom we were in contact at the same time. We put them in touch with the Tyneside people, also there were people in Huddersfield and elsewhere and so the Militant Workers Federation really had some effect in connecting these people together."
As the strike spread, the actions of the apprentices were gaining enormous sympathy amongst the older engineers in Tyneside and throughout the engineering industry. With this, the Tories and their kept press were screaming about the effects of Trotskyist agitators in the dispute. The Home Secretary, Morrison, was under pressure from the Tories to take action against these "subversives".
As always, the mouthpieces for the ruling class attempted to blame so-called subversives for the developing militancy in the working class. So, true to form, the Special Branch, MI5, swung into action, using all the information they had gathered by phone tapping, spying and the like. In the early hours of the morning, simultaneously, in a military operation, every important RCP branch in the country was raided: London, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Wallsend, Glasgow, Leeds, and elsewhere. Even smaller branches were raided. The homes of branch secretaries had visits by police at two and three in the morning and were searched from top to bottom. The police were looking in particular for documents, or any incriminating evidence that could be used in a trial of RCP leaders. Heaton Lee, the local RCP branch secretary, and Ann Keen who was also in Newcastle, were arrested. Then Roy Tearse, who was the industrial organiser of the Party, was picked up. Jock Haston, who was deeply involved in the strike, was in Edinburgh at the time on a lecture tour.
Haston knew they were looking for him when the news came on the radio and decided to play a little game of hide-and-seek with the police. So he managed to dodge them and went to a cinema to hide out. As the police searched all around Edinburgh for him, he was watching a show. In the meantime, they raided his mother’s house, as well as the house of the Edinburgh branch secretary. Haston waited in the cinema until the evening. After that, he went and gave himself up at a police station with witnesses to show that it had been entirely voluntary. This was important from the point of view of possibly getting bail in the future.
Those arrested were all charged with evading the provisions of the Trades Disputes Acts of 1927, and of assisting an illegal strike. It was the very first time that this piece of vicious anti-labour movement legislation, brought in by Baldwin after the defeat of the General Strike, had been used - and scandalously used by a Labour minister into the bargain. The action was taken by the Coalition government, in which Herbert Morrison was Home Secretary. When the Tory Stanley Baldwin pushed through the Trade Disputes, he laid the onus for any action on the Attorney General. No prosecution could be taken without his permission. Of course, he would have to get clearance from the Cabinet before invoking any powers. Baldwin made sure that if the legislation was to be used, it could only be implemented with the say-so of the government.
While these arrests and attacks on our organisation rained down, our ranks stayed absolutely firm. They had been well trained and well prepared to meet these difficulties head on. There was not a single defection from the old comrades of the WIL. The majority of the old RSL membership that still remained active, also remained firm. However, there were some resignations from amongst the ex-members of the RSL. These great people of "revolutionary" principles tended to run for cover at the first shot. Ironically those defections were from the same r-r-revolutionaries, who had this intransigent policy of "revolutionary defeatism", and not at all from the ranks of the "chauvinist" Workers International League.
With the Tory anti-union laws being used against us, we immediately set up an Anti Labour Laws’ Victims Defence Committee. We got in touch with Maxton, McGovern and the other ILP MPs, and through them with Nye Bevan, SO Davies and the Labour left. We succeeded in setting up a solidarity committee to raise support and money for the defence of our comrades. At the launch meeting in Conway Hall, London, there were speeches by WG Cove MP, John McGovern MP, V. Sastry, the RCP Midlands organiser, James Maxton MP, and myself. Although some of the Labour leaders, and even the left Labour leaders, supported the war, they sympathised with our support of the apprentices’ struggle. Despite this, we proceeded from the contradictions of reformism and of left reformism, and sought to drive a wedge between them and the bourgeois, between them and the capitalist state. We had no puritanical ultra-left qualms about this question.
The Anti-Labour Laws Defence Committee and its campaign had an immediate success within the trade union and Labour movement. Thousands of pounds were collected to fight our case and to pay for the legal defence. We conducted a campaign above all within the trade union movement, sending speakers around as many branches and shop stewards committees as possible. We circulated nationally all the trade union branches we could reach, which amounted to thousands of branches, and the support and money actually poured in. It was quite significant that the Stalinists within these branches had to keep their mouths firmly shut when this question came up, otherwise, they would have received short shrift from the workers. It was extremely difficult for them to oppose our class appeal and come out with their poison about fascism and all the rest of it. Even the Daily Worker after initial stories about "saboteurs" had to tread carefully. This didn’t stop the Labour MP, DN Pritt, QC, a Stalinist fellow traveller, and the other hardened Stalinists howling for our blood. "As for Grant", snarled the Daily Worker, "all he knows about the British working class movement in his native city, could be put on the back of a penny stamp." Tearse, in turn, was branded a "third-rate inefficient shop steward."
Despite all their sound and fury, the Stalinists were in a difficult position and were forced onto the defensive by our Anti-Labour Laws Victims Defence Committee. We took maximum advantage of the publicity surrounding the case to launch a tremendous campaign, involving every section of the organisation. Our comrades were imprisoned and we would not rest until they were released. Although those arrested were initially denied bail, on appeal they were released as long as they reported to the police station on a daily basis. This allowed them to participate in the Defence Campaign, which was of enormous benefit. Nye Bevan and the other lefts became heads of the Defence Committee, which was of great help and assistance to us in approaching Labour Parties and trade unions nationally. The Defence Campaign really put the organisation on the map. We already had a basis in the trade unions, and on the basis of these attacks by the state, our support was extended further. The influence of the RCP began to grow, and we sunk deeper roots into the working class.
The comrades were tried in camera, under the pretext that the police had not had time to complete their investigations into the alleged offences. Meanwhile, the press whipped up a tremendous hate campaign against us, spreading all manner of scare stories. They actually committed contempt of court on a massive scale, but this was war – so who cared? The Stalinists joined in the chorus against "Trotskyist wreckers" who were allegedly betraying our boys at the front. But they got their answer from the soldiers of the Eighth Army who passed a resolution pointing out: "It is the right to strike that we are fighting for."
The case itself was very important as it was the only time that the Trades Disputes Act was ever used, before its repeal by the post-war Attlee Labour Government. The comrades received a sympathetic response from the jury, and especially from the spectators attending the court hearing. True to form, the comrades took a very dignified and firm approach to the proceedings, and took full responsibility for all their class actions. Without any hesitation, they gave full support to the struggle of the apprentices. They refused to knuckle under, or bend under the pressure of the prosecution or the bourgeois state. However on the day, unfortunately for the authorities, the jury found them guilty only on two counts.
"In so far as the trial and imprisonment was concerned, what was important was the political attitude of the apprentices," recalled Roy Tearse. "Now what happened was that I was, according to the judge and the press, the main defender involved, and the prosecution called the strike committee as prosecution witnesses. The entire strike committee was called as prosecution witnesses. What they had to do during the trial was to declare every witness, except one, as hostile witnesses. They were absolutely 100 percent in solidarity with the Trotskyists during the trial, and the stand made by Bill Davy was really exceptional. He was only nineteen at the time. If you look through the transcript of the proceedings, you can see how really able he was, and I think that was most important.
"On the question of the trial, when I was first charged, I was charged with acting in the furtherance of a trade dispute, in the magistrates court. When we got to the assizes there were thirteen charges. If they can’t get you on the swings, they will get you on the roundabouts. They introduced ’conspiracy’ to add to ’the furtherance’. ’Aiding and abetting James William Davy to act as furtherance’. ’Conspiring to aid and abet James William Davy to act as furtherance’. By the end of it, there were thirteen counts."
In the end, Mr Justice Cassels passed sentence, and Haston got six months and Roy Tearse and Heaton Lee got a year each. Ann Keen was immediately released having already served her 13-day custodial sentence. The comrades launched an immediate appeal, but in the meantime, were forced to serve their sentences while it was being considered.
