Fusion conference of WIL and RSL
Held on the 11th and 12th of March, 1944
This conference was held in order to bring about fusion between the main Trotskyist groupings in Britain today. These Trotskyist groups were as follows:
- The Left Fraction of the Revolutionary Socialist League (led by Robinson of Glasgow)
- The Trotskyist Opposition of the Revolutionary Socialist League (led by Lawrence)
- The Militant Group (led by D.D.H. Harber)
- The Revolutionary Socialist League (the bulk of the membership led by Cooper)
- The Workers’ International League.
The Fourth International was founded in September 1938 and sections were set up in each country. The RSL was officially recognised as the British section or the FI. The WIL, on the other hand, was never a section of the FI although it carried out its programme and supported its policy, because it disagreed with the question of the tactics put forward by the FI in relation to the British situation. The RSL, because of its various fractions, was never [as] effective as the WIL and throughout the years since 1938, the International Secretariat of the FI have been attempting to bring the WIL into the FI. Various “unity” discussions have been held from time to time but have never succeeded.
In September of 1943, the International Secretariat of the FI passed a resolution at its conference, urging the fusion of the Trotskyist organisations in Britain as soon as possible in view of the importance of Britain in the military and political situation. Accordingly letters were exchanged and a representative or the FI – Terence Phelan – arrived in this country in the autumn of 1943 with the specific task of urging the fusion of the groupings and giving all the guidance and assistance possible.
In January, 1944, the RSL groupings held a conference at which the various groupings agreed on fusion. Negotiations began between representatives or the RSL and representatives of the WIL at whose meetings Phelan was always present.
Each section and grouping prepared its own resolutions for the conference and each section was allowed to speak on its own resolution. It will be seen, however, that the WIL resolutions were carried, thus indicating that the balance of forces between the RSL groupings and the WIL is very much in favour of the WIL.
Given here is the agenda of the conference: details of the resolutions passed and some brief notes on some of the discussion on military policy.
The fused organisation is now to be known as the Revolutionary Communist Party and is now [the] officially recognised British section of the Fourth International.
- Standing orders report
- Fusion resolution
- Military policy
- Entrist tactic
- Workers’ control.
- Industrial policy.
- WIL political and industrial pamphlet - adoption of
- Resolution on name.
The Left section of the RSL moved a resolution on standing orders relating to the question of the vote for members overseas:
“That this conference recognises that members of the Fourth International overseas have been arbitrarily deprived of their rights of membership. Whilst recognising that this is a gross abuse of power by the Joint Negotiating Committee it urges those members not to exercise those rights to have the proceedings invalidated since such would mean that the efforts and expense of this conference would be wasted. This conference calls upon the IS (International Secretariat) to fulfil its promise to ‘protect’ loyal minorities by suspending from membership of the Fourth International those guilty of arbitrary and bureaucratic actions.”
This resolution was moved by Robinson of Glasgow who stated that there were three reasons why he urged the adoption of the resolution.
- That [a] number of members in the Forces had written to him protesting against the fact that they had no vote.
- That it was necessary to decide on the question of sabotage in the occupied countries and those fighting the USSR.
- That it was necessary to discuss the Italian situation.
Croft (Glasgow RSL) read [a] letter from [a] soldier in Italy who had put the Italian section of Trotskyists in touch with the FI.
Ward (WIL in RAF) spoke against the resolution stating that it was necessary to understand the character of the work in the armed forces – that the work had to be done in such a way which would not allow the officers to attack them. Being caught participating in the voting in the WIL would mean court-martial.
Another person in the forces, speaking against, said that it was necessary to rely on [the] leadership in period of illegality.
Barclay (Militant Group) spoke against by saying that the resolution was a manoeuvre of Robinson’s to gain votes for himself and that the letters from soldiers was a put-up job.
Lawrence (Trotskyist Opposition) supported the resolution on Italy as the International had not stated its policy on this question.
Grant (WIL) spoke against by saying that although it would be a good thing for the forces’ [comrades] to have the vote, nevertheless this was impossible and to have votes by post would be a travesty of democratic centralism. It was necessary to have trust in the leadership.
Betty Russell (WIL) supported the resolution saying that the activity of the comrades in Italy justified their having the vote.
Robinson at this stage reported that it was obvious that the comrades in the forces were not being given any chance and that Grant had already decided that they should be deprived of their voting rights.
Haston (WIL) replied that the Left fraction was only putting up this amendment in order to upset the conference – that the Left have hostility to all other fractions and had even advised members not to attend the conference – a kind of Left “vendetta”.
The question of the Italian situation and the question of sabotage in those countries fighting the USSR were not extensively discussed and the actual copies of the resolutions are not available in detail. All these resolutions moved by Robinson were defeated and Haston (WIL) stated that he was not in favour of supporting sabotage in those countries fighting the USSR.
Fusion resolution (moved by WIL)
For the past ten years, whilst in fundamental agreement on the principles and programme of the Fourth International, the British Trotskyists have been split on the question of tactics. These splits took place during a period of great defeats for the international working class and consequent reaction within the workers’ organisations and were mainly a product of the isolation of the British Trotskyist movement.
But this period is now at an end. The war has led to the beginning of a new stage of the class struggle and in the development of the international labour force and movement. Once again the workers are gathering their forces for great class battles. Trotskyism, as a tendency, is beginning to merge with the rising tide of militancy and socialist aspirations of the working class.
In Britain this new upsurge has resulted in favourable conditions for the growth and development or the Trotskyist movement. To utilise these favourable conditions to the full, the forces of the Fourth International must be unified into one organisation, under a single and united leadership, and with a firm and resolute policy based upon the principles, programme and statutes of the Fourth International and reinforced by majority decisions on the political and tactical question which separate the comrades.
Together with the International Secretariat of the Fourth International the members of the two existing Trotskyist organisations have decided to end the splits in the British movement and to unite all fourth internationalists under one banner. At this conference the assembled delegates of the hitherto separate organisations – the Revolutionary Socialist League and the Workers’ International League – declare the fusion of these two organisations into one single party.
The past clashes on the political questions engendered deep cleavages between the leading personnel and embittered relations between the members of the organisations. An important task for the leadership of the new organisation is to introduce a real comradeship into the political discussions and life of the party, and to weep away all vestiges of the bitter disputes of the past in the interest of the fusion, this conference therefore dissolves all past organisational conflicts and disputes and closes the discussion on these questions in the British section.
