This is the first volume of Ted Grant’s Writings. It covers the period from 1938 to 1942, when he was involved in building up the forces of Trotskyism in Britain. During the early years of the Second World War, Ted became editor of the Socialist Appeal and political secretary of the Workers’ International League. In this role Ted emerged as the principal theoretician of the British Trotskyist movement.
His participation in the revolutionary movement was to span a period from 1928, when he was introduced to Marxism, through to his death in 2006. For all those who knew him, he was a truly remarkable and inspiring figure.
The articles and documents contained in this first volume of his Writings coincided with the emergence of the WIL as one of the most successful Trotskyist groups in the world. This present volume covers a decisive time in history. It was the most testing time for British and world Trotskyism. As Hitler occupied Europe, the WIL was alone on the continent in applying the proletarian military policy that had been outlined by Trotsky. This it managed to do in the most successful fashion, allowing the WIL to establish an important proletarian base. We publish here only the articles that were either signed by Ted or that he drafted in his role as the WIL’s political secretary. He would have certainly written the vast bulk of the editorials of Socialist Appeal, but these have not been included. These writings constitute an essential and rich part of the theoretical heritage of Marxism, which can serve to educate the new generation of workers and youth who are entering into political activity at this time of deep capitalist crisis.
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Table of Contents
- Introduction — "Ted Grant and the WIL" (by Rob Sewell)
1. Pre-war period
- Lessons of Spain [with Ralph Lee] (June 1938)
- [WIL PB] Contribution by WIL to the discussion on the tasks of Bolshevik-Leninists in Britain (June 1938)
- [WIL PB] Statement of the WIL to the founding congress of the Fourth International (September 1938)
- Against "national defence" (March 1939)
- The robbers quarrel over Tientsin (July 1939)
- Workers want peace—bosses prepare for war! (August 1939)
- Down with the war! (September 1939)
2. Imperialist slaughter [September 1939 – July 1940]
- Our war is the class war (February 1940)
- Not for imperialist slaughter (March 1940)
- How to win the class war (April 1940)
- No peace without socialism (May 1940)
- The workers’ war is the class war! (June 1940)
- Workers must be armed against capitalism (July 1940)
3. The internal debate of WIL on the revolutionary military policy [February – March 1941]
- [Andrew Scott] Arm the workers!—The only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion (February 1941)
- [WIL EC Majority] Invasion: arm the workers! (February 1941)
- [Sam Levy and Millie Kahn] The Interpretation of the EC Majority (February 1941)
- [Jock Haston] A step towards capitulation (March 1941)
- [WIL EC Majority] Military policy—or confusion (March 1941)
4. A turning point: the attack on the USSR [July 1941 – December 1942]
- Defend the Soviet Union—Fascism can only be defeated by international socialism (July 1941)
- An analysis of the social basis of the Soviet Union August 1941)
- Daily Herald—A public statement, not a private admission (July 1941)
- [WIL EC] The next steps forward—Towards the rank and file of the Communist Party (September 1941)
- Why USSR is suffering reverses—Internationalism has been abandoned (October 1941)
- [WIL PB] Statement on policy and perspectives (Autumn 1941)
- A challenge to the Communist Party (November 1941)
- ILP and the Stalinist slander (January 1942)
- Stalin threatens new turn—Anglo-USA imperialists fear Soviet victory (March 1942)
- [WIL] An open letter to [ILP] national conference (Easter 1942)
- Labour leaders hold workers back (May 1942)
- British refuse arms to Indians (June 1942)
- The road to India’s freedom [with Andrew Scott] (summer 1942)
- Labour lefts rehearsed debate with Tories! (July 1942)
- An open letter to the Yorkshire Miners’ Association (August 1942)
- Right wing Tories fear our programme (August 1942)
- New allies of Communist Party (September 1942)
- The ILP—A ship without a compass (October 1942)
- Wainwright and Doriot: birds of a feather (December 1942)
- [WIL] Open letter to Yorkshire miners (January 1943)
- Wainwright blunders again on the Chinese revolution (February 1943)
5. WIL’s pre-conference documents and updates [August 1942]
- Preparing for power (August 1942)
- Resolution on military policy (August 1942)
- [WIL conference appeal to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International] (August 1942)
- Constitution of Workers’ International League (August 1942)
- Report of pre-conference (August 1942)
- Perspectives and tasks draft (winter 1942)
- I. Internal report to the IS on work in the ILP (April 1935)
- II. [William Wainwright] Clear out Hitler’s agents (1942)
- III. [WIL] Clear out the bosses’ agents (1942)
- IV. Thesis of Indian fourth internationalists (1941)
It is with great pleasure that we introduce this first volume of the writings of Ted Grant. It represents the first step of a very long project that aims at publishing all his writings. Our aim is to make available to a broader public Ted’s contribution to the history of the revolutionary movement. We believe this project will contribute to the education of the next generation of Marxist cadres in the traditions that Ted kept alive throughout his long-standing activity in the labour movement.
The history of the Workers’ International League is so closely linked with the work of Ted Grant that it is impossible to separate them. Especially after Ralph Lee’s departure in 1940, Ted emerged as the WIL’s most prominent theoretician. From that time on he drafted the majority of the main political documents of the movement.
In a number of cases we have been able to trace Political Bureau or Central Committee minutes where we find Ted being put in charge of drafting a certain document. Some other documents carry the fingerprint of Ted’s style so evidently that there can be no doubt about their authorship. Clearly, the documents, although drafted by Ted, would have had input from other members and can be considered the fruit of collective effort. Ted, however, was the main driving force. These documents reflect the views of the collective leadership of the WIL, which Ted played a significant role in formulating.
For these reasons we have decided to include in this volume all the main political documents of the WIL that we could trace. We also decided to include all materials relating to the important debate of February-March 1941 on the proletarian military policy, in which Ted Grant, Gerry Healy and Andrew Scott defended a Majority EC position and Jock Haston, Sam Levy and Millie Kahn put forward a Minority view. This debate was instrumental in forging a genuine principled unity amongst the WIL leadership and in orientating the activities of the WIL during the war.
The authorship of all texts is indicated when different from Ted Grant and where there is known authorship.
Ted would have drafted or written many lead articles in Youth For Socialism, Socialist Appeal and Workers’ International News that were published unsigned because they represented an official statement of the WIL. We decided not to include this material in the present volume and hope to publish it separately at a later date. The same decision was taken in relation to Ted’s complete correspondence, because of the amount of research work needed to collect and edit that material. Again, it is our intention to publish this at a later date .
All texts have been checked against the original documents and are published here in their original form, except for evident typing errors that have been corrected and formatting characters that have been standardised throughout. Where editorial insertions were necessary for clarification, they have been introduced in square brackets .
Footnotes in the original texts have been marked with (*). Other numbered footnotes have been introduced in the present volume.
During the early years of the Second World War, Ted Grant (1913-2006), as editor of the Socialist Appeal and political secretary of the Workers’ International League (WIL), emerged as the principal theoretician of British Trotskyism. Basing himself on a profound understanding of the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, Ted drafted the main documents and resolutions of the movement for a period of over 60 years. His participation in the revolutionary movement was to span a period of more than 70 years from 1928, when he was introduced to Marxism, through to his death. Throughout this long period, Ted never lost either his faith in Marxism, his sense of humour or his (slight) South African accent.
These decades of Ted Grant’s political activity embraced the titanic events of the Wall Street crash, the great depression, the victory of fascism in Germany, the Spanish Civil War, the Moscow trials, the Second World War, the abolition of capitalism in China and Eastern Europe, the post-war upswing, the revolutionary 1970s, and the eventual collapse of Stalinism. Throughout these years of revolution, counter-revolution, capitalist stability and the re-emergence of capitalist crisis, Ted remained firmly committed to the ideas of world revolution and the absolute correctness of Marxism. However, he was no mere commentator on events, but a man who actively dedicated his whole life to the cause of revolutionary socialism. For all those who knew him, he was a truly remarkable and inspiring figure.
The articles and documents contained in this first volume of Ted Grant’s Writings coincided with the emergence of the Workers’ International League as one of the most successful Trotskyist groups in the world. This present volume covers a period of some five years, dealing with the immediate pre-war period and the first three years of the Second World War, a decisive time in world history. It was the most testing time for British and World Trotskyism. As Hitler occupied Europe, the WIL was alone on the continent in applying the proletarian military policy that had been outlined by Trotsky. This it managed to do in the most successful fashion, allowing the WIL to establish an important proletarian base. Pierre Broué, the celebrated Marxist historian, believed that the British Trotskyists conducted the most successful work during the war of any Trotskyist group in the world. These writings of Ted Grant therefore constitute an essential and rich part of the theoretical heritage of our tendency. Above all, they will serve to educate the new generation of workers and youth who are entering into political activity at this time of deep capitalist crisis, in the ideas, methods, and outlook of the Marxist tendency.
It must be said that there was a problem in the selection of this material. We publish here only the articles that were either signed by Ted or that he drafted in his role as the WIL’s political secretary. He would have certainly written the vast bulk of the editorials of Socialist Appeal, but these have not been included. This is somewhat of a disservice to Ted’s colossal contribution, but it is hoped that we will publish them later in a separate volume as a supplement to his wartime writings. Of course, other leading comrades of the WIL, such as Ralph Lee, Jock Haston, and Andrew Scott, would have also contributed to the drafting of important unsigned documents or material. This should certainly be recognised. Ted was certainly appreciative of their collaboration. Nevertheless, Ted emerged during these years as the organisation’s undisputed theoretician, as demonstrated by his political and theoretical output. He was a cadre of over ten years’ experience. This role was further underlined with the subsequent return of Ralph Lee to South Africa for personal and health reasons in the middle of 1940.
In South Africa
Ted Grant was born in Germiston, near Johannesburg, in South Africa in July 1913, a year before the outbreak of the First World War and four years before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, an event that was going to have a profound effect on his later life. His family upbringing had little effect on his future political evolution except for a family lodger, Ralph Lee, who had been a member of the South African Communist Party since 1922. Ralph, who was about five years older than Ted, had been expelled from the party for opposition views. As a teenager, Ted had been systematically introduced by Ralph to the writings of Bernard Shaw, HG Wells, Maxim Gorky and Jack London. After these authors he progressed to the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin. By the age of 15, Ted had become a convinced and committed Marxist and remained so for the rest of his life. “It changed my life completely”, stated Ted later, “and I started on a political road that now spans more than seventy years.”
Ted made regular visits to a left-wing bookshop in Johannesburg which was receiving copies of the newly-established paper called The Militant. These were produced by the American Trotskyists headed by James P. Cannon, who had recently been expelled from the American Communist Party. These papers introduced Ralph and Ted to the ideas of Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition on a whole series of burning questions, beginning with his Critique of the draft programme of the Communist International. This had a massive and lasting impact upon them. “We read them avidly from cover to cover, especially the writings of Trotsky himself,” explained Ted. “These contributions made an enormous difference to our understanding.”
The Left Opposition had been established by Trotsky in 1923 as part of the struggle against the Stalinist degeneration taking place within the Soviet Union. With the defeat of the German Revolution, followed by the death of Lenin, Stalin came forward with the anti-Marxist theory of Socialism in One Country. This theory reflected the outlook of the bureaucracy which turned its back on world revolution and sought to consolidate its privileged position. With each defeat and blow against world revolution, the Russian masses were worn down after years of deprivation and isolation. In November 1927, the Stalin clique succeeded in consolidating itself further by expelling Trotsky and the Left Opposition from the party. Early in 1928, Trotsky was exiled firstly to Alma Ata and later to Turkey. From there he organised the international Left Opposition as an expelled faction of the Communist International in a fight to restore the genuine programme and methods of Leninism and reform the Soviet state.
In solidarity with Trotsky, Ralph and Ted organised the beginnings of a Left Opposition group in Johannesburg and soon recruited Ted’s younger sister Zena and her boyfriend Raymond Lake. Others soon joined, including Millie Kahn, who was to later play an important role in the British Trotskyist movement. Her sister Hilda had joined the Stalinists, which, according to Millie, provoked a “war” between them. Shortly she was to marry Ralph and change her name to Millie Lee. Her steady income from a job in her mother’s hat business served to maintain Ralph as a “professional revolutionary” for the group.
Some years ago, just before she died, I took Ted to meet Millie for the last time. Millie had played an extremely active role in the Trotskyist movement in the period covered by this book, assisting Ted and others to build the Workers’ International League in Britain. She subsequently moved away from Trotskyism, as did many others, after 1950 with the break-up of the Revolutionary Communist Party. She had not met Ted since that time until this meeting at her home in September 2001. It was quite a remarkable meeting as Ted and Millie began to recall events and experiences of the past. She remembered with great pride the time she was arrested and sent to Holloway prison in August 1940 after trespassing on private property during a protest outside the Russian embassy against Trotsky’s assassination in Mexico. The WIL protesters carried placards, “Stalin murdered Trotsky”. After nine days she was finally released and fined £30, which was a considerable sum of money in those days. Despite her advanced years, Millie seemed to come to life as she described the building of the Trotskyist movement during the Second World War. She marvelled at the work they had done at that time in preparing for the British Revolution. “We were optimistic throughout, weren’t we?” as she nodded in Ted’s direction. “Considering everything, we had a fantastic time.” (Interview with Millie Haston and Ted Grant, September 8 2001). Millie supplied us with a host of photographs of the period, many of which appear in this volume.
In the early 1930s, the small group of South African Trotskyists struggled bravely to make their mark, even leading the Johannesburg laundry workers’ strike of 1934. However, the situation was very difficult. The comrades realised that the real centre of future revolution would take place thousands of miles away in Europe. Hitler had come to power in Germany and preparations were being made for world war. In Spain the workers had launched the heroic Asturian Commune, providing a new impetus to the Spanish Revolution. As a result, the South African comrades decided over a period to uproot their small forces and place them where they could better serve the world revolution. Ted and another member of the group, Max Bosch, left South Africa for England in late 1934 for “broader horizons”, to use Ted’s words. Both decided to change their names at this point. Max Bosch became Sid Frost, and a certain Isaac Blank became Ted Grant. Most of the other comrades, including Ralph and Millie, followed in the middle of 1937. “We decided there was no real future for us in South Africa, so we came to England”, stated Millie.
In search for “broader horizons”
On his voyage to London, Ted and Sid stopped off in Paris and discussed with Leon Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov, who was the main organiser of the international Trotskyist movement. From this conversation it was clear that Sedov had many reservations about the British Trotskyists who were working at this time within the Independent Labour Party (ILP), a centrist party that had split from the Labour Party in 1932. Trotsky had advised the newly formed British Left Oppositionists to join the ILP as a means of winning over the leftward-moving workers to Marxism.
This had constituted a sharp change in the tactics of the Left Opposition and resulted from the fact that the road to the Communist workers had been effectively blocked at this stage. The consolidation of the Stalinist regime with the successes of the Five Year Plans served to strengthen the grip of Stalinism. By the mid-1930s, the purges had produced a river of blood which separated Stalinism and Trotskyism. At the same time, the world capitalist crisis had created colossal ferment in the ranks of the social-democratic organisations. Trotsky explained the urgent need for the Trotskyists in this period to break out of their isolation and turn towards the opportunities within the reformist organisations. With correct work, this could result in the rapid crystallisation of a revolutionary tendency with deep roots in the working class. This tactic became known as the “French turn”, although it was first carried out in Britain.
Trotsky’s proposal led, however, to great controversy and resulted in a split in the British group. The main leaders of the group strenuously upheld the independence of the party as a principle, which simply served to reinforce their sectarian isolation. A dozen of the younger less experienced comrades took Trotsky’s advice and entered the ILP. The Trotskyists—known as the Marxist Group—nevertheless (mainly due to their inexperience) struggled to take advantage of the opportunities within the ILP.
The Marxist Group
On his arrival, Ted joined the Marxist Group in Paddington and began to give regular talks on the lessons of the South African workers’ movement. Ever since he was introduced to the ideas of Marxism, Ted had developed a keen interest in theory. He devoured the classics of Marxism and especially the new articles of Trotsky. Ted also absorbed the perspectives of a new imperialist world war and the development of world revolution in the coming period. Both Ted and Sid Frost, who worked closely together at this time, repeated the perspectives at every opportunity within the ILP. “Here comes ‘War’ and ‘Revolution’,” sneered the hardened centrists wherever the South Africans turned up. Such slurs were water off a duck’s back and in any event the two young South Africans were proved right.
The Marxist Group was clearly in bad shape by this time. There had been an opportunist adaptation amongst some of the group’s leaders to the centrist milieu, causing dissatisfaction amongst the membership. Ted, with other members, wrote to Leon Sedov expressing their deep concerns with the functioning of the group and the lack of prospects (See appendix). At this time, the ILP was haemorrhaging members and losing influence. Most of those who remained were die-hard centrists. There were far better prospects for Trotskyism developing within the Labour Party, especially in the Labour League of Youth.
Trotsky, who would have seen the report, was quick to realise that the ILP episode was clearly coming to an end. The shift to the left in the Labour Party was producing much greater opportunities. “The British section will recruit its first cadres from the thirty thousand young workers in the Labour League of Youth”, wrote Trotsky, as he urged the comrades to leave the ILP and enter the Labour Party. This, yet again, produced another row, with the leaders of the group yet again opposing this turn. Nevertheless, many of the young comrades followed Trotsky’s advice and individually joined the Labour Party, especially its youth section. This new group soon began to produce a paper called Youth Militant mainly aimed at work in the Labour League of Youth (LLY). Ted followed Trotsky’s advice and joined the LLY. Here the comrades battled with the Stalinists who had taken control of the youth. With the growing threat from Mosley’s blackshirts, the comrades, and Ted in particular, also took an active part in the anti-fascist street battles in East London.
The following year, a small number of South African Trotskyists, including Ralph and Millie Lee, arrived in Britain. After discussions with Ted and Jock Haston, a former member of the Communist Party, they decided to join the Militant Group. Along with Ted and Jock, they became members of the group’s Paddington branch. They were extremely energetic in building the branch and were making a considerable impact on the group. Amazingly they were soon regarded with suspicion by the group’s leadership, fearing that these “new-comers” would challenge their positions. These leaders were involved in clique politics and consumed with their own personal prestige. As a result, rumours were deliberately spread by the leadership about Ralph Lee which claimed he had stolen money from the Laundry Workers’ Union. This was a slander spread by the Stalinists in Johannesburg. In fact Ralph had spent everything he had on the strike personally and was held in high esteem by the workers. This poisonous atmosphere in the group led to an almighty row at a London aggregate meeting and a walk-out by several members led by Jock Haston, including, amongst others, Ralph Lee, Millie Lee, and Ted Grant. They were then informed by the group’s leaders that they had been expelled.
The formation of the WIL
After lengthy discussions over a number of days and nights, the comrades decided to turn their back on the “Militant Group” and their clique politics. The old group could not be considered a serious revolutionary organisation. It was a petty-bourgeois clique incapable of doing serious work. In any case, relations were completely poisoned. The comrades decided to launch themselves as a new organisation with a clean banner. With eight comrades, they set themselves up as the Workers’ International League in late December 1937 as the only genuine Trotskyist group in Britain.
They continued with their work within the Labour Party. Their first task, however, was to quickly produce a magazine called the Workers’ International News. The first issue came off the press in January 1938, with an article by Trotsky. The comrades also produced Youth For Socialism from September until the middle of 1941 when it became Socialist Appeal, aimed at the members of the Labour League of Youth. Ralph Lee, as the most experienced comrade, played the leading role in the group, assisted by Ted, Millie and Jock, which acted as the leadership of the organisation. Of course, much of the material of the group concentrated upon Trotsky’s material and the rapidly approaching war. Within about six months they had managed to grow to thirty members, mostly young workers. They were very energetic, selling their papers at Hyde Park, Tottenham Court Road and other central locations. They were very keen to build up their membership and establish themselves on a national basis. Ted wrote several leading articles, all re-produced in this volume, concerning the nature of the war, the developing international situation and the tasks posed before the working class.
1938 “unity” conference
A year before the war, in September 1938, a “unity conference” had been convened in an attempt to unify the four Trotskyist groups in Britain. It was an initiative of the International Secretariat of the International Communist League, the forerunner of the Fourth International, and was hosted by James Cannon who had come over from the United States. This conference was held in order to present a British unified group to the founding conference of the Fourth International which was soon to take place in Paris. However, the problem was that these four groups had different methods and tactics. While the WIL attended the “unity conference” in London, it opposed the unification as unprincipled and unworkable. They argued that it was not possible to fuse different groups with different traditions, methods and tactics into a single organisation. The fusion conference was chaotic with faction meetings taking place, people coming and going, and doors opening and closing. Ralph branded it as more like a French bedroom farce. While the WIL refused to join the fusion, the group did not want to sever all its links with the international movement and asked to be recognised as a sympathetic section of the Fourth International. At the founding conference of the Fourth, Cannon scandalously opposed the WIL’s sympathetic affiliation and secured a vote against the proposal. Unfortunately, the WIL could not afford to send a delegate to Paris as most of the comrades were unemployed. “We became the bastard child of the International”, explained Ted later.
James P. Cannon, who was a prestige politician, never forgave the WIL for its principled stand against the 1938 fusion and its future successes. His reputation had been dented. This was to colour his role in the international movement after Trotsky’s death and his negative relations with the British Trotskyists, as will become clear in future volumes. In the years covered in this volume, however, Cannon’s standing in the Fourth International was very high, as was that of the American Socialist Workers’ Party. On October 27 1941, the trial of 28 members of the SWP and Teamsters’ Union, Local 544 had begun. Eighteen were found guilty of “advocating the desirability of overthrowing the government by force and violence”, which resulted in the imprisonment of Cannon and other SWP leaders. The sections of the “Fourth” tended to look up to the Americans for guidance and inspiration. The WIL was no different and, despite being officially outside the International, it regularly reproduced material and news from the American SWP. For a more comprehensive appraisal of Cannon’s contribution throughout this period, readers should refer to Ted Grant’s book on the History of British Trotskyism.
Following the “fusion” conference, the new “unified” group in Britain took the name of the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL). As predicted, the “unified” group started to break up as soon as the conference was over. “The adoption of different tactics”, explained Ted, “was a recipe for uniting four groups into ten!” And that is what happened. The WIL however continued to make steady progress, even taking chunks out of the RSL. They won over the entire RSL Liverpool and Leeds groups, bringing over the entire Deane family in Liverpool in the process.
It is worth noting that Trotsky never attacked the WIL or its decision to remain outside of the International as an unofficial sympathising group. He basically adopted a wait-and-see approach, which was justified by subsequent events. Within six weeks of establishing the WIL, Ralph Lee wrote a letter to Trotsky on behalf of the group dated February 12 1938, explaining that they had established a printing press. “Up to now we have published two issues of Workers’ International News and the pamphlet Summary of the final report of the commission of enquiry into the charges made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow trials. Copies of these have been sent to you under separate cover”, stated the letter. The original of this letter is in the Trotsky archives at Harvard. As was usual, Trotsky marked the more interesting passages of any correspondence in a blue and red pencil. This he did with the sentences already quoted. He also wrote a question mark in the margin, probably indicating the need to find out more about this English group. Ralph’s letter ended:
“Hitherto we have been dependent on the initiative and energy of the American comrades but this has meant, among other things, prohibitive prices for our publications that have prevented their wide distribution. In seeking to end this dependence on an external section of Fourth Internationalists we hope that we will have your blessing.”
The last eight words were also underlined in pencil by Trotsky.
In his discussions with members of the American SWP a month or so later, Trotsky praised the WIL for obtaining a printing press, and urged the American comrades to follow this excellent example (Trotsky’s Writings 1937-38, p.394). He also wrote to the WIL thanking them for re-publishing his pamphlet Lessons of Spain, which contained an introduction by Ralph and Ted that is also reprinted in this volume.
The whole period was overshadowed by the rush to war by the European powers. The war was a continuation of the First World War, precipitated by the attempts of German imperialism to force a re-division of the world in its own interests. Hitler’s mission was world domination through the displacement of France and Britain, and eventually the United States. While Germany acted as a bulwark against Bolshevism, Britain assisted her re-armament programme. This was fully exposed in the Socialist Appeal of June 1941 when it published extracts from the diary of William E. Dodd, the US ambassador to Germany between June 1933 and December 1937. Dodd revealed that Britain and France had been preparing for war long before Hitler had come to power. In an entry for March 17 1935, he explains, “I think the Goering air programme is truly belligerent but France, Italy and England have armed in violation of the Versailles Treaty too.” He also reveals the policy of French and British diplomacy was to aid Hitler’s rearmament in preparation for war against the Soviet Union. In a conversation with Lord Lothian in May 1935 he shows the clear attitude of British imperialism.
“Lord Lothian, who as Philip Kerr was secretary to Lloyd George during the world war, wrote me…a letter which I received today…he indicated clearly that he favours a coalition of the democracies to block any German move in their direction and to turn Germany’s course eastwards. That this might lead to a war between Russia and Germany does not seem to disturb him seriously. In fact he seems to feel this would be a good solution of the difficulties imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty. The problem of the democracies, as he sees it, is to find for Japan and Germany a stronger place in world affairs to which, in his opinion, they are entitled because of their power and tradition. He hopes this can be accomplished without any sacrifice to the British Empire and with as little destruction to human liberty as possible.”
On January 11 1937, six months after Franco’s uprising, Dodd writes of the leading British diplomats:
“Sir Eric Phipps was as discreet as ever, but he revealed more sympathy for the Fascist crowd in Spain than I had noted before. I believe now that he is almost a Fascist, as I think are Baldwin and Eden.”
In relation to German rearmament, his diary reveals Britain’s role.
“I visited Sir Eric Phipps and repeated in all confidence a report that Armstrong-Vickers, the great British armament concern, had negotiated a sale of war material here (Berlin) last week, just before a British government commission arrived to negotiate some plan with Schacht for payment of short-term debts…due on current deliveries of British cotton yarn from Lancashire. It is impossible, Schacht said to me yesterday, to pay British debts. Yet, last Friday, I reported to Sir Eric, the British arms people were selling for cash enormous quantities of war supplies. And I was frank enough—or indiscreet enough—to add that I understood that representatives of Curtiss-Wright from the United States were here this week to negotiate similar sales. The British Ambassador pretended to be surprised…”
He gives much more material to show what the real attitude of the “democracies” was towards Hitler prior to the war. It demonstrates without any doubt that the Second World War was not a war between “democracy” and “fascism” as the “democratic” imperialists wanted us to believe. Dodd was forced to conclude:
“In the United States, capitalists are pressing in their same Fascist direction, supported by capitalists in England. Nearly all our diplomatic service people here have indicated their drift in the same direction.”
Again Churchill, reflecting the attitude of the British ruling class, was a great admirer of both Mussolini and Hitler. “One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement”, wrote Churchill. “If our country were defeated, I hope that we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.” (Strand magazine, November 1935). The British imperialists supported Hitler at Munich after he seized Czechoslovakia in the hope that he would be satisfied with central Europe. But to their cost, they finally realised that German imperialism was striving towards world domination, which collided with Britain’s interests. This could not be tolerated. The “war against fascism” provided a convenient cover to rally the masses behind their real war aims.
The isolation and degeneration of the Russian revolution had resulted in the usurping of power by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Stalin carried through the Purge Trials to exterminate all those who had any connection with the October Revolution. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and other “Old Bolsheviks” were framed as counter-revolutionary “Trotsky-fascists” and murdered. Stalin decapitated the Red Army and systematically strangled the Spanish Revolution to prove to the western powers how reliable he was as a potential ally. He feared Hitler and therefore sought an alliance with the imperialist “democracies”. This, however, proved fruitless, despite Stalin’s continuous efforts, as the “democracies” were rearming Germany (and Italy) for war with the Soviet Union.
Hitler had decided to move west. A “non-aggression” pact with Stalin suited his interests and in August 1939 the Stalin-Hitler Pact was signed. “We have always held that a strong Germany is an indispensable condition for a durable peace in Europe”, stated Molotov. This pact allowed Hitler access to Russia’s important raw materials as well as guaranteeing the Soviet Union’s “neutrality” in the approaching war. “Stalin acts as his (Hitler’s) quartermaster”, noted Trotsky. The “non-aggression” Pact also allowed Stalin to take Eastern Poland and occupy strategic positions in the Baltic, as well as invading Finland. Above all, for a temporary period, it allowed Hitler to concentrate on conquering Western Europe before turning his attentions towards the USSR.
“The Communist Party leaders represent nothing but the narrow interests of the Kremlin”—stated a leaflet issued by the WIL—“Yesterday they supported the war. Today they are calling for an imperialist ‘peace’ and are quite prepared to sacrifice the German, Czech and Polish workers to rule of German fascism. Tomorrow, if Stalin makes a pact with Chamberlain they will again support the war. The working class can have nothing but contempt for such scoundrels.” (No date, Ted Grant’s archives)
Two days after the signing of the Stalin-Hitler Pact, Germany invaded Poland, and France and Britain declared war against Germany. By April 1940, Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. A month later, she invaded the Low Countries and France. Within six weeks British forces evacuated Dunkirk and France fell. On July 10 1940 the Germans began the bombing of London. This was the international background in which the Workers’ International League was established and conducted its work.
The WIL and the fascist threat
In the 18 months up to the outbreak of war, the Workers’ International League had been engaged in feverish work to build up its forces.
“We published Workers’ International News, a very large part of our activity was making contacts through the Workers’ International News, apart from our entrist work in the Labour Party”, stated Jock Haston much later. “In the main, it was a conflict with the Communist Party. We used the documents also for contact with militants in the ILP. We participated actively in the anti-fascist movement which was fairly strong at that time and some of our publications were devoted to the anti-fascist, anti-Mosley struggle. Ted in particular—I have a picture somewhere of Ted at the barricades in the East End of London, in Cable Street.”
“It was mostly selling Workers’ International News outside meetings and Hyde Park”—interjected Millie—“And attending Communist Party meetings dealing with the Moscow Trials”—continued Jock—“We never allowed any Communist Party meetings to take place on the Moscow Trials in which we didn’t intervene and attack the Stalinists on their line on the Moscow Trials. I think probably one might say that our principal source of contacts was the YCL and the Paddington Young Communist League on at least two occasions, almost to a man, came over to the WIL group, and Johnny Gollan was actually sent up to Paddington when he was leader of the YCL with the object of re-establishing the YCL and we challenged him. Every time they had a public meeting we challenged them.”
Jock Haston, who was the group’s national organiser, also reveals some of the basic problems facing the WIL, particularly the paucity of resources.
“Well, the problems were that first of all, we were an organisation that almost entirely consisted of workers. We didn’t have any money, so money was the pre-occupying activity for us, for our publications, the theoretical bag and baggage that we had wasn’t very great, we were mainly followers, rather than initiators, you know of the broad Trotskyist point of view. The problem was getting up and down the country to make contacts with the people we had heard about in different parts of the country, and it was very difficult due to the lack of cash. The problem was getting our publications out on time with what limited resources we had, so here was a question of really working all the hours god sent. We were almost all of us professionals, practically all of us were on the dole, and we had tons of time, but no money, in which to conduct the work we were carrying out.” (Interview given to Al Richardson by Jock Haston on April 30 1978, with Millie (Lee) Haston participating, Bornstein archives)
The pace of work of this small group of comrades was immense. On top of their other activities, from October 1939 to May 1940, the WIL, mainly due to the work of Ralph Lee, produced a duplicated sheet on practically a daily basis, entitled Workers’ Diary.
The proletarian military policy
In the period before the war, the WIL conducted an anti-war policy explaining that any new world war was dictated by imperialism’s desire to re-divide the world in its search for new markets and profits. The only solution to imperialist war was to fight our real enemies at home as part of the struggle for socialism. This line was reflected in the party press until the adoption by the WIL of the proletarian military policy in the autumn of 1940, which saw a new military emphasis to the articles in the League’s publications. The political thrust was still to call upon Labour to break the war-time coalition and carry through a socialist programme, but additional demands were added for a revolutionary military policy to fight against fascism, and in particular the need to arm the working class in the struggle against Nazism.
Ted Grant explained in a speech he had made towards the end of 1940 of how the policy evolved.
“The policy remains essentially the same, but the emphasis has changed,” he said. “The policy remains irreconcilable opposition to the war-making imperialists. However, with the outbreak of war and the victory of the Nazis, the policy is given a new emphasis. Popular agitation could not be conducted on the basis of revolutionary defeatism, which could never win the masses.” (Notes of a speech on the proletarian military policy in the Ted Grant archives)
He went on to explain that the defeat of Hitler remained the aim, however only the workers could defeat fascism. The ruling class was not waging a war against fascism, but only to defend its own material interests. Without giving any support whatsoever to British imperialism’s war aims, the revolutionary tendency needed to take into account the mood of the working class and its hatred of fascism. In such a struggle, the hopeless inadequacies of pacifism were clearly exposed. What was needed was an independent workers’ policy to serve the needs of the workers. Such a policy needed to emphasise the capitalist character of the army and the need to dissolve the standing army into an armed people. This raised the question of the election of officers, the government to finance schools under the control of the trade unions for training worker-officers, instead of the sons of the ruling class. Such a programme would also make workers conscious of the role of the army, the state and the capitalists. It would pose the need for the working class to take power and wage a revolutionary internationalist war.
This proletarian military policy was first put forward by Trotsky shortly before his death in 1940 and adopted wholeheartedly by the WIL.
“If one proceeds only on the basis of the overall characterisation of the epoch, and nothing more, ignoring its concrete stages, one can easily lapse into schematism, sectarianism, or quixotic fantasy”—wrote Trotsky—“With every serious turn of events we adjust our basic tasks to the changed concrete conditions of the given stage. Herein lies the art of tactics.” (Trotsky Writings, 1939-40, p. 103)
He went on to outline the Marxist approach to the war:
“Without in any way wavering from our programme we must speak to the masses in a language they understand. ‘We Bolsheviks also want to defend democracy, but not the kind that is run by sixty uncrowned kings. First let’s sweep our democracy clean of capitalist magnates, then we will defend it to the last drop of blood. Are you, who are not Bolsheviks, really ready to defend this democracy? But you must, at least, be able to the best of your ability to defend it so as not to be a blind instrument in the hands of the Sixty Families and the bourgeois officers devoted to them. The working class must learn military affairs in order to advance the largest possible number of officers from its own ranks.’