"I remember what was staggering, when the jury came back, as far as I was concerned, that the first eleven were ’Not Guilty’ and I thought, Jesus, what’s going to happen?", recalls Tearse. "But on the last two they found us guilty. And of course, we won the appeal, and the reason why we won the appeal was because the jury had actually been contradictory, so the convictions were actually quashed, but Heaton Lee and I got a year each of two counts to run concurrently, Jock Haston got six months and Ann Keen got thirteen days which meant that she was released because she had been inside."
One amusing footnote: when Haston and the other comrades went to Durham prison, they were asked to state their religious affiliation, as is normal practise in British prisons. So they answered mischievously "Dialectical Materialist". As the prison officer couldn’t spell this strange-sounding religion, he simply put down "DM" as their faith!
"On another occasion", recalled Jock Haston, "it was the anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination, I made an application to see the governor to have a commemoration meeting with the other two [Heaton Lee and Roy Tearse]. He denied the application and I pointed out he couldn’t deny the application because it was a religious meeting, and we had a very philosophical discussion about what was meant by ’religion’. My argument was the regulations were that if there were three or more members of any denomination they had to be given opportunities to meet together. In the end, he denied the actual application, but he said, ’I’ll see that you get together during the course of the day’, which he subsequently did. So we actually had a commemoration meeting in jail."
While in prison, Haston spent time studying law, which allowed him to give some sound advice to his lawyers. He was so diligent that he gave the lawyers the technical information relating to previous cases, where similar points of law applied. Especially as a general principle in law, you couldn’t act in furtherance of something before it actually happened. The case against them had been ill prepared. That was a fact, and shows the superiority of Marxism, even on these questions!
At the Appeal Court, which we all attended, the scene was full of amusing side issues on points of law. The prosecution lawyers, for example, indignantly produced an issue of the Socialist Appeal which they hoped would strengthen their case. It had a picture of Ernest Bevin, right wing leader of the TGWU, on his way to catch his train and behind him a very small porter, overloaded with huge baggage. The caption underneath was something along the lines of: look at this – two men in the same union, but Bevin is getting so many thousands a year as a cabinet minister, while the porter is on three or four pounds a week. Very indignantly, the prosecutor handed it up to the judges, evidently hoping that their Honours would be similarly outraged. However, the photo was so amusing that in spite of themselves, the judges let out a chuckle.
At the Appeal Court, our defence council argued that all the acts with which our comrades were charged concerned the period before the apprentices’ strike, but "furtherance" could only apply to a strike that had already broken out. Therefore, the jury had been misdirected and the sentences should be quashed forthwith. Obviously, the point sunk home as far as the judges were concerned. At any rate, Mr. Justice Wrottesley then turned round to the prosecutor, who was obviously preparing for a long and involved speech, and asked him: "Mr. so-and-so, if we accept your submission on such and such, will you rest your case?"
The prosecutor, who was supremely confident, was beaming with satisfaction at such a request. The appeal was surely about to be rejected out of hand! On the other hand, our legal counsel had a long face – and so did we. We thought the day was totally lost and that they had already made up their minds. So the prosecutor said, "certainly, your Lordships, I accept the submission. I rest my case." When he had sat down, Justice Wrottesley turned round and said the judges did not accept his submission on this case and that they would give a full judgement in writing later. But in the meantime, they dismissed the charges on the point of law that in acting in furtherance of a strike, before the strike had taken place, was not in breach of the Act. We had won! The convictions were quashed, and our comrades were released forthwith.
The Neath by-election
After the acquittal, which was a great victory for the RCP, we won over the leader of the apprentices, Bill Davy and a number of young strikers. As soon as this battle had finished, another opportunity opened up for us. This was in a totally new area for us: the parliamentary front. South Wales remained a weak area for Trotskyism. Then, out of the blue, a by-election was called in the small mining town of Neath in South Wales as a result of the death of the Labour MP. In early 1945, after considering things fully, we took the decision to put up a candidate. The election was in a Labour stronghold that had an enormous majority, and allowed us to build upon the support we had achieved in South Wales for the Defence Committee from various miners’ lodges. There was talk of an independent Communist candidate, but this did not materialise. So, we decided to use this opportunity to outline our programme and establish a base for the RCP in this important industrial area where the CP was still very strong. We had a few ILPers who were sympathetic to us in the area, but we didn’t have a single member before we started the campaign.
It was a foregone conclusion that Labour would win the Neath seat. However, as there was an electoral truce, the Tories obviously wouldn’t oppose a Labour candidate. So we decided to put up a candidate, standing on a programme to end to the Coalition and explaining the revolutionary alternative. Given the sluggish way things worked in the by-election process, it allowed us a few months of energetic revolutionary campaigning within the Neath constituency. All the comrades who could take their holidays arranged to take them during the campaign. Comrades came from all over the country and we waged a tremendously successful campaign. It kicked off with a meeting, addressed by Jock Haston, our candidate, at the Miners’ Welfare Hall in Gwaun-cae-Gurwen. We began with small meetings, ten or fifteen people, gradually building up towards the end of the campaign with meetings of a hundred, two hundred and three hundred throughout the constituency. Miners, tin-plate workers, steelworkers, transport workers and others came to hear what we had to say. We began to get a mass audience for our ideas.
To answer the attacks of the Stalinists, who raised the question of so-called "Trotsky-fascism", we challenged them to a public debate, but at first, this challenge fell on deaf ears. We conducted an energetic electoral campaign, which had nothing in common with the kind of ultra-leftism and opportunism which is always the hallmark of the sects when they engage in electoral politics. Lenin explained long ago that ultra-leftism and opportunism are head and tail of the same coin. The sects are totally incapable of approaching the labour movement, or speaking the language of the rank and file workers. They appear as something totally alien to the labour movement. But this was not at all the case with the RCP that had its finger on the pulse of the working class and knew how to present its ideas in a way that ordinary Labour workers could appreciate.
Our campaign was waged openly as an anti-war campaign. While explaining that we were opposed to Hitler and the Nazis, we put forward a class position, that we had no confidence in the British ruling class to wage the war. We also explained that the German workers were not our enemies and that it was the duty of the working class of all countries to struggle for socialism. We argued for Labour to break the Coalition government with the Tories, and for Labour to fight for power on a socialist programme to transform the situation nationally and internationally. It was an entirely internationalist case, and it connected with the mood of the workers in this solid Labour constituency. So solid was the Labour majority that they used to say that in an election in those parts they did not count the votes – they weighed them! Yet so successful was our election campaign in Neath that the Labour candidate actually started to panic. He became alarmed because, with no real campaign by the Labour Party, his own meetings were a fiasco – three men and a dog – while our meetings were the best attended in the whole campaign.
The Communist Party, of course, was foaming at the mouth. We were influencing their supporters and threatening their position in the area. True to form, they were putting forward their slanders about the Trotskyists being agents of fascism, agents of the Nazis, stooges of Hitler and all the rest of it. They constantly raised the slogan: "A Vote for Haston is a Vote for Hitler!" Of course, it had no effect at all. They only succeeded in damaging and discrediting themselves in the course of the campaign. In their delirium, they even denounced the Labour candidate, DJ Williams, who had previously been an NCLC organiser, as a "counter-revolutionary Trotskyist"! In reality, Williams was a fairly left semi-pacifist type. The Welsh Nationalists were also standing. But they also failed to get the high attendance at meetings that we were getting.
We hired an office in the centre of Neath, a building with a shop front in the middle of the town. We had to put in a load of bed bunks so that the visiting comrades could have somewhere to sleep. There were all sorts of rumours going round the area, spread by right wingers, about these bed bunks... and strange Trotskyist agitators coming into the town from all over the country. During the campaign, we made contact with members and ex-members of the Communist Party, as well as members of the ILP. We even managed to draw a layer of ILP members around us, which we recruited and, as a consequence, formed a branch of the RCP in Neath. In the Amman Valley, in the mining village of Gwaun-cae-Gurwen, and in one or two of the other areas, we probably won about thirty new comrades in the course of that campaign. These were mostly young people, ready to fight for our ideas against all the odds.
In G-C-G, we recruited half a dozen miners, with Johnny Crown Jones as the local branch secretary. He and his three brothers, all miners, joined the organisation. He was a fine self-taught writer, and contributed often to the Socialist Appeal. Years later he recalled what it was like in the Trotskyist movement at the time: "Selling the Socialist Appeal at the pit head always ended in a punch-up with the Stalinists, who were very strong in this area. But we were tough lads", remarked Johnny.