The unification of the British Trotskyists is a great step forward for our national and international movement and will be heartily welcomed and endorsed by members of the Fourth International the world over.
The members of the British Section of the Fourth International appeal to all isolated comrades who stand on the platform of the Fourth International to join its ranks and take their place in deciding the outcome of the great historic battles which open out before the working class.
The unification of the fourth internationalists takes place in the period of the dissolution of the Third International, and when the open degeneration of its national sections into agencies of the ruling class is shattering the unity of the Stalinist ranks. In ever increasing numbers these militants are finding their way into the ranks or the Fourth International.
In uniting our forces at this Fusion Conference, the assembled delegates appeal to all who genuinely seek to achieve the international socialist emancipation of the working class, to join us and fight under the banner of the Fourth International.
Socialist workers! Communist workers! The Fourth International is the world party of Socialist revolution. It is the only international socialist or communist party of the working class. On its banner is inscribed the slogan of the First International: “Workers of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have the world to gain.”
This resolution was moved by Haston (WIL). He stated that the position or the Trotskyist movement had been affected by the splits which had helped to isolate the movement from the working class. The question of organisational differences was not of fundamental importance to the tasks of the party. A more comradely atmosphere was needed. Disputes as far as the movement was concerned must go and should disputes take place the hard won fusion would be disrupted. An amendment moved that the discussion of 1938 should be reopened for its educational value but this amendment really intended to make the WIL admit they were sinners in 1938 and ask forgiveness of the Fourth International. This is a false attitude to the conference for the WIL had continued to raise this question with the IS over a period of years and indicated the attitude they would take at a fusion conference. The IS had not replied. The IS had, however, now stated that all discussion on 1938 should be closed. The continued discussion on this matter in the past was responsible for the disgraceful position in the past. Representation to the highest authority could always be made if the persons were not satisfied.
Hilda Pratt (WIL) disagreed with certain parts of the resolution stating that she did not consider that it was a question of being ashamed of the splits and the struggles but all this was part of the growth or the movement in the building of a revolutionary party. Mistakes are an important process as the history of the Bolshevik party shows. For the sake of unity the question should be closed now but should be raised in the future in the course of work in order that all might get clarification.
Someone from the Left fraction, here protested that a national party such as the RSL could not fuse with an international party such as the WIL and he was therefore against fusion.
Harber (Militant group) stated that in his opinion it was fatal to reopen old wounds and sores – that the same people who played a disruptive role in 1938 were playing the same role today. Comrade Pratt was the leader in 1938 and had been expelled – she attempts to provide a platform for personal ends in the organisation.
Atkinson (WIL) stated that comrade Pratt’s point of view was that as the WIL had a majority, the RSL could be slung out afterwards.
Healy (WIL) supporting the amendment stated that the matter should be closed for six months but that the differences in points of view should not be excluded from the movement. He asked what Haston and Harber were afraid of it the matter should be raised again in six months.
Haston (WIL) replied to the discussion by stating that 1938 was important for the historians. A united party must abide by the decisions of the majority. To accept the position that the WIL were wrong before fusion took place would have meant that fusion would never have been agreed to by the WIL. It was up to the international to raise the question for educational reasons. The united front and the Healy and Trotskyist Opposition resolutions separates those who want to build the party or disrupt the movement. The amendment was lost by 11 to 54 votes.
Greetings from the Fourth International
These were given by Terence Phelan, the American representative of the International Secretariat, on behalf of the Socialist Workers’ Party. He said that the essential factor in fusion was the working out of tactics within the organisation. He hoped that there would be a genuine dispersal of the factions and no smearing over of political differences.
Resolution on the military policy (submitted by WIL)
The Second World War into which capitalism had plunged mankind in the course of a generation, and which has been raging for more than four years is the inevitable outcome of the crisis of capitalist methods of production long predicted by the revolutionary Marxists and is a sign of the impasse out of which capitalism cannot lead the mass of humanity.
The war of the British ruling class is not an ideological war fought in the interests of democracy against fascism. This has been demonstrated clearly by their support of Hitler against the German working class, their acquiescence to the seizure of Austria and Czechoslovakia; by their cynical policy of non-intervention in Spain which enabled Franco to massacre hundreds of thousands of Spanish anti-fascist proletarians; by their support of Darlan in North Africa and Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel in Italy. The British ruling class is waging the war to maintain its colonial plunder, its sources of raw materials and cheap labour, its spheres of influence and markets, and to extend wherever possible its domination over wider territories. It is the duty of revolutionary socialists to patiently explain the imperialistic policy of the ruling class and expose its false and lying slogans of the “War against Fascism” and the “War for Democracy.”
The victory of German fascism and Japanese militarism would be a disaster for the working class of the world and for the colonial peoples. But no less disastrous would be a victory for Anglo-American imperialism. Such a victory would perpetuate and intensify the imperialist contradictions which gave rise to fascism and the present world war and will inevitably lead to new fascist and reactionary regimes and a third world war.
The British working class, therefore, cannot support the war conducted by the ruling class without at the same time opposing its own class interests on a national and international scale. Our party is opposed to the war and calls upon the working class to oppose it. Only by overthrowing the capitalist state and taking power into its own hands under the leadership of the Fourth International, can the British working class wage a truly revolutionary war and aid the German working class and the European working class to destroy fascism and capitalist reaction.
By their support of the war the trade unions, the Labour Party and Communist Party, with their satellite organisations, have betrayed the historic interests of the working class and the interests of the colonial masses oppressed by British imperialism. It is the duty of revolutionary socialists to mercilessly expose the leadership of the organisations as agents of the ruling class in the ranks of the workers and to win over the broad mass of the workers from the leadership of these organisations to the party of the Fourth International.
The outbreak of war created a new objective situation in which the revolutionaries had to conduct their political activity. Millions of workers – men and women – the most youthful and virile section of the population are conscripted into the armed forces. The war not only changed the way in which millions of workers are forced to live but also their level of political consciousness. War and militarism has penetrated every phase of and become the basis of their lives.