“ ‘We must demand that the state, which tomorrow will ask for the workers’ blood, today give the workers the opportunity to master military technique in the best possible way in order to achieve the military objectives with the minimum expenditure of human lives.’
“ ‘To accomplish that, a regular army and barracks by themselves are not enough. Workers must have the opportunity to get military training at their factories, plants, and mines at specified times, while being paid by the capitalists. If the workers are destined to give their lives, the bourgeois patriots can at least make a small material sacrifice.’
“ ‘The state must issue a rifle to every worker capable of bearing arms and set up rifle and artillery ranges for military training purposes in places accessible to the workers.’
“Our agitation in connection with the war and all our politics connected with the war must be as uncompromising in relation to the pacifists as to the imperialists.
“ ‘This war is not our war. The responsibility for it lies squarely on the capitalists. But so long as we are still not strong enough to overthrow them and must fight in the ranks of their army, we are obliged to learn to use arms as well as possible!’
“Women workers must also have the right to bear arms. The largest possible number of women workers must have the opportunity, at the capitalists’ expense, to receive nurses’ training.
“Just as every worker, exploited by the capitalists, seeks to learn as well as possible the production techniques, so every proletarian soldier in the imperialist army must learn as well as possible, when the conditions change, to apply it in the interests of the working class.
“We are not pacifists. No. We are revolutionaries. And we know what lies ahead for us.” (Ibid, pp. 104-5)
When Trotsky raised the proletarian military policy, it provoked widespread opposition within the ranks of the Fourth International. Many leaders, such as those of the Belgian and British (the RSL) sections, deliberately purged any references to this policy. The Belgian group, for example, struck out several paragraphs on this question from the clandestine version of the May 1940 Manifesto. There were also “reservations” held by the French section and even the European Secretariat of the Fourth International. As a consequence, their whole approach, rooted in a false appraisal of the real situation, completely failed to connect with the working class faced with the onslaught of Hitler fascism. Their tactics were stuck in the past and tainted with pacifism. As a result, they were confined to the fringes. Even the American SWP, which had adopted the military policy under Trotsky’s pressure, interpreted the policy in a passive fashion, reducing it to mere propaganda divorced from any perspective for workers’ power.
In an article about this question, written by Pierre Broué in 1985, he explained that apart from Jean Van Heijenoort, who had worked very closely with Trotsky, “nobody in or on the fringe of the Fourth International had understood the question of militarisation.” This represented a damning indictment of the whole of the Fourth International which was not able to grasp this change of direction, so essential for an understanding of the entire epoch. However, Broué was not aware of the WIL’s position when he wrote this article. Subsequently, through his collaboration with the International Marxist Tendency and his contact with Ted Grant, he came to the conclusion that the WIL had conducted the most successful work during the war of any Trotskyist group in the world.
The success of the Workers’ International League during the war was based on its application of the military policy. While Cannon and the SWP were emphasising their propaganda approach, the WIL was posing the question of power before the working class. It is no accident that the group’s 1942 perspectives document was entitled Preparing for power, a position ridiculed by the RSL from the comfort of their sofas. The WIL’s perspective was however the same as Trotsky’s.
In an article he dictated just before he died, Trotsky addresses not only the SWP but also the world Trotskyist movement.
“No occupation is more completely unworthy than that of speculating whether or not we shall succeed in creating a powerful revolutionary leader-party. Ahead lies a favourable perspective, providing all the justification for revolutionary activism. It is necessary to utilise the opportunities which are opening up and to build the revolutionary party…
“Reaction wields today such power as perhaps never before in the modern history of mankind. But it would be an inexcusable blunder to see only reaction. The historical process is a contradictory one. Under the cover of official reaction profound processes are taking place among the masses who are accumulating experience and are becoming receptive to new political perspectives. The old conservative tradition of the democratic state which was so powerful even during the era of the last imperialist war exists today only as an extremely unstable survival. On the eve of the last war the European workers had numerically powerful parties. But on the order of the day were put reforms, partial conquests, and not at all the conquest of power.
“The American working class is still without a mass labour party even today. But the objective situation and the experience accumulated by the American workers can pose within a very brief period of time on the order of the day the question of the conquest of power. This perspective must be made the basis of our agitation. It is not merely a question of a position on capitalist militarism and of renouncing the defence of the bourgeois state, but of directly preparing for the conquest of power and the defence of the proletarian fatherland.” (Trotsky, Writings 1939-40, pp. 413-414)
It must be said, however, that the adoption of the military policy did not take place without some political frictions within the WIL leadership. While they all agreed with the general thrust of the policy, there were some criticisms by Jock, Millie and Sam Levy about the slant given to articles in the paper and particularly the nature of the Home Guard and how it could be transformed into a workers’ militia. The Minority believed the group had made concessions to defencism. Ted Grant, supported by Andrew Scott and Gerry Healy, defended the Majority line taken in the paper, which had correctly embraced the policy of proletarian militarism. It can be said that Ted, as opposed to the other leading comrades, grasped the real significance of the military policy as argued by Trotsky. This dispute led to exchanges within the internal bulletin between February and March 1941. The issue was resolved at a conference of the group based on a resolution drafted by Ted on behalf of the Political Bureau, which together with the articles in the internal bulletin are reprinted in their entirety for the first time in this volume.
True to form, the sectarian RSL, which was the official British section of the Fourth International, officially rejected the entire proletarian military policy in September 1941, describing it as a capitulation to chauvinism, and calling instead for the war to be turned into a civil war. They even made rejection of the policy a condition of membership! This politically hopeless sectarian group turned in on itself, keeping its r-r-revolutionary whispering for the dressing room. It was a sterile approach. They were simply repeating parrot-fashion what Lenin had written at the time of the First World War, without understanding that Lenin was not addressing the masses, but the cadres. But Lenin changed his approach during 1917 as the Bolshevik party sought not to educate the cadres, but to win over the Russian masses.
Anti-militarism and defeatism could never win the masses. This was especially the case in Britain when, following the fall of France, the masses were alarmed at the prospect of a Nazi occupation and all the horrors that would mean. The Trotskyists also wanted to defeat Hitler, but pointed out that the British workers could not rely on the British ruling class, who supported the fascists when it suited them, to carry out this task. The WIL agitated for a genuine war against Hitler on the basis of the British workers taking power, and an internationalist appeal to the German workers to overthrow Hitler.
As Trotsky explained:
“The present war, as we have stated more than once, is a continuation of the last war. But a continuation does not imply a repetition. As a general rule, a continuation implies a development, a deepening, a sharpening. Our policy, the policy of the revolutionary proletariat towards the second imperialist world war, is a continuation of the policy elaborated during the last imperialist war, primarily under the leadership of Lenin. But a continuation does not imply a repetition. In this case, too, a continuation means a development, a deepening and a sharpening.” (Trotsky, Writings 1939-40, p.411)
Work in the Labour League of Youth
As a result of their sectarian approach, the RSL suffered a steep decline in its membership. At the same time, the WIL made significant progress in the recruitment of industrial workers and built important points of support in the factories. By the time of its first national conference it was 300-strong, 90 percent of which were industrial workers.
Before the outbreak of war, the WIL conducted consistent work within the Labour League of Youth against the Stalinists, however, its independent work began to take on greater and greater importance. This was especially the case with the declaration of war in September 1939 and the conscription of the youth into the army. The political truce reduced the local Labour Party branches to mere shells with little internal life. In the middle of 1940, the Labour Party entered a coalition government under Winston Churchill. Under these circumstances, any potential gains in the Labour Party completely dried up. The WIL adopted a flexible approach and made a turn towards the ILP, which had started to grow on the basis of its anti-war stance. Moreover, with the upturn in the number of strikes, the WIL turned increasingly to the industrial front, changing the name of its paper from Youth For Socialism to Socialist Appeal in June 1941. This gave it a much broader appeal. In the lead article in the first issue of the Appeal it argued for Labour to power on the following programme:
“(1) Arming and organising of the workers under their own control to resist any danger from invasion or any Pétainism at home. (2) Election of officers by soldiers. (3) The establishment of special officers’ training camps, financed by the government and controlled by the trade unions, to train workers to become officers. (4) Expropriation of the arms industries, mines, banks, land and heavy industry. (5) Workers’ control of production. (6) Freedom for India and the Colonies. (6) A Socialist appeal to the workers of Germany and Europe for the Socialist struggle against Hitler.” (Socialist Appeal, June 1941)
Impact of the Nazi attack on the USSR
This transformation of the WIL’s newspaper was not only due to the growing influence of the organisation, but it also coincided with Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union and her entry into the world conflagration. The need to unconditionally defend the Soviet Union from imperialist attack was a long-standing position of the Trotskyist movement. This did not change the general imperialist character of the war, but the defence of the USSR featured more prominently in the WIL’s programme. The banner heading of the July 1941 issue read Defend the Soviet Union and explained
“The war has now taken a new turn with the attack by German imperialism on the Soviet Union. A terrible danger now threatens the first workers’ state with destruction. The greatest clash in the history of the world on a 1,800-mile front has thrown the whole international situation into a state of flux. The assault of world imperialism on the first workers’ state is no longer a Marxist perspective, but a grim reality.”
Prior to this, the Stalin-Hitler Pact, the Soviet invasion of Poland and Finland, and the war itself, had produced a wave of anti-Soviet propaganda throughout the capitalist “democracies”. This shook a section of the American SWP to the core, resulting in a substantial minority led by Max Shachtman and James Burnham buckling under pressure. This led them to challenge the class nature of the Soviet Union as a deformed workers’ state resting on nationalised property rights. They stated that the USSR had become a new bureaucratic collectivist state with its own imperialist ambitions. They regarded it as some kind of new class society which could not be defended. This clearly reflected the pressures of bourgeois public opinion. While the Trotskyists opposed the Stalin dictatorship, their revolutionary duty was to defend the remaining gains of the October Revolution, the nationalisation of the means of production and the monopoly of foreign trade. This position was linked with the need for political revolution to remove the bureaucracy and re-introduce workers’ democracy. The Shachtman-Burnham group finally split from the SWP and abandoned any pretence at defending the Soviet Union.
Despite Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the WIL did not change its characterisation of the war as an imperialist war, despite the fact that the USSR had allied itself with the “democratic” imperialist powers. For the Stalinists, however, this changed everything. Ever since the signing of the Stalin-Hitler Pact, the Communist Party characterised the war as imperialist and campaigned for, in essence, peace on Hitler’s terms. They branded Britain and France as the real enemies. This showed that the Stalinist parties were simply the mouthpieces of the Russian bureaucracy, twisting and turning with every change of policy emanating from Moscow.
For the Stalinists, as soon as the Soviet Union was drawn into the war, the war suddenly changed to become a “just war” against fascism, which should be given unqualified support. In the space of 24 hours, the Communist Party became the greatest supporter of the war and opposed all strikes which served to undermine the war effort. They became the greatest cheerleaders of the Churchill government. The Stalinists had turned into strike breakers and chauvinists of the worst kind. As a result, the WIL launched an immediate struggle against the pro-war line of the Stalinists in the trade unions and in the factories, exposing their weaknesses and posing a revolutionary alternative.
The work of the WIL during this period began to have an effect on the best workers in the ranks of the CP and a number of its best militants joined the Trotskyists. A growing part of the work of the WIL was directed towards the best CP workers in an attempt to win them away from its Stalinist leadership. The Trotskyists gave whole-hearted support to the increasing number of strikes, to the profound displeasure of the bosses, trade union bureaucracy and the Stalinists.
In November 1941, the WIL held a successful 200-strong public meeting in London on the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. It was described by the Socialist Appeal as “one of the most enthusiastic left-wing gatherings held in Britain since the outbreak of the war.” The speakers were Haston, Healy and Ted Grant. In the report it explains:
“The last speaker was comrade Ted Grant who exposed the real meaning of Churchill’s aid for the USSR. Amidst loud applause he dealt a slashing attack upon [the] treacherous role of the Communist Party. ‘If Hitler was confronted with a Russian victory,’ said comrade Grant, ‘then in 24 hours Churchill would make peace with German Nazism and inaugurate a universal imperialist line up against the first workers’ state.’ In reply to discussion our comrade satisfactorily dealt with a number of issues raised by CP members of the audience.” (Socialist Appeal, December 1941)
The meeting had coincided with a public attack on the WIL by the Sunday Dispatch, accusing the comrades of acting in the interests of the Nazis. Socialist Appeal replied to this attack by a front-page article exposing the role of the Dispatch and its sister paper, the Daily Mail, for its lies, adding that these gutter newspapers had been ardent supporters of Hitler and Mussolini before the war. The Dispatch reprinted all the Stalinist lies contained in a manifesto that the Trotskyists were disrupters and agents of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco! They repeated these slanders and ended with the Stalinist phrase: “Treat the Trotskyists as you would a Nazi.” In the December issue of Labour Monthly, R.J. Campbell described the Trotskyists as the “agents of the Gestapo in the Labour movement.”
Throughout these months, the success of the WIL brought a witch-hunt down on the heads of the Trotskyists, instigated by Will Lawther, national president of the Miners’ Federation, Joe Hall, the president of the Yorkshire miners, the capitalist press and, of course, the Stalinists. All accused the Trotskyists of sabotaging the war-effort and helping Hitler. There was a massive uproar against the WIL in the capitalist press and the Stalinists issued a pamphlet in August 1942 called Clear out Hitler’s agents, by William Wainwright, urging their members to physically attack the Trotskyists. They even raised the matter in the House of Commons through their MP Willie Gallacher, urging that Home Secretary Herbert Morrison ban the WIL and close down its newspaper. Morrison was not convinced, although he stated inquiries would be made. He turned to Gallacher, reminding him of his past saying:
“I ask Mr. Gallacher not to be too keen to suppress this organisation; they are only pursuing much the same political policy which he and his own political friends pursued some time ago.” (Quoted in War and the International by Bornstein and Richardson, p. 64)
The Communist Party’s hooligan tactics were to encourage physical assaults upon Socialist Appeal sellers, who were invariably attempting to sell outside CP meetings and engage the rank and file in discussions. In late 1941, a circular was sent by YCL leaders to its branches:
“We are too tolerant of these people. They are allowed to sell their paper Socialist Appeal outside meetings. They have even become members of the Communist Party and YCL. We must be utterly ruthless with these people. They spread confusion amongst the working class and do serious harm to our party.” (Quoted in Socialist Appeal, December 1941)
Dozens of reports were made to the WIL headquarters of Stalinist attacks and paper-snatching, from Liverpool, Birmingham, Wimbledon, Wood Green, Ilford, Stoll and Chiswick, to name a few. An article outlining these incidents appeared in the January 1942 issue of the Appeal. The report from Liverpool explained, “Replying in the only way such near-fascist methods deserve, the Stalinist was soon on the floor, not much hurt, but certainly disinclined to try any more funny business.” This issue of increasing Stalinist violence, which was akin to the methods of fascist reaction, was also discussed at the Political Bureau of the WIL in January 1942. The minutes record the advice to be given to comrades:
“Discussion on how to counter Stalinist hooligan tactics. Task was not to over-reach. Be friendly, even joke—stop things coming to a clash. Of course, if assaulted the comrades to protect themselves.” It concluded with the instruction, “Don’t call the police.” (Political Bureau minutes, January 3 1942)
In general, the WIL comrades responded magnificently, turning the political attacks to their advantage. They turned the tables on their attackers. For instance, Socialist Appeal counter-attacked with a leaflet entitled, Clear out the bosses’ agents, exposing the strike-breaking policies of the Communist Party. In its issue of September 1942, the paper offered a £10 reward to “any member of the CP who can show any page of this pamphlet [Clear out Hitler’s agents] which does not contain a minimum of five lies.” Needless to say, the reward remains unclaimed to this very day.
Growth of the WIL
From eight or so members in January 1938, the WIL had grown to around 300 members by their first national conference in August 1942. It was held in the Holborn Hall in London, attended by some 120 delegates and visitors. It was here that the document Preparing for power was debated and enthusiastically endorsed. In preparation for this important conference a Central Committee meeting was held on June 27 for which Ted was asked by the Political Bureau to draft a resolution on military policy. The RSL, the official section of the Fourth International, plagued by factionalism, had, by this time, to all intents and purposes collapsed.
The WIL had been proved absolutely correct in breaking with the old “Militant Group” and launching out on its own. It was proved correct in practice for the comrades to turn their back on the Trotskyist sects and their “fusion conference”. The WIL was built on the rock solid foundations of Marxist theory, flexible tactics and confidence in the future. The group was now conducting the most successful work in the war of any Trotskyist group in the world. This was due to a correct political line and the assembling of a core of leading comrades that were self-sacrificing and dedicated to the cause of world socialism. Key amongst them was Ted Grant who above all else grasped the ideas and methods of genuine Trotskyism. Today these ideas and traditions are being advanced by the International Marxist Tendency—a real testament to the work and heritage of comrade Ted Grant.
“Our untrained and untested organisation will, within a few years at most, be hurled into the turmoil of the revolution. The problem of the organisation, the problem of building the party, goes hand in hand with the mobilisation of the masses…”—explained Ted—“Every member must raise himself or herself to the understanding that the key to world history lies in our hands. The conquest of power is on the order of the day in Britain—but only if we find the road to the masses.” (Preparing for power, June 1942)
Rob Sewell, July 2010
The Workers’ International League was founded at the end of 1937 in the middle of the preparations for the Second World War. Through the publications of the WIL we can see how this group of young comrades were preparing for the imminent war without making any concessions to pacifist or ambiguous positions. Their characterisation of the war as an imperialist war gave them the theoretical basis to resist the pressure of petty-bourgeois pacifism which was dominant in the ILP at that time. It also put them firmly against the CP’s “peace on Hitler’s terms”, then the complete somersault of a war of “democracy against fascism”.
The WIL, from its inception, stood out for its active agitation and propaganda, and for the efficient organisation that allowed them to produce two monthly publications, The Searchlight, then Youth For Socialism, the theoretical magazine Workers’ International News, and also many pamphlets. The WIL became the main voice of British Trotskyism and it is thanks to this small organisation that the most advanced British workers had the possibility of reading and debating the ideas put forward by Trotsky—a task that the then bigger Revolutionary Socialist League was never able to accomplish.
The documents of this section give a reduced sample of the ideological battle for the political rearmament of the movement that was taking place in such difficult conditions. We have decided to include the document produced by the WIL political bureau for the June 1938 “unification” conference of Trotskyist groups. Suffice to say that the principled position of the WIL was soon vindicated by the continuous crises of the RSL provoked by the hasty fusion of groups without a real political agreement. On these grounds, although standing as an independent organisation outside of the official section, the WIL appealed for membership to the founding congress of the Fourth International.
Ted Grant’s lead articles for Youth For Socialism provide the theoretical grounds for the future evolution of the WIL and the adoption of Trotsky’s military policy.
Lessons of Spain
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Lessons of Spain
Contribution by WIL to the discussion on the tasks of Bolshevik-Leninists in Britain
By WIL Political Bureau
[Original document, June 1938]
The Bolshevik-Leninists of the various groupings in Britain are united in the matter of the adoption of the broad programme of the Fourth International—the characterisation of the present epoch as the eve of new international economic convulsions heralding the death throes of capitalism [and] imperialism, the acceleration of frantic preparations for another universal war of imperialist cannibalism and the encroachment of fascism as the overtures to the coming crisis; the role of reformism and Stalinism as the crutches of moribund imperialism; the vacillating character of centrism; the need for a new Fourth International and for a revolutionary party in Britain, a section of the new international, to lead the struggle of the British workers. It is of course on the question of how to overcome the present exasperating isolation of the revolutionary elements from the broad masses of the working class that differences of opinion have risen that keep British Bolshevik-Leninists disunited. It is therefore only with this question of immediate tactics in facing present tasks that this statement deals.
On October 7 1858, Engels was able to write to Marx:
“The British working class is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat as well as a bourgeoisie. Of course, this is to [a] certain extent justifiable for a nation which is exploiting the whole world.”
This classic characterisation of the British labour movement recurs again and again throughout Marxist writings and is underlined by the growing opportunism of the British labour movement under the leadership of its aristocratic stratum, bribed by a share of the super profits arising from the colonial monopoly of the world market. The Labour Party is the culmination of decades of opportunism and social chauvinism, and today seeks to qualify as the managing board of the British bourgeoisie, to conduct tomorrow wars for it in the same spirit as liberalism conducted its wars of yesterday. Today encroaching rival imperialism by threatening the British bourgeoisie, thereby threatens also the vested interests of the Labour bureaucracy. In its open wholehearted support for British war preparations, the labour bureaucracy seeks merely to protect its own.
The plunder seized by the victors in the last great war gave a new infusion of blood not only to British capitalism but to its opportunist lackeys in the labour movement. Where in the vanquished and cheated imperialist countries the bourgeoisie was compelled to turn to fascism as the last mean to maintain its domination, in Britain as in France the labour bureaucracy was given a new lease of life! The same crisis that carried the German social democratic leaders into exile or into Hitler’s concentration camps carried the Ramsay MacDonalds into Downing Street.
Today the social economic basis for British labour opportunism is disappearing. Rearmed German imperialism, Italian aggression, Japan’s war of plunder, sharpening antagonism with the other victors in the last war, colossal armaments expenditures, increasing demands by the national bourgeoisie in the Dominions and India, colonial revolts, the approach of a new world slump—all these factors undermine the privileged position of monopolist British imperialism [and] destroy the basis of British Labour opportunism. Far from winning new concessions, the British proletariat find its old concessions increasingly threatened, its standards of life steadily gnawed away.
If there are British workers today who vote for the Tories, it is on account of the reputation which the Tories won in a past epoch when they led the struggle for the abolition of child labour, for the Factories Act, etc. The rural worker who votes Tory as his grandfather did, does so for the same reason—because it represents for him a progressive force which did after all win reforms, whereas Labour, he will point out, has gained nothing for the workers. The treachery of past Labour governments, far from clearing the road for the revolutionary party, has reconsolidated Toryism in Britain. The experience of two Labour governments does not in itself serve to guide the working class to the correct conclusions; there is needed in addition the presence within the labour movement of a vanguard which successfully drives the lesson into workers’ consciousness by means of sustained, serious and systematic criticism of policies. Where such criticism comes from select coteries external to the mass organisations, it is generally ignored, however deserving it may be of a better fate; only when it is uttered by workers within the organisations who have earned the right to criticise by means of steady work side by side with the other active members, only then is there the chance of driving the lesson home.
This piece of ABC wisdom is apparently not part of the equipment of one section of revolutionary socialists. Comrades belonging to our grouping have reported to us that they heard read out at a meeting of their trade union, the AEU a circular letter which had been issued by the executive committee of the Revolutionary Socialist League to all AEU branches. The letter contained a correct criticism of the arms policy of the AEU leadership, but it aroused no discussion and was ignored. In other branches the letter was not even read.
Criticism from outside is sometimes more damaging to the cause it seeks to serve than no criticism at all. As in this concrete instance, so in its general attitude towards reformist mass organisations, the RSL, which lacks a sufficiently strong voice to make its criticism heard from the outside, fails on the other hand to take the only alternative path and organise an effective internal criticism. The utterly ineffective, and indeed damaging, tactic adopted towards the AEU is in the case of the Labour Party glorified into a Marxist principle, and called “the independence of the revolutionary proletarian party.” The Labour bureaucracy is left entirely free to organise yet another betrayal of the British workers who are abandoned by “revolutionaries” to find their own way out of the debacle which means in effect to retrace their footsteps, to return to Toryism or even more extreme reaction.
The Labour Party reached its peak membership of nearly 4.5 million in 1919-1920, the revolutionary post-war years. Today it has less than half that number of members but there can be no doubt that it will again reflect in an increasing membership the struggle of the British workers to smash down the political barriers that baffle their efforts to maintain their standards of life.
In their attempts to cut a way through the legislative measures that hemmed them in, the workers in the British trade unions created the Labour Party as a political adjunct to the trade unions. Every time the efforts of the trade unionists to gain their demands or safeguard their interests through the unions were baffled by judicial decisions the Labour Party gained new access of strength. Future trade union struggles must inevitably come into conflict with the reactionary measures introduced by the national government and so force upon the consciousness of the workers the necessity for political action to implement trade union action. The Labour Party must inevitably experience a new growth after the next offensive or defensive struggle of the trade unions since it functions as a subsidiary political arm of the trade unions which impress upon it their own fundamentally reformist character.
Because it is an outgrowth of the trade unions and functions entirely within the framework of bourgeois democracy, the Labour Party shares one basic characteristic with the trade unions: it dwindles in “peace time” to a mere skeleton.
It is the experience of every active trade unionist that between periods of major struggle—against wage cuts, for wage increases—the trade union is carried on by a small minority of members. The majority of members do not attend meetings, although they continue to pay subscriptions and support the union passively. It is in these periods of ebb that the trade union bureaucracy consolidates itself.
For the Labour Party, functioning as it does within bourgeois democracy, war time is election time, and in the peace time period between elections, it becomes a mere skeleton, passively supported by its individual, trade union and co-operative members. At the present moment, except for the passive ripples of by-elections, its work is carried on by a small minority consisting in the main of the bureaucracy, a sprinkling of ambitious careerists, a few veterans who support the bureaucracy and the factions sent in by external organisations. In such a structure, party activity consists in a series of manoeuvres executed mainly between Stalinists and right wingers. The mass membership for whose benefit the various postures are adopted are notably absent from the auditorium.
This is the party into which a number of revolutionary socialists have entered, and their participation in the life of the party is conditioned by this skeleton structure which gives to the reigning bureaucracy a practically free hand. But far from negativing the activity of the revolutionary socialists within the Labour Party, the peace time structure gives them a political weight out of all proportion to their numerical strength.
There is in the first place the opportunity of coming into contact with politically awakening workers who in the ordinary functioning of the Labour Party would pass through the organisation as through a sieve. By posing before them a militant programme of struggle, the disillusionment that arises from the reformist character of the Labour Party is replaced with the hope of accomplishing working class aims. In this way the left wing within the Labour Party is strengthened and consolidated.
Secondly there arises the possibility of utilising the national machinery of the Labour Party as a sounding board. Where normally there would be merely the factional struggle between right wing reformism and Stalinist reformism, there is now introduced a third point of view, the revolutionary position. For example, in the present struggle between the Stalinist popular front and the right wing “independence of the Labour Party” it is possible to introduce the correct policy of the workers’ united front. In the absence of a revolutionary wing, the entire question is distorted.
In the struggle to magnify the weak voice of revolutionary socialism it is necessary to capture positions, delegations, seats on committees and councils, and this brings the socialists into direct conflict with the expert manoeuvrers on the other side. Repeated defeats, when they are examined self critically, are the soil from which spring future successes. The necessity of responding swiftly and correctly to the questions raised day after day brings valuable experience.
Thus even in the skeletonised party of the inter-election period there is to be gained new blood for the left wing movement, a magnification for revolutionary propaganda and political experience.
At the present moment the right wingers search for a stick with which to beat the Stalinists who threaten to tear the machine from out of their hands. They do not hesitate to publish selected articles by Trotsky in Forward and to quote from the Trotskyites. Only from within the Labour Party is it possible to exact a price from the bureaucracy, forcing it to acknowledge the revolutionary content of Trotskyism instead of merely utilising the anti-Stalinist aspect of its revolutionary programme.
The revolutionary elements correctly oriented within the mass workers’ party grow with the growth of the party. As the crisis forces increasing numbers of workers from passive to active support of the Labour Party, they find within the party a nucleus around which to gather, and party growth means growth of the left wing. To gain the maximum development along lines of revolutionary struggle requires the throwing of the entire available forces of the militants into the work of building the left wing. It is possible to learn from military theoreticians, who have summed up the central principle of military tactics in the formula: “all strength at the point of attack.” The adoption of this formula in “the contiguous field of political strategy” means the abandonment of any external “independent” organisation. The experience of our grouping has proved that it is possible to carry out the special work of an independent organisation, publication of pamphlets, propaganda, news, etc. even though its entire forces are immersed in the Labour party, attempting to carry out the functions of building the left wing, voicing the revolutionary policy and training cadres. The actual carrying out of this policy has consolidated the numbers of the Workers’ International League in opposition to any concession whatsoever to the sectarianism which seeks to concentrate the efforts of militants on the framing of unread manifestoes and unread criticism.
These arguments apply with even greater force to the task of mobilising working class youth, now being drawn increasingly into economic struggles, under the banner of revolutionary socialism. Within the Labour League of Youth, which is a rallying ground for the younger and fresher elements of the politically awakening proletariat, there are basically the same trends and an even better field of work than in the senior party. It is among the youth that the Stalinists who have entered the Labour Party exert the greatest influence, utilising their virtual control of the organisation for the purpose of lining up the youth for imperialist war. Failure to build a left wing in the Labour League of Youth means the abandonment of working class youth to social patriotism and to wholesale slaughter.
The struggle for the winning of the youth opens up new avenues for reaching that section of the youth that has already come under Stalinist influence. The increasing disintegration within the Communist Party manifests itself in a growing internal opposition to popular frontism, deepened by the recent defeats for the peace alliance. Side by side with the instinctive rejection by a part of the membership of the Stalinist policies of class collaboration there is the havoc brought by the latest Moscow Trial. The possibility is now created of taking advantage of those self-inflicted breaches in the Stalinist wall both by a direct tackling of the problem of reaching the Stalinist rank and file and through the Labour Party.
Since the dissolution of the Socialist League there has been no left wing organisation within the Labour Party to serve as a rallying point for Labour militants. Both the Socialist Left Federation and the Militant Labour League have been still born; neither has met with any response within the Labour Party. On the other hand if the movement of the ILP towards re-affiliation to the Labour Party culminates as most observers expect, the ILP with its long tradition and its verbally left programme must become the core of the left wing. Events in Spain have driven the ILP away from the Communist Party and towards the Labour Party. On February 3 1938, Fenner Brockway was reported as declaring: “We would be prepared to re-affiliate to the Labour Party if we had the conditions from that Party which would enable us to maintain our revolutionary socialistic views.” The Labour Party executive refuses “any special reservations or privileges for ILP members as MPs.”
The re-entry of the ILP into the Labour Party will relegate both the Socialist Left Federation and the Militant Labour League into oblivion. Our entire perspective within the Labour Party must be adapted to the new conditions now arising, which necessitate working upon the ILP to hasten the process of differentiation which has already begun in the ILP in the movement of its parliamentary section towards the Labour Party bureaucracy. With our small forces opposed to the overwhelming numbers and resources of the enemy, we are forced to adopt guerrilla tactics, to offset our smallness of numbers with greater mobility, resourcefulness and activity. As our forces grow and spread in their scope, practical problems of co-ordination and unification are raised. The solution to these problems are found as they arise and it is in the actual solving of concrete problems that the organisation is created to serve as the living instrument of workers’ militant struggle. Only a brief breathing space is allotted to us for the forging of that instrument. We must utilise the time at our disposal in the most effective manner, and that means—all our forces into the Labour Party—full strength at the point of attack.
 Amalgamated Engineering Union
 Forward was a Glasgow-based socialist journal established by the Independent Labour Party in 1906.
 The Socialist League was a left group formed in 1932, led by Stafford Cripps, as a split from the Independent Labour Party in opposition to the ILP's policy of disaffiliating from the Labour party.
Statement of WIL to the international congress of the Fourth International
By WIL Political Bureau
[Original document, September 1938]
The Workers’ International League supports the principle that there shall be wherever possible in each country one section and only one section of the Fourth International.
The objective situation in Britain, the extension of capitalist decay and acceleration of war preparations, coupled with the isolation and numerical smallness of the Bolshevik Leninists, dictates the tactic of entering the mass organisations of the working class as a semi-legal fraction. The Workers’ International League stands consistently and unequivocally on this basis, refusing to make any concession to sectarianism which will cancel out the effects of this activity.
The new Revolutionary Socialist League is founded on a compromise with sectarianism, and arising out of the political compromise there is naturally a dual organisational structure. The membership is left free to decide, each for himself, the milieu of work; the principle of centralism is thrown overboard, and with it any pretence of democratic discipline. In effect, the new RSL consists of two organisations masquerading under a single name, a state of affairs that cannot be hidden from the outside world, even if internal friction is sufficiently overcome to enable the organisation to begin to function.
The WIL alone subscribes consistently and unequivocally to the programme agreed upon at the first international congress of the Fourth International for Britain in the present period. By laying, not merely the “main emphasis”, but the entire weight of its forces on work in the Labour Party, it thereby underlines its claim to be the official British section of the Fourth International. If however, the 1938 congress of the Fourth International decides that it is necessary to dilute the decision of the previous congress, and to modify that section of the draft thesis: The death agony of capitalism, entitled Against Sectarianism, (particularly the final sentence: “The cleansing of the ranks of the Fourth International of sectarianism and incurable sectarians is a primary condition for revolutionary success”); if the congress decides upon these modifications and accepts the new Revolutionary Socialist League as the official British section of the Fourth International, then the Workers’ International League has no recourse but to request that it be accepted as a body sympathetically affiliated to the Fourth International. The real bond that unites the national sections in the Fourth International is of course the common programme which determines the activity of each section; the WIL embraces the fundamentals of this common programme and thereby establishes its claim to affiliation as an entrist group, i.e., as a body not openly and avowedly affiliated.
By virtue of our sympathetic affiliation to the Fourth International, we will be ipso facto a body fraternally affiliated to the new RSL, to which our attitude becomes one of fraternal collaboration in those fields of work which we both enter: trade unions, Labour parties, youth organisations. Joint work, with the relations between the two groups subject to continual review, will produce the maximum possible benefit for our tendency in Britain, and the basis for such joint work must be the fraternal status of the two groups within the framework of the Fourth International.
 Arthur Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940) was a British Conservative politician and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940. Chamberlain is best known for signing the Munich Agreement in 1938 with Hitler, conceding the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany.
Against “national defence”
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 1, No. 7, March 1939]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Against “national defence”
The robbers quarrel over Tientsin
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 1 No. 11, July 1939]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: The robbers quarrel over Tientsin
Workers want peace—bosses prepare for war!
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 1 No. 12, August 1939]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Workers want peace—bosses prepare for war!
Down with the war! “The main enemy is at home”
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 2 No. 1, September 1939]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive:
2. Imperialist slaughter [September 1939 – July 1940]
In this series of lead articles for Youth For Socialism Ted Grant highlighted the main reason for the war, the conflict between German and Anglo-American imperialism for domination of Europe and the world.