After a gap of more than twenty years, one of those miners, Olwyn Hughes, rejoined the tendency in South Wales. He attended a Workers Educational Association class in Ammanford where Alan Woods was speaking, and introduced himself by saying "Do you know Ted Grant?" When he came back after all those years he made some very interesting remarks about the tendency. It was like coming home, after a long absence. He was absolutely delighted when we managed to contact him, thus retying the knot of history. He said that the ideas, perspectives and approach were the same as he had heard when he first joined the RCP in 1945. And that is perfectly true. The tendency has been consistent and true to itself always – right up to the present day.
The same was true of Olwyn Hughes himself, who remained true to the ideas of Trotskyism and the tendency until his death a few years ago. This was testament to the theoretical training of worker comrades in the RCP. We always understood the importance of theoretical education and of the importance of raising the political level of the workers who are drawn into the tendency. An avid reader and self-taught man, this Welsh miner never forgot the education that was given him. Thus, despite being formally separated from the tendency for many years, he was soon able to regain his bearings, to involve himself in our ranks and play an important role in attempting to re-establish a branch in the Amman Valley.
The Neath by-election campaign was pursued with great vigour and was getting a significant response. The main election leaflet distributed everywhere appealed to Working men and women of Neath. It outlined the nature of the war, the reactionary foreign policy pursued by Churchill, and called for the Socialist United States of Europe. It ended with a rallying call:
"In this election you can play your part; you can give a lead to the workers in the rest of the country by rejecting the policy of class collaboration and voting for class independence and class struggle.
"Down with capitalism and its bloody wars and unemployment!
"Free the colonial people from imperialist domination and brutality!
"For the unity of the workers of Britain with the workers of the world against the capitalists!
"Down with the Churchill Government!
"End the Coalition!
"For a Communist Britain as part of a Communist Europe and a Communist World!"
The Communist Party poison about "Trotsky-fascism" fell completely flat with the workers. A leading miner in the West Wales area was a man called Trevor James. He was a fine public speaker and a committed class fighter. He was the miners’ agent and a member of the Labour Party, and an anti-Stalinist into the bargain. He later confirmed that although he was a member of the Labour Party, he was very sympathetic to the RCP. In fact, he was the possible independent communist candidate that was originally mooted, but he declined. He recalled that the Labour candidate complained to him: "You never attend our meetings. You are always attending meetings of the RCP. What is the matter Trevor?" He replied, "Well, they’re putting forward the socialist case. You are putting forward nothing like it." This really indicated the mood of Labour workers in the area, at least the active elements in the Labour Party and the unions. It was this mood that we were connecting with. This was not only due to our approach, which was important, but our programme which was connecting with their aspirations for a better life, and the need for a fundamental change in society. Consequently, we were selling on average some 2,000 copies of Socialist Appeal every fortnight within the constituency.
The only argument that these active people in the unions and in the Labour Parry could come up with for refusing to vote for the RCP was, "Well, we agree with you, but you should be in the Labour Party. Your candidate should be our candidate. Haston should be the candidate of the Labour Party. We should have the same socialist ideas. They should be the ideas of the Labour Party." Generally these people were very sympathetic, even though we were standing against the Labour Party. They said quite openly that they were delighted that we came to Neath. "You have put forward a full socialist campaign, which has served to revive all the socialist aspirations of the area, not only this area, but as far as Merthyr, Swansea and other areas."
We sold over 7,500 copies of a special election issue of the Socialist Appeal, putting our full case in relation to the war, in relation to Germany, in relation to the Coalition, and so on. Every point was dealt with fully. It would be certainly worthwhile reproducing those issues of Socialist Appeal to show the way, the flexible way, the non-sectarian way we approached the working class and the Labour movement, even in an election campaign of that sort.
As a result of the campaign, we managed to establish a firm base in the West Wales area. The campaign also had repercussions nationally. The Communist Party was on the defensive and we challenged them repeatedly to debate on all the questions they raised. Of course, they were not keen about this, fearing a political roasting in front of the workers. Nevertheless, there was a crisis of confidence within their own ranks and pressure was mounting for them to do something about it. On the last day before the election, we organised an eve of poll meeting in the Gwyn Hall, where we were expecting a meeting of 800 or even a thousand. At the very last minute, the Communist Party finally took up our challenge. They would have to go through with a public debate if they were to maintain any credibility at all. We learned afterwards that the Wales CP had phoned King Street to get Pollitt, Campbell or Gallacher or some other leader to come down to debate. But again, Campbell replied, "You can handle the situation. There is no need for us to come down." In reality, they didn’t want to get a public belting.
So under those last minute conditions, the CP was forced to accept the challenge. When the time came, the Town Hall was absolutely jam-packed. There may have been two thousand workers trying to get in. They had come from all around to hear this debate. In the end, given the limits of the Gwyn Hall, many were turned away at the doors. The debate took place between the CP organiser, Alun Morgan and Jock Haston. The debate ranged over a whole series of questions from the Moscow trials, the question of fascism, the nature of the war, and, of course, our whole programme for the working class. Although I wasn’t speaking, I was there to assist Jock at the top table with bundles of quotes from the Communist publications, Lenin and Marx, ready to hand them to him, as they arose in the debate. "I can just remember Ted on the end of the table", recalls Frank Ward, "diving down every time the CP put the point over, and kept coming out with some selected counter-quotation..." By the end of the night, the overwhelming majority of workers in the audience undoubtedly supported us as against the position that was put forward by the Communist Party.
"We challenged them to a debate, and we spoke to the leader of the Communist Party in the area, and we slaughtered their Line on the public platform", stated Haston. "They were standing on the windows, there was an overflow meeting of a couple of hundred, and outside were even more trying to get in. It was quite an unusual thing at that stage, and we debated with him and we absolutely shattered him."
While the Labour candidate was panicking, we ourselves realised that Labour would win overwhelmingly. Paradoxically, this was the result of our campaign. We had stirred up political interest for the election. If it wasn’t for our campaign, there would probably have been a very low turnout. But as a consequence of our activity in the area there was a great political interest, which served to give the Labour Party a record vote of over 30,000. That the workers were sympathetic to the ideas we put forward was evident from the turnouts at our public meetings, but we recognised in advance that the result of this heightened interest in socialism would be that the vote for the Labour Party would be very high. Nevertheless, we polled a respectable 1,781 votes. If one bears in mind that these votes were cast for a revolutionary internationalist programme during the war, this was a tremendous achievement. Moreover, this was in an area where we didn’t have a single member before the campaign. The electoral field is also a very difficult arena for a small revolutionary tendency. However, out of this work we established branches of the RCP in Neath, G-C-G, Pontypridd and also strengthened our position elsewhere. It was a great step forward for us.
Our whole approach and activity was in complete contrast compared to the sterile approach of the earlier Trotskyist groups. We had different methods and a different approach, a non-sectarian approach to the working class in the area. Under the prevailing conditions, we were really pleased with the result as well as the recruits we made. It was really astonishing given the fact that polling day took place a few days after Victory in Europe was announced. One would have thought that this would have provoked an enormous patriotic outburst. But this wasn’t the case. Of course, the war continued in Japan, but the main brunt of the war in Europe was over. Germany was defeated. A general election was in the offing. So it was an astonishing achievement and a success for our sober internationalist attitude, and our revolutionary military policy. Above all, it was our programme of the working class taking power into its hands that contributed to our achievement. Victory in Europe didn’t have the effect of swamping us, as might have been expected. The Welsh Nationalists got about five or six thousand votes, so in comparison, and under those conditions, we had done very well indeed. We had engaged in mass work and managed to connect Trotskyism with a whole layer of advanced workers.
In the Organisation Report in the Socialist Appeal (mid-August 1945), we read:
"During the Neath campaign the Party distributed over 100,000 leaflets. We put up 8,000 posters and sold 15,000 copies of the Socialist Appeal and some hundreds of assorted pamphlets. 70 indoor public meetings were held, the two outstanding ones attracting 750 and 1,500 workers respectively.