It would be a mistake on the part of revolutionary socialists to lump the defencist feeling of the broad mass of the workers together with the chauvinism of the Labour and Stalinist leadership. This defencism of the masses stems largely from entirely progressive motives of preserving their own class organisations and democratic rights from destruction at the hands of fascism and from a foreign invader. The mass chauvinistic enthusiasm of the last war is entirely absent in the present period. Only a deep-seated suspicion of the aims and slogans of the ruling class is evident. To separate the workers from the capitalists and their lackeys is the principal task of the revolutionary party.
The policy of our party must be based upon the objective conditions in which we live including the level of consciousness of the masses, and must help the masses in the process of their daily struggles along the road to the seizure of power.
In the present period all great social changes will be made by military means. Our party takes the capitalist militarisation of the millions not merely as the basis for the restatement of our fundamental principles and aims but for the purpose or propagating positive political ideas and policies in the ranks of the working class as an alternative to the class programme of the bourgeoisie. This necessitates the supplementing of our transitional programme with a policy adapted to the needs of the working class in a period of militarisation and war. Our attitude towards war is based not merely on the rejection of the defence of the capitalist fatherland but on the conquest of power by the working class and the defence of the proletarian fatherland. From this conception flows the proletarian military policy of the Fourth International.
In the last war socialist pacifism and conscientious objection were progressive and even revolutionary in opposition to the policy of national unity and support for capitalist militarism which was advocated by the chauvinists. But thirty years of class struggle have clearly and decisively demonstrated that such policies act as a brake on the socialist revolution and serve only to separate the conscious revolutionaries from the mass of the working class caught up in the military machine. To this negative policy must be counterposed a positive policy which separates the workers from their exploiters in the military organisations.
The working class and the revolutionary socialists are compelled to participate in the military organisations controlled by the capitalist state. But to the capitalist militarism for capitalist ends, the revolutionary socialists must counterpose the necessity of proletarian militarism for proletarian ends. Our military policy defends the rights and interests of the working class against its class enemy; at every point we place our class programme against the class programme of the bourgeoisie.
The Labour Party, the Communist Party, the ILP and the sectarians have also policies for the workers in arms. But these policies are reformist based upon the perspective of the continued control of the state in the hands of the bourgeoisie. These policies contain only a series of minor democratic and financial reforms which do not lead to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the conquest of power by the working class.
Our party is for the arming of the working class under the control of workers’ organisations, the trade unions, workers’ committees and political parties. We are against the special schools controlled by the capitalists for the training of their sons and agents for the highest posts of command and technicians of the military arts.
We are for state-financed schools, controlled by the trade unions and workers’ organisations for the purpose of training worker officers, who will know how to defend the interests of the working class.
We are against the selection of officers in the armed forces, including the Home Guard, by the bourgeois and its state machine. This selection takes place on the basis of class loyalty to the capitalists and hatred of the working class. We are for the election of officers in the armed forces by the men in the ranks.
These are positive steps which our party advocates in its proletarian military policy and which supplements our general transitional programme in the struggle for power. Such a policy, not only caters for the needs of the workers in uniform in their day to day struggle against the reactionary officer caste, but by its thoroughly anti-pacifist character prepares the working class for the inevitable military attacks at home, and for the defence of the proletarian fatherland against reactionary war of intervention.
Grant (WIL) moved this resolution: he stated that the problem of military policy was one on which no party could fail to have a correct policy. [A] revolutionary party must have a policy which faces up to the working class and the worker-soldier in arms. [The] overwhelming mass of [the] working class threatened by being crushed by German imperialism or British or American imperialism. It was necessary to finish with the old view of mere opposition to the war. Show that the aims and interests of the workers cannot be saved by having officers of a different class. Necessary to appeal for the election of officers by the soldiers. It was impossible to trust officers of bourgeoisie who have sympathy with the fascists. In Egypt English officers fraternised with captured Italian officers. English officers were shot by British soldiers at Dunkirk. German imperialism was not wanted here any more than British or American imperialism but the working class was the only force which can really fight fascism. Arm the workers! In the Home Guard, bosses and managers command. Officers should be elected. Arms stolen and hidden away even in the Home Guard of Britain where leakage of arms for revolutionary period. The chauvinism of the Bolshevik party was there before the return of Lenin. Under no conditions can the workers support imperialism in an imperialist war. The treachery of 2nd and 3rd internationals was responsible for this bloody war but saying this would not convince the workers.
Trotsky’s transitional programme says that every working class problem is of power. Only the workers can wage a revolutionary war. The masses of the workers were dragged into this war and faced with the choice of Hitler or Churchill. They chose Churchill. Our party must give the working class a fighting alternative. The Welsh working class were bitter against the Stalinist and traitors like Horner. Take control of things! And there will be an immediate response from the workers. This question means life or death to the movement. Conquest by military means won’t defeat fascism. The only reason the German workers support Hitler is the same reason why the British working class support Churchill. We stand in the position of the Fourth International.
The resolution was seconded by another member of the WIL. He said that it was necessary to go into the war desiring to defeat the bourgeoisie. Workers would take military machine created by the imperialists for the overthrow of the imperialist regime. Only anti-fascist war possible after the workers have seized power. Revolutionary defeatism was position of Lenin in 1916 on eve or revolution. The policy does not differ in essentials today.
Davis (Militant group): There was a deep difference in the movement regarding the war, stated this member speaking against resolution. The slogan of “the enemy is at home” did not sink home against the tide of working class illusion. As war progressed and invasion appeared imminent, what should have been attitude of revolutionary party. Not the arming of workers to fight Germans. To defeat the boss class should have intensified class struggle and explained to the workers the imperialist character of war. Neither the WIL, the RSL or America had any clear Military Policy. The WIL had not changed its policy since 1940. A revolutionary situation will come before end of war. The critical attitude to the government did not affect the mood of the masses at the time of imminent invasion. Every strike is a political strike even though supporting the war. At this point the revolutionary mood begins. Put to the workers day to day problems as insoluble while supporting the war. In this way workers can be won from the war. Fascism is not imported – in no place where Germans have occupied is fascism introduced. Fascism is here. Churchill, Attlee, etc. Defeat of British imperialism facilitates overthrow of imperialism. We are against war – against the defencist. Not to resist invasion until Germans have achieved power.