The war was presented as one against Nazi dictatorship, but at the same time the British ruling class had a liking for Franco and were also courting Mussolini, revealing the fact that their opposition to “dictatorship” was pure hypocrisy. After the first few months of war in early 1940, preparations for an even worse scenario of slaughter were being undertaken by all imperialist powers by mobilising the masses of each country against the “enemy”. The Labour leaders’ bankrupt policies of backing a national unity government led by Churchill left the workers disarmed.
On the other hand, fake anti-war agitation was carried out by the Stalinist leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which in the last analysis amounted to accepting peace on Hitler’s terms. These criminal policies were hampering the ability of the working class movement to adopt an independent stance in relation to the war. The betrayal of the Stalinist leaders of the CPGB was the British side of the coin of the Stalin-Hitler pact signed in August 1939.
The propaganda of the WIL focused on the hypocrisy of the British bourgeoisie which was responsible for the rise of Hitler and which had tried until the last moment to reach a gentlemen’s understanding with Hitler through the Munich Agreement that allowed Nazi Germany to invade Czechoslovakia. The WIL denounced the real interests behind the calls for national unity, while arguing that the solution would not be that of accepting peace on Hitler’s terms, as the Stalinists were proposing, but to wage a class revolt against the imperialist war.
In the early stages of the war, Germany wished to maintain nominal neutrality among the other nations in Europe, especially among those with whom she shared a common frontier. Britain, in order to strike at Germany, tried to spread the war as widely as possible, not being in the least concerned with the “rights of small nations”. As Ted Grant wrote, “The people of Europe can look forward to a few months more or less of the present deadlock, then the sanguinary slaughter—there is no other prospect.”
By the summer of 1940, the French ruling class had miserably succumbed to Nazi domination, refusing to organise popular resistance for fear that the arming of the working class might threaten their interests, and preferring to reach a deal with the Nazi occupier. The capitulation of the French bourgeoisie was a turning point in the war that was reflected in a change of tone in the propaganda of the WIL. Now Britain faced the threat of invasion. In France the bourgeoisie refused to arm the workers for fear that these arms would eventually be turned against them. As a result of this experience the revolutionary socialists in Britain posed the demand of expropriating the capitalists, freeing the colonies from the imperialist yoke and arming the workers as the only means to stop any Nazi invasion.
Our war is the class war
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 2 No. 5, February 1940]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Our war is the class war
Not for imperialist slaughter
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 2 No. 6, March 1940]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Not for imperialist slaughter
How to win the class war
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 2 No. 7, April 1940]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: How to win the class war
No peace without socialism
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 2 No. 8, May 1940]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: No peace without socialism
The workers’ war is the class war!
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 2 No. 10, June 1940]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: The workers’ war is the class war!
Workers must be armed against capitalism
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 2 No. 10, July 1940]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Workers must be armed against capitalism
3. The internal debate of WIL on revolutionary military policy [February-March 1941]
The lead article published in Youth For Socialism and Workers’ International News of February 1941 written by Andrew Scott on behalf of the EC Majority developed the approach already present in the July 1940 article by Ted Grant, reproducing the same slogans as a conclusion.
The approach towards the war provoked a differentiation within the leadership of the Workers’ International League. The important change in the attitude of the WIL towards the war was a necessary step in the direction of the adoption and application in the conditions of Britain of Trotsky’s “proletarian military policy”. Different opinions arose within the EC of the WIL around the formulations contained in the articles that we reproduce in this section, and this provoked a sharp debate in the pages of the internal bulletin.
The debate was kicked off at the end of February by Millie Kahn and Sam Levy with a sharp criticism of the lead article of Youth For Socialism. This was soon followed by an article by Jock Haston that supported and developed the same line of argument. What these comrades feared was that the application of the military policy proposed by the EC Majority represented a capitulation to chauvinist pressure.
Although the documents reveal the tension of this debate and the arguments were raised in very sharp tones, we have to underline the extremely scrupulous attitude of the EC Majority in dealing with the arguments raised. Instead of weakening the cohesion of the WIL, this debate helped the organisation to grow politically and to develop an understanding of all the implications of the military policy.
The EC Majority around Ted Grant successfully argued their case, answering point by point the criticisms raised by the Minority, acknowledging some points where an agreement could be reached. In doing so, they managed to turn the League towards a successful intervention within the British army, forging an even greater degree of solidarity amongst the leading cadres of the organisation.
Arm the workers!
The only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion
By Andrew Scott
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 3 No. 4, February 1941]
Once more the campaigning season approaches. Spring is on its way, and the preparations of the rival imperialists for further redivisions of the earth are reaching fever pitch. Industrial production is being speeded up throughout the world; diplomacy is clearing roads for the advance of tanks, guns and soldiers; strategists are at work planning attacks, invasions, conquests.
The winter has been one of comparative military calm. It has been broken, certainly, by the nightly bombing of cities and by the advance of the British troops in Libya. But in spite of that it closely resembles the previous winter in the fact that there have been no major engagements between the British and German forces. It also resembles last winter in the fact that Germany has been making the same thorough preparations for attack, and the British leaders have been making almost exactly the same plans for defence.
A year ago, the Allied strategists sat comfortably behind their Maginot line waiting for Germany either to attack and batter itself to death against the “wall of steel” or to refrain from attacking and die an economic death through the blockade. Meantime, they were actually mad enough to make preparations to take on Russia too!
Today, the British generals are sitting comfortably behind their new Maginot line, the sea, boasting as they did a year ago that their defence is impregnable, and dreaming of their future invasion of the continent. How they are going to accomplish this with their maximum 4 million soldiers against the 10 million which the Berlin-Rome Axis has already trained and armed they do not reveal.
As the days pass, the similarity of the present position with that of a year ago becomes more pronounced. The principal preparation of the French ruling class for the alleged “war against Nazism” was the banning of working-class newspapers, the outlawing of the Communist Party, the Trotskyists, and other left wing groupings, the jailing of thousands of militants, the intensification of the exploitation of the workers.
Today in Britain, this process has already started, and the plans are ready for its extension on a gigantic scale. The Daily Worker has been banned and the next step will inevitably be the banning of the Communist Party. Then will follow the economic offensive against the workers’ conditions and the arrest of every militant who protests. All the parties and groups of the left will be suppressed. The British ruling class, with the assistance of the Labour leaders, has set out on the road of totalitarian repression and there can be no going back for it.
In France the result of this method of “fighting Nazism” was that the German army simply walked into the country and took over Paris within a few days. The capitalists of France showed themselves more ready to fight the workers than to fight Hitler. The Labour and trade union leaders, who had actively supported the moves against the workers found themselves either in the dungeons of the Gestapo—or those of Pétain.
In Britain the results will be no different. The capitalist class is not fighting Hitler’s fascism. They are only fighting his plans to relieve them of their Empire.
The only way in which Paris could have been defended and France saved from invading fascism was by the arming of the workers. Only an armed people, a nation in arms, could have held up Hitler’s advance. If that had been done, then every town would have become a fortress, every village a tank trap, every house a front line trench. The masses would have rallied then to stop the advance of Hitler’s machine. Willing hands would have been ready to make grenades and petrol bombs by the million and throw them under the tanks.
But the French capitalists dared not arm the workers. Certainly they armed that section which was under their own control—in the army. But to have armed the masses of the workers would have been to risk those arms being used against themselves. Rather surrender to Hitler, they thought, than take the risk of being defeated by the workers.
It was not the workers of France who left the way open for Hitler’s advance. It was the Pétains and Weygands, who were more afraid of the workers having arms and control of them than they were of Hitler’s conquering France. Until the very last moment they swore they would defend Paris street by street—only to hand it over intact to Hitler, together with a full police force to keep the workers in order.
The French ruling class revealed how lying were all their claims to be defending democracy against Hitler. The suppression of the workers, allegedly in the interests of conducting a struggle against Hitler led directly to his victory and to the possibility of the Pétain gang turning into agents of Hitler and imposing a [missing word] caricature of his regime on France.
So much for their love of democracy and freedom. Only the working class is willing to fight to the death against all forms of reaction both at home and abroad. As Bevin emphasised in a speech some months ago, the fifth column is not to be found among the workers—it is “higher up”. But now Bevin finds himself supporting the “higher-ups” in their campaign against the alleged “fifth column” among the workers—a campaign which is in reality against the independence and rights of the entire working class.
Not by curtailing the power of the workers in the factory and the army—but by organising workers’ control of industry and arms can [there] be a guarantee of victory not only over Hitler but over the fifth column gang of capitalists at home.
The workers of Britain must learn the lesson of France! Hitler is planning to invade this country just as he invaded France. The ruling class here has the same interests, the same fear of the workers, the same leaning towards fascism as the ruling class of France. And they are holding back arms and the control of arms from the workers in exactly the same way. They refuse to take the only step that can guarantee certain defeat for any attempt of Hitler to invade this country—the arming of the entire working class. The Home Guard, which they pretended for a time was a sort of arming of the nation, is being brought more and more under control of the chiefs of the regular army. Now that the Home Guard is to a certain extent armed, the government is bureaucratically imposing full-time officers from above. They must have complete control of all arms for their own purposes.
The workers of Britain support this war for the purpose of fighting fascism. But the ruling class will not allow them to do this. The ruling class is fighting German imperialist expansion—not fascism—and if in the course of the struggle it finds itself faced with the choice of defeat or the arming of the workers to avoid defeat, then it will choose defeat. For the arming of the workers would be the arming of the revolution, and that would be a hundred times more hateful to them than a Hitler victory.
Invasion is on the way. Yet we see the ruling class implacably refusing to arm and organise the working class in factories, streets and villages. This elementary measure would doom to extermination any force, however great, that Hitler might hurl against these islands. The easy victory of the Panzer divisions in France was made possible by the helplessness of the masses, unorganised and unarmed, who were compelled to flee in face of the Nazi advance.
An army can be destroyed, but it is impossible to fight a nation. Britain’s island position, with a nation organised for resistance, would render any invasion threat ludicrous. Yet the ruling class has not armed and organised the workers for defence.
The Labour leaders have justified the terrible “sacrifices” made by the workers by the necessity of overthrowing the barbarism of the Nazis. Why have not the Labour leaders issued a call for the only measure which would not only paralyse any assault by Hitler, but would be a guarantee that “those in high places” with a hankering for Pétainism would be rendered completely powerless?
The working class is saturated through and through with a hatred of fascism. The arming of the workers would be a guarantee against any treacherous threat from within as well as from without. Yet the blind Labour leaders leave control to rest in the hands of those who would destroy them. The first need for a struggle against fascism is not even considered by the Labour leaders. The acid test for the bleatings of the ruling class that they are fighting Hitlerism, the acid test for the Labour leaders lies in this: are they prepared to organise, train and arm those who have always shown their unwavering determination to settle with Hitlerism forever?
The Labour leaders profess that they are eager to fight Hitler’s fascism. But they do not press forward and fight for the only measures which can really defeat Nazism and really defend the “democracy” of the workers here. Bevin and company know all about the chaos in industry caused by capitalist anarchy and the struggle for profits, which is sabotaging production a million times more effectively than all the “agitators” in the country. But instead of struggling for workers’ control, they are helping to increase capitalist control. They, as well as we, have seen the lesson of France—that the working class must be thoroughly armed and have control of those arms if Hitler is to be held up and defeated. But though they are willing to leave all the fighting to the workers, they are content to leave control in the hands of the ruling class. They claim to be leading a struggle for “democracy” but already the Statute Books of the government in which they are working are full of anti-working class, anti-democratic legislation which is already being used against the workers. They are fighting for the “rights of small nations”. And yet they make no protest against the continued rule of Britain over a whole series of nations—small and large.
How can a real struggle against Hitler be waged under a banner so besmirched and tawdry? How can a genuine appeal be made to the masses of Europe to join in such a fake struggle. Their fear of another Versailles is great, and it is only when that fear is removed that they will feel free to turn their guns against Hitler and the German ruling class. Only the workers of Britain can free them of that fear. And they can only do that by turning the present imperialist brawl into a real struggle of the workers against Nazism.
Organised workers throughout the country must demand that the Labour leaders immediately wage a campaign for full power. They must take power on a programme which can mobilise the masses of Britain. The first point on that programme must be the arming of the workers against the threatened fascist invasion and against their capitalist enemy at home. Control of the army must be taken out of the hands of the reactionary officer class and put into those of the workers. The resources of the country, the land, mines, factories, railways, banks, etc. must be taken from the capitalists without compensation and controlled by the workers. The oppressed masses of India and the colonies must be freed. British imperialism grinds them under its heel as viciously as the Nazi jackboot tramples on the workers of the continent. Labour must give them full self-determination.
On such a programme of socialism the toilers of Britain could be mobilised for the struggle against Nazism. Hitler’s bombers, his parachute troops, his sea-borne invaders would be beaten back by a nation which had not only arms but also something to fight for. And they could make a genuine appeal to the workers of Germany and all Europe to join them in the struggle against Hitler. The response to that appeal would be such as no appeal from Churchill can ever achieve. It would sweep Hitler into oblivion.
A victory for British imperialism in the war would be as harmful to the people of Europe and Britain as a Nazi victory itself. But how would this be obtained? Already the workers are being driven to incredible exertions and sacrifices while the big monopolies continue to pile up fabulous profits. The weariness and resentment of the masses when they see this contrast cannot but lead to explosions. In readiness for this, capitalism is making preparations to protect its profits.
The British capitalists did not want to fight Hitler; they only took up the cudgels regretfully when they found themselves compelled to safeguard their profits and empire. And already the thin end of the wedge of repression and dictatorship is being introduced even at a period when the capitalist class feel comparatively secure. But repression has a logic of its own. It cannot stop with the suppression of the Daily Worker. As the war proceeds the capitalists will turn more and more in a reactionary direction. A threat of overthrow from the workers—and they would call in Hitler tomorrow. The ruling clique of British bankers and generals are already preparing to install a reactionary dictatorship for Britain on the morrow. What they have in store for the continent has been hinted at by the Dean of St. Paul’s. After the collapse of Germany, he has said, millions of British troops will have to hold down all Europe. The workers of Europe will have changed the yoke of Hitler for that of British imperialism.
But what will be happening at home? A continuation of what is already happening. Morrison is taking the road of Blum. He is sawing the very branch on which he is sitting. He is knocking away the very foundation on which he rests—the organised working class. Blum, too, was used by the French capitalists against the workers, and he attempted to justify himself by talking about “national unity”. After he had helped to suppress the workers, he himself was put in jail by those with whom he had “national unity”.
The victory of British imperialism would lead to fascism, not to its overthrow. There is only one road for the British working class. To fight Hitler we must take power into our own hands. The road of the Labour leaders is leading to destruction. If we do not wish to suffer the fate of our French comrades we must act in time.
We cannot fight Hitlerism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt this is to make inevitable the victory either of Hitler or of some British Hitler. In order to wage a genuine revolutionary war for the liberation of the peoples of Europe and for the defence of the rights of the British working class, it is necessary that power should be in the hands of the workers.
The elementary immediate need for self-preservation demands that the workers should not be left helpless and unarmed in face of the coming Nazi onslaught. British “democracy” can be rendered impregnable against the attacks of Hitler or of a British Pétain if the working class is armed.
This is the only way for the masses. Any other way will lead to disaster. The road taken by Blum and Jouhaux led to catastrophe in France. Bevin and Morrison are at present leading the British workers at the same fearful position. If they refuse to carry out this programme of socialism they will be exposed to the masses as the same sort of traitors as their French counterparts, and it will be made clear that only the revolutionary socialists can lead the way to a future of socialism and peace.
Labour to power on the following programme:
- Disarm the capitalists and arm the workers for the struggle against Nazism and the capitalist fifth column at home.
- Take over the land, mines, factories, railways and banks without compensation.
- Give freedom and self-determination to India and the colonies.
- Repeal all anti-working class legislation.
- Appeal to the workers of Germany and all Europe to support the socialist struggle against Hitler.
Invasion: arm the workers!
By WIL EC Majority
[Workers’ International News, Vol. 4 No. 2, February 1941]
Germany has conquered Europe. The Channel bars her from the vista of adding Africa and Asia to the vast domains already conquered. But the German ruling class, no more than in the winter of last year, can afford to stand still. Despite the vast territorial conquests, they cannot say—“enough!” As thoroughly as they prepared the conquest of France, they are preparing to settle accounts with imperialist Britain which now bars the way. For the first time since 1066 the prospect of invasion has to be faced as a serious possibility. During the winter months the German military machine, as thorough and efficient as German industry, has been making its preparations down to the last detail. For Germany, a successful invasion of Britain would solve the immediate problems facing German imperialism. For British imperialism, of course, it is a question of fighting against being reduced to the position of another Poland from the previous heights of domination of half the world.
Under these conditions British imperialism is determined to resist to the very end. But the young brigand who so confidently and ruthlessly bludgeoned his way to overlordship of a great empire is now old and palsied. Basing itself on the profits gained from the exploitation of the colonial peoples the British ruling class has grown parasitic. There has been no incentive to greater efficiency and the improvement of industrial technique. This backwardness…
The preparations which the British bourgeoisie is making to meet Hitler’s invasion are little better than the preparations of Chamberlain and company last winter.
Their resistance will not be as feeble as that of the French bourgeoisie because of the advantages they possess—the morale of the people, an island position, a strong navy, etc. But as is now well known, the French ruling class surrendered not because it was impossible to defend the country, but because it was impossible to do so without placing the masses in a position, by arming them and mobilising, where they would not only have driven back the German invaders but could have easily ousted the French bourgeoisie as well. The spectre of the Commune hung over France in the days of June.
Churchill and the British capitalist class “sympathised” with the painful dilemma in which the French rulers were placed. They had no objection to Reynaud, Pétain, Weygand and company sending the French workers to the school of Hitler to teach them a lesson in obedience.
This was made quite clear by the fact that they were quite prepared to see the surrender of all France: all they demanded was that the French fleet should either be placed at their disposal or remain in a neutral port.
The howls that the whole of the British press set up against the traitors who had sold France into bondage were merely rage at the failure of this gang to come over to the side of British imperialism. The spurious indignation had its cause in this and this alone.
Although Churchill and the British bourgeoisie generally knew well the character of the Weygands and Pétains, they praised them to the end. How spurious was their rage is shown by their recent manoeuvres. Owing to the unexpected resistance of Britain the Vichy crew have had the possibility of manoeuvring for concessions between Hitler and the British government.
The spread of the war to the Mediterranean lends importance to the French ports, and the French fleet would be of great assistance in Germany’s invasion plans. This allows the prostituted French capitalism to raise its fee to the German customer.
But the British ruling class is not above vieing with the Germans for the favours of Pétain. Forgotten are the recriminations. Pétain is no longer a traitor, but once more the “grand old man” of France. They are prepared to “overlook” the placing of the whole French nation into bondage to Hitler and the transformation of unoccupied France into a feeble imitation of Nazi Germany, with democracy officially declared dead. Churchill and company fawn upon this repulsive clique who have demonstrated before the eyes of the whole world that “democracy”, “liberty”, etc. at any rate have no place in their scheme of things.
As if to underline the hollow nature of the pretence that this is a war for the destruction of fascism, we have the appeal of Churchill to the ruling class of Italy to throw Mussolini overboard as a scapegoat and come over to the side of England. This single act of atonement would mean the ignoring of the crimes of Italian fascism which the British capitalists are willing to accept with equanimity since it serves their purpose. The fact that the Italian ruling class, and probably those of France and Spain, will be compelled to support Germany, will at a later stage lead to the revival of propaganda about the actual horrors and bestialities which fascism has perpetrated. The press, pulpit, wireless, etc. will be beside themselves with rage when cataloguing the crimes of the dictator and slave states.
But Churchill and the ruling class have revealed that they are anxious to do a deal with any fascist gang—on the terms of British ruling class supremacy. It is the fascist gangs which have refused the outstretched hand of friendship. In the case of Greece, this is clearly demonstrated by the attitude adopted to the regime of Metaxas which is as bloody and repressive as any to be found in Eastern Europe. We can look in vain in the columns of the British press or the speeches of the politicians, including the Labour leaders, for any remonstrance at the crimes of the Greek dictatorship.
The inevitable active intervention of American imperialism in the war—the war has resolved itself mainly into a conflict between Germany and America for world supremacy—forces the Germans to make haste. If Britain can hold out long enough, the inexhaustible resources of the American continent can be organised to build a military machine which will outstrip even the gargantuan efforts of Nazi Germany. But what is required for this is time: 12 to 24 months or so. This makes an invasion attempt to crush the British Isles even more urgent for German imperialism.
Everything is at stake for the British capitalists. The Empire, the very existence of Britain as a world power is placed in the balance. The British capitalist class is making as hurried and frantic preparations for resistance as it possibly can. We will suffer the fate of a modern Carthage if we are beaten—is their agonised appeal for resistance.
This is true. The fate of Ireland haunts the imagination of the British bourgeoisie. Ireland which was systematically despoiled and plundered and converted into an agricultural colony in the interests of British imperialism in the last century; Ireland where they deliberately organised famine and forced the emigration of a great part of the population—America has 20 million Irishmen, Eire only 3 million. It is the impossibility of reconciling the interests of British capitalism with those of German capitalism which compels that “fight to a finish” into which the war is resolving itself. For British imperialism there has been no other choice except that of acting as satellite of her mightier rival across the Atlantic.
But despite the tremendous jeopardy in which they are being placed—the speech of Hitler in which he boasted of the thorough preparations of the German army has probably a solid foundation—we see the British capitalist class refusing to take the one course which would doom any invasion, however formidable, to inevitable futility and defeat: the arming, mobilising, and organising of the entire working class for resistance, factory by factory, street by street, house by house.
No more than the French ruling class dare the ruling class of Britain place the working class in position where it would be possible for them to play an independent role. A thousand times rather accept the possibility of Hitler occupying Britain than risk a workers’ revolution by arming the workers is the dominating thought of the ruling clique.
Nevertheless, in defending their imperialist loot they are compelled to appeal to the antifascist sentiments of the masses. The overwhelming majority of the working class hate fascism and do not wish to be placed under the heel of Hitler. They do not wish to be in the position of Poland, France, Holland and the other countries under the Nazi jackboot. This is the sentiment which the ruling class is using for its own ends.
Under these circumstances the position of the Labour leaders is quite clear. Utilising the hatred of the masses for Hitlerism, they have betrayed the interests of the workers by entering the government and justifying all attacks on the workers by the necessities of the conflict. But in spite of these attacks the working class for the time being continues to stand, albeit critically, behind their leaders.
By itself, all the propaganda in the world explaining the real aims of the ruling class could not move the working class one inch from this position. It is on this rock that the Communist Party has at the present time shattered itself. The working class, especially after the events of the last months is determined to resist to the uttermost any incursion from Nazi Germany.
This attitude of the masses must be the point of departure from our propaganda. The way to win them over is not by the sterile repetition of the Marxian axiom that only the socialist revolution can solve the problems of the working class. It is to convince the masses of this by their day to day experiences. The main task of the revolutionary socialist is to separate the workers from their leaders who place them behind the capitalists. This can only be done by showing them the absolute contradiction between their interests and those of their mortal enemy.
Taking the argument of the capitalists that every resource must be exploited in order to vanquish the coming invasion, we must emphasise that the capitalists have a greater hatred and fear of the working masses at home than of their imperialist enemy abroad. The damning fact stands out that the only advice given by the government as to any action to be taken by the broad masses in the event of invasion is to “stay put”. This despite the experience of France where the terrified and helpless civilians materially assisted the Nazi invaders in their advance. This decisive fact must be burned into the consciousness of the masses.
The Labour leaders have used this antifascist sentiment of the masses to enter into a coalition with the capitalists in order to “wage war against Hitlerism.” But the elementary precautions which would guarantee victory over a fascist invasion from abroad or a coup like that of Pétain at home are not being advocated or prepared by the Labour leaders. Taking them at their word, we demand that they immediately struggle for the putting into operation of the following measures: the arming and organising of the workers under their own control; the election of officers by the workers; control of production by the workers to end the chaos in the war industries; the immediate nationalisation of the armament industry, mines, banks, railways, and big industry; the granting of freedom and self-determination to India and the colonies; socialist appeal to the workers of Germany and Europe.
Only by measures such as these can the country really be defended in the interests of the masses. Launching a campaign on a programme of demands as outlined above cannot but get the Labour leaders the overwhelming support of the masses. The alternative policy is that of capitulation to British imperialism which is not in the least interested in the struggle against fascism, and which cannot but lead either to a victory for Hitler or that of a British Hitler.
We see steps in the direction of reaction being taken at the present time. Bevin as Minister of Labour, under the pressure of the bourgeoisie, has introduced the militarisation of labour, which works to the benefit of the bourgeoisie only as they draw colossal super profits at the expense of the workers. Morrison has introduced compulsory fire-fighting, and again the main burden is borne by the toilers. The rationing, high prices, etc. place the whole burden of the war on the shoulders of the workers and lower strata of the middle class. Naturally the masses, although passive at first through fear of doing anything that might aid Hitler, will sooner or later react violently against these monstrous impositions on the part of the ruling class.
If power continues to rest in the hands of the capitalists they will wage not a war against fascism but one in defence of their profits, a war waged with even greater ferocity against the workers than against their capitalist enemy. If capitalist control is to continue it must mean the speedy extension of the totalitarian methods, which can only end in a complete obliteration of all the rights of the working class. The suppression of the Daily Worker is the first significant step in this direction. It marks the twilight of bourgeois democracy in Britain. The methods of the Labour leaders in fighting “Hitlerism” lead directly to the destruction of the organisations of the working class and to concentration camps.
Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie has to move cautiously. Without the support of the Labour leaders they could not carry through such measures. But the Labour leaders themselves are in a contradictory position. They cannot destroy the foundations on which they rest without destroying themselves. British totalitarianism has not a solid foundation. While the trade unions, and especially the shop stewards, etc. continue to exist it is impossible to carry through anything but a military dictatorship. There is no mass support to back up anything else. With a big percentage of the workers called up in the army, and the main mass of the army stationed in Britain and in contact with the civil population, the army is in closer contact with the toilers than at any time in history. The big bourgeoisie, even more than in the last war, is dependent on the services of the Labour leaders to keep the masses in check. They rest primarily on the acceptance by the masses of the yoke of privations as an inescapable necessity in the cause of the “destruction of Hitlerism”. The British bourgeoisie rules much more by deception than by force. Without the Labour bureaucracy they would be in a precarious position. The entire stock-in-trade of the Labour bureaucracy consists in the “fight against Hitlerism at all costs.”
The road to the masses lies in showing them a real alternative, a genuine struggle against the danger of a victory of Hitlerism from abroad and at home. Accepting the argument of the Labour leaders that it is necessary to fight Hitlerism, we must point out that it is impossible to do this under the leadership of the capitalist class which must inevitably lead to the victory of Hitler or of a British Hitler or Pétain. The ground can be cut from under the feet of the Labour leaders by demanding that they take power on the programme of demands listed above. First on that list must come the arming of the workers against Hitler and the capitalist fifth column at home.
Accepting the coalition with the bourgeoisie leads the Labour bureaucracy naturally to the imposition of repression to force the masses to accept the privations which this involves. The position in which Blum, Johaux and company found themselves in France was almost identical. But suppression leads naturally to an enhancing of the power of the capitalist clique of bankers and generals. Blum helped to suppress the workers in the “sacred” cause of anti-fascism—only to find himself unceremoniously pitched into jail by his colleagues of yesterday who, incidentally, embraced the Nazis in the same act. Morrison-Bevin, despite tremors of anticipation (the speech in which Bevin denied that there could be a fifth column among the workers and asserted that it always came from the “higher-ups”) are compelled by the inexorable logic of events to travel the same road as their French brethren. Collaboration with the capitalist class cannot mean anything else. This is the fatal path against which we must warn the workers. Hitlerism cannot be fought by a cowardly attempt to use homeopathic doses of Hitlerism at home. Moreover, once started, it would require bigger and bigger doses of the same medicine to keep the masses in check. If repression must be used, let it be used by the workers against the root of all Hitlerism and fifth columnism—big finance and big business.
Nevertheless, it is significant that the suppression of the Daily Worker, a preparation for the coming invasion and an onslaught on the working class, has been accepted by the masses of the workers, if not enthusiastically then passively. Morrison’s whole argument was the accusation that the Daily Worker helped Hitler by the propaganda which it put forward.
This charge could not but meet with acquiescence by the masses owing to the propaganda developed by the Communist Party in the last few years. First the demand for a capitalist popular front government (Churchill, Attlee, Sinclair) to “stand up to Hitler”. Then actual support for the war. Then “stop the war” on terms which would have meant victory for German imperialism. And now the vague, ambiguous “people’s government” and “people’s peace” which are meaningless to the main mass of the workers, who continue to support the Labour leaders. Previously they deceived the workers into believing that fascism could be fought under the leadership of a capitalist (popular front) government. Now they have no programme for the workers on how to fight invading fascism—or for that matter, fascism at home; the two problems are not separate but identical and simultaneous.
Now that the Worker is suppressed we find the Communist Party, in a desperate attempt to rally the workers, compelled to appeal for support on a caricature of the policy outlined above. There cannot be any other policy which would have the slightest hope of securing the support of the masses in their present mood. But the Communist Party appeals in a way which cannot lead to an independent mobilisation of the workers round their own programme and their own banner. It is of absolute significance that the slogan of the arming of the workers, which was put forward for an incautious fortnight last June by the Daily Worker, has never been revived in any form whatever. This demand is an elementary and fundamental one which goes right to the heart of the needs of the masses, especially with invasion but a few weeks or months ahead. The Communist Party leadership always sows demoralisation and confusion within the ranks of the working class.
With the programme of demands outlined above, the revolutionary socialists can raise the question of power in a way which can be easily understood and welcomed by the masses. The problem of a genuine revolutionary war against Hitlerism, which can only be solved by the working class conquest of power, will then appear in its correct perspective, as the only programme of salvation for our epoch. The Fourth International alone has such a banner and such a programme. Once they adopt it the masses will be unconquerable. For the struggle against Hitlerism only socialism can suffice!
 Printing error; missing line in original.
A reply to the lead article in Youth For Socialism, February issue, 1941
The interpretation of the EC majority
By Sam Levy and Millie Kahn
[WIL, Internal Bulletin, February 28 1941]
The article Arm the workers—the only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion which is put forward as the Majority of the EC’s interpretation of the military policy of the Fourth International, we consider to be incorrect in its emphasis and its glaring omissions, and an interpretation which cannot enhance the development of our group and indeed, serve to damage it.
On close examination of the article it is clear that the theme running through it is a mechanical identification of the French situation during the period of threatened invasion with the situation as exists in Britain today, both politically and militarily. This winter resembles last winter insofar as there have been no major engagements between Germany and Britain; Germany has been making the same thorough preparations for attack as the British have for defence; a year ago Allied strategists sat comfortably behind their Maginot line—today the British generals are sitting comfortably behind their new Maginot line, the sea; last year the repression against working class organisations in France commenced—today in Britain this process has started; in France the result of this method of “fighting Nazism” was that the German army simply walked into the country and took over Paris—in Britain the results will be no different; the French bourgeoisie capitulated to Hitler for fear of the workers—the British rulers have the same fear of the workers, they will do the same; the only guarantee for the defence of France would have been the arming of the workers—the only guarantee for the defence of Britain is the arming of the British workers.
Without going into the superficiality of the above in detail, we have tabled the outline of the article in order to show the mechanical foundation on which it is based. We propose therefore, to deal briefly with the background of the two countries as the necessary prerequisite to an understanding of the present situation in Britain. While France was, at that period, of the same basic political system—decadent bourgeois democracy—due to economic, political and national factors, her tempo of development was at a different stage, which necessitates a clear analysis of the demarcation between the British and French situations.
The French capitalist system of bourgeois democracy, with its relatively backward economy, was rapidly on the decline, a decline which was accelerated by the war. The general strikes of 1936 indicated that the French masses had taken the road of social revolution. The country was placed in a revolutionary situation, a situation which, as we know, was checked by the deliberate mis-leadership of the Communist and Socialist parties. The advent of the Popular Front acted as a brake on the further advancement of the French masses and a period of disintegration set in. By 1938 the masses were demoralised. The semi-Bonapartist regime of Daladier assumed power and the whole period following was analogous to the pre-Hitler period in Germany, that is the regimes of Bruning, Schleicher, von Papen. But the “war for democracy” (and the subsequent victory of Hitler) completely destroyed the French fascist organisations, thus leaving the French bourgeoisie in a precarious position insofar as they could not build up a French regime equivalent to Hitler’s.
The attitude of the French masses to the war was apathetic in the defeatist sense due to the unprecedented lowering of the standards of life (the soldiers were receiving 1d per day); they were fully conscious of the rottenness of their own bourgeoisie (they were still smarting under the defeats of 1936-38); the putrefaction of the army leadership was rapidly exposing itself. But there was no revolutionary leadership; the Socialist and Stalinist parties had betrayed them; the voice of the Fourth International, the only one which held the key to the situation, was too weak to have any effect.
One section of the bourgeoisie (Laval and company) went directly over to Hitler in the early period, and even before the outbreak of war. The Reynaud section, conscious of the fact that the masses were not behind them, hoped that they would last out long enough to place the French masses under the heel of American-British imperialism. But the sweeping victories of Hitler upset the applecart. After Reynaud’s declaration that Paris would be defended “street by street”, the French bourgeoisie, faced with the prospect of arming the Parisian proletariat who, together with a section of the army would have constituted a threat to their power and conducted a revolutionary war against Hitler, preferred to capitulate to Hitler. To understand the lesson of Pétain, to explain “Pétainism” we demonstrate this classic example of the defeatist character of the bourgeoisie (including Hitler) if it fears its working class at home.
Let us now compare the situation as it existed in France with that of present day England. Though on the decline, Britain is economically far stronger than France due to her mighty empire and the fact that she is predominantly an industrial country, over 66 percent of her population being proletarian. As distinct from the French masses, the British workers are not yet disillusioned with their own bourgeoisie and their labour leaders due to their past privileged economic position. Consequently the British masses are relatively far more backward politically than their French brothers. Of recent years they have not gone through a revolutionary period, or any form of mass strivings comparable to the French 1936-38 character. The “popular front” passed completely over the head of the British working class precisely because of the comparative economic stability of British capitalism.