"From having practically no base in Wales at the Fusion Conference we now have three proletarian branches composed almost entirely of miners and steel workers.
"The name of the Party has proved to be one of our best assets. The workers who were turning to Communism sensed that there was something wrong with the Stalinist version of ’communism’ and we were able to demonstrate their role with the Stalinists on the defensive throughout."
It concluded, "the result 1,781 votes for the Trotskyist programme in face of V Day, the chauvinism of the mass organisations, the first incursion into the territory by the Party – was a very fine vote."
The turn of the tide
The German army was defeated by the Soviet Union. This is proof of the colossal potential and superiority of a nationalised planned economy. When Hitler invaded the USSR in 1941 the British military strategists thought the Soviet Union would be defeated within weeks. This was a serious miscalculation. After the initial defeats, the Red Army fought back like tigers. The Soviet workers rallied to the defence of the gains of the October revolution - the nationalised planned economy. Even the peasantry, once they saw the reality of Nazi barbarism, fought heroically. At Stalingrad the German army lost 100,000 men in one week of ferocious fighting. Following this defeat, the Red Army began the biggest advance in military history. The front moved 200 miles in less than three months.
The most decisive battle of the war was fought in Kursk in July 1943. On the vast flat expanse of cornfields south of Moscow, the greatest tank battle of all times unfolded. Hitler threw everything into this titanic conflict. The Russians captured a copy of his orders: "This’[is] an offensive of such an importance that the whole future of the war may depend on its outcome. More than anything else, your victory will show the whole world that resistance to the German army is hopeless." In fact, the Wehrmacht suffered a shattering defeat at the hands of the Red Army.
Up to this point the British and Americans had been mere onlookers of the war in Europe. Apart from the bombing of German cities they played no role. The British were fighting to defend their interests in North Africa. The USA was fighting Japanese imperialism for control of Asia and the Pacific. The real war against Hitler was being fought on Russian soil.
To show the real attitude of the British imperialists, we can cite one little-known incident. While the battle of Stalingrad was raging, there was a sizable British army stationed in Persia (now called Iran). The purpose of this was to protect British oil interests. Stalin asked Churchill why he did not send these troops to fight the Germans in Stalingrad. With typical cynicism, Churchill counter-proposed that Stalin should withdraw his troops from the Persian border and send them to fight in Stalingrad, while the British army looked after the frontier with the USSR! Naturally, the "generous" proposal was refused and right throughout the war British and Soviet troops were facing each other on the Persian frontier. The real reason for Churchill’s attitude was that he thought the Red Army might be defeated in Stalingrad, and he would then be able to send the British army into Soviet Azerbaijan to seize the oilfields in Baku.
In July 1943 Mussolini was overthrown by a coup in the fascist grand council, involving the king and marshal Badoglio. Churchill hastily expressed his support for Badoglio. But the overthrow of Mussolini opened the door to revolution. The workers came out onto the streets all over north Italy. Whereupon the RAF bombed hell out of the northern Italian cities of Milan, Turin, Bologna, etc., in January, February and March. Nevertheless, the power was really in the hands of the Italian CP and the partisans who set up revolutionary committees hostile to Badoglio.
The British and American landings in Sicily were hastily organised as a reaction to this. Churchill wanted to give backing to the king and Badoglio and stressed that "all surviving forces of Italian life should be rallied round their lawful government". In August the Allies again bombed Milan and other northern Italian cities, ostensibly to speed the armistice negations with the Badoglio government. But on 9 September, the king and Badoglio left Rome for Brindisi, allowing the Germans to take over.
The reactionary character of British imperialism – and also Stalinism – was shown in Greece in December 1944. At the Yalta conference, Churchill and Stalin had arrived at a cynical agreement to carve up Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. According to this deal, Greece was to be part of Britain’s sphere of interest. Churchill wanted to have control of Greece because of its strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean. The central question was control of Egypt and the Suez canal, which linked Britain to India, which was still under British rule.
The cynicism of both Stalin and Churchill was revealed with astonishing frankness by the latter in his book Triumph and Tragedy: "So far as Britain and Russia are concerned," he said to Stalin, "how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent predominance of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty in Yugoslavia?" A paper with these percentages was passed to Stalin, who wrote a tick on it and passed it back to Churchill. "It was all arranged," says Churchill, "in no more time than it takes to set down." But Churchill was concerned that this might be seen as "rather cynical" and wanted to burn the piece of paper. "No," said Stalin. "You keep it."
The Greek partisans, having fought bravely against the German invaders, were effectively in control in Athens. The most powerful group was EAM-ELAS, which was made up of left and centre forces but effectively led by the Communists. As in Italy, Churchill wanted to support the counter-revolutionary forces and particularly the monarchy. Because of the leading role of ELAS in the struggle against the Nazis, the king was compelled to make concessions to them, while plotting a coup.
Having reached his secret deal with Stalin, Churchill decided that it was time to act. On returning from Moscow in October 1944, he commented that the moment was "apt for business" to "settle our affairs in the Balkans". British troops were landed in Greece in October 1944 and were greeted by the people as liberators.
On 7 November, some three weeks after the arrival of the British force, Churchill sent a message to Anthony Eden: "In my opinion, having paid the price we have to Russia [sic!] for freedom of action in Greece, we should not hesitate to use British troops to support the Royal Hellenic Government under M. Papandreou’.I hope the Greek Brigade will soon arrive, and will not hesitate to shoot when necessary’. I fully expect a clash with EAM and we must not shrink from it, provided the ground is well chosen."
The last phrase shows that Churchill was preparing a provocation. The British forces acted as a cover for right wing royalist troops under the fascist Colonel Grivas. Churchill sent instructions to General Scobie: "Do not hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress’We have to hold and dominate Athens. It would be a great thing for you to succeed in this without bloodshed if possible, but also with bloodshed if necessary."
On 1 December, the EAM representatives left the government and called a general strike and a mass demonstration, which led to the massacre on Constitution Square. On the same day, the provocation was staged when the police opened fire on antigovernment demonstrators in Constitution Square, Athens. Eleven demonstrators were killed and sixty-six wounded. The Times correspondent wrote: "Seeds of civil war were well and truly sown by the Athens police this morning when they fired on a demonstration of children and youths."
When Churchill reported the events to the British parliament he stated that the demonstrators had "collided with the police". This was a lie. The police, backed by the government and the British army, had deliberately fired on unarmed demonstrators and kept firing when they were on the ground. The aim was clearly to provoke civil war in which British troops would be used against the partisans. Between them, Stalin and Churchill plotted the downfall of the Greek revolution.
Ever since 1941, Stalin had insistently demanded that his British and American "allies" should open up a second front against Hitler. This was ignored – until events in Italy forced their hand. However, the Italian campaign was in fact a sideshow aimed at preventing the Italian workers from taking power. Only when it became clear that the Red Army was advancing into Europe with breakneck speed did the British and Americans decide to launch the invasion of France in 1944. Had they not done so, they would have met the Red Army on the English Channel instead of in Germany.
The 1945 Labour government
At this time we had a perspective, in common with the entire International, and based upon the prognosis of Trotsky, that the world war would create a revolutionary wave in Europe. This in turn would expose the counter-revolutionary role of the old organisations and lead to the creation of mass parties of the Fourth International. This perspective was based on the assumption that developments after the Second World War would be similar to the situation that arose after the First World War, when a revolutionary situation developed in Britain as in many other European countries. The short slump of 1920 prepared the way for an enormous radicalisation on the part of the working class. It was a period of tremendous upheavals and class struggles that lasted, with ebbs and flows, right up to 1939.