This statement was seconded by Harber (Militant group) who stated that the position was same as the policy adopted by Lenin in the last war – only new feature is the fear of fascism compared with the fear of Tsarist Russia.
Mercer (Left fraction): Any revolutionary struggle or strike facilitates the defeat of imperialists. It was necessary to decide either to fight your own bourgeoisie or a foreign power. To ask working class to fight a revolutionary struggle in order to forget the war is ludicrous. Popular or unpopular you must work to facilitate the defeat of your own imperialism. WIL and Co. will not face this question. The question is chauvinism or a revolutionary attitude to the war. Fraternisation with the working class of the enemy is directed against the British bourgeoisie because they are sick or the war, pressure of the American working class in the Socialist Workers’ Party must have been hellish. Leadership should have been able to stand against that pressure. More excuse for Kautsky than Cannon.
This statement was seconded by someone who said the sole enemy of the British working class was British imperialism. We protested against the idea of fraternisation as a weapon against German imperialism, instead of against British imperialism. Any working class action facilitates the military defeat of one’s own country. The Socialist Workers’ Party seems to hold a contrary opinion. One cannot get revolution whilst one is imbued with patriotism.
Goodman (Militant group) said that there was no difference between Grant’s slogan from the position of Harry Pollitt. Our job is to explain to the workers that this is not an anti-fascist war.
Some member of the WIL here attacked those members of the Left fraction by stating that the Left relegated the revolution to some distant future when the world revolution and conquest of power now opening up. There was a need for a positive policy. The Left were the real defencists in favour of the German bourgeoisie.
Another member of the WIL pointed out that there was a dread of fascism among the working class. Bourgeois democracy was the same as fascism and the same as international capitalism.
Lawrence (RSL) stated that a revolutionary situation facilitates defeat and defeat produces a revolutionary situation.
Someone in the armed forces, a member of the WIL, stated that there was a need to build class conscious groups and cadres in the army as nucleus of future Red Army to defend and achieve revolution.
Healy (WIL) said that the workers must take power by smashing the capitalist machine.
The discussion was ended by the last contribution being made by Bose an Indian member or the Militant Workers’ Federation who said that it was immediately necessary to prepare a programme for power. The resolution submitted by the WIL on military policy was carried.
One should note here that the military policy of the Left Fraction and the Militant group is for the complete defeat of the British imperialist powers. Cannon, in America and the WIL, want to go partly with the workers in the fight against fascism.
Resolution on the entrist tactic (Submitted by WIL)
The conference holds that: Whereas the acceptance of the principles and programme of the Fourth International are sufficient to establish the revolutionary basis of our tendency this is not sufficient to win the leadership of the working class and that for this purpose it is necessary to correctly apply the international programme to the national conditions and operate the correct tactics that flow therefrom.
Whereas the Trotskyist forces are numerically weak, with little contact and support among the masses, it follows that the penetration of the mass by our organisation and the winning of the masses to the banner of the Fourth International requires a clear grasp of the perspectives of the period and the operation of skilful political and organisation tactics flowing from these perspectives.
Whereas a serious revolutionary party must learn from the experience of the workers of the world, it must also be able to utilise these experiences as in relation to the actual conditions in which revolutionary work has to be conducted.
Whereas the entry of the revolutionary cadres into the mass organisations of the working class is one of tactics and not of principle, it follows that to raise the tactic of entry as a question of principle is extreme sectarianism whether it comes from the entrists or anti-entrists and must therefore be combatted as harmful to the revolutionary party.
Whereas the Labour Party is the mass political party of the British working class it follows that a correct attitude to the Labour Party – as to the trade unions – provides the key to the tactics of any organisation claiming to be a revolutionary in Great Britain.
Whereas it is considered in our perspective that although the workers and lower middle class elements are not turning in masses towards the Labour Party in the present period, but on the contrary are turning away from it in large numbers and joining other working class organisations and even the middle class Commonwealth, nevertheless, in general, the masses will again turn to the Labour Party in the coming days of class struggle and the Labour Party will again become a mass active organisation of the working class.
Conference holds, however, that this perspective must be concretised so that the best results from the orientation and deployment or our forces can be gained for the Fourth International.
Whereas the Communist Party is rapidly gaining the numbers and growing into a mass political party of the working class whilst hundreds of its best political revolutionary members are leaving it and seeking a new revolutionary party, it follows that an organisational split in the mass movement is inevitable unless the Communist Party is liquidated into the Labour Party and that, in any event, its best militants who have in general passed through the school of Labourism, will not easily be influenced by the “socialist left” in the Labour Party but can and must be won directly to the open banner of the Fourth International.
Whereas the past perspective of our tendency was for the complete collapse of the centrist party – the ILP, in fact, the ILP has grown in numerical strength and influence among the workers and is attracting fresh support from growing sections of the left labour and socialist conscious workers and therefore offers an important field for faction work on the part of the Fourth International.
Whereas the ILP wiIl most likely apply for affiliation to the Labour Party and be accepted when the Labour Party breaks the coalition and achieves its independence, it follows that the ILP will become the main left wing organisational base for the leftward moving labour workers and that the “socialist left” and similar paper organisations set up by the Trotskyist entrists will play no part in the Labour Party during the period of mass swing, but on the contrary will be a hindrance to our penetration of the Labour Party and must therefore be abandoned in favour of our factional entry into an affiliated ILP.
Whereas the perspective of a mass left swing to the LP may at a later stage necessitate a total entry of our forces into the LP, such a perspective is most unlikely, but if this situation arises our forces will probably enter the LP through the affiliated ILP.
Whereas the perspectives must be continuously before our organisation and our tactics must be constantly reviewed in the light of experience and in line with the development of the real movement of the workers at the present stage of the class struggle in Britain the LP is almost dead and is losing the confidence of the workers, as witness the support of the Scottish Nationalist candidate against the LP candidate in Kirkcaldy, and therefore is not a major field for our political faction work at the present time.
Whereas the main field of revolutionary activity at the present period lies on the industrial front, the factories, shop stewards movements and trade unions and will continue so in the immediate future, it follows therefore that our party must turn to the industrial movement of the working class which we can influence by our ideas and by our participation and that the main axis of our activities demands the raising of an independent banner of the Fourth International and the recruitment of the revolutionary industrial militants, many of whom have already passed through the Labour and Communist parties and the ILP directly into the British section of the Fourth international.