Although the war has accelerated the political development of the working class by the rising cost of living, lengthening of working hours, wartime racketeering, industrial conscription, and the gradual filching of democratic rights, etc., this will not reach any proportions of mass opposition for some time—certainly not during the invasion period, or some little time following it. At the present moment we can say with regard to the question of war, the British masses, as distinct from the French, are apathetic in the defencist sense, insofar as they [see] no other alternative.
Throughout the article which purports to utilise the French experience there is no analysis of the differences in the situation in Britain today with that which existed in France, politically and economically, and which was the primary cause for the capitulation of the French bourgeoisie. The British bourgeoisie do not fear the working class in the present period. We cannot expect a turning of the masses to the left immediately. The proposition that faces the British bourgeoisie, therefore in the event of a successful German invasion is not—Hitler, i.e. German imperialism or Social revolution—but, Hitler or American imperialism, with more benefits accruing from America since Britain would be permitted to retain at least a large section of her Empire. Britain has already chosen the latter, and accepting the fact that a section of the bourgeoisie will back Hitler, as they are doing even today, in the event of a successful invasion Whitehall will be transferred to the White House. Arrangements have already been made for the transference of the British Navy to the USA. As we have so often repeated in our publications, Britain is rapidly being reduced to the status of “49th state of the USA.” America is sending increasing amounts of war material to this country, even at the expense of her own defence, for she regards the British Isles as her front line. Britain in her turn, is dependent on aid from the USA for her very existence.
“Hitler” has become such a bogey that the role of American imperialism in relation to Britain is completely ignored. This is especially lacking in view of the recent visits of Willkie and Hopkins to evaluate the sincerity of the British bourgeoisie in the continuation of the struggle and the relations of Labour to the war. These emissaries of Wall Street were apparently satisfied that the British workers were not red and that the dominant section of the British bourgeoisie, headed by Churchill, are determined to continue the struggle against Hitler, firstly because they do not fear their own working class at the present stage, and secondly, because Hitler constitutes the immediate threat to their imperialist interests. This is no “fake” struggle, but is a struggle which will only be concluded after the wholesale destruction of millions of workers.
The only guarantee
The political proposition “Arm the workers—the only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion” is incorrectly posed, flowing as it does from a military supposition, namely, that the British military machine is incapable of defeating a German invasion. What will happen to this argument if the British bourgeoisie, with American aid, does succeed in stemming an invasion, which possibility, although not guaranteed, at least cannot be excluded, and which Wall Street now seems to think it has a good chance of doing. Yet this hypothesis is implicit in the whole presentation of the question. For example:
“In France the result of this method [suppression of workers] of ‘fighting Nazism’ was that the German army simply walked into the country and took over Paris within a few days. The capitalists of France showed themselves more ready to fight the workers than to fight Hitler. The Labour and trade union leaders, who had actively supported the moves against the workers, found themselves either in the dungeons of the Gestapo—or those of Pétain.
“In Britain the results will be no different. The capitalist class is not fighting Hitler’s fascism. They are only fighting his plans to relieve them of their Empire.” (Our emphasis)
What is meant by “In Britain the results will be no different” if not that the British workers will lead, as it did in France, to the German army simply walking in and taking ever London? Totalitarian methods are being introduced precisely in order the better to face up to the German totalitarian war machine, and the adoption of those methods does not automatically lead to the inevitable defeat of British imperialism.
“The elementary immediate need for self-preservation demands that the workers should not be left helpless and unarmed in face of the coming Nazi onslaught. British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable against the attacks of Hitler or of a British Pétain if the working class is armed.”
The posing of the question in this way presupposes the inevitable defeat, i.e. Hitler or a British Pétain.
We of course support the slogan “Arm the workers” but let us not confuse the working class by categorically stating that without the arming of the workers the British bourgeoisie is incapable of stemming the invasion of Hitler, as the title of the article does. Faced with the threat of invasion, as distinct from the way in which the Youth article reacts, i.e. “Invasion: arm the workers—the only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion”, we pose the question from a class angle, i.e. “Invasion: arm the workers under workers’ control—the only guarantee for the defence of workers’ democratic rights!” In other words, we approach the question from the interests of the working class and not from the angle of Wintringham. The hypothesis of one comrade or another as to the fluctuating military potentialities of this or that imperialist army, while important as a means to present the relative transitional demand, must not be allowed to form the axis of our political slogans as exemplified in “Arm the workers—the only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion”.
While the article is based on the supposition that Britain cannot stem a German invasion, it has artificially grafted on it, the theoretical possibility, not merely of stemming the invasion but of an actual British victory! A possibility which appears somewhat incongruous side by side with the proposition of certain defeat by Hitler unless the workers are armed.
“A victory for British imperialism in the war would be as harmful to the people of Europe and Britain as a Nazi victory itself. But how would this be obtained? Already the workers are being driven to incredible exertions and sacrifices while the big monopolies continue to pile up fabulous profits. The weariness and resentment of the masses when they see this contrast cannot but lead to explosions. In readiness for this, capitalism is making preparations to protect its profits.”
“What they have in store for the continent has been hinted at by the Dean of St. Paul’s. After the collapse of Germany, he has said, millions of British troops will have to hold down all Europe. The workers of Europe will have changed the yoke of Hitler for that of British imperialism.”
To prove that this proposition is not seriously considered we quote from the beginning of the same article:
“Today the British generals are sitting comfortably behind their new Maginot line, the sea, boasting as they did a year ago that their defence is impregnable, and dreaming of their future invasion of the continent. How they are going to accomplish this with their maximum 4 million soldiers against 10 million which the Berlin-Rome Axis has already trained and armed they do not reveal.”
Let us examine another paragraph where the contradiction is glaring:
“The victory of British imperialism would lead to fascism not to its overthrow. There is only one road for the British working class. To fight Hitler we must take power into our own hands. The road of the Labour leaders is leading to destruction. If we do not wish to suffer the fate of our French comrades we must act in time.”
In this paragraph alone is contained the following:
1) The possibility of victory for British imperialism.
2) The impossibility of victory for British imperialism.
3) The confusing of the question of stemming an invasion and the possibility of a British military victory over Germany.
4) Even when posing the question of a British victory which “would lead to fascism”, the conclusion drawn is how to fight Hitler!
Throughout, the article brings Hitler forward as the chief bugbear. The conclusions a reader could draw from it is that Hitler fascism is the main enemy of the British working class due to the threat of imminent invasion. Immediately after the capitulation of France, comrade Trotsky wrote:
“Hitler, the conqueror, has naturally day-dreams of becoming the chief executioner of the proletarian revolution in any part of Europe. But that does not at all mean that Hitler will be strong enough to deal with the proletarian revolution as he has been able to deal with imperialist democracy. It would be a fatal blunder, unworthy of a revolutionary party, to turn Hitler into a fetish, to exaggerate his power, to overlook the objective limits of his success and conquests. Hitler boastfully promises to establish the domination of the German people, at the expense of all Europe and even of the whole world, ‘for one thousand years’. But in all likelihood, this splendour will not endure even for ten years.”
Comrade Trotsky was addressing himself to those comrades who depicted the coming of Hitler as the end of everything and seeing before them just a blank wall with no perspective. We believe that the article reflects this “fetishism” by its whole presentation. In order to justify this “fetishism”, the majority characterise the mood of the masses as “we must at all costs fight and destroy Hitler.” We disagree with this characterisation, but assuming it is correct, how does it fit in with the mood of the German masses which is anti-Churchill since he is the arch-representative of that imperialism which imposed the infamous Versailles treaty on the German people—and as they are fully aware, is preparing an even [more] infamous one in the event of a British victory.
Flowing from the article our traditional international appeal to the European working class is cast aside for an appeal to support the socialist struggle against Hitler. We consider that this slogan should have read: “Appeal to the workers of Europe and Germany for peace on the basis of the united socialist states of Europe.” This would throw the onus for the continuation of the war onto Hitler and reveal to the German masses their enemy at home.
Similarly we take exception to the slogan: “Disarm the capitalists and arm the workers for the struggle against Nazism and the capitalist fifth column at home.” While correctly pointing to the necessity of disarming the capitalists and arming the workers, the slogan, like the title of the article, does not mention under whose control the workers must be armed.
The second part of the slogan: “against Nazism and the capitalist fifth column at home”, in the one hand is confusing since in the accepted sense of the term “fifth columnist” means the agent of the external enemy. On the other hand, if the whole of the British bourgeoisie is implied—are we to understand that the whole of the bourgeoisie is willing to sell out to Hitler? But most disturbing is the posing of the main enemy as the foreign one. This slogan should have read: “Disarm the capitalists and dissolve the Home Guard into workers’ militia under workers’ control. Trade union control of the army for the struggle against totalitarian oppression at home and abroad.”
Defence of workers’ democratic rights
With the coming of the Second World War, the process of decay of bourgeois democracy is accelerated. On the actual outbreak of the war, its death knell is already being sounded. In the present epoch of totalitarian war the luxury of “democracy” must be discarded by the bourgeoisie in order to face the totalitarian war machine of the adversary. Inevitably bourgeois democracy must eliminate its overhead expenses, i.e. the democratic rights of the workers, trade unions, the relatively high standard of living—all these must go. Totalitarianism can only be fought by totalitarianism.
In the forefront of our programme comes the fight for the democratic rights of the working class in the present period. These become revolutionary demands and assume tremendous importance in our transitional slogans. In the last two great remaining “democracies” the rights of the workers are being filched from them.
While these rights are threatened by a Hitler invasion, the immediate threat to the British working class comes directly from within. In the defence of democracy against “Hitlerism”, the British bourgeoisie is rapidly destroying these very rights which we are supposed to be defending. Comrade Trotsky posed the question clearly in his last letters:
“But we categorically refuse to defend civil liberties and democracy in the French manner; the workers and farmers to give their flesh and blood while the capitalists concentrate in their hands the command. The Pétain experiment should now form the centre of our war propaganda. It is important, of course, to explain to the advanced workers that the genuine fight against fascism is the socialist revolution. But it is more urgent, more imperative to explain to the millions of American workers that the defence of their ‘democracy’, cannot be delivered over to an American Marshall Pétain—and there are many candidates to such a role.”
Again, comrade Trotsky under the title Profound importance of French events, wrote:
“We must use the example of France to the very end. We must say, ‘I warn you workers, that they (the bourgeoisie) will betray you! Look at Pétain, who is a friend of Hitler. Shall we have the same thing happening in this country? We must create our own machine, under workers’ control.’ We must be careful not to identify ourselves with the chauvinists, nor with the confused sentiments of self-preservation, but we must understand their feelings and adapt ourselves to these feelings critically, and prepare the masses for a better understanding of the situation, otherwise we will remain a sect, of which the pacifist variety is the most miserable.”
In other words, we must defend our democratic rights, we are willing to give our flesh and blood for that which we find worth defending, but we must be in command. Our existing democracy must be defended and broadened into the army, etc., thus linking it up with full workers’ democracy, i.e. the proletarian dictatorship. Now lot us examine how the article in Youth deals with the question:
“The elementary need for self-preservation demands that the workers should not be left helpless and unarmed in the face of the coming Nazi onslaught. British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable against the attacks of Hitler or of a British Pétain if the working class is armed.”
Is this adapting ourselves to the feelings of the masses critically? Is this preparing the masses for a better understanding of the situation? We say no, just the opposite. What is the meaning of “British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable”? Does it mean decaying British bourgeois democracy—and since when are we prepared to render “British ‘democracy’ ” impregnable against attacks? We presume that the above bases itself on the statements of comrade Trotsky on the defence of workers’ democracy. But Trotsky is advocating that the only means of the working class defending their democratic rights is by taking control, by taking command in their own hands. Merely calling for arms for the workers as the elementary need for their self-preservation is to fall into these very errors against which Trotsky warns.
What the article omits: the military policy
Only the masses can take power and establish a socialist system, and in the present period the masses in the military organisations are destined to play the decisive role. The bourgeoisie are arming the masses—in their own way of course—to defend their imperialist interests. Already over three million are in the armed forces; two million are in the Home Guard; the age limit is being raised to 50 and lowered to 18—limits which in the last war were just being reached at the end of 1918; Bevin had declared that he hoped to call up a further million by raising the age limit in reserved occupations; working women are being mobilised and conscripted into the factories, just as in Germany. In other words, bourgeois democracy is giving way to the universal epoch of militarisation of the masses. The workers are being armed by the bourgeoisie. The military policy of the Fourth International is based on this historic fact—the universal militarisation of the proletariat—and not, as is implied in the article—on the withholding of arms from the workers.
While we naturally support the slogan “arms to the workers” the mechanical reiteration of this slogan in itself is not enough. The whole problem which poses itself before us is one of control.
Under the slogan “arm the workers” must flow a policy for the widening of the Home Guard from its present narrow reactionary basis under the Colonel Binghams, from its present composition of petty bourgeois, backward workers—we must demand its dissolution into workers’ militia to include all sections of workers of both sexes. Where women are being conscripted to replace men in industry and indeed in every sphere of civil life, we must pose before them the necessity of demanding their incorporation in the workers’ militias for the defence of their democratic rights—arms in hands—against whosoever attempted to destroy them.
A political position is determined by what is omitted as well as by what is stated. This article was put forward as the military policy yet so important a propaganda weapon as the Colonel Bingham affair, which could have served as a key point in exposing the utter reactionary and anti-working class nature of the existing officer caste and drawing the lesson of the French defeat from this, that is the necessity for workers’ control in the armed forces, was not even mentioned in the article or in the whole issue of Youth for that matter.
The article misses the whole essence of the basis on which the military policy was developed by the American section—that is the present period of universal militarisation. Instead of posing a bold and clear policy for the armed workers it contents itself with moaning about the unwillingness of the British bourgeoisie to arm the workers against Hitler, to leave them helpless; etc. Where is our programme for the 4,000,000 soldiers already under arms, already trained and equipped in the arts of modern warfare? The entire personnel of our group, barring perhaps the women will soon be in the existing capitalist military organisations. Already many of our comrades are in the forces, selling our papers, to workers in arms. What policy does the article pose before them?
Let us give a few quotes to prove our contention that the article bases itself, not on the universal militarisation, but on the premise that the bourgeois are withholding arms from the masses.
“And they are holding back arms and control of arms from the workers in exactly the same way...
“For the arming of the workers would be the arming of the revolution…
“Yet we see the ruling class implacably refusing to arm and organise the working class in factories, streets and villages…
“Yet the ruling class has not armed and organised the workers for defence.
“The arming of the workers would be a guarantee against any treacherous threat from within as wall as from without…
“The first point in that programme must be the arming of the workers against the threat of fascist invasion…
“The elementary immediate need for self preservation demands that the workers should not be left helpless and unarmed in face of the coming onslaught. British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable against the attacks of a British Pétain if the working class is armed…
“The working class is saturated through and through with a hatred of fascism. The arming of the workers would be a guarantee against any treacherous threat from within as well from without. Yet the blind labour leaders allow control to rest in the hands of those who would destroy them. The first need for the struggle against fascism is not even considered by the labour leaders. The acid test for the bleating of the ruling class that they are fighting Hitlerism, the acid test for the labour leaders is this: are they prepared to organise, train and arm those who have always shown their unwavering determination to settle with Hitlerism forever?”
To this we can only reply as Trotskysts and as “those who have always shown their unwavering determination to settle with Hitlerism forever”, “Yes, they are organising, training and arming us in their military organisations.” Revolutionary workers are not excluded from the universal conscription. We are learning this the hard way. Up to now the absence in our publications of any material relating to the armed forces has been most marked. But the adoption of the military policy of the proletariat must change this state of affairs. Linked with our demand for workers’ militia must come the policy for the workers in arms. Serious attention must now be devoted to the structure of the bourgeois army. In close co-operation with the comrades in the armed forces, we must concretise our military policy for this country—a policy which will include the fight for democratic rights; for better conditions; for the right of the soldiers to elect their own officers; for trade union control of all training camps for privates as well as officers; for the abolition of the present brutal drill system; for the abolition of the present medieval system of court martial, punishment and military “justice”; for the control of the armed forces by the trade unions. We must include in our “Labour to power” demands that an armed forces trade union be formed which must be affiliated to the TUC—in this way we carry the class struggle into the army and flowing from this we pose the question of a revolutionary war against Hitler.
We have outlined above our criticism of the article which is the expression of the Majority of the EC’s position on the military policy. We claim this is not an interpretation of the military policy of the Fourth International, but which has completely missed the essence of this policy. We hope that this will open the discussion within the organisation in which all members will participate, and which will therefore lead to a clearer understanding of the problem.
 Prior to decimalisation, the pound was divided into 20 shillings and each shilling into 12 pence, making 240 pence to the pound. The symbol for the shilling was “s”—not from the first letter of the word, but from the Latin solidus. The symbol for the penny was “d”, from the French denier, from the Latin denarius. A mixed sum of shillings and pence such as 3 shillings and 6 pence was written as “3/6” or “3s 6d” and spoken as “three and six”. 5 shillings was written as “5s” or “5/-”.
 Thomas Henry Wintringham (1898 – 1949) joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1923. In 1925 he was one of twelve CPGB officers imprisoned for seditious activities in the army. In 1930 he founded the Daily Worker and was regarded as the expert on military matters of the CPGB. He was an important figure in the formation of the Home Guard during the Second World War, broke with the CP in 1938 and was one of the founders of the Common Wealth Party.
 On January 15 1941 the Times published a letter from Lieutenant-Colonel R.C. Bingham. In it Bingham lamented that so many middle and lower class applicants were being granted access to officer training; these elements, Bingham argued, lacked the necessary noblesse oblige and the good breeding necessary to take charge of commanding troops. As a result of the protest letters and public outrage Bingham was dismissed from service.
A step towards capitulation
By Jock Haston
[WIL, Internal bulletin, March 21 1941]
The new policy of the Majority of the EC expressed in our press in February and proclaimed as an interpretation of the military policy of the Fourth International for this country, constitutes a radical shift in the orientation of our propaganda and is a misrepresentation of the basic ideas of Trotsky and Cannon on the military policy.
Bolsheviks base themselves on the axiom that the main enemy is at home. The popular form of expression this axiom takes depends on the objective clash of class forces on the one hand and the support of the revolutionary party among the working class, on the other. But the new conception expressed in the policy of the Majority is not, as they would have us believe, an extension and development of the policy of Lenin. Summed up the Majority position can be expressed in the slogan “For a revolutionary war against Hitler.” That we would be opposed to this slogan under all circumstances is, of course, not correct. Should the working class achieve power in Britain, this could become the central slogan of a revolutionary workers’ government. But to shift the axis of our propaganda at a period when the British bourgeoisie is defencist and has the support of the majority of the British working class, while our own tendency is hardly recognised within the labour movement, even by the advanced workers is, to say the least, a change in course. In the last issues of our publications the main emphasis of the material is directed against the invading army: the foreign enemy. Only in a secondary sense is the attack levelled against the British bourgeoisie.
Revolutionary wars: Lenin’s position
Lenin has dealt with the question of revolutionary wars and the difficulties in presenting the policy of revolutionary defeatism to the masses, in a number of his works immediately following the February revolution in Russia in 1917. In his Farewell letter to the Swiss workers he wrote:
“We do not close our eyes to the tremendous difficulties that face the international revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat of Russia. In times like these sudden and swift changes are possible. In No. 47 of Sotsial-Demokrat we gave a clear and direct answer to the natural question: what would our party do if the revolution placed it in power at this moment? Our answer was: 1) we would forthwith propose peace to all the belligerent peoples; 2) we would announce our conditions of peace as being the immediate liberation of all colonies and all oppressed and non-sovereign peoples; 3) we would immediately begin to carry to its completion the liberation of all the peoples oppressed by the Great-Russians; 4) we do not deceive ourselves for one moment that such conditions would be unacceptable not only for the monarchist but also to the republican bourgeoisie of Germany , and not only to Germany, but also to the capitalist governments of England and France.
“We would be forced to wage a revolutionary war against the German bourgeoisie, and not the German bourgeoisie alone. And we would wage this war. We are not pacifists. We are opposed to imperialist wars for the division of spoils among the capitalists, but we have always declared it to be absurd for the revolutionary proletariat to renounce revolutionary wars that may prove necessary in the interests of socialism.”
In Tasks of the proletariat in the present revolution Lenin wrote:
“1) In our attitude towards the war not the slightest concession must be made to ‘revolutionary defencism’, for even under the new government of Lvov and company, the war on Russia’s part unquestionably remains a predatory imperialist war owing to the capitalist nature of that government.
“The class conscious proletariat can consent to a revolutionary war, which would really justify revolutionary defencism only on condition: a) that the power of the government pass to the proletariat and the poor sections of the peasantry bordering on the proletariat; b) that all annexations be renounced in deed as well as in words; c) that a complete and real break be made with all capitalist interests.
“In view of the undoubted honesty of the mass of the rank-and-file believers in revolutionary defencism, who accept the war as a necessity only and not as a means of conquest; in view of the fact that they are being deceived by the bourgeoisie, it is necessary thoroughly, persistently and patiently to explain their error to them, to explain the indissoluble connection between capital and the imperialist war, and to prove that it is impossible to end the war by a truly democratic, non-coercive peace without the overthrow of capital.
“The widespread propaganda of this view among the army on active service must be organised.” (Our emphasis)
Again in Tasks of the proletariat in the present revolution we read:
“What is required of us is the ability to explain to the masses that the social and political character of the war is determined not by the ‘good intentions’ of individuals or groups or even peoples, but by the position of the class which conducts the war. To explain this to the masses skilfully and in a comprehensive way is not easy; none of us could do it at once without committing errors.
“…The slogan ‘down with the war’ is, of course, a correct one, but it fails to take into account the specific nature of the tasks at the present moment and the necessity of approaching the masses in a different way.
“…The rank and file believer in defencism regards the matter in a simple, matter-of-fact way. ‘I don’t want annexations but the German is after me, therefore I am defending a just cause and not imperialist interest’. It must be explained very patiently to a man like this that it is not a question of his personal wishes, but of mass, class, political relations and conditions of the connection between the war and the interests of capital, the international network of banks and so forth. Only such a serious struggle against defencism will be serious and promising of success—perhaps not a rapid success, but one which will be real and durable.”
Finally let us quote from Lenin’s Report on the current situation.
“The third point deals with the question of how to end the war. The Marxist point of view is well known: the difficulty is to present it to the masses in the clearest possible form. We are not pacifists and cannot renounce revolutionary war. Wherein does a revolutionary war differ from a capitalist war? Chiefly by the class that has an interest in the war…When we address the masses, we must give them concrete answers. First, then, how can one distinguish a revolutionary war from a capitalist war? The rank and file masses do not grasp the distinction, do not realise the distinction is one of classes. We must not confine ourselves to theory, but must demonstrate in practice that we can wage a truly revolutionary war only when the proletariat is in power. It seems to me that by putting the matter thus, we give a clearer answer to the question of what the nature of the war is and who is waging it.”
The above quotations demonstrate that the problem of “approaching the masses” is not a new problem. Lenin was the greatest tactician that the revolutionary movement has had. His method undoubtedly led to the successful overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We hope to be able to demonstrate that the method of the Majority is not the method of Lenin—or of Trotsky. Even were the objective circumstances existent which necessitated the immediate posing of the proposition of the revolutionary war, we submit that the manner of their presentation is a negation of Lenin’s directive…to patiently explain.
Lenin posed the question thus, at a period when Dual Power had been established in Russia; when there was a widespread feeling of “revolutionary defencism” implanted by the gains of the February revolution and the propaganda of the bourgeoisie; when the Bolsheviks had consolidated around themselves the most developed cadres of the revolutionary international movement; when they had a high standing among the best proletarian fighters in Russia; when all the forces for a genuine proletarian revolution were in the process of maturing—taking all these into consideration—it was in the clearest propagandist manner that the problem was posed. “It must be explained very patiently…”
Not a new policy
That the policy as presented by our Majority comrades is not new in British working class politics can be demonstrated by an examination of a pamphlet, The workers’ road to victory, published by the left centrist grouping in the ILP, the Soccor, at the time of the invasion of Norway. When this pamphlet appeared, we, including the comrades of the Majority, proclaimed it a capitulation to anti-Hitlerism. The left centrists, capitulating to the mass pressure of bourgeois and petty bourgeois opinion, adopted this policy when the sphere of military operations had moved into the Baltic. Our comrades of the Majority waited till the Channel ports were occupied and the Germans moved somewhat closer to British shores.
Let us recapitulate the central slogans of the Soccor group as expressed in this pamphlet for purposes of comparison:
“Workers! You cannot trust your rulers to fight fascism! Only the workers can defeat fascism.
“The fight against fascism is:
“The fight for equality;
“The fight to jail the ruling class fifth columnists;
“The fight against profits;
“The fight to arm the people.
“Transform the imperialist war into a revolutionary war against Hitlerism.”
Under the above slogans follow 22 demands which include: abolition of all profits in war industries; general arming of the people through their trade union and labour organisations; publication of secret treaties; the right of workers and shop stewards’ committees to inspect the books of the capitalists; abolition of the national debt; press, broadcasting, etc. to be under the control of workers’ committees; democratisation of the armed forces under the control of the workers; fullest use of revolutionary propaganda to the German and European workers, including appeals to them to desert and fight their tyrants; transfer of all big estates and combines to social ownerships; complete freedom to India and colonial peoples; abolition of anti-working class legislation.
Let us now compare these with the slogans of the Majority expressed in the February issue of Youth For Socialism:
“Labour to power on the following programme:
“Disarm the capitalists and arm the workers for the struggle against Nazism and the capitalist fifth column at home;
“Take over the land, mines, factories, railways and banks without compensation;
“Give freedom and self-determination to India and the colonies;
“Repeal all anti-working class legislation;
“Appeal to the workers of Germany and all Europe to support the socialist struggle against Hitler.
Apart from the demand of Labour to power, if anything, the class content expressed by the left centrists in their pamphlet is more explicit than it is in the journal of the fourth internationalists. If it is true that the policy expressed in the current issues of our press is an interpretation of the new policy evolved by comrade Trotsky, then we are forced to admit that the left centrists in Britain arrived at this before our comrades in the Majority—and even before comrade Trotsky! It does not follow, however, that if the centrists arrived at a policy before we did, that it is incorrect. But it can be stated, that despite the ambiguity here and there in the pamphlet The workers’ road to victory—the central aim is the same, and we must ask ourselves why the Majority or the EC have not attempted to utilise this as a basis for an approach to Soccor.
The “mood of the masses”
One would expect to find some theoretical analysis of the change in basic objective circumstances as the background for the substitution of an entirely new orientation, for the central thesis of Bolshevism in the imperialist war. What circumstances have changed to motivate the shift from our former position of the “sterile repetition of the Marxist axiom that only the socialist revolution can solve the problems of the working class”? The answer we receive is the “mood of the masses” resulting from the threat of invasion.
There is no fundamental difference in the mood of the masses today to what it was at the commencement of the war. If anything their mood registers more sharply against the war than it did in 1939. This is demonstrated by the recent Dumbartonshire election where almost 4,000 workers voted for the Communist Party. The bulk of the 22,000 votes polled for the coalition Labour candidate undoubtedly came from elements who normally voted Tory. The bulk of the Labour votes remained apathetic, while the best elements of the working class who normally voted Labour, cast their vote for the Communist Party on the programme of the Peoples’ Convention. In the midst of a whipped-up campaign where the whole of the local bourgeois press directed its attack against the Communist Party as fifth columnists and agents of Hitler; this linked to a special series of articles on the threat of imminent invasion, the notion of these workers (1 in every 6.5 of those who voted) in registering their votes for peace on the basis of the Peoples’ Convention programme, is indeed a significant register of the mood of the masses, and particularly its advanced strata.
A recent Gallup poll showed that 80 percent of the British population supported Churchill at the head of the government. Insofar as this is true, quite obviously our task is to patiently explain the nature of the struggle; the class who are carrying it out; the role of the leading politicians. But what of the remaining 20 percent who mainly registered against Churchill? A large percentage of these stand solidly against the war. Is the axis of our propaganda to be directed to the 80 percent who support the war under Churchill’s leadership, or to the 20 percent who contain within its ranks the revolutionary anti-war elements?
The mood of the masses is registered in their confidence in Churchill. They are satisfied that Churchill is conducting the struggle in the best possible way. The defeat of the blitz last year; the successes of the British forces in Africa and in the Mediterranean; the rearming of the defeated legions of Dunkirk, plus the additions of the thousands of troops from the colonies—all these, added to the open support being given by American imperialism, have imbued the bulk of the workers with a quiet confidence in the Churchill administration. Under these circumstances they firmly believe that any invasion will be repulsed. There is no demand from the workers for arms from the government, and indeed, for those who wish to be armed, there are still avenues open through official channels. Flowing from the above, the sterile repetition “we want to fight Hitler” coincides with the high-power propaganda of the bourgeoisie and becomes merged with it; while the general slogan “arm the workers” remains a phrase, unrelated to the genuine “mood of the masses.”
As a prelude to an approach to the “masses”, it is necessary to have this concrete picture before us as to their real mood. The assertion, an implication that the government are making little or no genuine attempt to “defend the country” is categorically rejected by the masses; while the lack of a real analysis of the class content of what measures are being taken, and the exposition of a working class criticism and programme as an alternative, leaves the more advanced worker extremely confused—even within our own ranks.
The British working class, is still, unfortunately, the most chauvinistic working class in Europe, or for that matter in the world. What better proof of this is needed than their complete indifference to the attacks of the British Raj against Indian revolutionaries and nationalists? It is still necessary to patiently explain…
That this approach to the masses is not really the basis for this anti-Hitler fetishism was clearly demonstrated at the period of the Peoples’ Convention held in London. Here were assembled over 2,000 people, the overwhelming bulk of whom were anti-war proletarian leaders in their particular districts and organisations. These workers had assembled together to discuss ways and means of struggling against their own capitalist class—their main enemy at home. The slogan our majority comrades proposed to approach them with was “how to really fight Hitler”! It was only when the Minority protested that this was withdrawn in favour of the Minority slogan “a fighting alternative for the working class.” The whole sham of the “mood of the masses” was sharply revealed in this incident. Here was the most advanced strata of the British proletariat gathered together in a fighting mood to work out a policy of opposition to the present government, and our comrades proposed to approach them with a policy of “fighting Hitler”!
Again, in the drawing up of the “Daily Worker ban” leaflet—a leaflet putting forward the proposal of a united front—the Majority proposed the insertion of a clause that the reason there had been no protest among the masses of the workers against the ban, was that the Communist Party had no policy of fighting Hitler! Only on the insistence of the Minority, was this clause excluded.
Not only have the Majority comrades an incorrect evaluation as to the mood of the masses, but their characterisation is not even firmly based. We are at present discussing a document for the conference on “policy and perspectives” which characterises the mood of the masses in the following terms:
“Notwithstanding the pressure of suffering and want, despite the murderous air-raids since the battle of Britain began, despite the bitterness and scepticism, even to a certain extent, apathy and indifference of the toilers to the war, there is no sign as yet of a mass movement developing…” (Our emphasis)
In a letter to the Socialist Appeal we read the following:
“The Stalinists cannot fight the suppression of the Daily Worker because they have no programme to offer the workers. ‘We must at all costs fight and destroy Hitler’ is the mood of the masses, and the bombing has strengthened, not weakened this. The Communist Party has not responded to this demand of the workers in the slightest degree. Their policy has been sectarian, pacifist and sterile. The Labour leaders and bourgeoisie are making much of the Daily Worker demand that every soldier should have a week’s holiday at Christmas!” (Our emphasis)
In the February issue of Workers’ International News the mood of the masses is characterised as follows:
“The working class, especially after the events of the last months, is determined to resist to the uttermost any incursion from Nazi Germany.”
In the same issue of Workers’ International News we read:
“The working class for the time being continues to stand, albeit critically, behind their leaders.” (Our emphasis)
While in the letter to the Socialist Appeal:
“They [the workers] are still solidly behind the Labour leaders and the ‘war against Hitler’.”
We agree with the characterisation in the document on “policy and perspectives”. We categorically reject the contradictions to this characterisation. But even were their evaluation correct, to attempt to base the military policy of the Fourth International on the “mood of the masses” would be to base ourselves on a fluctuating medium which is subject to intense and rapid changes. The military policy is not based on “moods” but on the objective historical phenomena “the universal militarisation of the working class.”
The approach to the masses—A new departure
The core of the article in the February Workers’ International News, which is in fact, an internal discussion directed against the Minority, is contained in the following:
“This attitude of the masses must be the point of departure for our propaganda. The way to win them over is not by the sterile repetition of the Marxian axiom that only the socialist revolution can solve the problems of the working class. It is to convince the masses of this by their day-to-day experiences. The main task of the revolutionary socialist is to separate the workers from their leaders. This can only be done by showing them the absolute contradiction between their interests and those of the mortal enemy.”
But who in the Workers’ International League has ever disagreed with this axiom of Leninist tactics? No one! This is an attempt to foist on the shoulders of the Minority the ideas of a sectarian clique, while covering themselves with the cloak of Leon Trotsky. However, in this very paragraph we find the key to the position of the Majority. The first proposition here is that the Minority merely favour the “sterile repetition of the Marxian axiom;” that the Minority reject the military policy of the Fourth International. This is not so. Where our disagreement lies, is precisely what the military policy is, and how to approach the workers with it. We claim that our first task is the elaboration of and adoption of a military policy to reach the advanced workers, and particularly those in the armed forces. The majority, on the other hand, claim that we can do so by shouting “wolf!” (Hitler!) louder even than the bourgeoisie. (In the Youth article Hitlerism or Nazism is mentioned once in every sixty words!). We ask ourselves, has there at any time in the past appeared so many “sterile repetitions” as in the last issues of our publications? Paragraph after paragraph, the same refrain: Hitler is coming—The bourgeoisie won’t let us fight him—Arm the workers!