We believed that similar conditions would occur after 1945, and that the post-war period would be very favourable for the building of a revolutionary tendency. We also had the perspective of a Labour Government as the next stage, and we knew the masses would need to go through this experience before they would begin to draw revolutionary conclusions. We envisaged that this government would be a government of crisis as in 1929-31. Under conditions of deep capitalist crisis, there would be the crystallisation of a left wing, or a centrist current within the ranks of the Labour Party. We also understood that under those conditions, the RCP would have to enter the Labour Party and, on the basis of its ideas, win over a sizeable section of the radicalised workers. This would prepare the way for the creation of a mass Trotskyist tendency in Britain, and prepare the ground for winning the majority of the working class to the programme of socialist revolution. Unfortunately, this perspective was falsified by events, and the new situation, rather than being very favourable for our growth, produced a whole series of difficulties and problems for the revolutionary tendency.
By 1944 the mood had become more radicalised, and the coalition government was losing support among the workers and soldiers. This was reflected in the 1944 Labour Party conference, which passed very radical resolutions, including the nationalisation of the land, large-scale building, heavy industry, fuel and power and all forms of banking. The Labour leaders were mostly in favour of continuing the wartime coalition, and the CP was enthusiastically in favour of this. But the rank and file of the Party was resolutely opposed to any such proposal. The slogan of the RCP – Labour break the coalition, and carry out a socialist programme – accurately reflected the mood of the workers at that time. The mood of radicalisation, which we had detected in the armed forces, was now clear to all.
Shortly after Victory in Europe Day, the Labour Party broke with the wartime Coalition and a General Election was called for July 15. At this point, the CP was still calling for the continuation of a government of National Unity, which should include themselves! In the run up to the General Election, they had to drop that idea like a hot potato. Of course, we supported the election of a Labour Government – but based on a Socialist programme – and threw ourselves into the campaign. It is interesting to see the reaction of workers at that time. Winston Churchill, the "great" war leader put himself forward as the great statesman, the man who had won the war and could lead Britain in peace time. This was the ultimate card that was being played by the Tories and the capitalist press. They paraded Churchill all around the country as "the man of the people".
Despite the fact that Churchill had been built up as a "great war leader", his posters were everywhere and he was given four times more time on the radio than Attlee the Labour candidate, he was overwhelmingly rejected. Sure, there were tens of thousands of people who turned out, mainly out of curiously, to see the "Great War Hero". The problem was, these tens of thousands had turned out not to support Churchill but to oppose him! In London, huge crowds of hostile workers were meeting Churchill, who went round in a jeep. As expected, we participated in these protests, selling papers and so forth. Angrily, he lashed out against these "Friends of Hitler" as he put it. But that didn’t save him. The Labour Party won a landslide victory, reflecting the desire for revolutionary change.
On 26 July the results of the election were announced. Labour had won 393 seats (or 397 if we add those of the ILP and Common Wealth) out of a total of 640. It had a total of 11,992,292 votes against 9,960,809 cast for the Conservative-Liberal National Alliance. True, the Party won an even higher vote number of votes in the 1951 election, but in percentage terms, the Labour Party got over 48 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives had lost 200 seats and Labour had gained as many. It was an absolute landslide.
The Labour leaders were almost as astonished as the Conservatives at this result. The stain of the defeat of 1931 was now completely wiped away. For the first time the Labour Party had a parliamentary majority. The same result was repeated a few months later in the local elections in November. The masses desired a fundamental change and expressed this by voting Labour. Had the Labour leaders wanted it, they could have carried through the socialist transformation of society through parliament. Nothing could have stopped them. But, of course, they had no intention of doing anything of the sort.
Ironically, the Labour Party organisation prior to the election was an absolute shambles. The Tory Party organisation existed simply on the basis of their paid agents. But the Labour Party, during the Coalition period was extremely weak in most areas of the country. Labour Party wards didn’t meet. The Constituency Parties weren’t meeting, or if they were, it was only in a skeleton form. In reality, there was hardly a Labour organisation at all. The Tory Party thought that if they could precipitate an election before the Labour Party was back on its feet, they would gain a quick victory. But they completely miscalculated. The mood of the masses was such that despite the lack of Labour organisation, the mass of workers turned out enthusiastically to vote for the Labour Party, which reflected a colossal radicalisation of the working class.
The soldiers returned home in the same militant frame of mind that we had already observed in the Eighth Army – 90 per cent of the soldiers voted Labour. This was indicative of the revolutionary mood that existed in the armed forces. The ruling class was alarmed. Churchill made demagogic speeches urgently demanding that the soldiers be demobilised as quickly as possible. When this was done, he then made speeches accusing the Labour government of leaving the country defenceless.
In August 1945 the RCP held its second Conference with over 200 delegates and visitors present. We recognised that the election of the Labour Government marked "the first wave of the radicalisation of the masses," and noted that "for the first time in any of the important capitalist countries of the West, the reformists have been returned to power with an overwhelming majority." A full-page report appeared in the Socialist Appeal about our conference, which concluded by saying that "the Second National Conference marked a great step forward in the history of the British Trotskyist movement, as of the working class. Despite our small forces in relation to the mass organisations of the Labour and Communist Parties, the growth of the Party and of the Trotskyist tendency in the course of the war, during which period our Party established itself as the revolutionary wing of the working class, was a heartening sight of the change which was taking place in the advanced sections of the working class’ Our comrades went back to their districts with renewed determination and vigour to participate in the daily struggles of the workers and to apply the principles of our International programme which alone is the guide post for the emancipation of our class." (Socialist Appeal, mid-August 1945).
In September, our building worker comrades organised an unofficial mass demonstration through the Building Workers’ Shop Stewards Committee over pay and conditions, which attracted 100,000 workers in Hyde Park. Jock Milligan, an outstanding worker comrade, instigated this. The Stalinists in the union succeeded in taking away his shop stewards credentials for "acting against the union", but he was reinstated within a matter of days after workers in Lewisham threatened an all-out strike over the issue. Jock had a tremendous history. He was despatched to Archangel to put down the Bolshevik Government and picked up a leaflet containing an appeal to British troops signed by Lenin and Trotsky, and drafted by the famous English author, Arthur Ransome. On his return, Jock became a founding member of the British Communist Party. Becoming disillusioned with Stalinism, he joined the Trotskyist movement. Later he joined the WIL and then the RCP. He played a key role in the union, and remained with our tendency until his death in the late 1950s.
As I have explained, we had the perspective that with the coming to power of a Labour Government, on the basis of a deep economic crisis, the situation would develop on the same lines as outlined by Trotsky before the war. Namely, once the reformists were in power, given their incapacity to deliver real reforms, they would begin to expose themselves in the eyes of the masses. However, before dealing with that perspective, I would like first to deal with the differences that had developed from 1944 in relation to the International leadership.
Our differences with the International
The period after 1945 was characterised by new developments on a world scale that had not been foreseen by the Trotskyist movement. The Stalinist and reformist leaders of the working class betrayed the mighty revolutionary tide that swept Europe from 1943 onwards. This provided the political preconditions for a revival of capitalism. Instead of the economic crisis that had been predicted by the Trotskyists, there was a period of post war reconstruction, during which the United States, which had emerged from the War with its productive capacity intact, effectively underwrote European capitalism through the Marshall Plan. This prepared the ground for a new boom and a period of relative social stability, and demanded a drastic revision of our original perspectives.
We discussed the situation within the leadership of the RCP and soon realised that important changes were taking place, which rendered the old perspective obsolete. Arising from these discussions, we amended our analysis and perspectives accordingly. The leaders of the International, however, were blind to the new developments. With the assassination of Leon Trotsky in August 1940, the leaders of the Fourth were left to their own devices, and proved woefully inadequate of analysing the new period and reorienting the Trotskyist movement. Unlike the RCP, they utterly failed to rise to the level of the tasks posed by history. James Cannon and the other leaders of the Fourth International clearly never grasped the method of Trotsky, the method of dialectical materialism. They simply repeated Trotsky’s words and formulations parrot-fashion, and clung to them even after they had been falsified by events. Of course, this led them to make one blunder after another.
First of all, they refused to face facts. They refused to recognise the war was over! "We disagree", said Cannon, "with some people who carelessly think that the war is over’ The war is not over." Then they said there would be no economic recovery, only an economy "bordering on stagnation and decay", when all the facts indicated the opposite! "It is necessary to abandon right now any juggling with a boom that has not existed and that British capitalism will never experience again", wrote Ernest Mandel.