Whereas wide sections of the workers are critical of labour reformism and are turning to communism in its perverted Stalinist form, thousands of women and youth are skipping the labour stage and are seeking a militant revolutionary communist lead, it follows that the strata which is the most exploited section of the working class form virgin soil for revolutionary propaganda and thousands can be won directly into the party on the basis of our militant directives and our unstained banner.
Whereas the existing political organisation of the working class are all fields of guerilla faction work on the part or the British section of the Fourth International, the LP is the least favourable field for the present and immediate period ahead and that the ILP is the most fruitful. Our forces must be directed therefore on the basis of this appraisal.
Whereas conference therefore resolves: that the main task and the main tactic of our party in the immediate period is to build the independent revolutionary party of the British working class; to directly raise our banner before the British workers; to direct the maximum energy for the achievement of this task and to subordinate all factional work in the existing political organisations of the working class to that end.
Resolution on industrial policy (Submitted by WIL)
The favourable turn for British imperialism in the field of military struggle is accompanied by the beginning of a crisis in the field of arms production. The influx of American ammunition has resulted in contraction in certain aspects of the British arms industry. In some of the large munition plants a slackening up of production is already taking place. The transfer of workers from one branch of production to another is accompanied with widespread redundancy. The ability of the capitalists to make profits out of the war is hampered and they are no longer able easily to grant concessions, being forced to clamp down more definitely on the wages and conditions of the workers.
The first serious attempt to tighten up on wages was indicated in the National Arbitration Award No. 326 for engineering workers. Behind the legalistic phraseology of the terms of this twice interpreted Award, the gains from which affected only a small section of the workers (those working in establishments paying the “bare” minimum) and which for the vast majority of the workers meant no increase at all, can be seen as an attempt to fix a “ceiling” on wages.
The increasing radicalisation of the organised workers is particularly underlined by the recent turn of the postal workers’ and the civil servants’ unions and their struggle for affiliation to the TUC: the challenge to the state which is contained in their recent actions. With the mass conscription, the working class has been united on an unprecedented scale. The women and youth, inexorably drawn into the struggle side by side with the men, become an important factor in the struggle. In particular the women are fast losing the psychology of domestic drudgery, and are rapidly developing the characteristics of class conscious workers. The number of organised workers has reached its highest peak having exceeded the year 1920, which was 8,000,000 in the unions.
Faced with attacks on wage standards and the intensified exploitation through piece-work conditions; the added burden of income tax; the failure of joint production committees to solve the problems of production except at the expense of the workers; the use of the reactionary essential Works Order and the victimisation of trade union militants – a sharp discontent and radicalisation is transforming the outlook of the British working class.
This discontent has already manifested itself in sporadic and ever increasing disputes throughout the length and breadth of the country. Following the Betteshanger strike in Kent at the beginning of 1941, a series of strikes swept over the coal fields. These were followed by small strikes on the part of the dockers, of railwaymen, and of engineers. These later struggles, however, took place in relatively backward and unorganised areas. A contradiction existed in the fact that despite the deep feeling of dissatisfaction among the workers in areas such as the Clyde and South Wales, the workers in these parts had not yet participated in any major industrial disputes.
The Stalinists who had entrenched themselves among the militant workers in these areas, used their stranglehold on the traditional centres of working class militancy to push their anti-working class policy and strike breaking policy and put the brake on the working class struggle. Nevertheless the Communist Party, which has become the most vicious strike breaking force in British working class politics, cannot quell the rising tide of militancy among the working class. Nor, with the continuation of its present policy, will it be able to place itself at the head of any mass movement to divert it into harmless channels. It is already apparent that the hold of the Stalinists over the advanced workers is loosening.
The local nature of the early disputes resulted in the almost complete isolation of the strikers. But the third year of war, 1942, witnessed the workers participating in more strikes than in any single year since the General Strike of 1926. By far the most important dispute of that year had taken place on the Tyneside, which though traditionally a backward area, was the scene of a strike involving more than 20,000 ship-building workers. This strike marked the end of a year in which the engineering workers participated in almost half the total number of disputes whereas previously the miners had borne the brunt of the struggle.
Despite the fact that more labour days were lost in several years of the “peace” from 1926-1932 than in 1942 the increased number of disputes and the manner in which the workers are tending to spread the struggle serves to remind the employers of the eruptions they will have to face in the coming days.
In 1943 the transport workers, especially in the Midlands area, joined with their brothers in the coal-mining and engineering industry in showing fight against the employers, but it is now possible to perceive not only a broadening out but a general transformation in the nature of the struggle. Whereas previously the workers who were involved in disputes were isolated, the nationwide support given to the Neptune Engine Works on the Tyne; the solidarity of the miners in the South Yorkshire and South Wales coalfields over recent disputes affecting single collieries in the given area; or the strike or 23,000 Nottinghamshire miners over the imprisonment of one lad, these are demonstrations that the workers are closing their ranks in solidarity. But the latter strike in particular is an indication of the political character that the struggle is assuming.
Already the workers are realising the necessity of linking up with and gaining support of workers in other parts. The committees that were established as the directing centres in all these disputes are not yet soviets, but they point to the manner in which the workers, through the efforts of their local leaders, will create fighting committees or soviets on a regional and national scale in the future. More significant however is the fact that instead of the struggles being confined to the more backward areas as in the past, the recent disputes among the miners and engineers in South Wales and the Clyde, point to the fact that the more advanced workers are on the move. All these factors demonstrate that the main strategy of the revolutionary socialists in the field of industry must be to raise consciously in the minds of the workers the necessity to end the industrial truce.
The effects of the industrial truce with the government and the employers, which place the trade union movement in the clutches of the state machine and gives employers a free hand, are becoming obvious to the broad mass of the working class. Under the control of the present administration, the trade unions are rapidly becoming appendages of the capitalist state, with large numbers of trade union functionaries (starting with Bevin) in official government positions, as labour officers, etc.
The foregoing is clear indication that all the objective and even the subjective conditions for tremendous explosions are maturing in the factories, mines and transport of Britain.