Since the inception of Workers’ International League we have based ourselves on an appeal to the advanced workers, because our task has been clearly posed before us—the training and educating of the initial cadres of the revolutionary party. We have considered our tasks to be those of a propaganda group, disseminating the fundamental ideas of revolutionary Marxism. For years we have adopted the standpoint that we are in the elementary stages of building cadres; that we have absolutely no possibility of winning the masses until we have won the advanced workers. The whole of our policy and perspective has been based on this. We have ruthlessly fought the sectarians who shouted “masses” from the housetops on the basis of general and abstract slogans. From this angle we adopted the tactic of entry and the programme of Labour to power, believing that by fighting side by side with the already politically conscious workers, we could train the necessary cadres for the revolutionary party. But the article in Workers’ International News sets us new tasks: “The road to the masses lies in showing them a real alternative, a genuine struggle against a victory of Hitlerism from abroad and at home.” It is in this gesture of despair that the key to our comrades’ deviation lies. Having raised Hitler’s invasion into a nightmare, they seek cover among the “masses”. It is not so easy after all to “swim against the stream.” Our organisation is now faced with an entirely new perspective—we must now approach the masses. But this new perspective fails to take into account “the specific nature of the tasks of the moment.”
Comrade Trotsky elaborated the military policy which was based on the objective historical phenomena—the period of permanent war and universal militarism. Having elaborated this policy which is clearly and precisely formulated in the Resolution on the military policy it was adopted by the SWP convention. Flowing from the policy Trotsky and Cannon proceeded to explain the “mood of the masses” from which they can deduce a certain approach to place this policy before the workers; this, taken in conjunction with the status of the American Socialist Workers’ Party.
The American working class are in a period similar to that of the British working class in 1910-14. The tide of militancy is rapidly rising and finds expression in the severest economic clashes. The American workers are groping for an independent labour political organisation. Concurrently with this movement on the part of the mass of the workers, the American party alone of all the Fourth Internationalist organisations has the prerequisites for an approach to the “masses”. With a support among the advanced section of the American workers: witness their control of the largest trade union journal in circulation in America The North West Organiser organ of America’s most militant workers; control of the teamsters of Minneapolis; Grace Carlson’s successes at the recent election—all these must be taken into the picture. Our American comrades are equipped with developed and tested cadres; they are already in a position to influence broad sections of the most advanced workers. In fact we can state with confidence that they are in a position to challenge the existing working class organisations for the leadership of the American workers and the conquest of power.
We, on the other hand, have untrained and completely untested cadres. We have never been through the experience of having to give leadership, even on a local scale, to a movement among the workers. It is in the confused transportation of Trotsky’s ideas in his discussions on the method of approach to the American workers that the Majority get bogged up. While we must reach the widest possible circles among the workers, nevertheless any approach must be cautioned by the status of our group in the working class arena.
On the slogan of arming the workers
The Transitional Programme of the Fourth International contains as one of its central planks the general slogan of arming the workers. In this document, drawn up in times of peace, the slogans arising from “arm the workers” are posed in a sharp and concrete manner: the picket line—defence groups—workers’ militia. These slogans are crystallised and form the centre of our propaganda during periods of intense industrial strife or fascist attacks, and when the onslaught against the workers demands the necessary combat organisations for workers’ defence. In the elaboration of these directives we see the method of presenting the slogan in a clear and concrete manner in times of peace which can be easily grasped by the advanced workers; while the slogans in relation to the armed forces are generalised and remain in the background: “military training and arming of workers and farmers under the direct control of workers’ and farmers’ committees; creation of military school for training of commanders among the toilers, chosen by the workers’ organisations. Substitution for the standing army of a people’s militia indissolubly linked up with the factories, mines, farms etc.”
Without being presented in its concrete form, the slogan “arm the workers” remains a phrase. In view of the clear manner in which this question is dealt with in the Transitional Programme, we must ask ourselves why comrade Trotsky raised the question of a military policy with the American comrades and through them the International. Because the axis of life in the present period of the overwhelming majority of the workers of the world will be in the armed forces of the various nations, or directly affected by the armed forces. With this new perspective—the arming of millions of workers by the capitalist state—the slogan “arm the workers” assumes new and important emphasis. From being a plank in our general programme, it now becomes the central question; from being posed in a general, propagandist sense in times of peace, it must now become concretised.
It is for this reason that Trotsky raised the question in the manner that he did. The military policy is the elaboration of a programme of transitional demands which separates the workers from their class enemy and its agents in the all important military sphere. The resolution of the Socialist Workers Party is the elaborated programme for work in the armed forces; for the decisive military sphere.
A continuation, a deepening of Lenin’s policy
In Trotsky’s last article published in February Workers’ International News, he wrote the following under the heading, We were caught unawares in 1914:
“During the last war not only the proletariat as a whole but also its vanguard and, in a certain sense, the vanguard of this vanguard was caught unawares. The elaboration of the principles of revolutionary policy toward the war began at a time when the war was already in full blaze and the military machine exercised unlimited rule. One year after the outbreak of the war, the small revolutionary minority were compelled to accommodate itself to a centrist majority at the Zimmerwald conference. Prior to the February revolution and even afterwards the revolutionary elements felt themselves to be not contenders for power but the extreme left opposition. Even Lenin relegated the socialist revolution to a more or less distant future…
“This political position of the extreme left wing expressed itself most graphically on the question of the defence of the fatherland.
“In 1915 Lenin referred in his writings to revolutionary wars which the victorious proletariat would have to wage. But it was a question of an indefinite historical perspective and not of tomorrow’s task. The attention of the revolutionary wing was centred on the question of the defence of the capitalist fatherland. The revolutionists naturally replied to this question in the negative. This was entirely correct. But this purely negative answer served as the basis for propaganda and for training the cadres but it could not win the masses who did not want a foreign conqueror. In Russia prior to the war the Bolsheviks constituted four-fifths of the proletarian vanguard, that is, of the workers participating in political life (newspapers, elections, etc). Following the February revolution the unlimited rule passed into the hands of the defencists, the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries. True enough, the Bolsheviks in the space of eight months conquered the overwhelming majority of the workers. But the decisive role in this conquest was played not by the refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland but by the slogan: ‘All power to the soviets!’ And only by this revolutionary slogan! The criticism of imperialism, its militarism, the renunciation of the defence of bourgeois democracy and so on could have never conquered the overwhelming majority of the people to the side of the Bolsheviks. In all other belligerent countries, with the exception of Russia the revolutionary wing toward the end of the war all…”
Trotsky is drawing our attention to the situation at the beginning of the first imperialist war—how the question of principle was the paramount question of the period. He is also drawing our attention to the flexible tactics of Lenin during the course of the revolution. As late as the end of 1915 the Bolsheviks were forced to accommodate themselves to the centrists at Zimmerwald. Even as late as 1917 they had not yet elaborated their tactics in relation to the armed forces. This was true of the whole of the revolutionary left throughout the world. Karl Liebknecht captured the Kaiser’s constituency at Potsdam in 1912 mainly on his anti-militarist policy. The first the socialist movement knew of his rejection of his pre-war pacifist position, was through a letter he sent to Zimmerwald, and even at the end of the war he had not worked out a policy or tactic for work in the armed forces. This was true of the best of the French socialists, Monatte, etc. The American revolutionaries took a similar stand to that of the SPGB today. James Connolly, the only British socialist to organise a workers’ army, supported the British conscientious objectors. In Britain John Maclean supported and adopted the same stand as hundreds of British socialists who were jailed as conscientious objectors. This was the attitude towards the war among the best of the British proletarian revolutionaries. Lenin characterised them in 1917 in the following terms: “They and they alone, are the internationalists in deed.” The first years of the war were taken up with an ideological struggle in the elaboration of revolutionary principles and even at the end of the war, the revolutionary left had not laid down a programme, a tactic, in relation to the armed forces. Trotsky, in drawing our attention to the different situation in which the revolutionaries find themselves today, takes a step further.
The fourth internationalists enter the second imperialist war on an entirely different basis. We are not faced with the same ideological struggle within our ranks. Our principles have been defined and laid down in War and the Fourth International (1936). Far from congratulating the conscientious objectors, as Lenin did, we have consistently opposed their stand as utopian sectarianism, because it isolates the revolutionary from the workers in uniform.
When conscription was introduced in Britain we issued a Manifesto which characterised the war as an imperialist war, criticised the opportunist and pacifist tendencies in British working class politics and advised the workers to take the gun which was placed in his hand and turn it against the real enemy at home. This was a correct general directive and was relatively more advanced than any manifesto issued in the British labour movement in this or the last imperialist war. But we had no alternative policy to offer the worker who acquiesced to conscription—we lacked a military policy.
Taking as the objective background for the new orientation, the fact that the entire world was being plunged into war and the working class had not overthrown their own capitalist class as a means of stopping the war; that we had entered what he characterised as a period of universal militarisation of the working class, comrade Trotsky conceived that since the axis of life would now revolve around the armed forces, it was necessary to have a proletarian military policy to face up to the changed situation—it was necessary to elaborate the tactics of a revolutionary opposition in the army. But this did not obviate the struggle against this war.
“We must of course fight against the war, not only ‘until the very last moment’ but during the war itself when it begins. We must however, give to our fight against the war its fully revolutionary sense, opposing and pitilessly denouncing pacifism. The very simple and very great idea of our fight against war is: we are against the war but we will have the war if we are incapable of overthrowing the capitalists.”
While the American section outlined a series of concrete programmatic demands, this did not stop them from continuing a ruthless struggle against the war, crystallising the anti-war sentiment among the workers. This is not our war—we are against the class that conducts it—“not a man, not a penny, not a gun” for the imperialist war. While conducting this irreconcilable struggle against the war, we denounce and expose all forms of bourgeois and socialist pacifism. In his book From October to Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky explains why the peasants played so important a role in the February revolution: the bourgeoisie had organised the peasants, not as peasants, but as soldiers. Today he is explaining that the bourgeoisie is organising the proletariat, not as proletarians, but as soldiers: that the soldiers are destined to play the decisive role in the coming revolution. Consequently the programme of the party must base itself on this historic change.
How the Socialist Workers’ Party tackled this question
In close conjunction with the Old Man, the Americans elaborated their military policy, their tactical approach to the workers about to be drafted into the army, which was published in the form of a resolution. Around this resolution they have directed their propaganda and agitation. In contradistinction to ourselves they outlined a complete programmatic alternative for the workers who were being conscripted. Instead of being in the background of our transitional demands in peace time, the slogans revolving around the arming of the workers were now thrust to the fore. These are summed up on the masthead of the editorial column of the Socialist Appeal and “constitute a military transitional programme supplementing the general political transitional programme of the party.”
The American section carefully analysed the form and content of the bourgeois army; they have taken all the questions up, singly and collectively, affecting the workers in the armed forces. They have held a special party discussion and a convention, whose main task was to familiarise the membership from top to bottom with the new orientation. They have set themselves the task of hammering home the idea that the party must now base itself on war.
In case there is any doubt that the central question dealt with was the tactic for the armed forces, we propose to quote extensively from Cannon.
“…All great questions will be decided by military means. This was the great conclusion insisted upon by comrade Trotsky in his last few months of life. In his letter, in his articles and in conversations he repeated this thesis over and over again. These are new times. The characteristic feature of our epoch is unceasing war and universal militarism. That imposes upon us as the first task, the task which dominates and shapes all others, the adoption of a military policy, an attitude of the proletarian party towards the solution of social problems during a time of universal militarism and war…”
“Now, confronted with these facts of universal militarism and permanent war, that the biggest industry of all now is going to be war, the army and preparation of things for the army—confronted with these facts, what shall the revolutionary party do? Shall we stand aside and simply say we don’t agree with the war, it is not our affair? No, we can’t do that. We do not approve of this whole system of exploitation whereby private individuals can take possession of the means of production and enslave the masses. We are against that, but as long as we are not strong enough to put an end to capitalist exploitation in the factories, we adapt ourselves to reality. We don’t abstain and go on individual strikes and separate ourselves from the working class. We go into the factories and try by working with the class to influence its development. We go with the workers and share all their experiences and try to influence them in a revolutionary direction.
“The same logic applies to war. The great majority of the young generation will be dragged into the war. The great majority of these young workers will think at first that they are doing a good thing. For a revolutionary party to stand by and say: ‘we can tolerate exploitation in the factories, but not military exploitation,’—that is to be completely illogical. To isolate ourselves from the mass of the proletariat which will be in the war is to lose all possibility to influence them.
“We have got to be good soldiers. Our people must take upon themselves the task of defending the interests of the proletariat in the army in the same way as we try to protect their interests in the factory. As long as we can’t take the factories away from the bosses we fight to improve the conditions there. Similarly, in the army. Adapting ourselves to the fact that the proletariat of this country is going to be the proletariat in arms we say, ‘Very well, Mr. Capitalist, you have decided it so and we were not strong enough to prevent it. Your war is not our war, but so long as the mass of the proletariat goes with it, we will go too. We will raise our own independent programme in the army, in the military forces, in the same way as we raise it in the factories’…”
“We will fight all the time for the idea that the workers should have officers of their own choosing. That this great sum of money that is being appropriated out of the public treasury should be allocated in part to the trade unions for the setting up of their own military training camps under officers of their own selection; that we go into battle with the consciousness that the officer leading us is a man of our own flesh and blood who is not going to waste our lives, who is going to be true and loyal and who will represent our interests. And in that way, in the course of the development of the war, we will build up in the army a great class-conscious movement of workers with arms in their hands who will be absolutely invincible. Neither the German Hitler nor any other Hitler will be able to conquer them.
“We will never let anything happen as it did in France. These commanding officers from top to bottom turned out to be nothing but traitors and cowards crawling on their knees before Hitler, leaving the workers absolutely helpless…”
“We must remember all the time that the workers of this epoch are not only workers; they are soldiers. These armies are no longer selected individuals; they are whole masses of the young proletarian youth who have been shifted from exploitation in the factories to exploitation in the military machine. They will be imbued by the psychology of the proletariat from which they came. But they will have guns in their hand and they will learn how to shoot them. They will gain confidence in themselves. They will be fired with the conviction that the only man who counts in this time of history is a man who has a gun in his hand and knows how to use it.” (Our emphasis, see note on opposite page)
How the Majority tackle the question
Instead of basing themselves on a policy, a programme, for the proletariat in arms, the Majority relegate the policy to a minor position, while they raise the question of the approach to the status of a policy. The dispute on the EC crystallised around the proposition of the Majority that the leading article in July 1940 Youth For Socialism and in February 1941 Workers’ International News and Youth, were the correct interpretation of the military policy of the proletariat. The Minority stated that the military policy was not based on the “mood of the masses” or on the particular occupations or reverses of the bourgeois armies, but was a formulation of a programme for the workers in arms in the present period of militarisation, and was aimed against all forms of pacifism in the labour movement.
The Majority comrades say: “You have missed the essence of Trotsky’s ideas: the revolutionary war against Hitler. Cannon also said so!” To back this up they quote Cannon:
“We are willing to fight Hitler. No worker wants to see that gang of fascist barbarians overrun this country or any other country.”
“The only thing we object to is the leadership of a class that we do not trust.”
“The workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler or anyone else who tries to invade their rights.”
“We didn’t visualise, nobody visualised, a world situation in which whole countries would be conquered by fascist armies. The workers don’t want to be conquered by foreign invaders, above all by fascists. They require a programme of military struggle against foreign invaders which assures their class independence. That is the gist of the problem.”
“This is why Trotsky advanced the military policy!” proclaim our comrades. No! This is why you advance your policy, comrades! Examine Cannon’s speech, examine the material of our American section and we will see that these are references to the change in the outlook of the American working class consequent on the fall of France, as distinct from their anti-war, anti-militarist sentiment prior to the fall of France. The workers, because of this, did not want a foreign conqueror, and allowed themselves to be conscripted. Hence the urgent need for a policy which separated the workers from the bosses in the military sphere: anti-militarism was transformed into proletarian-militarism.
“Many times in the past we were put to a certain disadvantage; the demagogy of the social democrats against us was effective to a certain extent. They said: ‘you have no answer to the question of how to fight against Hitler from conquering France, Belgium, etc.’ (Of course their programme was very simple—the suspension of the class struggle and complete subordination of the workers to the bourgeoisie. We have seen the results of this treacherous policy.) Well, we answered in a general way, the workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take care of invaders. That was a good programme. But the workers did not make the revolution in time. Now the two tasks must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously.”
“…the two tasks must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously.”
Cannon’s remarks are addressed to party delegates around a resolution which has been discussed in the party for two months. He is answering a query which the social democrats put to revolutionaries. In the past we answered in a general way. Now we answer in a concrete way. The resolution to which Cannon is speaking is the answer to the social democrats, the prosecution of which, as he put it, “will build up in the army a great class-conscious movement of workers with arms in their hands who will be absolutely invincible. Neither the German Hitler nor any other Hitler will be able to conquer them.” This great class-conscious proletariat will overthrow their own bourgeoisie and at the same time, precisely because of the proletarian military policy, be in a position to defend the proletarian fatherland with the minimum of chaos. The two tasks are absolutely clear. The secondary task is prepared and carried out within the primary task; the one task slides into the other and operates at the same time.
But this is somewhat different to what the Majority say: “The Stalinists have no programme for the workers on how to fight invading fascism—or for that matter fascism at home; the two problems are not separate but identical and simultaneous.” The Majority accuse the Stalinists of not having a programme against invading fascism (the primary enemy). What ought to be formulated “the main enemy at home” is presented: “or for that matter, fascism at home.” By this means the question is reversed; it is not only reversed, it is distorted and confused. The British working class are not menaced by fascism. By saying something similar to Cannon they think they have said the same. In sharp contradistinction to Cannon, the tasks are posed by the Majority as “identical”. Our own bourgeoisie becomes submerged in identity with the foreign invader. This according to the Majority is the continuation of the policy of Lenin. The main enemy at home recedes into the background because: we are fighting invading fascism! It is no accident that the question is formulated this way. Search in vain through their material for a single concrete directive to the 4 to 5 million armed workers, from which would flow the general policy of arming all the workers. With the raising of the invasion in the manner of the Majority, and the lack of a concrete policy for the workers in arms, there remains no alternative for the “masses” but to accept the very concrete directive of the bourgeoisie.
After the fall of France, Trotsky wrote in an article We do not change our course:
“From the standpoint of the revolution in one’s own country the defeat of one’s own imperialist masters is undoubtedly the ‘lesser evil.’ Pseudo internationalists, however, refuse to apply this principle in relation to the defeated democratic countries. In return they interpret Hitler’s victory not as a relative, but as an absolute obstacle in the way of a revolution in Germany. They lie in both instances.”
These words were directed against the social democratic and centrist capitulators who were advocating various forms of tentative and open support for the “democratic bourgeoisie.” Our comrades of the Majority, have not, of course, proposed that we support the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless the conception “identical” is, in our opinion, a step in this direction. This is further emphasised by the formulations of the less experienced comrades of the Majority in political discussions.
During the pre-October days Lenin remarked that to substitute the abstract for the concrete was one of the greatest sins of a revolutionary. This is also true, let us echo, in periods of apathy and reaction. This is what our comrades are doing at the present moment—substituting abstract “moods” for a concrete evaluation of these moods; substituting abstract phrases for concrete directives; proposing to win the “masses” instead of educating the cadres.
Let us examine the material presented by the Majority insofar as it deals with the armed forces at all. As the Internal Bulletin [contribution] of SL-MK correctly demonstrates, the emphasis in the article in Youth For Socialism is laid on the fact that the bourgeoisie are not arming the workers. In February Youth the army is referred to in the following passages:
“How they are going to accomplish this with their maximum of 4 million soldiers against the 10 million which the Rome-Berlin axis has already trained and armed they do not reveal…”
“Not by curtailing the power of the workers in the factory and in the army—but by organising workers control of industry and arms…”
“Control of the army must be taken out of the hands of the reactionary officer class and put into those of the workers.”
Assuming that this was due to error of omission, one would expect to find a deeper analysis in the Workers’ International News article, particularly since our comrades state that Youth material is agitational and Workers’ International News is propaganda. In the Workers’ International News article which has as its key “arm the workers”, the Home Guard is not mentioned at all while the army is dismissed as follows:
“With a big percentage of the workers called up in the army and the main mass of the soldiers stationed in Britain and in contact with the civil population, the army is in closer contact with the toilers than at any time in history. The bourgeoisie even more than in the last war, is dependent on the services of the labour leaders.”
And what follows from the important observation that “the army is in closer contact with the toilers than at any time in history”? Will the army be more easily influenced by revolutionary ideas? Should we turn our attention to those workers with arms in their hands? Should we outline a programme of demands for the workers in arms? Why, no! “…The bourgeoisie, even more than in the last war, is dependent on the services of the labour leaders”! And this is presented as the military policy! Instead of a positive programme to the workers—we are served with a pious observation.
It is our duty to make a serious analysis of the problems facing the soldier workers and conduct a sustained propaganda towards workers in the army and link this up with the organised movement of the working class; to explain to the armed workers why it was possible for the French officer caste to sell out and what forms of organisation would stop a similar [thing] happening here; to explain the decisive role the armed proletariat are destined to play in the coming revolution. We must demand trade union wages and trade union rights; delegates from local barracks and battalions to trades councils; the right of soldiers to control the mess committee (the only legal channel in the army for expression at present); the right of assembly and full political rights for soldiers; the right to collective bargaining and deputation; the right to remove the reactionary officers; the right to elect their own officers; the right of the soldiers in the armed forces to give training in arms to workers in the trade unions and labour organisations; the abolition of court martial—these and many other problems must be hammered out in the form of a military programme for the armed forces and must be featured in our press and propaganda.
The experiences of the last war show that bourgeois military discipline tends to break down completely, particularly on the declaration of peace. Nevertheless in Britain, in spite of the widespread revolts in all sections of the forces, mainly on the question of demobilisation, the bourgeois were able, by making a concession to the soldiers in the introduction of the dole, to disarm the British army in France, and thus stave off any possibility of an armed movement on the part of the discontented returning soldiers. The pacifist and anti-militarist nature of the policy of the revolutionary left, the lack of sustained revolutionary activity in the armed forces—these facilitated the reactionary moves on the part of the bourgeoisie. This must not happen again—even if the war runs its course without the British revolution, and the military policy must be the lever by which the same situation will be prevented.
The Majority have always maintained that revolutionaries and revolutionary parties in the past have had a programme for the army. We ask to be directed to where we can learn of this. We ask the Majority to show us that Lenin’s general statement on conscription can in any way be compared to that of Trotsky; if at any time the Bolsheviks or any other revolutionary party outlined so comprehensive a programme for the armed forces as the American SWP. Or is it, as we have always maintained, precisely in the concrete manner in which Trotsky deals with the question, that distinguishes him from Lenin and constitutes the “deepening, the continuation” of Lenin’s policy?
The Home Guard
While in Workers’ International News the Home Guard is not even mentioned, the February issue of Youth deals with this question in the following manner:
“The Home Guard, which they pretended for a time was a sort of arming of the nation, is being brought more and more under the control of the chiefs of the regular army. Now that the Home Guard is to a certain extent armed, the government is bureaucratically imposing full time officers from above. They must have complete control of all arms for their own purposes.”
What arises from the proposition that “now that the Home Guard is to a certain extent armed, the government is bureaucratically imposing full time officers from above”? Shall the workers in the Home Guard conduct a struggle for democratic control? Should the workers oppose the setting up of the Home Guard and organise a separate working class militia? No! “They [the capitalists] must have complete control of all arms for their own purposes.” A brilliant deduction! One which must have taken a great deal of thought. But how does it bring the ideas of the workingmen who have joined the Home Guard “to fight Hitler” into conflict with those of the capitalist class? How does it teach the proletarian who has grasped at the idea “arm the workers” what his class interests are? Every petty bourgeois trend in British working class politics has said what the Majority say. The task of the revolutionary is not to make pious observations such as the New Statesman and Nation or the Spectator are wont to do. It is to develop a programme of revolutionary demands which separates the workers from their class enemy. Instead of shouting “Hitler is coming—Arm the workers” and shouting even more loudly than the boss class press at that, it is necessary to show the worker where his true interests lie.
The Majority adopt the standpoint that the Home Guard was a concession by the bourgeoisie to the demand on the part of the workers to be armed. In other words: the workers were surging forward for arms to “fight Hitler” and the bosses were holding them back; an “emasculated concession” it is now termed. We do not agree with this proposition. We believe that the initiative for the Home Guard came from the bourgeoisie. The LDV was formed when the first parachutists descended on Norway. This was accompanied by a tremendous press campaign on the part of the bourgeoisie, a campaign which was intensified when the bulge in the allied lines took place, which finally culminated in editorials in the Beaverbrook press “Arm the workers.” The most patriotic and politically backward section of the workers joined the Home Guard together with a section of the petit bourgeois staff and a small number of advanced workers, mainly under Stalinist influence. While there was an undoubted influx into the Home Guard as the result of the fall of France, this was stimulated by bourgeois propaganda, and many of these who joined have since dropped out. Nevertheless the fact that there are a large number of workers—even backward workers, though the great majority are in the Home Guard—means that when a movement among the workers takes place, the Home Guard will be vitally affected. An elementary task for the revolutionary party is to develop a programme for these workers. And how much more necessary is such a programme if the viewpoint of the Majority is correct?
The Home Guard will reflect the mood of the workers much more rapidly than the army because it is in closer contact with them. The development of the struggle will burst the Home Guard asunder; one section will go directly over to the counter-revolution, the other will rally to the side of the proletariat. The outcome of this process will be determined by the actions and policy of the revolutionary proletarian party. For this reason it is necessary to have a programme for the Home Guard.
We approach the workers in the Home Guard and in the factories as follows: the capitalists have got us into this war, which is their war and not ours. They ask us to join the Home Guard to defend Britain. You fellow workers accept this proposition that we must be armed. You believe and we agree with you, that a successful invasion would smash our standards of life, our trade unions, our Labour parties, and all the civil rights which we have won by years of struggle. We agree with this. But who is going to protect these rights? Is it going to be the reactionary boss class stooges from the managerial staff who control the factory Home Guard? Why, all our lives we have to fight these people to retain what few rights and privileges we have. Day in, day out there is a constant struggle between them and us because they try to grind our conditions down. Look how the bosses keep the best militants out of the Home Guard; how they use the Home Guard in such and such a factory to intimidate the shop stewards, the strikers, etc. No! These people are not interested in defending our rights, they are only interested in defending the property of the boss—the factory. That is what they mean by the “defence of Britain.” We want to defend our rights to the very end against anyone who attempts to attack them. We are aware that in the present period this can only be done with arms in our hands. Who better to give us a lead on this question than the shop stewards and the trade union militants who spend their lives struggling for this end, who are victimised, attacked because they genuinely desire to defend our rights. We demand the rejection of the reactionary managerial staff and the election of our own officers under the control of the shop stewards’ and factory committees. We demand that every worker in the factory—not only those who the boss elects—should have access to arms. Side by side with the demand for the election of worker officers in the Home Guard, we demand the dissolution of the Home Guard into the workers’ militia. We don’t trust these people to defend us. Look what they did in France; look how Marshall Pétain was able to wipe out our organisation in unoccupied France by a stroke of the pen because the French workers relied on the bourgeoisie and the Blums.
With this, or a similar approach, the ideas of a workers’ militia can be easily grasped and we will be able to raise the class consciousness of the worker who already has a gun in his hand. At the same time these elements in the factory, the militants who have been suspicious of the Home Guard from the very inception, will be drawn along the road to a genuine understanding of a working class military attitude towards war. “Arm the workers” from being a phrase, becomes a clear and concrete revolutionary slogan of struggle. With such a programme we will be able to build a great class conscious movement of workers with arms in their hands who will never permit the same thing to happen here as happened in France.
Another aspect of our propaganda which needs to be sharply corrected is the abstract method of presenting our ideas, and the loose and slipshod phraseology which hides the loose and slipshod ideas. In the February article in Youth, the democratic rights of the workers are dealt with in very general terms. At the same time we get phrases such as “the workers support the war for the purpose of fighting fascism.” No mention of any opposition to the war at all. With this general and abstract way of saying that the workers support the war, the directives are similarly of a general and abstract character. The workers do not support the war for the purpose of fighting fascism, no more than the German workers support the war for the purpose of fighting “pluto-democracy” as Haw-Haw puts it. The workers support the war in the belief that they will retain the primary things in life: family, living standards, trade unions etc. Put this way—the way of the Transitional Programme—it becomes simple to develop concrete demands. Arming the workers becomes directly linked to these primary needs of the workers and not to the abstract defence of the country.
In the past we have always attempted to harden out any opposition of the advanced workers to the war, seeking out any manifestation, however slight, and attempting to crystallise it into defeatist channels. In the March 1940 issue of Workers’ International News we published an article—The ballot box test:
“But does not the vote for the Stop-the-war candidate mean a vote for Hitler? Yes. Nevertheless those workers who record such a vote do not thereby try to make a pro-Hitler gesture. They vote that way because it is one way open to them to express their abomination of the war. And in the absence of a revolutionary socialist candidate, we advise all workers to do the same, voting not for the policy of the Stop-the-war candidate, but against the war.”
But today our attitude is different. On receiving the report of the Dumbartonshire election, instead of seizing upon it as an anti-war manifestation, the reaction of the Majority was that the Stalinists must have obtained the 4,000 votes on an anti-Hitler ticket—on a “caricature of the military policy”, as they put it.
And in the present material in Workers’ International News and Youth, we adopt an entirely different standpoint. We now attempt to show that the workers want to fight, but the bourgeoisie refuse to let them. For example in Youth: “The workers of Britain support this war for the purpose of fighting fascism, but the ruling class will not allow them to do this.” In the document sent to the Socialist Appeal, the mood of the masses is characterised in exactly the same terms as the “entire stock in trade of the labour bureaucracy”—they want “to fight against Hitlerism at all costs.” No mention of the anti-war sentiments of the advanced workers.
In these lines we see a sharp switch in our propaganda. In the past we said: “this is not our war; the best workers are fighting against it.” Today we say: “we want to fight Hitler; but the bourgeoisie won’t let us.” Whereas in the past we attacked the Stalinist anti-war policy from a critical standpoint, explaining how it plays into the hands of the bourgeoisie, now we wail: “You haven’t got a policy to fight Hitler!”
This is carried out to extreme lengths. In the February issue of Youth, on the subject of the Daily Worker ban, we read:
“The reason the masses have passively accepted the ban on the Daily Worker without any real movement of protest can be laid at the door of the Communist Party policy…And today they do not offer the masses any way of fighting invading fascism.”
In the letter to the Socialist Appeal:
“The Stalinists cannot fight the suppression of the Daily Worker because they have no program to offer the workers. ‘We must at all costs fight and destroy Hitler’ is the mood of the masses, and the bombing has strengthened, not weakened this. The Communist Party has not responded to this demand of the workers in the slightest degree. Their policy has been sectarian, pacifist and sterile. The Labour leaders and the bourgeoisie are making much of the Daily Worker demand that every soldier should have a week’s holiday at Christmas!
“But the main body of workers has not been roused on this issue. They are still solidly behind the labour leaders and the war against Hitler, and since Morrison accused the Daily Worker of helping Hitler, workers have accepted its suppression.”
We have always maintained that the Communist Party had not a mass following among the working class, because generally speaking their policy was sectarian as well as opportunist and the workers barely raised their heads to see what they were doing. Now we find that the masses supported Morrison in the banning of the Daily Worker because the Communist Party did not have a policy of fighting invading fascism!
The reports from all Labour Party constituencies show that the Stalinists are making headway among the advanced sections of the Labour Party membership. The Scottish Labour Party reports show that in the decisive area of the Clydeside—the storm centre of the British revolutionary movement—the membership are turning to the Stalinists for leadership on the basis of their anti-war platform. The sell out of the Labour and trade union bureaucracy is being sharply demonstrated to the advanced workers in the labour and trade union movement. In their hostility to the attacks the bourgeoisie is levelling against them, the advanced workers are becoming more and more antagonistic to the war. The Stalinists, masquerading under the banner of the October revolution, appear to them to be the only alternative. This movement on the part of the workers is slow (yes comrades, because of the fear of invasion which the capitalists are whipping up) but its tempo will rapidly quicken, depending of course to a large degree, on Stalin’s foreign policy.
The ILP, the Victor Gollanczs, the “lefts” in the Labour Party—all these are distorting the thesis of Lenin on revolutionary defeatism. The Stalinists are being labelled “Leninist defeatists” and are basking in the reflected glory of the Leninist policy. They will reap to the full the benefits of the inevitable turn of the masses towards defeatism unless we pose in the clearest possible manner, the true policy of Lenin. Our task is to conduct a sharp ideological struggle with the various distortions if we are to keep the banner of defeatism alive.
 Trotsky: Bonapartism, fascism and war, August 1940.
 Quote ends abruptly.
 Socialist Party of Great Britain, small socialist organisation founded in 1904 as a split from the Social Democratic Federation.
 Trotsky: On conscription, July 1940.
 Cannon: Military policy of the proletariat, October 1940.
 See: Sam Levy and Millie Kahn, The interpretation of the Majority of the executive committee of the military policy.
 Local Defence Volunteers, former denomination of the Home Guard.
Military policy—or confusion
By WIL EC Majority
[WIL, Internal Bulletin, March 20 1941]
Reading through the criticism of the article “Arm the workers—The only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion” which has appeared in Youth for Socialism can only leave one wondering what the comrades are trying to say. What on earth are they criticising? What are they trying to put in its place? Even the criticism of Shachtman of the military policy in America has at least a clearly motivated, if negatively and passively pacifist, point of view.
The comrades of the Minority “accept” the slogans of the Americans, alas, “mechanically” (one of their favourite and groundless assertions against the Youth article) and dump them on the British scene without adopting the general principles and ideas which these slogans are intended to concretise.
But before dealing with this, let us examine the tangled skein into which the strips of this article are wound and get some order out of the chaos into which it has been strung. We will first of all deal with one by one with the points raised in order not to leave any basis for any further confusion on the part of the comrades concerned, and then attempt to raise the questions as they were clearly and simply explained by Trotsky and Cannon.
First we must counterpose a correct outline of the Youth article to the incorrect summary given in the criticism.
A descriptive outline of the military-political situation.
An application of the lessons of France to Britain.
An exposure of the bourgeois lie that they are fighting Hitlerism.
The posing of the question of invasion—and giving the workers a concrete and positive alternative.
This leading to the posing of the problem of power and a revolutionary war against fascism.