Then they insisted that there could only be military dictatorships in Europe, when in reality, as the RCP pointed out, the ruling class was carrying out a counterrevolution in a "democratic form." E.R. Frank, the official spokesperson for the SWP National Committee, talked about the "perniciousness of the theory of the renaissance of bourgeois democracy", and, in a clear reference to the RCP, that "the imperialists have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. By covering up their military dictatorships with a little – very little – democratic veneer, they have succeeded in fooling even a few Trotskyists."
Lastly, they held to the view that the USSR had emerged weakened after the war, and not strengthened as the RCP had maintained. They went so far as to state in their resolution to the International Conference (1946) that diplomatic pressure would be sufficient to overthrow the USSR: "Failing a mass movement capable of coming actively rallying to its support, the USSR incurs the risk of being destroyed in the near future", states the resolution, "even without direct military intervention, but simply through the combined economic political and diplomatic pressure and the military threats of American and British imperialism." (RCP internal bulletin, 12 August 1946, my emphasis). Again, "only the intervention of the proletarian revolution can save the Soviet Union from an early and fateful end."
Not one of the "leaders" of the Fourth – James P. Cannon, Michael Pablo and Ernest Mandel – proved capable of recognising reality, and this fact was to have profound consequences for the future of the International. There was not a single major question on which they did not make a fundamental mistake. Pierre Frank, for instance, advanced the "theory" that only Bonapartist regimes could exist in Europe. Frank took his own nonsense so seriously that he decided to go underground and live illegally without papers, and moreover caused the French PCI after the war to operate underground for fear of future repression! This outrageous idea was answered many times by myself and other RCP leaders. But the arguments of the British section fell on deaf ears.
Just compare this confusion to the positions adopted by the British Trotskyists, which can be read in numerous documents that we intend to make public. From a reading of this material it will immediately be clear that the RCP was able to understand and apply the Marxist method to the new situation and able to reorientate the Trotskyist movement. Unfortunately, this fact has never been recognised, and most people are completely unaware of it, since the relevant material has been unavailable for decades. Moreover, there are many people who have a vested interest in concealing the truth in order to hide their own mistakes and boost their personal prestige – a very pernicious tendency in politics.
Tony Cliff was a second-line leader in the RCP who later became the chief proponent of the erroneous theory of state capitalism. In a recently published pamphlet entitled Trotskyism after Trotsky, Cliff blatantly ignored the great achievements of the RCP. In a typically dishonest fashion, he remains totally silent about the role of the main leaders of the Party – Jock Haston and myself – and our fight against the positions of Cannon and the other leaders of the Fourth International after the War.
For the readers of Cliff’s account, the principled stance of the RCP simply never existed. He gives the impression we all supported the policies of the International, which is completely untrue – although, with astounding hypocrisy, the same author pontificates about the need to be "truthful"! According to Tony Cliff, it was only "the few comrades who started the International Socialist tendency" (i.e. his own group) who "in the years 1946-48" had to "wrestle with very difficult questions." Nothing could be further from the truth!
"Spite plays a terrible role in politics", Trotsky once wrote. Cannon had never forgiven the Lee-Haston-Grant leadership of the WIL, for having opposed him in 1938, when it had refused to accept his terms for the unification of the Trotskyist groups in Britain. He took it very personally and from 1943 onwards secretly organised a concerted campaign to undermine and remove the British leadership. In this campaign he established an unprincipled bloc with Gerry Healy, who, for his own reasons, carried a grudge against the leadership of the organisation.
As we have seen, although Healy was an energetic organiser, he had been expelled or walked out of the WIL on six or seven occasions. On one of these occasions, in early 1943, he stormed out of a WIL central committee meeting saying he was joining the ILP. According to the CC minutes, after Healy’s resignation was accepted unanimously, Ajit Roy, a CC member stated: "He was a menace to the organisation. But if he worked with us, with his energy and ability, he was of some use to us. A breach was certain in the future, but it was possible to harness him." (6 February 1943) He subsequently reapplied for membership and was once again accepted back as a member. But he returned not as a loyal member but as an incorrigible intriguer, always looking for allies in his struggle against the WIL leadership. These he found in the unscrupulous leadership of the International.
In October 1945 at a meeting of the SWP National Committee, Cannon led a verbal assault on the SWP minority led by Albert Goldman and Felix Morrow. In this Cannon linked an attack on the British RCP: "You are helping Haston and Grant to fight Healy right now. You are sending personal letters to Haston to help them in the fight against Healy – to utilise against Healy’ we will fight it out and see what happens in the International."
Of course, Cannon had been helping Healy from 1943 but that was not mentioned. The American SWP majority was constantly intriguing against the RCP majority, using Healy as its stooge. "The SWP members were especially helpful to us during the period between 1943 and 1949 in the struggle against the Haston clique", Healy admitted much later. "This group, which comprised a majority of the English Trotskyist organisation, was led essentially by Haston, his wife Mildred Haston and Ted Grant."
In April 1953, Cannon revealed his real attitude towards the leadership of the RCP – and the reasons for it – in a private letter to Farrell Dobbs: "All the crimes and mistakes of this rotten-to-the-core Haston faction are directly traceable to its origin as an unprincipled clique in 1938. When I was in England a little later that year, on the eve of the First World Congress, I denounced the Lee-Haston faction as tainted by unprincipledness at its birth. I never had a bit of confidence in them throughout all their subsequent development, regardless of what theses they wrote or voted for at the moment."
As far as "the theses they wrote or voted for", these were a closed book for the membership of the International. The positions of the RCP were either suppressed by the International, systematically distorted or ignored. "Early in the post-war period", states Cannon, "the Haston gang became captivated by the expansion of Stalinism and thought they saw in it ’the wave of the future.’ They bestowed the honorific title of ’workers’ states’ on every strip of territory the Red Army occupied the moment this occupation took place. Haston and Co. are the real godfathers of the Vern tendency which currently pollutes the atmosphere of the L.A. Local."
These lines – both in form and in content – are quite typical of Cannon’s methods. They are a complete distortion from the first word till the last. As far as I can see from the documents of the Vern-Ryan group within the SWP, they did not hold the position that workers’ states were created as soon as the Red Army had occupied Eastern Europe. This seems to be a misinterpretation by Cannon. But we can say with certainty that this was not the view of the RCP, as Cannon knew very well. In Eastern Europe after the occupation of the Red Army, capitalist property relations remained intact. The "Peoples Democracies" that were set up were bourgeois regimes, although the Stalinists had made sure they controlled key ministries within the government, particularly interior and defence. It was only later in 1948, after the attempted introduction of the Marshall Plan, that the Stalinists leaned on the population, Bonapartist-fashion, to carry through a social overturn.
Cannon’s intolerance of minority views is clearly expressed in his vitriolic tone towards the "polluter" Vern. Whether the Vern tendency was right or wrong, and they were certainly confused, Cannon’s attitude was simply monstrous. It was a reflection of his whole approach to political opposition, in the USA and elsewhere. As his writings clearly show, he always tended to treat things in an organisational manner, rather than dealing with the political issues. This was reflected in the faction fight of 1939-40 with Shachtman and Burnham. Cannon’s approach contrasts sharply with Trotsky’s approach to internal differences.
Trotsky always dealt with things in a political fashion, including organisational issues. He always displayed the greatest tact and patience when correcting erroneous views in other comrades. His attitude to the faction fight in the American SWP was a case in point. While maintaining a firm position on the principled question of the class nature of the USSR, he never approved of Cannon’s treatment of the opposition in the SWP, and was even prepared to reach an accommodation with the Shachtman/Burnham minority in 1939/40 – an "accommodation" that was sabotaged by Cannon, if the truth is to be told.
The RCP understood the nature of the changed world situation well before the so-called International leadership. The RCP recognised the strengthened position of the USSR after its victory in the War, and especially its dominant position in Eastern Europe. However, following the "Prague Coup" in February 1948, we deepened our initial analysis. Dealing with the unfolding processes in the June issue of Socialist Appeal, I showed that the Stalinists had leaned on the workers to carry through the expropriation of the capitalists and establish a deformed workers’ state.