Arising out of the struggles that have already taken place, the question of leadership is being raised more and more sharply in the minds of the working class. The workers have learned, whenever they have been forced to stand and fight, that the Labour and trade union leadership, together with the Communist Party and the National Council of Shop Stewards, have deserted them, and indeed, sabotaged their struggle at every turn.
But whilst the servile attitude of the trade union bureaucracy [towards] Churchill and the capitalist class and their sell-out of trade union rights has aroused the anger of the rank and file, only a small section is expressing its disgust by a conscious struggle for the removal of the leadership. Generally the workers in the trade unions are apathetic, the branches being poorly attended. This is assisted in no small degree by the Stalinists, who more skilful at putting forward their strike-breaking policy, are acting as props of the bureaucrats. Nevertheless, this apathetic mood is a temporary one and will be overcome by the workers on the morrow. The attitude of the AEU members on the recent wage award which forced the bureaucrats to make hasty pious gestures to the rank and file, is an indication of what the leadership will have to face as the struggle develops. Our duty is to assist these workers, the vast majority of whom are hostile to the strike breaking policy of the leadership, by providing them with the consciousness that will take them forward in the struggle. The bureaucratisation of the trade unions and their class integration with sections of the ruling class dictates the strategy of fighting to democratise the unions and replace the top strata with fresh elements; it dictates the need for an active policy of regular election of officials every two years at most, as well as the need to pay the union officials no more than the average wages for the trade or industry.
The Barrow strike was remarkable for the magnificent co-ordination of legal and “illegal” activity; co-ordination between the local legal machinery of the unions, as evidenced in the AEU – the branches and district committee and the “illegal” activity which gave the “victor punch” to the Barrow workers’ struggle.
The experience of the Barrow strike destroys completely the theory of ultra left sectarians who wish to turn their backs on the mass industrial organisations of the working class (the unions) and concentrate the whole energy of industrial militants on the building of ad hoc and factory organisations. This experience underlines the need to carry the fighting spirit of the factory organisations into the branches; in the district committees; and into the topmost organs of the trade union. It emphasises the tremendous strength of the workers’ organisations.
The struggle in the workshops cannot be separated from the struggle in the unions, but inevitably it takes on a faster tempo and consequently assumes a more direct form. The actions of the bureaucrats in sabotaging the attempt of the working class to defend themselves from the attacks of the capitalists, force the workers in the direction of seeking an alternative leadership. Once again they are setting up committees more directly representative of the rank and file, and while it is not possible to foresee the exact form the movement will take, some indication can be obtained by the recently formed Glasgow committee which adopted the historic name of the Clyde workers’ committee. Initiated by militants in that area, directly representative of the workers in their factories, this committee adopted a fighting attitude and programme which included as the central point, the struggle for the independence of the trade union movement from the capitalist state machine.
More important, however, is the fact that these militants recognising the need to link up with other militants, not only locally, but nationally, established a national federation of trade union militants now known as the “Militant Workers’ Federation”.
This Federation is not a paper organisation characteristic of Stalinism from 1925 to 1935, but already has a certain backing among influential workers’ committees and genuinely reflects the tendency now developing in Britain. Whatever the form of struggle in the various industries (the possible establishment of “consultative” committees in single factories or groups of factories) this national Federation has every possibility of becoming the focal point around which the workers will organise, when the coming storm which will inevitably witness the most terrific industrial clashes in the history of British capitalism, breaks out. The Militant Workers’ Federation may not receive a mass response immediately but it is already attracting the cream of the industrial militants who are aware of the false policies and corruption of the trade union leadership and of the Stalinists. Even if the stormy days of industrial strife engulf this Federation before it has had the possibility to harden its national connections, there is no doubt that it will play an important role in the future national struggle of the industrial workers.
The trade union leaders and Stalinists in particular are aware of this. That is the reason for Bevin’s recent outburst and his threat of new repressive legislation. It was a reflection not so much of the fear of the ruling class as of the mis-leaders of the working class in the field of industry. But whilst repressive measures both through the state machine and by expulsions in the unions may temporarily halt the forward march of the Militant Workers’ Federation, history demands this form of organisation. Repression can succeed only in consolidating the working class and establishing the role of the trade union fakers in the eyes of the organised workers.
The decision of the industrial militants to establish the Federation on a broad basis to include all industries is fundamentally correct. In the present stage of development of monopoly capitalism and the closely knit character or British industry, when all the major problems that confront the workers in the engineering trade, also confront those workers in other industries. When the miners, transport workers, railwaymen, are all crying out for a clear lead, the sectional policy advocated by the ILP of confining the organisation to the engineering industry would doom it to a fate of an unofficial movement at the end of the First World War. Moreover in the final analysis, the correctness of broadening out the basis of the committee will be demonstrated with the inevitable transformation of the industrial struggle into the challenge for power. To assist in this process, by waging a struggle against any ultra-left, syndicalist or sectarian tendencies, is the duty of the revolutionary socialists.
The struggles of the engineers towards the end of the last war saw the transformation of Card Stewards who merely acted as collectors and reporters for their respective unions, into a fighting shop stewards’ movement, organised on a factory basis irrespective of trade union, in order to carry on the struggle abandoned by the union leaders. Nevertheless, after the glorious struggles on the Clyde and elsewhere, seeing in the movement a threat to their positions, the union leadership were able, through the lack or a conscious leadership on the part of the shop stewards’ movement, to absorb the movement within the legal framework of the unions. This was followed with the exception of 1926 and 1931 by a period of almost 20 years of relative stability for British capitalism, which witnessed a slow day to day process of struggle on the part of the rank and file in a second attempt to build up an alternative leadership to the trade union bureaucracy.
This period was a favourable one for British capitalism in its attacks upon militant workers. It saw many of the finest types of militant workers crushed through isolation, victimisation and subsequent unemployment, becoming disillusioned and dropping out of the movement. When the National Shop Stewards’ Council was formed in 1936, the most advanced elements of the working class gathered around it in the belief that at last they had found a solution to their strivings for a fighting alternative leadership.
The hold this body gained over the industrial workers has been utilised since the political turn of the Communist Party in 1941, to put forward an anti-working class strike breaking policy. It now serves merely to implement the policy of the union leaders in the factory committees. The significance of this situation is that for the first time, the trade union bureaucrats have large numbers of direct agents in the factory committees, and where the CP is the strongest, the result is demoralisation and despair among the workers. But even this cannot last for ever.