The first argument is that the article is “superficial” and has a “mechanical foundation” in that it draws a parallel between the position in France and that in Britain. And then the criticism in a pedantic, lifeless, eclectic way proceeds to give a formal and mechanical counterposing of the French situation with the British. Analysing France, they finish with a correct proposition:
“After Reynaud’s declaration that Paris would be defended ‘street by street’ the French bourgeoisie, faced with the prospect of arming the Paris proletariat who, together with a section of the army, would have constituted a threat to their own power and conducted a revolutionary war against Hitler, preferred to capitulate to Hitler. To understand the lesson of Pétain, to explain “Pétainism” is to demonstrate this classic example of the defeatist character of the bourgeoisie (including Hitler) if it fears its working class at home.”
We will not quarrel with the outline of the situation in France and Britain (we do not wish the argument to be sidetracked on the side issues which do not concern the question under discussion). But they say regarding Britain:
“At the present moment we can say with regard to the question of war, the British masses, as distinct from the French, are apathetic in the defencist sense, insofar as they see no other alternative…Throughout the article which purports to utilise the French experience, there is no analysis of the differences in the situation in Britain today with that which existed in France, politically and economically and which was the primary cause for the capitulation of the French bourgeoisie. The British bourgeoisie do not fear their working class in the present period…” (Our emphasis)
Let us cut through this by one single fact which destroys their interpretation as a landmine destroys a building, without leaving a single brick. So well do the comrades “interpret” the military policy that they have not even noticed it: the military policy was originally put forward not before the fall of France, but after it, not for France and not even for Britain, but for…America!!
The military policy was developed as a result of the new situation in the world. “The old principles, which remained unchanged, must be applied correctly to the new conditions of permanent war and universal militarism.” Trotsky and Cannon utilising the lesson of France show the American workers that they can’t leave the “defence against fascist invasion” in the hands of the ruling class. To do so means inevitable defeat and the victory of fascism whether of the German or American variety. That is the meaning of the “military policy.” To explain this they utilise to the full the lesson of France. They do not go into long involved explanations as to the “different” situation of the French and American bourgeoisie. They utilise this experience to demonstrate that “…the victories of the fascist war machine of Hitler have destroyed ever plausible basis for the illusion that a serious struggle against fascism can be conducted under the leadership of a bourgeois democratic regime.”
They compare imperialist America, [the] mightiest capitalist power that has ever existed, with rotting enfeebled France.
Let us hear the author of the policy, Trotsky:
“The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say ‘Let us have a peace programme,’ the worker will reply, ‘But Hitler does not want a peace programme.’ Therefore we say: ‘We will defend the United States with a workers’ army, with workers’ officers, with a workers’ government, etc’.”
Let us also see how Cannon understands this problem. Dealing with the inevitable participation of America in the war, he says, in explaining the military policy:
“We will never let anything happen as it did in France. These commanding officers from top to bottom turned out to be nothing but traitors and cowards crawling on their knees before Hitler, leaving the workers absolutely helpless. They were far more concerned to save a part of their property than to fight the fascist invader. The myth about the war of ‘democracy against fascism’ was exploded most shamefully and disgracefully. We must shout at the top of our voices that this is precisely what that gang in Washington will do because they are made of the same stuff as the French, Belgian and Norwegian bourgeoisie. The French example is the great warning that the officers from the class of bourgeois democrats can lead the workers only to useless slaughter, defeat and betrayal.”
Does the Minority consider that Cannon is “mechanically” comparing the situation in America with that in Norway? Does he not know the difference in the situation of the Norwegian, French, Belgian and American bourgeoisie?
In order to clarify further we quote an article in the Socialist Appeal, December 28 1940.
“The chief feature of the December 7 issue of the Saturday Evening Post is the diary of a British staff officer during the Battle of France. The details he gives constitute an annihilating indictment of the French bourgeoisie and its general staff. Blind, fatuous, complacent, stupid, lacking intelligence and imagination, cowardly—the bourgeois ‘democracy’ of France emerges from this officer’s diary shorn of every claim to any stature.
“But the picture is too damning. The bourgeois ‘democracy’ of France was exactly the same kind of ruling class which still rules in Britain and the United States. Therefore the author—perhaps at the suggestion of his publisher—casts about to find a striking detail which will enable him to make the situation of the French rulers different from that in Britain and the United States. He cannot find it because it does not exist…whereupon he invents it…”
Does the American bourgeoisie, which is far stronger than the British, “fear the working class in the present period”? America today dominates Britain and is preparing the greatest imperialist bid for world supremacy that the bloodstained history of imperialism has witnessed. But the Minority, instead of approaching this question from the angle of the American comrades, spend pages analysing the differences in the French and British situations.
Instead of analysing the mood of the masses and helping them to draw revolutionary conclusions from what is progressive in this; they fall into exactly the fatal error against which Trotsky warned. “We do not oppose to events and to the feelings of the masses an abstract affirmation of our sanctity.” The workers feel themselves threatened by an immediate invasion from Hitler…so these comrades explain, like a lawyer arguing about some abstract legal quibble, that after all America as well as Germany intends to dominate England. Nevertheless, the workers do not see American troops just across the Channel getting ready to pounce for conquest: and if they did, it would be to welcome them as “allies” in the struggle against what they consider to be a “common menace.” Is here any difference in the two situations?
The Minority says: “At the present moment we can say with regard to the question of war, the British masses, as distinct from the French, are apathetic in the defencist sense, insofar as they have no other alternative.” Precisely! And here is the whole aim of the military policy—to give them a positive alternative to accepting the control and leadership of the capitalist class in fending off a danger which they dread. It was to face a situation like this that the military policy was developed and put forward. As Cannon expresses it:
“We didn’t visualise, nobody visualised, a world situation in which whole countries would be conquered by fascist armies. The workers don’t want to be conquered by foreign invaders above all by fascists. They require a programme of military struggle against foreign invaders which assures their class independence.”
But the Minority refuse to face up to this situation and while “accepting” the slogans put forward as the “military policy” refuse to concretise them as a way out of the dilemma with which the masses are faced. Incredible as it may seem, the Minority attempt to operate the “new” slogans on the basis of the old negative policy. Here is the real difference between the Majority and the Minority.
We may remark, in parenthesis, that the comrades calmly repeat the analysis of America’s role written for the press over a period by the Majority. Still, we ask, what has this got to do with the issue in dispute? The article doesn’t deal with Japan in the Pacific, nor the economic crisis in Brazil, nor the political regime in Portugal. All “very important” of course, and “serious omissions”—but not dealing directly with the problem at issue: invasion. The question of America has been dealt with in our press and will be dealt with again in its due time and place.
In concluding their section headed “England” the comrades say:
“This is no ‘fake’ struggle, but is a struggle which will only be concluded after the wholesale destruction of millions of workers.”
That the imperialist struggle of the British capitalist class isn’t a “fake” struggle nobody would disagree, and the article in Youth does not suggest this. It points out that it is their claim to be fighting fascism that is fake. To quote Youth: “The capitalist class is not fighting Hitler’s fascism. They are only fighting his plans to relieve them of their Empire.” It is our job to explain, as we have done in this and other articles, for what and in what way the British bourgeoisie is “fighting Hitler” and to prepare the overthrow of the ruling class and a genuine revolutionary war against Hitler.
Do the critics believe that America is threatened with invasion? The mightiest power on earth is preparing the most powerful murder machine in history, dwarfing even that of Germany, in order to battle for domination of the world; and yet our American comrades make full use of the argument of the bourgeoisie that German fascism is threatening to invade America. They say in the Socialist Appeal:
“The government tells us that fascism, the mortal enemy of the Labour movement is threatening to invade our shores? Then let the government also provide technical instructors to teach the unions the military arts…And we can predict in advance that if the organised workers of this country were thus armed and trained, what happened in France could never happen here. No ‘democratic’ government could ever turn fascist with impunity.”
Is there any analysis here of the differences between the situations in America and France, the different “tempo of development” and so on? No! But there is full use made of one of the greatest political lessons of our time—the betrayal of France to Hitler and its overnight transformation into a caricature of a fascist state.
“The political proposition ‘Arm the workers—The only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion’ is incorrectly posed, flowing as it does, from a military supposition, namely, that the British military machine is incapable of defeating a German invasion. What will happen to this argument if the British bourgeoisie, with American aid, does succeed in stemming the invasion, which possibility, although not guaranteed, at least cannot be excluded, and which Wall Street now seems to think it has a good chance of doing? Yet this hypothesis is implicit in the whole presentation of the question.”
A mere detail has escaped our critics’ notice. A guarantee that something will happen does not at all preclude the same thing happening without the guarantee. The comrades, in their usual confused way, appreciate this, as is shown in the following paragraph from their criticism where they use the word “guarantee” in its proper sense. “What will happen to this argument if the British bourgeoisie, with American aid, does succeed in stemming invasion, which possibility, although not guaranteed, at least cannot be excluded.”
Not only is it not excluded that invasion will be beaten off in spite of the fact that the masses are not armed, but in the opinion of the Majority this is the most likely course of events. But, and here the whole “essence” of the question is missed by the Minority—both militarily and politically the conclusion is indisputable that an arming, organising and training of the whole working class would make inevitable a defeat of invasion. Our critics carefully explain that “the British bourgeoisie do not fear their working class in the present period.” But they do not draw the conclusion—that in spite of this they do not arm and organise the whole “people” for resistance; they prefer to risk the success of an invasion. And even these comrades do not deny that the success of invasion under the present circumstances is “not excluded.” Isn’t it necessary to draw the conclusion and explain to the masses why the “only guarantee” is not put into force?
Really, one cannot take seriously the infantile arguments into which their petty, quibbling attitude has led these comrades. Instead of the slogan in Youth they suggest:
“We pose the question from a class angle, i.e. ‘Invasion: arm the workers under workers’ control—the only guarantee for the defence of workers’ democratic rights’; in other words we approach the question from the interests of the working class, and not from the angle of a Wintringham.”
In other words, these comrades fall precisely into the error of which they characterise the article. They regard the situation from the “Wintringham” angle. We, on the contrary, draw precisely the class angle from the way in which the capitalists are fighting German imperialism at the present time—in other words, the class lesson flows from this. As to the “under workers’ control” the whole Youth article points the lesson. We quote:
“But instead of struggling for workers’ control they [the Labour leaders] are helping to increase capitalist control.”
“They, as well as we, have seen the lesson of France—that the working class must be thoroughly armed and have control of those arms if Hitler is to be held up and be defeated. But though they are willing to leave all the fighting to the workers, they are content to leave the control in the hands of the ruling class.”
The critics then quote Youth:
“In Britain the results will be no different. The capitalist class is not fighting Hitler’s fascism. They are only fighting his plans of relieving them of their Empire.”
And they ask, “What is meant by ‘In Britain the results will be no different’ if not that the suppression of the British workers will lead, as it did in France, to the German army simply walking in and taking over London?”
What is meant by “In Britain the results will be no different” is quite clearly explained in the article. The “totalitarian” preparations of the ruling class are examined and it is explained, in the same way as Trotsky has explained, that if the masses link their fate with the bourgeois democratic regime of Churchill and the British ruling class it can only result in the victory of Hitler or of a British Pétain or Hitler. In other words it is impossible to fight Hitler’s fascism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt to do so can only lead to fascism in Britain. As Cannon says “The workers themselves have to take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights.”
Now we quote from the criticism:
“The hypothesis of one comrade or another as to the fluctuating military potentialities of this or that imperialist army, while important as a means to present the relative transitional demand, must not be allowed to form the axis of our political slogans as exemplified in ‘Arm the workers—the only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion’.”
But this is precisely the pitfall into which our critics stumble. In analysing “the only guarantee” they give precisely a Wintringham interpretation of the possibility of a defeat for invasion. For them the problem ends where for us it just begins. We explain (we would refer the comrades to the February issue of Workers’ International News) that despite the fact that the bourgeoisie is risking the major part of its plunder and risking a possible defeat (“not excluded” the critics admit) they prefer this rather than arming and organising of the whole of the “people”—not just under workers’ control—but even under their own control. And all this, even accepting for the moment the academic, false and incredibly formalistic approach of the comrades, “the British workers are not red”; “the British bourgeoisie is not afraid of the working class in the present period.”
For the benefit of the authors we will let them into the “secret” (to them anyway) of how the dialectic of this process works. Is it necessary to reiterate here that the capitalist class has been systematically preparing for a bloody settlement with the workers and civil war for the last number of years? Army manoeuvres on the assumption of civil war, placing machine guns at strategic points in government buildings, the formation of the Civil Guard, arming of the police, etc. But the facts are well known to the comrades. We presume that these are preparations springing, not out of fear of the workers, but out of a desire to celebrate the fraternity and goodwill between the bourgeoisie and the workers which the Minority points out that Wilkie discovered on his visit to Britain.
What happens if a working class armed and organised under the control of their own committees and trade unions beats off invasion? What then? It would not be so easy to disarm them once the danger had passed. Once the workers go on the move against the exploiters on the economic field, the danger to the ruling class, which previously has been potential and dormant, would become active and acute. Here is the key to the question—why under all conditions the bourgeoisie is against the organisation and the arming of the broad masses.
Today the class struggle is not at an extreme point of tension; tomorrow it will inevitably be so. The bourgeoisie, more far-sighted than our critics, do not look at events from a static point of view, and inevitably their policy flows from this perspective. That is why, in contradistinction to the slogans of the Minority, which merely tend to further befuddlement of the masses—not to speak of themselves—we can emphasise what Marx called the bourgeois fraud of “national defence” and expose the naked class calculations underlying the policy of the bourgeoisie—at the same time offering a positive and concrete alternative which the workers cannot but see is the means to their salvation. Accepting the argument of the bourgeoisie (and more important of the labour leaders) that it is necessary to fight Hitlerism—the problem of power is raised in the minds of the masses—the proposition “how to defend ourselves against Hitler” or invasion, etc. leads direct to the question which in a blurred and distorted fashion the opposition sees (correctly) as our task, the problem of overthrowing the bourgeoisie—taking power into our own hands and waging a genuine revolutionary war against fascism.
And then our critics go on to give still another quotation together with their comment:
“The victory of British imperialism would lead to fascism not to its overthrow. There is only one road for the British working class. To fight Hitler we must take power into our own hands. The road of the Labour leaders is leading to destruction. If we do not wish to suffer the fate of our French comrades we must act in time.”
In this paragraph, they claim is contained the following:
- The possibility of victory of British imperialism.
- The impossibility of victory of British imperialism.
- The confusing of the question of stemming the invasion and the possibility of a British military victory over Germany.
- Even when posing the question of a British military victory which “would lead to fascism” the conclusion drawn is how to fight Hitler.
But just read this paragraph in context with the preceding three paragraphs, and the only conclusion that one can come to is that the comrades have become blinded by prejudice and completely incapable of understanding the meaning of words or ideas:
“A victory of British imperialism in the war would be as harmful to the people of Europe and Britain as a Nazi victory itself…
“…If we do not wish to suffer the fate of our French comrades we must act in time.”
The paragraph, especially when taken in context, but even without this, explains that in order to fight fascism it is necessary to take power. Victory for British imperialism would not lead to an overthrow of fascism (even in Germany) but to the establishment ultimately of fascism in Britain as well. Therefore, to support British imperialism as the Labour leaders are doing would lead to the destruction of the labour organisations, just as they have been destroyed in France. Therefore if we wish to fight Hitlerism it is necessary to take power into our own hands—to entrust this to the hands of British imperialism is to lead to the victory of fascism.
From what sentence in the first paragraph quoted does the “impossibility of victory for British imperialism” arise? You can search in this paragraph, both on the lines and between them: not even by implication is any such suggestion made. It only arises out of the lack of clarity of thought of our comrades.
From what sentence in the paragraph quoted do they deduce their second conclusion? Have we to explain what every schoolboy writing an essay knows: that, having dealt with a question (invasion) one can then turn to another question? The article deals primarily with the immediate question of invasion. But that does not at all exclude the question of a military victory for British imperialism being dealt with. Where does this “confusing” etc. come in? All the “confusing” that is being done is by the comrades of the Minority. This particular paragraph does not deal with the question of invasion from the point of view of stemming it or anything else; but alas, it apparently fails lamentably in “stemming” the confusion in the minds of our critics.
“Even when posing the question of a British victory which ‘would lead to fascism’ the conclusion drawn is how to fight Hitler!”
Exactly! And that conclusion is? The workers must take power! Along with Cannon we say:
“The workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights. That is the whole principle of the new policy that has been elaborated for us by comrade Trotsky.”1
In other words, it is necessary for the workers to take power in order to fight Hitler. It is the complete incapacity of the comrades to understand this that is the source of all their errors and confusion and their inability to criticise the articles from the point of view of a difference in principles.
In their efforts to discredit the policy as put forward by the Majority, the comrades attempt to “graft” an argument onto us which is not ours. Giving the brilliant quotation from Trotsky which forms the basis of our international strategy, they surreptitiously, cautiously and confusedly attempt to use this quotation against us and smuggle in the idea that we are defencists and social patriots.
We ask the comrades point blank: Do you accuse us of defencism? If so, state it openly instead of approaching it cautiously like a mouse approaching a particularly delectable piece of cheese, but afraid to nibble it for fear of the cat (the real military policy of Trotsky and Cannon) which is waiting round the corner to spring on it.
Is Trotsky being defencist and “bringing forward Hitler as the chief bugbear” when he says:
“That is why we must try to separate the workers from the others by a programme of education of workers’ schools, of workers’ officers, devoted to the welfare of the workers’ army, etc. We cannot escape from their militarisation but inside the machine we can observe the class line. The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say, ‘Let us have a peace programme’, the workers will reply, ‘But Hitler does not want a peace programme.’ Therefore we say: ‘we will defend the United States with a workers’ army, with workers’ officers, with a workers’ government, etc.’ ”
Is Cannon being defencist and “bringing forward Hitler as the chief bugbear” when he says:
“No worker wants to see that gang of fascist barbarians over-run this country or any country. But we want to fight fascism under a leadership we can trust.”
Is the Majority being defencist and “bringing forward Hitler as the chief bugbear” when it says:
“We cannot fight Hitlerism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt this is to make inevitable the victory either of Hitler or of some British Hitler. In order to wage a genuine revolutionary war for the liberation of the people of Europe and for the defence of the rights of the British working class, it is necessary that power should be in the hands of the workers.”
On the contrary there is no trace of defencism here, but a clear expression of the military policy of the proletariat.
The Minority then quotes the following passage from Trotsky’s article, We do not change our course:
“Hitler the conqueror has naturally day dreams of becoming the chief executioner of the proletarian revolution in any part of Europe. But that does not at all mean that Hitler will be strong enough to deal with the proletarian revolution, as he has been able to deal with imperialist democracy. It would be a fatal blunder, unworthy of a revolutionary party, to turn Hitler into a fetish, to exaggerate his power, to overlook the objective limits of his successes and conquests. Hitler boastfully promises to establish the domination of the German people, at the expense of all Europe and even of the whole world, ‘for one thousand years.’ But in all likelihood, this splendour will not endure even for ten years.”
The confusion of the Minority is eloquently illustrated by their attempt to utilise this quotation against us. They have not understood what “fetishism” Trotsky was warning the Fourth International against. This will appear clearly when we show what Trotsky was really dealing with in the article quoted.
Trotsky is saying that under no circumstances and no conditions must the fate of the working class, and principally of the vanguard, be linked up with the fate of rotting bourgeois democracy. He points out, as the comrades say quite correctly, that Hitler’s day dream of becoming the chief executioner of the proletarian revolution in any part of Europe is, of course, false. But the point that Trotsky was making they have completely missed. He is arguing this against the social patriots who, on the basis of Hitler’s victories demand that the proletariat subordinate themselves to the imperialist bourgeoisie of Britain and America because the victory of Hitler “would mean the end of everything and…just a blank wall with no perspective.” In other words, that no support should be given to Churchill, Roosevelt, etc.
This is clearly expressed not only in the article in question but also in a very compact form in the manifesto War and the world revolution.
“By his victories and bestialities Hitler provokes naturally the sharp hatred of workers the world over. But between this legitimate hatred of workers and the helping of his weaker but not less reactionary enemies is an unbridgeable gulf. The victory of the imperialists of Great Britain and France would be not less frightful for the ultimate fate of mankind than that of Hitler and Mussolini. Bourgeois democracy cannot be saved. By helping our bourgeoisie against foreign fascism the workers would only accelerate the victory of fascism in their own country. The task which is posed by history is not to support one part of the imperialist system against another, but to make an end of the system as a whole.” (Our emphasis)
But between this and the sectarian refusal to base ourselves on the “legitimate hatred of the workers of Hitler, his victories and bestialities”, there exists indeed an “unbridgeable gulf” into which the Minority has fallen and until it is clearly understood by the members of our organisation we will not be able to move forward a single inch.
The criticism proceeds:
“Comrade Trotsky was addressing himself to these comrades [which comrades?—EG] who depicted the coming of Hitler as the end of everything and seeing before them just a blank wall with no perspective. We believe that the article reflects this ‘fetishism’ by its whole presentation. In order to justify this ‘fetishism’, the Majority characterise the mood of the masses as ‘We must at all costs fight and destroy Hitler.’ We disagree with this characterisation, but assuming it is correct, how does this fit in with the mood of the German masses which is anti-Churchill since he is the arch representative of that imperialism which imposed the infamous Versailles Treaty on the German people—and they are fully aware, is preparing an even more infamous one in the event of a British victory.”
Once more let us see who and what Trotsky was attacking. He polemicises in the article against the conceptions held in this country by Strachey, Gollancz, C. A. Smith, “left” Labour leaders, etc. (We intend dealing with these in our publications in due course.) Here is a quotation from this same article of Trotsky:
“In the wake of a number of other and smaller European states, France is being transformed into an oppressed nation. German imperialism has risen to unprecedented military heights, with all the ensuing opportunities for world plunder.
“What then follows?
“From the side of all sorts of semi-internationalists one may expect approximately the following line of argumentation: successful uprisings in conquered countries, under the Nazi heel, are impossible, because every revolutionary movement will be immediately drowned in blood by the conquerors. There is even less reason to expect a successful uprising in the camp of the totalitarian victors. Favourable conditions for revolution could be created only by the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini. Therefore, nothing remains except to aid England and the United States. Should the Soviet Union join us it would be possible not only to halt Germany’s military successes but to deal her heavy military and economic defeats. The further development of the revolution is possible only on this road. And so forth and so on.”
“This argumentation which appears on the surface to be inspired by the new map of Europe is in reality only an adaptation to the new map of Europe of the old arguments of social patriotism, i.e. class betrayal. Hitler’s victory over France has revealed completely the corruption of imperialist democracy, even in the sphere of its own tasks. It cannot be ‘saved’ from fascism. It can only be replaced by proletarian democracy. Should the working class tie up its fate in the present war with the fate of imperialist democracy, it would only assure itself a new series of defeats.
“‘For victory’s sake’ England has already found herself obliged to introduce the methods of dictatorship, the primary pre-requisite for which was the renunciation by the Labour Party of any political independence whatsoever. If the international proletariat, in the form of all its organisations and tendencies, were to take to the same road, then this would only facilitate and hasten the victory of the totalitarian regime on a world scale. Under the conditions of the world proletariat renouncing independent politics, an alliance between the USSR and the imperialist democracies would signify the growth of the omnipotence of the Moscow bureaucracy, its further transformation into an agency of imperialism, and its inevitably making concessions to imperialism in the economic sphere. In all likelihood the military position of the various imperialist countries on the world arena would be greatly changed thereby; but the position of the world proletariat, from the standpoint of the tasks of the socialist revolution, would be changed very little.” (Our emphasis)
Isn’t it clear what Trotsky is dealing with here? He is warning the cadres of the Fourth International that the social patriots of all descriptions will attempt to use Hitler’s victories for the purpose of justifying their collaboration with the capitalist class. Do the comrades of the Minority accuse us of this? They cannot! On the contrary, we use Hitler’s victories and the mood of the masses in regard to them for the purpose of separating the workers from the bourgeoisie, and not advocating collaboration; we use Hitler’s victories and the betrayals of the bourgeoisie of France, Belgium, Norway, etc. to increase working class independence, and not to decrease it. If we in any way indicate that we support Churchill and British imperialism in the conflict, let the comrades give one single quotation from the article to prove it.
No! The mood of the masses is to find a way out of the impasse in which they find themselves, and in this article we give them the only real alternative to fighting Hitler under Churchill and company—that of fighting Hitler under their own independent working class banner.
In this we stand on the same ground as Trotsky and Cannon:
“The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say, ‘Let us have a peace programme’, the worker will reply, ‘But Hitler does not want a peace programme.’ Therefore we say: ‘We will defend the United States with a workers’ army, with workers’ officers, with a workers’ government, etc.’ ”
Does the Minority agree with Trotsky’s characterisation of the mood of the masses in America—3,000 miles from the scene of the conflict? And not even openly in the war? If so, do they characterise the mood of the British workers differently? And then, most important of all, if the workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler—what flows from this? Do we simply give “an affirmative of our sanctity”? Do we just turn to the workers and say, as do the Minority, “The immediate threat (to your democratic rights) comes directly from within”? Or basing ourselves on the mood of the masses, do we say, “If you want really to fight Hitler, you must take the fight into your own hands? If you don’t, you will have either the victory of Hitler or of British Hitlerism.” That is how the Majority poses the question. This way leads directly to the struggle against “the main enemy at home”—but it is raised in a way which cannot but appeal to the masses, and not in the formal, scholastic manner of the Minority.
Another question is put to us by the Minority:
“…how does this fit in with the mood of the German masses which is anti-Churchill since he is the arch-representative of that imperialism which imposed the infamous Versailles Treaty on the German people—and as they are fully aware, is preparing an even more infamous one in the event of a British victory?”
An adequate understanding of the military policy would have answered this puerile objection in advance; and indeed the fear of the German masses of another Versailles is dealt with in an article in Youth, though from the point of view of the British workers. But “how does this fit in with the mood of the German masses…” The answer is quite simple. We are not in any way, by hint, implication or innuendo giving the slightest political support to Churchill or any imperialist politician or class at any time or any place whatsoever. We are not for the victory of Churchill and infamous Versailles treaties, etc., etc. Is not that sufficiently clear? From the point of view of the German revolutionaries the answer is that they can agree on the struggle against Churchill and British imperialism (assuming that that is the “mood of the masses”)—but not under the leadership and control of Hitler and the German capitalists. The rest of the propaganda would follow from this. The taking of power by the workers in order to wage a real fight against Churchill and his imperialism, etc. Surely, it is easy to understand this? The whole argument against us falls away of itself.
In the following paragraph the comrades say:
“Flowing from the article our traditional international appeal to the European working class is cast aside for an appeal to support the socialist struggle against Hitler.”
This attempt to contrast the “socialist struggle against Hitler” with our “traditional international appeal to the European working class” can only arise out of confusion. It would certainly be interesting, if the Minority insists that there is a difference, to hear them explain it. But we notice that, while asserting that there is a difference, they make no attempt to contrast the two; and for the very good reason that it would be impossible to do so.
The last paragraph of the section on “Hitlerism” says: “…the slogan, like the title of the article, does not mention under whose control the workers must be armed.” We have already quoted the passage from the Youth article which calls for workers’ control, etc. But instead of recognising this and dealing with the principle involved, we get this attempt to seize on and exaggerate minor points.
But in their zeal the comrades have overlooked a trifle! Are they suggesting that we demand that the capitalists be disarmed—and then that we suggest that the workers should be placed under capitalist control? The mere posing of the question shows to what an absurd position the comrades have been reduced. Obviously if the bourgeoisie is to be disarmed they cannot be left in the control of the workers, as the quotation shows. If it will help to relieve their anxiety, we will accept the correction in all humility. (Incidentally the article in Workers’ International News gives exactly this slogan.)
The second part of the criticism in this paragraph is “most disturbing”, seeing that it contradicts itself.
“On the other hand, if the whole of the British bourgeoisie is implied—are we to understand that the whole bourgeoisie is willing to sell out to Hitler? But most disturbing is the posing of the main enemy as the foreign one. This slogan should have read: ‘Disarm the capitalists and dissolve the Home Guard into workers’ militia under workers’ control. Trade union control of the army for the struggle against totalitarian oppression at home and abroad.’ ” (Our emphasis)
These two criticisms are mutually exclusive. If the whole bourgeoisie is going to sell out then obviously the “main enemy” is the treacherous ruling class within the gates. But aside from this, actually all the slogan implies is that in order to fight Hitler it is necessary to overthrow the ruling class. “The whole principle” of the new policy, as Cannon has stated, is that “the workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights.” In other words, the disturbance in the minds of the comrades can subside. The axis around which the new policy revolves is precisely what the comrades have completely and hopelessly missed. That out of the posing of a struggle against “Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights” precisely flows the question of the “main enemy at home.” The question of whether the whole of the bourgeoisie will sell out or whether 90 percent or 10 percent, is something which entirely misses the mark. When Cannon says: “The French example is the great warning that officers from the class of bourgeois democrats can lead the workers only to useless slaughter, defeat and betrayal” we could ask him in the same scandalised way—“does Cannon think that all the bourgeois officers will lead the workers to useless slaughter? That all the bourgeois officers will betray?”
But the whole question cannot be considered in this way at all. This slogan cannot be separated from the rest. Do the comrades agree that the threat of putting into operation the expropriation of the mines, banks, industry, etc. would immediately turn the overwhelming majority of the ruling class into fifth columnists?
As is usual with sectarians, the Minority fall headlong into opportunism when attempting to face the problems concretely. The slogan “Trade union control of the army for the struggle against totalitarian oppression both at home and abroad” is a dangerous one, which we can search through the pages of the Socialist Appeal in vain to find. As a matter of fact Shachtman bases his whole criticism of Cannon’s position on the allegation that this is his policy. It flies in the face of the Marxian attitude towards the state as developed by Lenin. But we do not desire to go into a long and involved argument on this side issue. If the comrades insist on maintaining a wrong position on this fundamental question we shall return to it again. Soldiers’ committees in the army would be the correct way to pose this question if a slogan is issued. The other slogan is quite good and possibly ought to be accepted, “Disarm the capitalists and dissolve the Home Guard into workers’ militia under workers’ control,” but requires further study.
“Defence of workers’ democratic rights”
“With the coming of the Second World War, the process of decay and destruction of bourgeois democracy is accelerated. On the actual outbreak of the war, its death knell is already being sounded. In the present epoch of totalitarian war the luxury of ‘democracy’ must be discarded by the bourgeoisie in order to face the totalitarian war machine of the adversary. Inevitably bourgeois democracy must eliminate its overhead expenses, i.e. the democratic rights of the workers, trade unions, the relatively high standard of living—all these must go. Totalitarianism can only be fought by totalitarianism.”
This is correct. But here again the whole fundamental change in the tactic which the military policy implies is missed. What the comrades say above has always been said by us Trotskyists in the past in the same negative—although not so formalistic and lifeless way as the comrades are doing. But now we pose the problem in a different—in a positive way, although the essence of the question remains the same. Instead of saying, “totalitarianism can only be fought by totalitarianism”, we say totalitarianism can only be fought by the taking of power by the working class. Any other way means it will end in bourgeois democracy becoming totalitarian. This is how the question is raised in Youth:
“We cannot fight Hitlerism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt this is to make inevitable the victory of either Hitler or of some British Hitler. In order to wage a genuine revolutionary war for the liberation of the peoples of Europe and for the defence of the rights of the British working class, it is necessary that power should be in the hands of the workers.”
And this is how it is posed by Trotsky and Cannon:
“The workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights…”
“…We must use the example of France to the very end. We must say, ‘I warn you, workers, that they, (the bourgeoisie) will betray you! Look at Pétain, who is a friend of Hitler. Shall we have the same thing happen in this country? We must create our own machine under workers’ control.”
This simple posing of the fundamental problems of our epoch—the question of the regime, the question of power, the question of the military policy—how clear, how simple it emerges from the posing of the problem in the way the Old Manposes it. Compare this with the tortuous confused, one-sided, mechanical way in which the Minority attempt to grapple with the problem.
“In the forefront of our programme comes the fight for the democratic rights of the working class in the present period. These become revolutionary demands and assume tremendous importance in our transitional slogans. In the last two great remaining ‘democracies’ the rights of the workers are being filched from them. While these rights are threatened by a Hitler invasion the immediate threat to the British working class comes directly from within. In the defence of ‘democracy against Hitlerism’, the British bourgeoisie is rapidly destroying the very rights which we are supposed to be defending. Comrade Trotsky posed the question clearly in his last letters.” (Our emphasis)
But here exactly is the whole heart of the problem. How to explain to the masses that the “immediate threat” comes “directly from within”? The workers “don’t want to be conquered by foreign invaders” and the Minority falls exactly into that negative attitude which is condemned by Cannon. They attempt to operate on the basis we have always done in the past.
“Many times in the past we were put at a certain disadvantage, the demagogy of the social democrats against us was effective to a certain extent. They said ‘You have no answer to the question of how to fight against Hitler, how to prevent Hitler from conquering France, Belgium, etc.’ (Of course, their programme was very simple—the suspension of the class struggle and complete subordination of the workers to the bourgeoisie. We have seen the results of this treacherous policy). Well, we answered in a general way the workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take care of the invaders. That was a good programme, but the workers did not make the revolution in time. Now the two tasks must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously.” (Our emphasis)
The Minority wishes to carry on under the new conditions the old abstract propaganda which is completely sterile at the present time—whereas by posing the question of “how to fight Hitler” we immediately expose the bourgeoisie and what is more important the Labour leaders. The Labour and trade union leaders justify their collaboration with the bourgeoisie in the government and—the “rapid destroying of those very rights which we are supposed to be defending”, by the necessity to make “sacrifices” in order to win victory over Hitler. You would be a thousand times worse off if Hitler were to conquer you, they tell the workers. And by these means they have been enabled (temporarily of course) to paralyse the movement of the masses. The masses tolerate their treachery because they do not see any alternative.
Now merely to denounce Churchill as a more “immediate threat” to Hitler is useless and barren. But to point out that the “destroying of these very rights which we are supposed to be defending”, is not necessary to fight Hitler, that is the way to “find an approach to the masses.” By posing the question of how to fight Hitler we lead the masses to the conclusion that it is necessary to wage a struggle against Churchill. By posing the way of waging war against the fascist enemy without, flows directly the question of waging struggle against the enemy within. That is the whole theme of the article in Youth.