The same process subsequently took place throughout all the so-called Peoples Democracies. Washington attempted to use the extension of Marshall Aid to Eastern Europe to pull these states back into the orbit of world imperialism. Understanding the threat to their position, the Stalinists in Eastern Europe swept away the "shadow of the bourgeoisie" and took power into their hands, nationalising the economy and setting up regimes in the image of Moscow - not the Moscow of Lenin but of Stalin. The revolution in Eastern Europe began where the Russian revolution had ended: as a monstrous totalitarian-bureaucratic caricature of socialism.
A similar process took place in China after the victory of Mao’s peasant armies and in Yugoslavia under Tito’s partisans. However, the leaders of the International failed to see these revolutionary developments unfolding under their very noses, and continued to characterise these regimes as "capitalist" right up until 1951. It took until 1955 for the American SWP to characterise China as a deformed workers’ state, as opposed to state capitalism. Then, they went from one extreme to another. They developed illusions in Mao as an "unconscious Trotskyist", and they remained ambivalent as to whether a political revolution was absolutely necessary to introduce workers’ democracy.
At the time of the Stalin-Tito clash, these great "leaders" of the Fourth jumped overnight from a position that Yugoslavia was ’capitalist’ to one where Tito was seen as the head of a relatively healthy workers’ state. They capitulated to Tito and became cheerleaders for the Yugoslav regime. In an Open Letter to Tito, the American SWP wrote: "The confidence of the masses in it [your party] will grow enormously and it will become the effective collective expression of the interests and desires of the proletariat of its country."
The protests of the RCP, to the effect that the Tito regime was still Stalinist in nature were conveniently ignored. In a statement written in 1950 just after I was expelled by Healy, I listed as the first of three reasons for the collapse of the Fourth International in Britain, its "capitulation to Tito-Stalinism internationally." At the same time Pierre Lambert, the leader of the French PCI, was reporting enthusiastically: "I believe that I saw in Yugoslavia a dictatorship of the proletariat, led by a party which passionately seeks to combat bureaucracy and impose workers’ democracy"!
Degeneration of the Fourth
This degeneration and collapse of the Fourth International after Trotsky’s death was partly due to objective factors – the mighty economic upswing of world capitalism, and the renewed illusions in reformism and Stalinism. This meant that, for a whole period, the forces of genuine Marxism could not expect big gains. However, the subjective factor played a crucial role. In times of war, during periods of advance, good generals are important. But in a period of retreat, they are more important still. With good generals you can retreat in good order, with a minimum of losses, keeping your forces intact, to prepare for a more favourable situation. Bad generals turn a defeat into a rout. The so-called leaders of the "Fourth" directly contributed to the undermining and destruction of the Trotskyist movement.
This is not the place to go into the details of the disastrous policies pursued by the "leaders" of the so-called Fourth International. Suffice it to say, that their personal actions and policies spelled disaster for the International, which under the leadership of the epigones, was stillborn.
The International is first and foremost a programme, perspectives, traditions and method. Only secondly is it an organisation to carry through these policies. The so-called Fourth International repeatedly trampled on these principles. In the end, nothing was left of the Fourth International founded in 1938 – except for those who kept the genuine traditions and programme alive. It was the leaders of the British section, who waged a battle to defend these principles of Trotskyism. After the destruction of the RCP, it was our tendency that kept the flame alive.
Rather than correct their mistakes or reply politically to the criticisms of the British leadership, Cannon, Mandel, Frank, Pablo and the others resorted to organisational manoeuvres and intrigue in order to undermine the British section. It was a classic case of Zinovievism, of using organisational methods to deal with political questions. First, the material of the British section was suppressed or distorted. Then the International leadership organised a secret faction inside the RCP around Healy in order to undermine and remove the leadership. These disastrous methods played a fatal role, which eventually undermined and destroyed the International movement. Obsessed with the attempt to undermine and destroy the Haston-Grant leadership at every opportunity, Cannon, Healy, Pablo, Frank and Mandel, played a wrecking role in relation to the British Trotskyist movement.
Counter-revolution in a democratic form
Up to that point, there had not been even a dot or a comma of a difference between us and the International, except the disagreement in 1938 when we refused to enter into a rotten fusion despite Cannon’s insistence – an issue where we were proved to have been absolutely correct. But the situation was now different. Trotsky was no longer alive to give guidance. Moreover, because of the Nazi occupation of Europe, the International Secretariat had been transferred to America, and was in effect run by Cannon and the SWP. With the end of the war, differences began to develop in regard to the perspectives for Europe.
Pierre Frank, who had rejoined the International at the end of the war, gave a false report to the IS about the August 1945 Conference, saying the RCP was facing "grave difficulties", and, "moreover, the main responsibility for these difficulties rests with the leadership which has shown great concern, not to clarify political questions [sic], but to maintain an uncontested hold on the organisation." Soon afterwards, Haston wrote a letter to the European Executive Committee: "For our party, we did not think too highly of his capabilities." Although an understatement, it certainly must have stung Frank.
It is no accident that – despite the fact that in the World War the RCP was the largest and most important section of the Trotskyist movement in Europe – in Frank’s potted "history" of the Fourth International there is not a single mention the WIL or the RCP, let alone its political views. All he says is, "After the war, the International had come out in favour of the British Trotskyists entering the Labour Party." Which meant, in effect, backing Healy.
This is typical of the methods by which the leaders of the Fourth attempted to falsify the history of the International and conceal the role of the RCP. They were solely motivated by the desire for personal prestige, and laid claim to papal infallibility. The Leaders must not make mistakes! This is a recipe for the destruction of any revolutionary organisation. Lenin and Trotsky were always honest in relation to mistakes and prepared to admit them and learn from them. But Cannon and Co. could not tolerate the fact that the British Trotskyists pointed out their errors and – even worse – were consistently shown to be in the right.
Actually, Trotsky never had a good word for Pierre Frank, and wanted him expelled. "We have fought constantly against the Pierre Franks in Germany and in Spain", wrote Trotsky, "against the sceptics, and against the adventurers who wanted to perform miracles (and broke their necks in the process)." This sharp criticism is a devastating comment, not just on Pierre Frank, but on the qualities of all the other leaders of the International who saw fit to promote him after the death of the Old Man.
Nevertheless, Frank, as well as his co-thinkers in the SWP, "sought to clarify political questions" by stating that what were developing in Europe were military police states. According to them, after the fall of Hitler, the only viable way the ruling class could continue its rule in Europe was through military police regimes, or Bonapartist regimes like the Petain dictatorship, that had been established after the fall of France. The argument of Frank and Cannon was that the Anglo-American imperialists in Italy in 1944 had tried to install the dictatorship of Badoglio to replace that of Mussolini.
On behalf of the RCP leadership I wrote a reply to the arguments of Frank:
"Frank attempts to equate all regimes in Western Europe to ’Bonapartism’. His generalisations go even further: he argues that there have been Bonapartist regimes in France since 1934; that it is impossible to have any but Bonapartist or fascist regimes until the coming to power of the proletariat in Europe. This, if you please, in the name of ’the continuity of our political analysis for more than ten years of French history’! Such complacency reduces theory to formless abstractions and conceals inevitable and episodic errors, thus making them into a system. It has no place in the Fourth International".
"Comrade Frank indiscriminately mixes the terms bourgeois democracy with Bonapartism, not explaining the specific traits of either. He interchangeably speaks of ’Bonapartism’, ’elements of Bonapartism’ and he contrasts democratic liberties with ’a regime, which one can correctly define as democratic.’ Yet the reader has to seek in vain for a definition of his ideal ’democratic regime’ as distinguished from the very real bourgeois democracy. He denies the existence of democratic regimes in Europe today because ’there is literally no place for them.’"
The analysis of the RCP leadership explained that, as a result of the movement of the masses in Europe, and the class balance of forces, there would be a period of bourgeois democracy, or to give it its correct name, a period of democratic counter-revolution in Europe.