Towards the end of World War 1, despite the low level of consciousness and despite the lack of conscious leadership, the workers were striving in the direction of a political solution to their problems. Since that period, however, the workers have experienced two decades of sell-outs on the part of the Labour bureaucracy and the Stalinists. Consequently, we have the contradiction where today the workers are far in advance of the predecessors in the last war, with a higher level of political consciousness, but are tending to express their militancy on the industrial field with a distrust of all the established political tendencies of the working class. The effect has been the revival of a semi-syndicalist trend among the industrial militants.
But the integration of the trade union bureaucracy with the state machine and the complete control of the state over Labour through the medium of the Essential Work Order, and other legislation, creates the objective conditions whereby any militant industrial movement must inevitably come into conflict with the state machine.
At such a stage, the whole struggle which is at present centred mainly on the wages question, will be raised to a political plane. The struggle against the strike-breaking policy of the trade union bureaucracy and their new-found appendages, the CP, will coincide with the struggle for the ending of the industrial and political truce.
The organisation of the National Federation marks a turning point in the labour and trade union movement; it is an earnest of the fact that for the third time, in an effort to release themselves from the stranglehold of the bureaucracy, the workers are attempting to create a movement with a national link-up.
For 25 years the Shop Steward and Factory Committee form of organisation has been steadily growing throughout the length and breadth of Britain. From a few advanced but isolated factories in World War 1, the factory committees have extended to almost every factory throughout the country in World War 2. Large and small, heavy and light industry, the factory and shop stewards’ committees nave been built and extended to all fields of production. In essence these committees are embryonic Soviets and reflection of dual power inside the factories.
Due to the strength of the capitalist class, the relative stability of their rule, and as a reflection of the low tempo of the revolutionary movement, these committees play an essentially defensive role at the present period. But with the turn in the situation the deepening of the crisis, and the sharpening of the class struggle, these committees will inevitably assume an aggressive character and seek a dominating position, challenging the capitalist class for the control of industry.
It is necessary consciously to extend these committees from one plant to another, from area to area, and establish a firm national tie. But our primary task in this field is to make the workers conscious of the real possibilities of these committees, not as offensive organisations of this or that group but as organs of control, as organs of power. The more deeply we entrench these ideas among the industrial workers, the easier the task in the future struggle, the surer the victory in the coming battle for proletarian power.
These factors impose on the revolutionary movement all the more sharply the necessity of orientating itself towards the trade unions and industrial movement. Just as Britain is the key to the international situation so is industry the key to our work in Britain. The success or our work in this direction will be the yardstick by which we measure the building or the party. As the movement finds expression in the industrial field, fresh elements will be pushed to the fore. Constituting the cream of the working class, unspoiled and uncorrupted, they will be among the best fighters in the front line of the struggle. This strata will provide the new cadres for Bolshevism and will become the recruiting ground for our party.
In spite of numerical weakness of the forces of revolutionary socialism, our ideas are the most powerful yet forged by the working class movement. We can play a decisive part in the coming struggles by giving conscious expression to the movement of the workers. This has already been shown in practice. With a correct policy on the issues which face the working class, we can raise the struggle to higher level, simultaneously drawing the best workers to our ranks to build the party of the Fourth International in Britain. But we will only succeed in this task of building a mass party and challenging the capitalist class for power to the extent that we succeed in converting the mass industrial organs of the working class into instruments of the socialist revolution.
(This resolution was that adopted at the WIL conference held in October 1943. It was reconsidered at the fusion conference in the same form.)
[The] number present at the conference was approximately 160, of whom 60 were delegates and 20 were in the armed forces.
It was decided that the name or the new organisation should be Revolutionary Communist Party. The latest edition of the Socialist Appeal has been published under this name.
Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party (British Section of the Fourth International)
The Revolutionary Communist Party, British Section of the Fourth international, bases itself upon the revolutionary principles embodied in the first four congresses of the Communist International and the world conferences of the Fourth international. It strives to win the leadership of the British working class for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a workers’ government (dictatorship of the proletariat) in Britain, and in close collaboration with the workers and toiling masses of all lands and under the leadership of the Fourth International, to proceed to the abolition of classes and the construction of the world socialist order of society.
Article 1. Name
The Revolutionary Communist Party, British Section of the Fourth International,
Article 2. International affiliation
The Revolutionary Communist Party accepts the programme and statutes, of the Fourth international, is an affiliated body of the Fourth international, and constitutes the British Section.
Article 3. Membership
- Any person who accepts the principles and Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party and who participates in its activities under the direction of the local, district and national bodies, is eligible for membership of the organisation.
- Every member must be a member of a branch, but in exceptional cases where no branch exists within reasonable distance or for special reasons a member may be made a national member and operate under the direct control of the CC.
- Application for membership must be made to a branch (except in cases as specified in (b) and if accepted must be ratified by the district committee or the central committee.
- Applicants for membership accepted by the branch shall be made probationary members for three months, at the end of which period the application must be reviewed by the branch which will decide to admit the applicant to full membership, extend the period of probation, or exclude the probationary member – all subject to the ratification of the district committee or the central committee.
- A probationary member may be expelled or admitted into full membership before the termination of the three months probation period, under the same procedure.
- Probationary members, are entitled to a voice on any question but may not vote and are not eligible to serve as delegates or officials of the organisation.
Article 4. Branches
- The unit of the RCP is the “branch” which is based on an industrial or area group of not less than five. Where the branch is of sufficient size, it may be divided by the DC or CC or has the right to divide itself with the permission of the DC or CC.
- Each branch should meet at least once weekly, [and] shall where necessary elect a branch committee at an annual general meeting of the branch or at specially convened meetings. Specially convened meetings must be called by the branch secretary at the request of not less than one third of the branch membership.
- The branch shall elect officials who shall be responsible for the direction of local activity.
Article 5. District committees
- District committees shall be set up in such districts as annual party congress or central committee decide. They shall be elected at annual general meeting or delegate conference of the branches (not less than three) within that district; or at special district meetings convened for this purpose by the central committee or at the request of one third of the district members.
- District committees shall appoint all district officials and should meet at least once a month.