In the Minority’s bulletin, the struggle against “Hitlerism” at home and abroad are entirely separated and two distinct problems. But let us see how Trotsky and Cannon (and with them the Majority) really posed the problem and examine the confused way in which the Minority distorts it. They give two quotations from Trotsky:
“But we categorically refuse to defend civil liberties and democracy in the French manner; the workers and farmers to give their flesh and blood while the capitalists concentrate in their hands the command. The Pétain experiment should now form the centre of our war propaganda. It is important, of course, to explain to the advanced workers that the genuine fight against fascism is the socialist revolution. But it is more urgent, more imperative to explain to the millions of American workers that the defence of their ‘democracy’ cannot be delivered over to an American Marshall Pétain—and there are many candidates for such a role.”
“We must use the example of France to the very end. We must say, ‘I warn you workers, that they (the bourgeoisie) will betray you! Look at Pétain, who is a friend of Hitler, shall we have the same thing happen in this country? We must create our own machine, under workers’ control.’ We must be careful not to identify ourselves with the chauvinists, nor with the confused sentiments of self-preservation, but we must understand their feelings and adapt ourselves to those feelings critically, and prepare the masses for a better understanding of the situation, otherwise we will remain a sect, of which the pacifist variety is the most miserable.”
The first quotation, despite the attempt of the Minority to distort and confuse the issue, has a crystal-clear meaning. The bourgeoisie, and with them the Labour leaders, argue that we must “defend civil liberties and democracy” against the attacks of Hitler. Trotsky replies—“Yes. But this cannot be done under your leadership, Messrs Bourgeoisie!” “The Pétain experiment should now form the centre of our war propaganda.” Cannon makes this quite clear in his speech expounding the military policy.
“We will never let anything happen as it did in France. These commanding officers from top to bottom turned out to be nothing but traitors and cowards crawling on their knees before Hitler, leaving the workers absolutely helpless. They were far more concerned to save part of their property than to fight the fascist invader. The myth about the war of ‘democracy against fascism’ was exploded most shamefully and disgracefully. We must shout at the top of our voices that this is precisely what this gang in Washington will do because they are made of the same stuff as the French, Belgian and Norwegian bourgeoisie. The French example is the great warning that officers from the class of bourgeois democrats can lead the workers only to useless slaughter, defeat and betrayal.” (Our emphasis)
Isn’t it clear here that the question of the enemy “within” is raised by explaining that the enemy “without” cannot be fought except by dealing with the enemy at home? The second quotation from Trotsky makes the position even clearer, despite the frantic efforts of the Minority to “graft” a different meaning and interpretation on it. The bourgeoisie will betray the workers. Trotsky makes this clear despite the attempt to confuse the issue. “Look at Pétain who is a friend of Hitler.” The quotation just as it stands annihilates the distortion that is attempted.
“The workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights. That is the whole principle of the new policy that has been elaborated for us by comrade Trotsky.”
“We must shout at the top of our voices that this is precisely what that gang in Washington will do because they are made of the same stuff as the French, Belgian and Norwegian bourgeoisie.”
But the Minority is shouting at the top of their voices to prevent the membership understanding this problem clearly.
We quote the preceding paragraph to Trotsky’s second quotation which has been “glaringly omitted.”
“That is why it would be doubly stupid to present a purely abstract pacifist position today; the feeling the masses have is that it is necessary to defend themselves. We must say: ‘Roosevelt (or Willkie) says it is necessary to defend the country; Good! Only it must be our country, not that of the 60 families and their Wall Street. The army must be under our own command; we must have our own officers, who will be loyal to us.’ In this way we can find an approach to the masses that will not push them away from us, and thus to prepare for the second step—a more revolutionary one.”
Let us look a little further up the page:
“Now the national feeling is for a tremendous army, navy and air-force. This is the psychological atmosphere for the creation of a military machine, and you will see it becoming stronger and stronger every day and every week. You will have military schools etc., and a Prussianisation of the United States will take place. The sons of the bourgeois families will become imbued with Prussian feelings and ideals, and their parents will be proud that their sons look like Prussian lieutenants. To some extent this will be also true of the workers.
“That is why we must try to separate the workers from the others by a programme of education, of workers’ schools, of workers’ officers, devoted to the welfare of the worker army, etc. We cannot escape from the militarisation but inside the machine we can observe the class line. The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say ‘Let us have a peace programme’, the worker will reply, ‘But Hitler does not want a peace programme’. Therefore we say: ‘We will defend the United States with a workers’ army, with workers’ officers, with a workers’ government, etc. If we are not pacifists, who wait for a better future and if we are active revolutionists, our job is to penetrate into the whole military machine’.” (Our emphasis)
The whole of these “Questions on American problems” are devoted to the inevitable participation of America in the war, and the tactics of the revolutionaries towards this.
Trotsky in dealing with the problems clearly explains our tasks in the war despite all the efforts of the Minority who will not or cannot see the task in front of us…“Let us have an organised workers’ programme for the war…”
“…They should provoke in the workers a mistrust of the old traditions, the military plans of the bourgeois class and officers, and should insist upon the necessity of educating workers’ officers who will be absolutely loyal to the proletariat. In this epoch every great question national or international will be resolved with arms—not by peaceful means.” (Our emphasis)
Now let us look a little further down the page and see the paragraph which follows the Minority’s quotation:
“We must also say that the war has a tendency toward totalitarian dictatorship. War develops a centralisation, and during war the bourgeois class cannot allow the workers any new concessions. The trade unions will therefore become a kind of Red Cross for the workers, a sort of philanthropic institution. The bosses themselves will be under control by the state, everything will be sacrificed to the army, and the trade union influence will become zero. And we must say of this now: ‘If you don’t place yourselves on a workers’ military basis, with workers’ schools workers’ officers, etc., and go to war on the old style military basis you will be doomed.’ And this in its own way will preserve the trade unions themselves.” (Our emphasis)
Isn’t it clear what Trotsky is talking about? He is dealing with war against Hitler and/or Japan. Having pointed out that the war is inevitable, he says: “If we have war we must have a programme for war.” But the Minority refuse to “find an approach to the masses that will not push them away from us, and thus [to] prepare for the second step—a more revolutionary one.”
We notice that Trotsky generalises the question of defending the country—but it must be our country, etc. He proceeds in the whole of the passages quoted, from the “defence of the country” which the bourgeois will betray. “Shall we have the same thing happen in this country?”
But let us return to the Minority:
“In other words, we must defend our democratic rights, we are willing to give our flesh and blood for that which we find worth defending, but we must be in command.”
So far so good! We entirely agree with this! But then once more the sectarians fall blindly into opportunism.
“Our existing democracy must be defended and broadened into the army, etc., thus linking it up with full workers’ democracy, i.e. the proletarian dictatorship.”
On the contrary, the “defence of democratic rights” against Hitler or the bourgeoisie at home leads to the posing of the problem of seizing power.
“Now,” say our critics, “let us examine how the article in Youth deals with the question” and they quote from Youth:
“The elementary need for self preservation demands that the workers should not be left helpless and unarmed in face of the coming Nazi onslaught. British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable against the attacks of Hitler or of a British Pétain if the working class is armed.”
And their comment:
“Is this adapting ourselves to the feelings of the masses critically? Is this preparing the masses for a better understanding of a situation? We say no, just the opposite. What is the meaning of ‘British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable’? Does it mean that decaying British bourgeois democracy—and since when are we prepared to render ‘British democracy’ impregnable against attacks? We presume that the above bases itself on the statements of comrade Trotsky on the defence of workers’ democracy. But Trotsky is advocating that the only means of the working class defending their democratic rights is by taking control, by taking command in their own hands. Merely calling for arms for the workers as the elementary need for their preservation is to fall into those very errors against which Trotsky warns.”
It is intensely aggravating to find wilful misunderstanding of your position by your opponent. “Merely calling for arms for the workers as the elementary need for their self preservation is to fall into those very errors against which Trotsky warned.” Certainly! But did these comrades read the Youth article or not?! From wading through this criticism one would come to the conclusion that they imagine that every paragraph is a separate and independent article by itself!
The preceding paragraph to the one quoted says:
“We cannot fight Hitlerism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt this is to make inevitable either the victory of Hitler or of some British Hitler. In order to wage a genuine revolutionary war for the liberation of Europe and for the defence of the rights of the British working class, it is necessary that power should be in the hands of the workers.”
“Is this adapting ourselves to the feelings of the masses critically?” Yes! “Is this preparing the masses for a better understanding of the situation?” Yes! “But Trotsky is advocating that the only means of the working class defending their democratic rights is by taking control, by taking command in their own hands.” Does the paragraph advocate this? Yes!
Let us see how the Socialist Appeal deals with the same question. In the issue of August 3 1940, there is a leading article with the heading Arming the workers. The whole article is given in full at the end of this bulletin. Here is one paragraph.
“It [an article in the New York Times] tells that a miners’ convention at Blackpool unanimously adopted a resolution asking that miners be armed to meet a possible invasion.
“We should like to see every union in this country adopt a similar resolution. The government tells us that fascism, the mortal enemy of the labour movement is threatening to invade our shores? Then let the government provide arms for the mortal enemies of fascism everywhere—the trade unions.
“…And we can also predict in advance that, if the organised workers of this country were thus armed and trained what happened in France could never happen here. No ‘democratic’ government could ever turn fascist with impunity.”
Our critics ask us—“What is the meaning of ‘British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable’?” It means that all the workers’ rights which are summed up in “democracy” can only be safeguarded if the working class is armed to resist any incursions by Hitler or a British Hitler. The immediate problem is invasion. See how the Socialist Appeal deals with this question, although invasion of America is at the moment an abstract and almost fantastic conception.
What the criticism confuses—the military policy
“The workers are being armed by the bourgeoisie. The military policy of the Fourth International is based on this historic fact—the universal militarisation of the proletariat—and not, as is implied in the article on the withholding of arms from the workers.”
“While we naturally support the slogan ‘Arm the workers’, mechanical interpretation of this slogan in itself is not enough. The whole problem which poses itself before us is one of control.” (Our emphasis)
The unconscious contradiction of this criticism is really humorous. In their anxiety to criticise the article the comrades of the Minority land themselves in an absurd position. While correctly stating that we must base ourselves on the arming of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, which in the end will prove their undoing and stating that the “military policy” bases itself on this, they calmly proceed to call for…the “arming of the workers, under workers’ control, etc.”. Coming straight after their one sided criticism in the preceding paragraph this contradiction is really “glaring.” They do not notice that the bottom is knocked out of their criticism. That calling for the arming of the workers who are not armed in no way contradicts having a policy for the workers who are already in the army. The bourgeoisie is compelled by the contradictions of world imperialism to place arms in the hands of the workers in the army. But this does not mean to say that we “mechanically” ignore the problem of the workers who are not armed. What is “mechanical” is to attempt to counterpose the one to the other as if they mutually excluded one another. In reality both flow from the same basic policy. Nowhere, indeed it is fantastic to assume this, can it be “implied” that the Majority believe the military policy is based on “the withholding of arms from the workers.”
That the military policy is based on the arming of the workers is correct. Yes. But it is only one side of the medal. The bourgeoisie arms the workers in the army and even a special section under their own control in the Home Guard. But between this and the levee en mass for which Youth called, not only in February but also in July of last year, there is a decisive difference. The fact that the comrades confusedly recognise the difference is revealed by their “naturally” supporting the slogan “Arm the workers.” If the military policy is based only on the fact that the “workers are being armed by the bourgeoisie” why do the comrades call for the “arming of the workers”? If it is a question only of control and not of arming, then they should not call for “Arm the workers” but “change bourgeois control of the armed workers for workers’ control.” These comrades who quibble about whether all of the bourgeoisie will betray to Hitler fail to notice that all (not even a majority) of the workers are not armed, organised and trained for resistance to “the foreign invaders.”
The Minority complains that we did not deal with the Colonel Bingham affair. But there are other aspects of the military policy which we did not deal with. And for the simple reason that it is not possible to deal with every aspect in one article—or even one issue of Youth. It is necessary to apply the policy to the most burning issues with which the workers are faced at any particular time. In any case, an article on Bingham was written for that issue of Youth, [but] as the comrades of the Minority are well aware, it was withheld for the next month’s issue. We considered, and still consider that the question of invasion enabled us to put the military policy forward better than the Colonel Bingham affair. The “gist of the problem” was to give the workers “a programme of military struggle against foreign invaders which assures their class independence.”
The comrades give “a few quotes” from the Youth article to prove their contention that “the article bases itself, not on the universal militarisation, but on the premise that the bourgeois are withholding arms from the masses.” But if we are to believe that they are taking seriously their own slogan of “Invasion: arm the workers…, etc.” from what does their slogan arise if the military policy is based only on the fact that the bourgeoisie are “organising, training and arming us in their military organisations”? Or has the slogan “Invasion: arm the workers…, etc.” got nothing to do with the military policy?
We presume that the SWP “interprets” the military policy correctly. And we see that they make use, of the (to them) almost abstract question of invasion—as a problem of arming the workers! Have they failed too to understand that the bourgeoisie is “organising, training and arming us in their military organisations”? Here is what they say:
“…a miners’ convention at Blackpool unanimously adopted a resolution asking that miners be armed to meet a possible invasion.
“We should like to see every union in this country adopt a similar resolution. The government tells us that fascism, the mortal enemy of the labour movement is threatening to invade our shores? Then let the government provide arms for the mortal enemies of fascism everywhere—the trade unions.”
We notice two points in the lead article. First the SWP takes it for granted that the revolutionaries in England would raise the issue of arming the workers in connection with repelling invading fascism. Secondly, that they consider this as part of the application of the military policy in England—and in America. Thirdly, the heading of the article, “Arming the workers” does not mention under whose control!
And a last point—is the Socialist Appeal “moaning” about the unwillingness of [the] bourgeoisie to arm the workers against Hitler?
We agree that “up to now the absence in our publications of any material relating to the armed forces has not been marked.” We are only too willing to see this remedied, and if these comrades or any others submit material or articles we shall be only too pleased to consider them for publication. The absence of material relating to industrial questions has also been “most marked”. When comrades correctly deplored this, we together with the Minority pointed out that it was an expression of our weakness. But we agree wholeheartedly that this state of affairs must be remedied—and “in close co-operation with the comrades in the armed forces, we must concretise our military policy for this country.” But it must be remembered that a policy and the concretisation of that policy are not one and the same thing.
With most of the demands in relation to the armed forces we can agree. But there are two or three which are completely wrong, un-Marxian and dangerous to our tendency. But we will not argue about those here. If the comrades persist in putting them forward we shall deal with them fully.
Even the demands which are correct, however, are not the “new” military policy. As a matter of fact, most of these that are correct are put forward in the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International, published in 1938. But even in the Transitional Programme they were not new. All of the correct demands were put forward by Lenin during the last imperialist war. And indeed, most were to be found in the programme of Social Democracy before 1914.
Wherein, then, is the difference between the “new” policy and the old? This, the comrades have not indicated in any way. That it is necessary to enter and work in the armed forces is something that is taken for granted. Shachtmanites, Stalinists and other pacifists in the labour movement are also agreed on the necessity of work in the armed forces and, as a matter of fact, the Stalinists have tabled a series of reformist demands for the soldiers.
What is new in the military policy is the posing of the problem of proletarian militarism. In other words, the problem in an epoch of universal war and militarism is the fact that we must have an “organised workers’ programme for war.” Instead of negatively putting forward the idea that we must struggle against imperialist war, we put forward the positive idea of transforming the war into a revolutionary war—by taking control out of the hands of the imperialists and into the hands of the workers. As Cannon puts it:
“The workers don’t want to be conquered by foreign invaders, above all by fascists. They require a programme of military struggle against foreign invaders which assures their class independence. That is the gist of the problem.”
The comrades have not noticed the difference between the old policy and the new as applied in America. The old policy was—to oppose tooth and nail all war preparations of the bourgeoisie to defend and extend their imperialist loot. The war was in the interests of the finance-capitalist clique and not in the interests of the workers. But this, while correct both then and now, was a negative approach in a period of universal militarism and war.
Instead of this negative way of putting the problem, we now put forward a positive programme—“an organised workers’ programme for war.” Instead of opposing all war preparations for what the capitalists call the defence of the country against Hitler, we now say—Yes! Military training, etc., but under the control of the workers! Defend America—but a workers’ America!
In Britain we have already reached a more advanced stage than in America. Britain has been at war for eighteen months. We have to have a programme for the workers inside and outside the armed forces which gives them a method of fighting foreign invaders while preserving their class independence. Cannon describes how:
‘‘The demagogy of the social democrats against us was effective to a certain extent. They said, ‘You have no answer to the question of how to fight against Hitler, how to prevent Hitler from conquering France, Belgium, etc.’ (Of course their programme was very simple—the suspension of the class struggle and complete subordination of the workers to the bourgeoisie. We have seen the results of this treacherous policy.) Well, we answered in a general way, the workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take care of the invaders. That was a good programme, but the workers did not make the revolution in time. Now the two tasks must be carried out simultaneously.”
Cannon then tells us how:
“We cannot avoid the new circumstances; we must adapt our tactics to them.”
But that is exactly what the Minority refuses to do. They continue to pose the problem in the old way: “the workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take care of the invaders” or, to quote from their bulletin, “while these rights are threatened by a Hitler invasion, the immediate threat to the British working class comes directly from within.” The Majority, on the other hand, has adapted its tactics to the new circumstances, and poses the question thus: “In order really to fight Hitler and his invasion it is necessary for the workers to struggle against Churchill and take power into their own hands.”
It is only the “mechanical” dumping of the slogans from America on to Britain, without realising the policy they are expressing which could lead the comrades to the military policy to the article in Youth. None of the slogans developed in America (or for that matter, even the slogans correct and incorrect put forward in the criticism) invalidates the conclusions, ideas and policy on which the article in Youth is based. Indeed the slogans (those of the SWP and Youth) flow consciously from the necessity of posing a revolutionary defence against invasion, a defence which will ensure the “class independence” of the proletariat. This is done, on the one hand, by exposing the naked class calculations of the bourgeoisie in their “defence”, and on the other, by the posing of alternative revolutionary means. Precisely here is the whole “essence” of the military policy.
The article in Youth stands as a correct interpretation of the military policy. (So also does the article in the February number of Workers’ International News. Despite the fact that they were written about the same time we notice that the comrades do not criticise the Workers’ International News article. The only difference between them is that one is agitational, the other propagandist.) It is only the confusion as to what the policy implies, and the “new” idea (new to them only) that it is necessary to work in the army which leads the comrades to reject the ideas expressed in the article.
The “new policy” is a method of working among the masses both in and out of uniform. Just as on the economic field we put forward our transitional programme, now linked up through the “new policy” with the question of taking power and transforming the imperialist war into a revolutionary war; so on the military field we put forward these “military transitional” demands which supplement and round out our general transitional demands. But what is new in both cases is not the slogans themselves. It is the method of posing the problem. (Although in parenthesis Lenin posed the problem in a similar way in Russia in 1917, Threatening catastrophe). We do not negatively refuse merely to defend the bourgeois fatherland, we positively raise the question of workers’ power and the defence of the proletarian fatherland. In this way both on the economic and military fields we defend the interests of the working masses and in indissoluble connection with this pose the problem of the conquest of power and a revolutionary war against fascism. In this way the task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie at home and that of fighting the invaders become “telescoped and carried out simultaneously.” This is the meaning of Trotsky’s position, incorrectly used by the Minority. The “new policy” links these demands as a means of “fighting foreign invaders” as an “organised workers’ programme for war” with the struggle against the main enemy at home—the seizure of power by the working class and the waging of a genuine revolutionary war.
We would like to point out that the slogans put forward as the military policy are not unfamiliar to the Majority comrades as well as the Minority. We can read the material which appears regularly every week at the head of the Socialist Appeal. But as we have pointed out, these slogans were already developed in the Transitional Programme. We quote from page 10 of the Transitional Programme:
“Once and for all we must tear from the hands of the greedy and merciless imperialist clique, scheming behind the backs of the people, the disposition of the peoples’ fate. In accordance with this we demand: military training and arming of the workers and farmers under direct control of workers’ and farmers’ committees; creation of military schools for the training of commanders among the toilers, chosen by workers’ organisations; substitution for the standing army of peoples’ militia indissolubly linked up with factories, mines, farms, etc.”
As early as June of last year in a draft pamphlet on the lessons of France these slogans were developed and put forward as the only programme for the masses in Britain. And indeed with the Transitional Programme as a programme which we accepted as a guide to action to be applied concretely, how could it be different?
In conclusion we issue a challenge to the Minority to write an article of 2,000 words or so to the internal bulletin positively giving a lead to the workers on the issue of invasion instead of negatively criticising the articles of the Majority. They have given us the heading, they have given us the slogans—now let us see the article. It would certainly be a peculiar concoction if it contained all the points put forward in the criticism. We await the article with interest. Comrades would then be able to compare the two and make their own judgment as to which dealt adequately with the problem with which we are faced.
It is unfortunate that the reply to the criticism is so lengthy. But we believe that the criticism is so confused that it was necessary to deal with it at length. A brief theoretical exposition expounding the view of the Majority on what is the military policy will follow very shortly and should be read in conjunction with this reply.
In conclusion we would appeal to the comrades to read the articles in Workers’ International News and Youth, the article appended to this bulletin and the material of Trotsky and Cannon. When they have read these we have no doubt that they will realise that the position of the Majority is the position of Trotsky, Cannon and the Fourth International.
 This refers to the manifesto written by Trotsky, Imperialist war and the world proletarian revolution, approved by the emergency conference of the Fourth International, May 19 to 26 1940.
 Within the Fourth Internationalist movement, Trotsky was frequently referred to as the “Old Man”.
A turning point: the attack on the USSR [July 1941 – December 1942]
In June 1941 operation “Barbarossa” began the Nazi attack on the USSR. The treacherous policies of Stalin enforced in the August 1939 non-aggression pact with Hitler were swept away overnight and the Soviet bureaucracy was thrown into panic. Caught by surprise, the Communist International had to hastily change its policy from one of opposition to imperialist war to one of collaboration with the “democratic” nations in the war against fascism.
The effect in the British labour movement of this sudden turn was an equally sudden change of policy of the Communist Party, from one of conducting an agitation against the “imperialist” war in order to reach peace on Hitler’s terms to one of joining the national unity hysteria. All the efforts of the party were now geared towards supporting Churchill’s war plans against the German Nazi enemy. Overnight the CPGB leaders turned into a powerful strike-breaking force in the heart of the British working class at the service of the war effort.
This sudden turn provoked a crisis in the CPGB with many workers questioning the new policy. At the same time there was growing unrest within the working class leading to a wave of strikes for better conditions, especially amongst the miners in Yorkshire and other areas, traditionally a constituency of the CPGB. The Workers’ International League showed a high degree of flexibility in its tactics and immediately turned its attention towards the Communist Party, including the development of fractional work within its ranks, as is stated in the internal circular of September 1941 that we publish in this section.
The ideological offensive of the WIL in defence of a principled internationalist stand against Nazism, without concessions to the British bourgeoisie, managed to make a breakthrough both amongst the communist rank and file and in the working class, leading to important growth of the organisation. Due to the development of the war the WIL had abandoned entry work within the Labour League of Youth and the Labour Party, emptied out by conscription and the treacherous policies of the Labour leaders, and had consequently increased their profile as an independent organisation. To reflect the new orientation the name of the paper was changed to Socialist Appeal.
At the same time as orientating towards the communist workers, the WIL increased its work towards the Independent Labour Party which, as a consequence of the betrayal of the Stalinist leaders and of the class-collaboration policies of the Labour Party, was left alone in opposition to the war. In this section we also publish some interesting documents and articles relating to the ILP that reveal the extremely complex political environment in which the WIL had to orient itself.
The growth of the WIL did not pass unnoticed by the Stalinist leadership, provoking increasingly vicious attacks against the Trotskyists, but it also attracted the attention of the government. Thanks to the hysterical campaign of the Stalinists and, significantly, with the ardent support of the former pro-Nazi press like the Sunday Dispatch, or the mouthpiece of the coal owners, the Daily Telegraph, the question of banning the WIL and its organ, the Socialist Appeal, was posed in a Parliamentary debate. The fact that the WIL supported the CP campaign against the ban imposed on the Daily Worker between January 1941 and September 1942 did not prevent the Stalinist leaders from demanding that a similar ban should be imposed on the Socialist Appeal.
The counteroffensive of the WIL demonstrated a bold approach and also a good sense of humour. The articles and leaflets dealing with the attacks from the Stalinists (mainly written by Ted Grant and Jock Haston) expose in a humorous way all the contradictions of the policies of Stalinism and were successful in reaching the communist workers.
In this section we also have included a few important contributions by Ted Grant on the heated question of the colonial revolution and in particular about India. The internationalist work was an integral part of the activities of the WIL, as its decisive contribution in developing a Trotskyist movement in the subcontinent testifies.
Defend the Soviet Union—Fascism can only be defeated by international socialism
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 3 No. 9, July 1941]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Defend the Soviet Union—Fascism can only be defeated by international socialism
An analysis of the social basis of the Soviet Union—and why we defend it
[Workers’ International News, Vol. 4 No. 8, August 1941]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: An analysis of the social basis of the Soviet Union—and why we defend it
Daily Herald—A public statement, not a private admission
[Workers’ International News, Vol. 4 No. 8, August 1941]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Daily Herald—A public statement, not a private admission
The next steps forward—Towards the rank and file of the Communist Party
By Executive Committee of WIL
[WIL, Internal Bulletin, September 21 1941]
Three months ago our organisation decided to launch a campaign for new members and an increased circulation of the press. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union threw the labour movement into a ferment. The introduction of the Socialist Appeal provided us with an invaluable weapon to tackle the new situation. Throughout the country the rank and file of the Communist Party were thrown into confusion by the “about turn” in party policy. To the best of our ability we reacted to the situation through the press and dealt with the many problems confronting the workers. Our membership was quick to realise our opportunities and the circulation of our press was trebled with comparative ease. Locals, which before were selling only a few dozen copies per month now order their supplies in hundreds, and the general tone of their reports is that they hope before long to transform this into thousands.
This is excellent and amply justifies the transformation of Youth For Socialism to the Socialist Appeal. But it must be stated at the outset, that this is not enough. Increased circulation by itself is only one of the many aspects of group activity. Unless we can harness this to the general development of the group as a whole, and particularly towards an increase in membership and contacts, a valuable opportunity will be lost.
Let us pose the question bluntly. The bewilderment of the CP rank and file should have provided us with a glorious opportunity to make wide inroads into their ranks. Our study circles should have become the centre of a well planned propaganda campaign to expound our political position as well as clear up all doubts that may exist. Our members should have gone out of their way to contact as many CP comrades as possible. They should not have been content to confine themselves to the areas in which they operate, but should have attended all the meetings possible in outside districts in order to circulate our literature and make new contacts. In the trade union branches and in the workshops we should have sought out all members and sympathisers of the CP and acquainted them with our position. Yet there is no record in the reports from locals that this was done to any great extent.
We do not mean to imply that our members shirked their responsibilities and were lacking. On the contrary, we know that everyone put what they had into it. The magnificent sale of our literature testifies to this. No other revolutionary grouping with such small resources could have accomplished what ours has. We also know that a large number of CP’ers were contacted. The main question, however, was not one of activity alone, but on how the activity was conducted.
The bulk of the study circles are still attended by the same contacts who have attended since before the opening up of the Nazi-Soviet conflict. In a number of cases lack of initiative in popularising these classes has been largely responsible for this. But what has been perturbing is the failure of those of our members who have responsible positions in industry, in the trade unions and in labour organisations, to sharply counterpose our position to Stalinism and reformism. Apart from the building workers’ conference in London and the ETU shop stewards’ conference in the Merseyside and the Nottingham area, nothing worth noting has been carried out.
It is necessary, here and now, to come to grips with the root causes of these shortcomings, the remedy for which is to be found in relentless self-criticism and discussion.
How to tackle the new situation
There are in the main, two reasons for our failure to measure up to the new situation. The first is the failure of the majority of our comrades to effectively advance the positive policy of our organisation and the Fourth International. We have to bear in mind, of course, that our weakness at the present time is directly related to the political immaturity and inexperience of our members and leading cadres. The efforts to raise the all round theoretical level of the group coupled with the active participation of our members in the working class movement, must be intensified in order to effectively arm us for the events ahead. We cling to the old abstract theoretical approach and become known as “theorists” rather than active militants with a fighting programme for all the problems which confront the workers. Secondly, we have not yet completely broken from [the] stranglehold of the reformist organisations. Their poisonous atmosphere, intermixed with Stalinist propaganda, subdues the voice and activities of our comrades to the extent that they often keep their mouths shut and lapse into passive acceptance of procedure. They become overawed by the speech-making of local bureaucrats on such issues on the USSR, and not having confidence in themselves, are lulled into support of these most reactionary aims. This is the truth, bitter as it may seem.
Almost immediately after the outbreak of the conflict on the Eastern front, a general members’ meeting in the London area was called and a circular was issued by the EC on the organisational steps to be taken in the new situation. It was stated that the main task before the organisation was “the turn towards the CP rank and file.” This necessitated a change in our organisational outlook. Instead of directing CP contacts towards the Labour Party to carry on activity as we do normally with new contacts, we were to appeal to them as an organisation of the Fourth International: in other words we were to devote a section of the group towards the carrying out of independent activity, whilst the remaining portion of our membership carried out work in the mass political organisations.
It is absolutely necessary to be clear as to what this means. It does not mean that the leadership of the group is succumbing to the old “independent party” bogey. Nothing of the sort. In fact we intensify our campaign of “Labour to power” on a programme of revolutionary demands. And every available member is required to be inside the mass organisations. The difference between ourselves and the old sectarians is that we evaluate the real role of the Labour Party leaders in relation to their hold over the rank and file, whereas they were content to ignore this and compete as an independent force for the leadership of the masses, without putting forward the necessary transitional demands. Neither does it mean that we indulge in adventurism, such as getting up in mass organisations and proclaiming that we are disciples of the Fourth International. We carry out our programme as members of these organisations, and not as outsiders. The workers will only see the correctness of our policy by careful preparation and consistent activity on the part of our members. When we work in mass organisations, it means that we must be the best workers as well as the best political leaders. It means that we have to sell the literature of these organisations, whilst we rigidly adhere to our criticisms and policy. Anything short of this will lead to sectarianism and isolation.
We know that it is easier to change group policy in words than in deeds. The new words may be on our lips while the old habits continue to dominate our actions. The new organisational turn also demands a new outlook on the part of our members. The previous “small group”, sect outlook must go, and the atmosphere of the offensive introduced. This does not mean that we visualise a mushroom rate of growth overnight at this stage. On the contrary, we fully realise that in the main, for a long time to come, we shall recruit members on a one here and one there basis. What it does mean is that by correct application of our programme and ideas to the given situations we shall grow more rapidly in influence and contacts. Let us give one example of this. One of our comrades in a factory employing a considerable number of workers was working as a rank and file trade unionist eighteen months ago. Today, not only is he the convenor of his factory, but has won several valuable contacts to the organisation. This is the result not only 0f correct fraction work, but above all, of a correct political position.
We know that the situation was never more favourable than it is today. We are the only revolutionary Leninist grouping with a correct and tested policy for every issue confronting the workers. Every member of the group should be proud that they are members of the Fourth International, and of that group which has done more to put Trotskyism on the map in Britain than all the others put together. When we enter mass organisations it should be as leaders and officers of the new revolutionary army, because we alone can tell the whole truth to the working class. It is absolutely unthinkable that comrades can go along to trade union branches and meetings of other working class organisations and refrain from advancing the real programme of Bolshevism. We are well aware of the oppositionists. But we thrive on opposition. Our motto is “Let them all come”; we can handle every trend of thought in the working class movement. Politically we fear no one. That is why we must rivet the attention of the whole organisation towards the advancement of our programme in all organisations where our members participate. Nothing short of this will suffice. There is absolutely no use in carrying out fraction work if it is not carried out around our programme. If this is not done, then we are simply wasting our time and holding back the growth of our movement. Our programme is summed up in the ten point mast-head of the Socialist Appeal. Every member must push forward and concretise these demands among his workmates and contacts. Henceforth we must cease to exist as rank and file back stair theorists. We must emerge as responsible leaders of the working class. And for this, half hearted activity will not do. Each one of our members must drive home our positive policy, must win the confidence of his fellow workers and by this means, enrol them into the ranks of the new revolutionary party. It has been done. It can be done. It will be done.
The future of our work among the CP members
Some comrades may wonder if we have lost our opportunity insofar as the CP is concerned. Nothing could [be] further from the truth. The opportunity is just opening up. We have entered but the first rounds and in the coming months we must intensify our efforts to obtain as many contacts as possible amongst the rank and file of the CP. A recent EC directive sketched the perspective for such work in stating that we must prepare for a prolonged struggle inside the ranks. Building and operating a fraction is a long and tedious job. It requires thorough preparation and discussion in each local group and an all-embracing grasp of the situation on the part of every comrade. The need for a clear method of exposition of what we mean by the “defence of the Soviet Union” as well as a positive answer to the war itself is vital if such work is to progress.
We must therefore get down to building a national fraction in the CP as the rank and file have but entered the first phase of their crisis.
The group press
Never in the history of the working class movement, has so much depended upon the voice of the revolutionary workers’ press. The vast awakening of hundreds and thousands of fresh militant workers and members of left wing political parties, demands a Herculean effort on the part of our members and sympathisers, to strengthen and develop the group press.
It is of the utmost importance that we should understand what is expected from us insofar as this is concerned. The small quantity of theoretical material crossing the Atlantic is insufficient to whet the political appetites of our own membership, much less our growing list of press subscribers, contacts and sympathisers. Month after month we have to witness well thumbed copies of American publications being passed from hand to hand throughout the group. Members write to us from the provinces pleading for back copies. We are of course sorry to have to disappoint them, but in most cases the material is simply not available. And this brings us to the crux of the matter. We must be prepared for the complete cutting off of postal supplies from America. The demand for revolutionary literature, and in particular the works of comrade Trotsky, is going to increase. With the developing upsurge of working class struggles the need for Marxian classics becomes greater. We have got to answer to this new demand. Upon our shoulders rests the future not only of the fate of the forty three million British toilers but upon the crystallisation and rejuvenation of the voice of our movement on the continent. For this purpose we need an immediate press fund of £200; we need a plant capable of meeting the demands of the hour: i.e. a fortnightly Socialist Appeal, a monthly theoretical organ, up to the minute policy and theoretical pamphlets and the reproduction of the most essential works of comrade Trotsky.