"The British RCP has characterised the regimes in Western Europe (France, Belgium, Holland, Italy) as regimes of counter-revolution in a democratic form. Comrade Pierre Frank claims that the idea of ’democratic counter-revolution’ is ’devoid of all content.’ He would then be hard put to explain what the Weimar Republic organised by the social democracy in Germany was. He would be compelled to argue that what took place in Germany in 1918, was not the proletarian revolution which was betrayed by the ’counter-revolution in a democratic form’ (by the undemocratic and bloody suppression of the January 1919 uprisings), but was a democratic revolution which overthrew the Kaiser and replaced his regime by one of ’pure’ bourgeois democracy! The fact that this regime was ushered in by martial law and the conspiracy of the social democratic leaders with the General Staff of the Reichswehr, the Junkers and the bourgeoisie, validates entirely the conclusion of Lenin and Trotsky that there was a ’democratic’ counter-revolution, with the bourgeoisie using the social democrats as their agents.
"In advance Trotsky foresaw and prepared theoretically for a similar situation with the collapse of fascism in Italy, when he wrote in a letter to the Italian comrades in 1930:
’Following the above comes the question of the ’transitional’ period in Italy. At the very outset it is necessary to establish very clearly: transition from what to what? A period of transition from the bourgeois (or ’popular’) revolution to the proletarian revolution is one thing. A period of transition from the fascist dictatorship to the proletarian dictatorship is another. If the first conception is envisaged, the question of the bourgeois revolution is posed in the first place and it is then a question of establishing the role of the proletariat in it. Only after that will the question of the transitional period toward a proletarian revolution be posed. If the second conception is envisaged, the question is then posed of a series of battles, disturbances, upsets in the situation, abrupt turns, constituting in their ensemble the different stages of the proletarian revolution. These stages may be many in number. But in no case can they contain within them a bourgeois revolution or its mysterious hybrid: the ’popular’ revolution.
’Does this mean that Italy cannot for a certain time again become a parliamentary state or become a ’democratic republic’? I consider – in perfect agreement with you, I think – that this eventuality is not excluded. But then it will not be the fruit of a bourgeois revolution but the abortion of an insufficiently matured and premature proletarian revolution. In case of a profound revolutionary crisis and of mass battles in the course of which the proletarian vanguard will not have been in a position to take power, it may be that the bourgeoisie will reconstruct its power on ’democratic’ bases.
’Can it be said, for example, that the present German republic constitutes a conquest of the bourgeois revolution? Such an assertion would be absurd. There was in Germany in 1918-19 a proletarian revolution which, deprived of leadership, was deceived, betrayed and crushed. But the bourgeois counter-revolution nevertheless found itself obliged to adapt itself to the circumstances resulting from this crushing of the proletarian revolution and to assume the form of a republic in the ’democratic’ parliamentary form. Is the same – or about the same – eventuality excluded from Italy? No, it is not excluded. The enthronement of fascism was the result of the incompletion of the proletarian revolution in 1920. Only a new proletarian revolution can overturn fascism. If it should not be destined to triumph this time either (weakness of the Communist Party, manoeuvres and betrayals of the social democrats, the freemasons, the Catholics), the ’transitional’ state that the bourgeois counter-revolution would then be forced to set up in the ruins of its power in a fascist form, could be nothing else than a parliamentary and democratic state.’ (Problems of the Italian Revolution, 14 May, 1930)
"Events in Italy have demonstrated the remarkable foresight of Trotsky. The bourgeoisie has been compelled to allow the jettisoning of the king and the Stalinist-socialist traitors have headed off the developing proletarian revolution into the channels of a ’parliamentary and democratic state’. This of course, will not attain a stable base, but will be subject to crises and upheavals, movements on the part of the proletariat, and counter-movements of monarchists and fascists. Would Frank now deny the correctness of Trotsky’s conceptions and assert that we have had a Bonapartist state since the fall of Mussolini?
"Nothing saved the capitalist system in Western Europe except the betrayal of social democracy and Stalinism. When the bourgeoisie leans on its social democratic and Stalinist agencies for the purpose of counter-revolution, what is the ’content’ of that counter-revolution? Bonapartist, fascist, authoritarian? Of course not! Its content is that of a ’counter revolution in a democratic form.’
"Of course, the bourgeoisie cannot stabilise itself for any length of time on the basis of the democratic counter-revolution. Where the revolution is stemmed by the lackeys of the bourgeoisie, the class forces do not stay suspended. After a period, which can be more or less protracted according to the economic and political developments internationally and within the given country, the bourgeoisie shifts to Bonapartist or fascist counter-revolution."
Our argument was not the same as was argued by Morrow and Goldman in the SWP - who were now in opposition to Cannon – and who argued that we were in for a period of democracy, a period of "democratic revolution" in Europe, as they put it. But at least they were groping in the right direction in comparison to the rest. The differences on this question were not secondary, but of fundamental importance. It raised point blank the question of the orientation of the Trotskyist movement. How you pose questions decides your attitude, as Trotsky had explained many times. If you pose the problem correctly, you will usually get the right answer. If you pose the problem incorrectly you will invariably get the wrong answer. We pointed out that the workers in Europe were trying to make a socialist revolution, and if the Communist Party and the Socialist Party were revolutionary organisations, then inevitably the revolution would have been carried out. However, these organisations, the Communist Party in particular, but also the Social Democrats, were playing the same role now as was played by the Social Democrats between 1917 and 1920 when they betrayed the revolutionary wave that existed in Europe.
We further explained that because of a) the enormous power of the Socialist Parties and Communist Parties, and b) the revolutionary wave that was sweeping the Continent at the time, it would be impossible for the bourgeoisie to impose Bonapartist military regimes in Europe. On the contrary, for a longer or shorter period – the time scale of such events is difficult to calculate – the class balance of forces would favour the working class – and therefore, would also favour the Stalinists and Social Democrats.
In Europe, there was a movement in the direction of socialist revolution, with revolutionary developments in one country after another – Italy, Denmark, Greece, France, and even Britain – from 1943 onwards. But, as in 1918 in Germany when the Social Democrats had betrayed the revolution and carried through a counter-revolution in a democratic form, resulting in the Weimar Republic, so in the same way, the Communist Party and the Social Democrats would betray the movement. The Communist Party in particular, thanks to the role that it had played in the resistance movements in France, Italy, Belgium and Holland, would use its authority to rescue capitalism and carry through a counter-revolution. This would usher in a period not of democratic revolution – as was incorrectly put forward by Goldman and Morrow – but on the contrary, a period of democratic counter-revolution. This was due above all to the weakness of the revolutionary forces, which had been a decisive factor in 1917-1920 in Europe, and was an even more decisive factor in the situation that was developing in Europe after 1945.
From this false perspective of Bonapartism, the International leadership began to make one mistake after another. A whole series of disagreements between ourselves and the IS, which was symptomatic of the later degeneration that was to take place, soon opened up. I am not going to deal in detail with these questions because they are dealt with more fully elsewhere (See appendix and Programme of the International). However, it is necessary to explain in outline the differences that now began to appear.
 Roy Tearse interview with Al Richardson, 1978.
 Jock Haston interview, op.cit.
 Quoted in War and the International, p.139.
 Jock Haston interview, op. cit.
 Quoted by Michael Foot, op. cit. p. 417.
 Ibid., p. 418.
 Cannon, Writings and Speeches 1945-47, p.201.
 See resolution on The New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the Fourth International, April 1946.
 Quoted in The Unbroken Thread, p.372
 Fourth International, December 1944. See also The Changed Relationship of Forces in Europe and the Role of the Fourth International, by Ted Grant, March 1945
 Tony Cliff, Trotskyism after Trotsky, The Origins of the International Socialists, p.23, London 1999.
 Cannon, op. cit., p.183, New York, 1977.
 Trotskyism versus Revisionism, volume 4, p.298, London 1974.
 Cannon, Speeches to the Party, pp.296-7, New York, 1973.
 Ibid., p.297.
 Quoted in Yugoslavia, East Europe and the Fourth international: the Evolution of Pabloist Liquidationism by Jan Norden, New York 1993, p.13.
 Frank, The Fourth International: the long march of the Trotskyists, London 1979, p.85.
 Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section [1935-36], New York 1977, p.107.