- District committees are responsible for the direction of all party activities within the district.
- District councils shall be set up consisting of the district committee plus delegates from the branches for the purpose of advising and maintaining contact between the district committee and the membership. They shall be convened by the district committee or at the request of one third of the district branches.
Article 6. National congress
- A national congress of the membership represented by delegates from each organisational unit branches, district committees, and central committee and such other units as may arise from time to time, shall be convened each year by the central committee. The national congress shall constitute the highest authority of the RCP.
- Branches are entitled to send delegates to the national congress with a vote, on the basis of one delegate for every ten members or part of ten (or such figure as may be decided by the central committee in accordance with the party’s growth).
- District committees consisting of five or more branches are entitled to send a delegate to national congress in a consultative capacity, i.e., the delegate may speak but not vote.
- Members of the central committee attend national congress in a consultative capacity. CC members may be elected as delegates from branches.
- Members are eligible for election as delegates to congress after completing six months full membership.
- Where branches exist, which have no members who have the necessary qualifications as delegates, or where branches desire to send a delegate who is without the necessary membership qualifications, they can be represented at congress by special application to the central committee which may grant vocal and/or voting rights.
- Established groupings of three or four members may combine together with other groupings or branches in the same district for the purpose of representation at congress, or may send a delegate to congress with the consent of the central committee.
- Draft resolutions and reports of the central committee must be submitted at least two months prior to national congress. Party organisations have the right to submit resolutions or amendments to the drafts submitted by the CC; final amendments can be submitted by delegates in the course of the congress deliberations.
- The central committee shall appoint a standing orders committee and a credentials committee. The congress shall be ruled by the standing orders committee.
- No binding or imperative mandate can be imposed on any delegate to national congress.
- Decisions on all questions, including amendments to the constitution, are adopted by simple majority at the national congress.
Article 7. Central committee
- The national congress shall decide upon the number of, and elect, a central committee and alternates, and shall vest the central committee with full authority between national congresses.
- The central committee should meet at least every three months. It shall appoint front among its members a political bureau, a general secretary, a political secretary, and an organisational secretary. The three secretaries shall together constitute the secretariat which should meet daily and be responsible for the routine work of the party. The secretariat shall function from the central party headquarters or such place as may be decided by the central committee.
- The political bureau, the secretariat, or one third of the central committee members have the right to convene meetings of the central committee at any time.
- The political bureau shall have full authority between sessions of the central committee. It should meet once weekly or must be convened at the request of the secretariat.
Article 8. Control commission
The national congress shall elect a control commission from non CC members whose function shall be:
- To investigate any complaints or special enquiry which may be referred to it by the CC and, to advise the CC of the results of its investigations and enquiries.
- To investigate complaints of individuals, branches and districts against disciplinary measures taken against them by higher party organisations, and to submit their opinion on these to the CC or national congress for final decision.
Article 9. National council
- A national council shall be set up consisting of the central committee plus a delegate from each district committee and should meet at least every four months.
- The national council shall be an advisory body except as specified in article 10 and shall be responsible for maintaining contact between the national membership and the central committee.
Article 10. Special congresses
Special congresses with the same notice as annual congress may be called at any time, and with such notice as may be decided by the central committee. The central committee must convene a special congress at the request of more than one third of the national council or one quarter of the branches.
Article 11. Special powers
In the event of emergency, the central committee shall have the power to amend the constitution.
Article 12. Membership contribution
- Membership dues shall be a minimum of one shilling per week to be divided into three parts: 6d should be forwarded by the branch treasurer to the central committee on the first of each month; 4d shall be retained by the branch for its own funds; and 2d should be forwarded to the district committee on the first of each month. In addition, each member shall pay 2d per month for the international.
- Members two months in arrears shall be considered in bad standing and not permitted to vote; members three months in arrears shall be considered lapsed after due notice from the branch treasurer.
- The district committee and central committee have the right to modify the dues of any member after a special application has been made by the member concerned through his branch.
- Branches two months in arrears of dues shall be considered suspended by the central committee after due notice has been given.
- Members in bad standing shall not be eligible for election as delegates to any party conference or committee.
- Branches and district committees and the central committee have the right to impose levies on members.
- Branches and district committees shall issue quarterly balance sheets of all finances.
- The central committee shall issue a balance sheet of all finances to each national congress.
Article 13. Democratic rights and discipline
- All decisions of the governing bodies (national congress, central committee, political bureau, district committee and branch) are binding on all members and subordinate units. Any members or unit violating a decision of a governing body shall be subject to disciplinary action.
- The majority decisions of any body are binding on all the members within its jurisdiction. While cooperating in carrying out the decisions of the majority, all minorities have the right to express dissenting opinions within the party, to circularise the membership with any material stating these opinions, and to appeal to higher bodies against any decision with which they disagree. The central committee shall maintain a theoretical or internal bulletin as a medium for expressing these dissenting opinions and shall publish material submitted for discussion within twenty-one days of receipt.
- The national congress shall define the limits of any discussion.
- Disciplinary action, including censure, reduction to probationary membership, suspension of membership, and expulsion may be taken by the body having jurisdiction over any member committing a breach of discipline or acting in a manner detrimental to the interests of the party and the working class.
- Charges against any member must be made in writing and the accused furnished with a copy; such charges are considered by the body in which the charge originates at a meeting at which the accused member can attend and if a member of that body vote; the findings of this meeting shall serve as a recommendation to the district committee which shall take a decision. Charges originating in the district committee, political bureau or central committee shall be decided upon by those bodies.
- Any member subjected to disciplinary action is entitled to appeal to the next higher body up to the national congress; the disciplinary action in the meanwhile is upheld.
- Any member has the right to appeal against a decision of the national congress to the governing bodies of the Fourth International, and the political bureau shall provide all facilities for such an appeal, and shall transmit any documents pertaining thereto.
- All officials of the party and members of the committees shall be subject to recall by the section of the membership which appointed them.
- No member may accept a paid permanent position in a working class organisation without receiving the permission of the political bureau. All members holding public office or positions in the working class movement, paid or otherwise, shall be under the complete jurisdiction of the party.
All members of the RCP are required to enter the mass organisations of the working class under the direction of the party organisation for the purpose of fulfilling the aims of the party.
 Drafted by Jock Haston.