This is no day dreaming. The magnitude of the approaching conflict demands that we now redouble our efforts to set the wheel in motion of the most important of all publication jobs, our group press—the popular organiser of the new revolutionary party.
 Electrical Trades Union.
Why USSR is suffering reverses—Internationalism has been abandoned
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4, No. 1, October 1941]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Why USSR is suffering reverses—Internationalism has been abandoned
Statement on policy and perspectives
By Political Bureau of WIL
[Original draft document, autumn 1941]
For discussion in local groups
The first national conference of our organisation—the first genuinely national organisation covering a great part of the country—of the Fourth International tendency in Britain, is a great step forward in the history of our movement . It is perhaps symbolic that it should take place to the drone of bombers and the sound of anti-aircraft guns; a fitting and grim reminder of the tasks which history has placed squarely on the shoulders of the British proletariat, and not least of all, of the historic responsibility which rests on the delegates to measure up to the working out of a solution of the problem to which our movement alone can provide the key.
It is not necessary to reiterate time and again what has become a commonplace within our ranks during the past fifteen years; that the building of a new revolutionary party is the only road to salvation. We accept as a starting point the basic documents of the Fourth International including the Transitional Programme and Imperialist war and the world proletarian revolution. The purpose of this statement on perspective is not and cannot be merely the mechanical repetition of these ideas and resolutions which we accept as axiomatic, but an attempt to understand the conditions in which Britain and the British labour movement are functioning today and of the probable trend of events.
We meet when the second year of the imperialist world war is in full swing and when the shadows which threatened to darken over the Empire upon which “the sun never sets”, have imperceptibly gathered and the aged lion has gazed his last upon the era of world domination, ironically, precisely at the time when he has gathered his failing powers for a desperate resistance to the challenge of his younger and hungrier rivals.
The decline of Britain as the invincible mistress of half the world is best seen in the loss of her position of paramountcy on the seven seas. Britannia has ceased to be the ruler of the waves. The classic emphasis by British military strategists on the decisive nature of sea power in this war caused by the island position of Britain, coupled with her complete dependence on overseas supplies, is a further reminder of the secondary role to which Britain has been reduced. Before firing a shot in either hemisphere, while preparing the cataclysmic destruction of Germany and Japan, America has announced a programme of naval expansion which alone will assure her unchallengeable superiority in a sphere which Britain has for centuries considered her own exclusive preserve; a sphere in which the loss of first position exposes Britain to particular vulnerability in the event of a conflict with the new master. So that not only has Britain lost her former vantage point of detachment from the European continent, but her former advantages on a world scale threaten to turn into mortal disadvantages. She is at the mercy of her trans-Atlantic “saviour”. This humiliating dependence is underscored by the bases-destroyer deal, where America has helped herself to vital strategic positions in the Atlantic; by the preparation for a similar deal in the Pacific; by the consultations with Britain’s dominions in the Western hemisphere more as dominions of her own than those of another country. All this with the enthusiastic plaudits (public at any rate) of the British bourgeoisie and their man of the hour, Churchill. Of course there is nothing else they can do. Defeat in the present war means annihilation for the British bourgeoisie, victory will mean a less spectacular decline to a second rate position. This is the best outcome that the British bourgeoisie can hope for. The shattering blows of German imperialism have been the means of revealing in the relationship of forces on a world scale, the decline and decay of the economic power of British capitalism—changes in economic power and world position only now beginning to assume correspondence. The glory of Empire is tarnished. Britain must stand humbly as a servitor of the new aspirant to world mastership in Wall Street.
This is the background to the internal and external politics of the British bourgeoisie. The almost complete destruction of the European labour movement in the last seven years has seen an apparently inexplicable strengthening of the position and power of the British Labour and trade union bureaucracy. Alone on the European continent, with the unimportant exception of Switzerland and Sweden (existing by the gracious tolerance of Hitler) the British labour organisations have remained intact. This is explained by the fact that while her rivals were preoccupied with internal social conflict or the intensive preparation for the coming war, Britain managed, for the last time perhaps, to increase her trade to nearly all her markets. By these means she was enabled to grant slight illusory concessions to the working masses by increasing output by approximately 20 percent while increasing the standard of living by 3 or 4 percent. The result was that the few years preceding the war was one of the most peaceful in the history of British capitalism. The class struggle suffered a lull with far fewer and less bitter strikes on the industrial field. The Labour and trade union bureaucracy became more than ever associated with the interests of the employers as obedient and interested servants.
Immediately after the declaration of war, the cloven hoof of the bourgeoisie was revealed. Draconic legislation, which, when carried out will turn Britain into a totalitarian state on the approved model, was placed on the statute book with the more or less tacit support of the Labour leaders. Nevertheless, in contradistinction to the “democratic” ally, France, no immediate attempt was made to put these laws into exclusive effect. The French bourgeoisie was compelled by the severity of the social crisis and the bitter mood of the workers to carry their repressive legislation into immediate effect, and, in the last analysis, to surrender to Hitler at the decisive moment partly as the result of this crisis—as a safeguard against their own masses.
The same military crisis which has seen the obliteration of Blum, Jouhaux and company, in France has seen the Labour leaders in Britain more firmly placed in ministerial positions. Much more than in the last war, the capitalists lean heavily for support upon their Labour agents. The course of the struggle upon the continent, the chains which German imperialism has riveted upon the conquered and subject peoples has led to the possibility of the Labour bureaucracy to move more confidently and surely to the open path of surrender to the bourgeoisie. The working class, not without some murmuring, faced with no other alternative that it could see than Nazi totalitarianism, which they instinctively regard with abhorrence and hatred, or support for their “own” government, supported the entry and consolidation of the Labour ministers in the government. Thus the worsened international position and the difficulties of British imperialism strengthened the role of the Labour bureaucracy in the internal calculations of the bourgeoisie. Morrison and Bevin have been placed in those posts where the bourgeoisie expected there would be the most pressure from the masses—Labour and Home Security. Under the sign-post “against Hitlerism” the Labour leaders have called for the utmost exertion on the part of the workers as exemplified by the inspiring “Go for it” slogan of Morrison.
The blows which Britain has suffered compel her to draw on her last resources. The accumulated plunder of centuries has to be used up; the very existence of the bourgeoisie is at stake; all must be thrown to the Moloch of war, of course at the expenses of the working masses and colonial peoples from whom the last ounce of tribute must be exhorted. In Germany this has been done by the iron heel of the Nazis grinding down the German workers and stripping bare the conquered nations. In the Empire, with the craven assistance of the native bourgeoisie, the screw has been drawn tighter by open measures of repression. In Britain the bourgeoisie, compelled to move cautiously, have relied upon trickery and the assistance of the Labour leaders to achieve their ends—giving minor concessions with the left hand, while taking away bigger “sacrifices” with the right.
The new taxes and increased prices have laid all the major burdens of the war on the back of the poorest section of the population. But while compelling key sections of the workers in the arms trade to work long hours of overtime, the bourgeoisie has been careful to pay them overtime at the traditional rates, a concession which is of course partly cancelled out by the rise in prices. This rise in prices, however, has placed even heavier burdens on that section of the workers which has not received increased pay. Notwithstanding the cruel pressure of suffering and want, despite the murderous air raids since the Battle of Britain began, despite the bitterness and scepticism, even to a certain extent, apathy and indifference of the toilers to the war, there is no sign as yet of a mass movement developing against the treachery of the Labour leaders, against the war, or even a mass movement in the workshops in favour of increases in pay. Hardly, in fact, have isolated strike struggles of major importance developed during the last period.
With great difficulty, much muddle and inefficiency, the bourgeoisie prepares that “total” effort which is necessary to defeat Germany. A total effort not rendered any less salutary by the inevitable active intervention of her more powerful ally, America, who will impose vigorous and stringent conditions for her credits and supplies. There are limits to the amount which can be squeezed out of the colonial masses. A great part will have to be contributed by the British masses. Further and unprecedented “sacrifices” will be demanded.
The blind self confidence of the ruling class in face of this perspective, declaimed through the mouth of Churchill, indicates the twilight of British capitalism. Like all doomed regimes, the British capitalists, in their mad careering to destruction cannot and do not wish to see the path into the future. Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Churchill airily announces the prospect of offensive campaigns in 1943 and 1944. While London is threatened with systematic destruction, with all its attendant miseries, he tosses forward the indecent slogan “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” For the bourgeoisie, safe, comfortable and well fed, even in the ruin which their system has wrought, this slogan is befitting. Out of the very havoc and destruction even as they lose their position of world power, the golden rain continues to shower upon them. Super profits are being coined by the small group of monopolies, utilising the war to further enhance and tighten their complete domination over all fields of industry. The war accelerates enormously the increase in their profits. From this angle, for them it certainly is “a great life.”
Still, this feverish confidence of the bourgeoisie rests on an uneasy basis. They are watching the pulse of the mass movement very carefully. The situation is charged with social dynamite and they proceed cautiously. The strangling grip of the bureaucracy of the labour movement on the masses is their chief social prop—a grip which might be broken once the masses are aroused. This caution is indicated by the retreat which the government has had to make on a number of issues: the opening of the tubes as air raids shelters; the niggardly concessions on the notorious Means Test , symbol of social degradation and humiliation to the masses for years; the emasculation and canalising in a reactionary direction, the striving of the masses to be armed, by the formation of the Home Guard.
In the last war the ministerial coalition of Labour with the bourgeoisie which commenced in 1915, was ended in 1917 through the pressure of the disillusioned masses, exasperated by the privations at home and the predatory imperialist policy abroad. A tremendous effect was created by the Russian Revolution which had immediate repercussions in Britain. The immediate and widespread swing to the left was reflected in the attitude of the Labour leaders, who, scenting danger, were compelled to put forward pseudo-revolutionary speeches to maintain their hold on the rank and file.
The revolutionary left, which later crystallised into the Communist Party of Great Britain, destroyed its chance of winning a mass basis precisely because it did not understand the necessity of keeping in close touch the unclear feelings and aspirations of the masses, which in their beginnings could not but be in the direction of the Labour Party. As Lenin had the occasion to lecture the ultra-lefts “it is very useful to chronicle the crimes of the Labour bureaucracy but that is not sufficient to win the masses.” This was the key to the weakness of the revolutionary forces in the first years. It is the key to all the subsequent developments, coupled of course, with the betrayal of Stalinism. The present weakness of the Independent Labour Party, apart from the fatal sterility which issues from the policies of centrism, also comes from their incapacity to face towards the Labour Party masses.
The revolutionary wave of 1917-1920 reached its culmination in this country in the “Hands off Russia” movement among the masses. The “councils of action” which were formed through the length and breadth of Britain, correspond to the soviets formed in Russia and Germany. Under pressure of the masses, MacDonald, Snowden and company made speeches in order to pacify the workers, threatening the ruling class with general strike and civil war if they persisted in their intention of making war on Russia—a threat sufficiently dangerous to paralyse the hand of Lloyd George and Churchill. Nevertheless the leadership of this movement was retained by the Labour bureaucracy which utilised its position to render innocuous the revolutionary enthusiasm and ardour of the masses. It is interesting to note that the year 1920 marks the peak of membership in the trade unions, reaching 8 million, the highest figure ever recorded, thus showing that the revolutionary movement of the masses is reflected in the traditional organisations, without coming into conflict with them immediately. MacDonald and Snowden even played, in words, with the idea of British soviets and the present Minister of Labour, Mr. Bevin, threatened the rulers in the last war with civil war if it was necessary to win socialism. Incidentally, he solemnly assured the well fed bourgeois Rotarians in a recent speech that he was “not against revolution” if, as he happily expressed it, it was well led! That is, a revolution which broke out and in which Bevin and his ilk could thrust themselves forward to “lead” in order the better to betray and emasculate it. The revolution will come, but the crux of our problem consists in preparing and organising ourselves so that the Bevins and their brothers under the skin, the Pollitts, will not strangle it.
The experience of the Labour government of 1924 once again demonstrated the strong roots which reformism has within the working class. The Communist Party, at that time not yet completely degenerated, failed to gain a mass support, despite the fact that Labour had shown itself utterly incapable of producing even one major reform in the interests of the masses. The embittered toilers turned from the political field to the industrial. A revolutionary radicalisation of the masses began. It reached its culmination and greatest expression in the general strike of 1926. The Labour bureaucracy—the trade union wing this time—were compelled by the upward swing to place themselves at the head of the movement which thay hated and dreaded, if that movement was not to get completely out of their control. In order to cloak their activities they utilised the Russian trade unions through the Anglo-Russian Committee. It is true to say that the major responsibility for the rout and demoralisation rests on the shoulders of Stalinism and in particular on its fount[ain]head in Moscow.
The defeat of the general strike, owing of course to the incapacity of the Stalinists to offer an alternative, led to the reinforcement of the Labour bureaucracy. The strivings of the masses found its outlet in the formation of the second Labour government. The debacle of 1931 soon followed when the leadership revealed its true colours and went openly over to the camp of the enemy class. Despite this, the masses of workers, with ranks almost intact, remained behind the banner of Labour. Not of course without inner convulsions; the pressure from within forced a split of the left wing—the Independent Labour Party broke away from the Labour Party.
The developments as outlined above, are not only not excluded during the course of this war, but are most likely. Under the impact of the masses certain demagogic lefts together with some sincere elements, together with a section of members of Parliament, will form a “left” opposition within the Labour Party, or even break away, perhaps combining with the ILP to form a new centrist or left-reformist organisation. A movement of opinions among the masses will inevitably provoke reactions within the Labour Party—even in its upper crust.
The years which have intervened since this period have witnessed the rising of the power of the Labour and trade union bureaucracy to new heights. Since the war, membership of the trade unions, continuing the trend of developments prior to the outbreak, has reached new heights and is approaching the record figure of 1920. Correspondingly the membership of the Labour Party increases through affiliation. Before the outbreak of the war the working class, recovering from the defeats of 1926 and 1931, once again began to press forward. The strikes of the railwaymen in London began to overstep the bounds of trade union “legality”. In the teeth of the opposition of the trade union leaders, under the leadership of their factory committees, the workers took direct action and sought support from their fellow workers on a national scale. The bourgeoisie immediately sounded a note of alarm. Threatening articles appeared in the Times, Telegraph and other capitalist organs, demanding that the “leaders” of the trade union restore “control” over their members and keep them from “unconstitutional acts” against the legally established machinery; if this was not done they would have to adopt other methods—fascist methods were plainly hinted at. The workers began to move against their own leaders but simultaneously they moved in the direction of the Labour Party. This was evidenced by the increased Labour vote in the elections, and in the increase of membership in the trade union and Labour Party.
The whole policy of the bourgeoisie in the few years before the war was in the main, preoccupied with the possibility of civil war in Britain. The military manoeuvres of the army in 1937 and 1938 were conducted for the first time in English history, on the basis of civil war. The construction of a Civil Guard composed of upper middle class elements who were taught the use of aeroplanes, locomotive engines, lorries, ground staff work of aeroplanes, and in the placing of machine gun emplacements at strategic points and in government buildings was obviously thought of with an eye to civil war. The bourgeoisie expected explosions and prepared for them.
Although these developments will not be avoided, the war temporarily cut across them, and gave them a new direction and tempo. Even with these movements in embryo, the masses turned in the direction of the Labour Party. During the first period of the war a certain opposition, or at least a feeling of uneasiness manifested itself among the masses. A critical attitude of distrust for the war was apparent. The Stalinists attempted to divert it into their channels. In South Wales, where they controlled the Miners’ Federation, they attempted to canalise their support by organising a referendum vote on the war question. The Labour bureaucracy neatly side-tracked the issue by posing the question as “against the war” or “for the war but with a Labour government to carry it out.” Even at that period, this latter motion was carried by a majority of three to one. The fact that at a moment of danger this slogan had to be thrust forward by the Labour leaders is an indication of the likely trend of developments. This does not contradict the fact that now when the developments of the war have swept the working class solidly behind the war, that at a later stage the masses will find themselves compelled to turn to industrial action through their own shop and factory committees. Nor does this latter inevitable stage mean that the slogan for a Labour government will not find an expression among the masses.
After the February revolution in Russia, the agitation of the Bolsheviks demanded the calling of the constituent assembly. But this did not at all prevent them from fighting round the slogan of “All power to the soviets” at the same time. There is no contradiction here. In the same way there is no contradiction between the agitation for the slogan of Labour to power and the development of factory committees. It is necessary only to understand the contradictions of development as expressed in the daily life of the toilers, taking into consideration their mood, and taking this as a starting point.
The ultra-lefts of the present war base their stand on the ideas that the Labour leaders, by entering the government, have written finis to their hold on the working class. They had better read their Lenin once again: “Without the support of the Labour bureaucracy and its support among the aristocracy of labour, the English bourgeoisie could not rule for a single day”, he tells us. This elementary Marxian proposition is not invalidated by the outbreak of the imperialist war. War is the continuation of politics by other means, including the politics of the labour organisations. It is unfortunate, but the course of events does not automatically reveal the role of the Labour bureaucrats to the workers. Because Bevin and company stand exposed before the eyes of a small section of advanced workers it does not follow that the working class as a whole have become aware of their true role. If this were so, the most difficult part of our task would have been accomplished. The very existence of a broad democracy in the war is rendered possible only because of the leaning of the bourgeoisie on the Labour bureaucracy, and through them indirectly on the mass of the organised workers.
The bourgeoisie sees things much more clearly than the ultra-lefts. They well understand that the Labour Party is far from played out as the instrument of their rule. The main stream of development of the workers’ movement in Britain must be, and cannot be otherwise, than in the direction of the Labour Party. The argument sometimes put forward that the Labour Party and trade unions do not comprise the whole of the working class does not invalidate this process in the least. The inevitable awakening of all strata of the masses to political life will lead to their active participation in the organised working class movement. Exactly these strata require the active experience of the role of the Labour leaders before they can be won for the revolution. We cannot expect that the more backward, even if more exploited sections of the toilers, can be in advance of their organised brothers. So that here too our propaganda cannot but be in the direction of the tested ideas of Bolshevism. There are no short cuts to the revolution.
We cannot expect a turning of the masses to the left immediately. There will be ebbs and flows before a decisive break takes place. Even on the Clyde and in South Wales, storm centres of the workers’ movement in the last war, the break has not come as yet. Incipient signs are there. The workers are preparing to measure their strength against the bosses in the coming struggles. But such is the mood of the workers at present that there have been no large strikes as yet on the scale of those in the second year of the last war. But the development of events promises even more stormy and bitter struggles. The workers will turn to their shop and factory committees in masses, as organs of struggle most directly representing their interests. And when the struggle really begins to assume mass forms, the pressure on the labour organisations will be increased. In one way or another, just as in the last war, the Labour leaders will reflect this pressure.
In Russia, despite the long traditions of Bolshevism, the experience of the revolution of 1905, and the fact that the Bolsheviks had the support of the overwhelming majority of the organised workers in the years preceding the war, after the February revolution the vast majority of the population awakening to political life rallied to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries.
The fact that the German Social Democracy had betrayed the masses for four years, had entered the Kaiser’s government, did not prevent a swing in their direction when the revolution of 1918 took place—a revolution they had attempted to prevent by all means in their power. This despite the inspiring example of the Russian October which was fresh before their eyes. Despite the fine work of the Spartacists led by Liebknecht and Luxemburg, the first step of the broad masses entering actively on the political arena was in the direction of social democracy.
The outbreak of the war compelled the bourgeoisie to liquidate the organisation of Mosley fascists, which in any case had failed to penetrate the working class to any extent, or even a considerable section of the middle class, and which now became completely discredited. For the present the bourgeoisie clings to the Labour leaders as the sheet anchor of their rule, relying more on the deception of the masses by lying demagogy than upon the smashing of the labour organisations forcibly. But this situation opens up the prospect of mortal danger for the decaying ruling class. All their attempts to operate a policy of repression will meet with the opposition of the workers. Without a mass basis, like that of the Nazis in Germany, the reaction will cling in the first stages to the coat tails of the Labour leaders. If we separate ourselves from the workers we will isolate ourselves without in any way helping, instructing and learning from the workers themselves, through their own experiences. The mainstream of development lies through the Labour organisations. Our own weakness dictates the necessity for us to fight for influence among the advanced workers. This does not hamper certain independent activity where it is not conducted in a vacuum divorced from the masses. The mass movement will attain a broad sweep, but it will pass us by unnoticed if we isolate ourselves from the inevitable, unclear strivings of the workers.
Those who imagine that the surging forward of the masses in strike struggles and the development of the industrial conflict to extreme pitches of bitterness, even the development of factory committees into soviets, will herald the doom of the Labour bureaucracy within the working class, fail to understand the lessons and traditions of history. On the contrary, to isolate the revolutionaries by an incorrect tactical approach in the preparatory period, will lead to fatal consequences for the development and organisation of the Fourth International in Britain. It is exactly in this period that the role of the Labour leaders will be most dangerous to the working class. By the correct application of the transitional programme counterposing it to the privileges of the bourgeoisie—by demanding the expropriation of the land, mines, banks, railways and industry; the arming of the working class; freedom for India and the colonies and the issuing of a socialist appeal to the workers of Europe on the basis of the overthrow of British imperialism, the most advanced elements will be won over to the banner of the revolution and the path will be cleared for the construction of the revolutionary party. The party is not formed merely by the desire or the objective necessity for it, but is indissolubly linked with the day to day life of the workers and their reactions to events. A party cannot be “imposed” upon the workers. Under present conditions, for a small section of revolutionaries to place themselves as an immediate alternative to the government is to make themselves ludicrous in the eyes of the workers, who can but dismiss them as utopian dreamers. But a Labour government, which could only be achieved by the active mobilisation of the masses, round the demand that the Labour leaders break with the boss class—this is a formidable means of awakening the masses to the consciousness of the role of the Labour traitors in their active refusal and mortal terror to assume full responsibility of government. By the flexible use of transitional slogans as rallying points for the broad issues which confront the masses, linking them with the question of power in a form which can be immediately understood, they can be converted from lifeless abstractions and be seen as living realities by the toilers.
The general perspective of the Labour Party does not invalidate in the least the necessity to follow the developments within the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party and to work within these organisations. The tactic of the revolutionaries must be flexible. The one pre-requisite is to remain rooted within the mass organisations of the working class. With a lack of a real alternative the Communist Party with its powerful organisational apparatus, will make extensive gains, among whom will be found the most self-sacrificing and most militant sections of the workers. The Communist Party has retained its hold on an important number of key militants in industry. These act as points of support within the broad strata of trade union workers. Even at the height of the unpopular Finnish episode , the Communist Party managed, perhaps with a certain loosening, to retain its grip on these workers—a grip which has tightened during recent events. The Communist Party is far from being discredited. On the rise of the mass movement their unexcelled demagogy will exploit the revolutionary sentiments of the masses in the direction most favourable to Soviet diplomacy. The Peoples’ Convention was formed to divert the revolutionary energy of the masses into harmless popular front channels. With no other alternative the genuine militants will be diverted onto this path. Wherever possible we must fight side by side with the rank and file of the Communist Party on the day to day issues on which we have common ground, thus creating a healthy basis for drawing the lessons home to these militants of the fallacy of the “people’s government” and the only road to the solution of their problems—the struggle for workers’ power.
The Independent Labour Party offers a field to certain elements within the working class movement, who disgusted with the Labour Party and repelled by the Communist Party, turn to what appears [to be] a party with a different and even “revolutionary” approach. These elements must be reached and diverted from the path of semi-pacifism, semi-patriotism onto the road of the revolution. The differences of opinion now raised so sharply within the ILP affords a revolutionary nucleus, an opportunity to contrast the lucid line of Marxism to the muddled, confused currents of social patriotism and pacifism held together in an unprincipled bloc within its framework. A revolutionary wing within the ILP could not only expose the opportunism and reactionary nature of the contending factions, but also their sectarianism. The left wing in the ILP, composed of comparatively advanced workers, must turn its face towards the left wing in the Labour Party and on the basis of a revolutionary programme, attempt to link up its policy and activities, thus drawing the two sections together. But here again, this cannot detract from, but merely enhance the slogan of “full strength at the point of attack”. The main axis of our activity remains in the Labour Party and trade unions.
Expressive of the tendency of our epoch, it is mainly the youth who have been attracted to the banner of the Fourth International. Amid the demoralisation wrought by defeats for the international proletariat, we can look with pride to the grouping gathered around Workers’ International League. The weakness of the organisation theoretically and organisationally gives no cause for despair. During the last war the revolutionary wing in Britain stood on a much lower level of theoretical understanding of the problems of the workers’ movement. We have the experience not only of the British workers, but of the international working class since the last world war, the theoretical lessons of which have been worked out by our tendency internationally. The British working class, organised for the revolution, possesses a crushing social weight. The main obstacle on the road of the revolution remains the Labour bureaucracy. But the development of the class struggle will put them to far sterner tests than they have ever experienced in the past. The fate of the bourgeois regime is going to be measured, not in words, but in battles on the streets, and all the attempts on part of the Labour leaders to prevent this will be of no avail. The coming struggles of the British workers on a new historical basis will equal and surpass by far those of the Chartists and of the post-war period, including the general strike.
Events are crowding on one another—our resources are slender, we are weak politically, organisationally and in experience. Whether we will be able to build the party in time to face up to coming events is a question that history alone will answer. If Stalinism and reformism retain their hold on the workers the consequences can only be, from the most dazzling of possibilities, the most ghastly of defeats. We have faith in our party and our future—the key to which is held by the Fourth International alone. Whatever the immediate vicissitudes, in the end our ideas must triumph, but our work has always been guided by the necessity of building cadres capable of upholding, in face of all obstacles, this banner. Our policy is dominated by the conception elaborated in Imperialist war and the world proletarian revolution by comrade Trotsky:
“Naturally, this or that uprising will end in defeat owing to the immaturity of the revolutionary leadership. But it is not a question of a single uprising. It is a question of an entire revolutionary epoch.
“The capitalist world has no way out, unless a prolonged death agony is so considered. It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades, of war, uprisings, brief interludes of truce, new wars and new uprisings. A young revolutionary party must base itself on this perspective. History will provide it with enough opportunities and possibilities to test itself, accumulate experience and to mature. The swifter the ranks of the vanguard are fused the more the epoch of bloody convulsions will be shortened, the less destruction will our planet suffer. But the great historical problem will not be solved in any case until a revolutionary party stands at the head of the proletariat. The question of tempos and time interludes is of enormous importance; but it alters neither the general historical perspective nor the direction of our policy. The conclusion is a simple one: it is necessary to carry on the work of educating and organising the proletarian vanguard with tenfold energy. Precisely in this lies the task of the Fourth International.”
For us there can be no easy road to success. Our main task consists in strengthening, extending and building the organisation by education, selection and the hardening of cadres. The favourable conditions of work which exist at present in Britain offer opportunities for this. And principally our task is to gain the ear of the advanced workers. The military successes of Hitler have once again demonstrated the efficacy of the slogan “full strength at the point of attack.” In the present relation of forces, the small revolutionary group must retain this maxim—concentration of work within the mass organisations of the working class.
 The document refers to an imminent conference which was postponed.
 Investigative process undertaken to determine whether or not an individual or family is eligible to qualify for help from the government. In 1921 the abolition of the Means Test was one of the main demands of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement set up by members of the CPGB.
 James Ramsay MacDonald (1866 – 1937) rose from humble origins to become the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924. His first government lasted less than one year. Labour returned to power in 1929, but in 1931 MacDonald split the Labour Party forming a “national government” supported by a Tory majority. Philip Snowden (1864 – 1937) was among the founders of the Labour Party, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first Labour government of 1924. He followed MacDonald’s trajectory and ended up expelled from the Labour Party.
 Also known as the Winter War, the Finnish episode revealed the weaknesses of the USSR. On November 30 1939 Stalin launched an attack on Finland. The Red Army—badly trained and equipped and serverly debilitated by the Stalinist purges—encountered a fierce resistance from the Finnish troops and population. The Red Army finally managed to overcome the resistance only thanks to the large amount of troops and resources poured into the campaign.
A challenge to the Communist Party
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 3, December 1941]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: A challenge to the Communist Party
ILP and the Stalinist slander
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 4, January 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: ILP and the Stalinist slander
Stalin threatens new turn—Anglo-USA imperialists fear Soviet victory
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 6, March 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Stalin threatens new turn—Anglo-USA imperialists fear Soviet victory
An open letter to [ILP] national conference
By WIL (Fourth International)
[Leaflet, Easter 1942]
The annual conference of the ILP meets at a time when revolutionary possibilities are already opening up. The confidence of the British working class in the leadership of the ruling class is daily being stricken by the heavy blow of events. In industry, in the army and in the government of the country, the ruling class is being increasingly exposed in its utter incompetence to offer the workers any solution to their problems. The increasing votes cast for ILP candidates, the result of the Grantham bye-election, the strikes in the mines, all point to one thing: the working class in Britain is in the process of breaking with the capitalist class, all it needs is an alternative lead and an alternative policy.
The members of the ILP are looking up to the leadership for a policy and a programme which would enable the party to mobilise this growing radical tendency in the working class for a decisive struggle against capitalism and for workers’ power.
For a workers’ military policy
The campaign for a “Socialist Britain Now” and the programme associated with it, is the answer to this demand. But look at the programme from whichever aspect you like, it offers no solution to any one of the fateful issues which history has placed before the workers.
The programme could well have been formulated in the years of peace for all the account it takes of the war; surely it is not a programme for 1942! If the working class is to fight for power in war as well as in peace, then it must have a programme for war. We cannot merely denounce the war as an imperialist war and say, as the pacifists do, that we shall have nothing to do with this foul thing. The workers do not want a foreign conqueror, least of all a fascist one. They want to see fascism destroyed, and they know that all the issues in our epoch will be settled by military means. That is why they continue to support the war, not from enthusiasm but for lack of an alternative. Only a working class policy for war which would separate the workers from the capitalists and at the same time guarantee success against all foreign capitalist aggression could mobilise the masses for the struggle for power.
Instead of regarding the war and the universal militarization of the masses with tragic contemplation, the ILP leadership should have faced up to these facts. But even yet they cannot break with pacifism; even yet they cannot tell their members that conscientious objection is no answer to imperialist wars. The need for a class programme for workers in uniform is not even realised. The demand for the universal arming of the working class under the control of trade unions and shop committees, trade union schools, for providing military training for workers, the ejection of the pro-fascist officer class from the armed forces and the election of officers by the soldiers are not even mentioned. And yet without such an independent military policy it is impossible for the workers to fight fascism whether from within or without. Maxton, Brockway and the rest of the leadership have demonstrated that the only break they have made with pacifism is in phrases. The demand for peace with Hitler may have been dropped, but pacifism still remains the dominant note.
Need to expose Labour leaders
Most members of the ILP will concede that the campaign for a socialist Britain has remained on the level of pious generalities. And this is no accident, for it lacks the one essential element of a real socialist campaign for power, viz, a concrete programme for action. There is no hint as to what we have to do now and in the immediate future to bring about socialism in Britain. There is the necessity for going to the meetings and taking friends along to hear Maxton. There is the duty of voting for party candidates. But beyond that, what else? Nobody knows the answer. Without any concrete programme for action, the campaign hangs in the air. It remains a campaign of leaders without any real relationship with the masses.
The mass of the organised workers, unfortunate though it is, accept the leadership of the Labour and the trade union bureaucracy in the belief that they are waging a real war in defence of their rights against fascism and for the defence of the Soviet Union. Without conducting a campaign to expose the labour bureaucracy it is impossible to convince the masses of the need for a new and revolutionary leadership. The tie-up of the organised working class movement through its official leadership with the ruling class is mainly responsible for the present inertia and immobility in the movement. To mobilise the rank and file of the trade unionists against this coalition in a nation-wide agitation round the demand that the Labour and ILP lenders should take power on a socialist programme and wage a genuine war against fascism is the immediate task. Smash the coalition. Labour to power on a socialist programme—these are the only slogans which could rouse the working class to immediate action, including that immense mass which is only beginning to attain political consciousness.
Brockway may argue that to demand that the Labour leaders take power is to deceive the workers into the belief that Morrison, Bevin and their associates can defend the interests of the workers. This is a dull and pedantic argument. How could anyone imagine that a campaign under present circumstances, demanding that the Labour leaders break with the capitalists and fight for power on a socialist programme, can be anything but the most effective method of educating the workers as to the bankruptcy of the Labour leaders and into an understanding of the need for a revolutionary party? When Lenin was demanding a break on the part of the socialist ministers from the capitalists in the provisional government, was he deceiving the Russian masses as to Kerensky and his friends?
But the real reason why Brockway and the leaders of the ILP refuse to raise this concrete slogan and are content to leave the socialist Britain [campaign] on the level of pious generalities, is because they themselves are not convinced of the need for a complete break with the Labour leaders but in reality they are still their allies. Brockway scoffs at the Labour leaders and yet refuses to put up candidates in bye-election against Labour nominees. His excuse at a recent conference that the party cannot afford the money is contradicted by the fact that the party has raised the money to put up two candidates simultaneously—in Cardiff and Cathcart, against Tories.
Left wing attacked—right wing tolerated
This refusal to undertake the task of exposing the Labour leaders in the eyes of the workers arises at the bottom from the absence of all revolutionary perspectives and their desire to remain on the friendliest term with the reformist leaders. Tom Colyer said at a recent meeting in London that he did not believe that the Labour leadership had deliberately betrayed the socialist cause; they have made a grievous blunder. The truth is that the ILP leaders are thinking in terms of parliamentary alliances and combinations and socialism through bye-elections. This opportunistic tendency expresses itself not only in the programme but also on questions of organisation and party discipline. Extreme toleration and friendliness continues to be shown towards C.A. Smith and Jennie Lee whose policies and utterances stand in open contradiction to the official party policy. But the process of ferreting out and isolating Trotskyist sympathisers is never allowed to flag. The centrists have always fought the revolutionaries within their own ranks with far more vigour and consistency than the reactionaries. Of late this hatred of Trotskyism on the part of Brockway, Padley and the other leaders has reached such a stage that no amendments were allowed to be put at socialist Britain conferences, thus reducing them to a farce.
The need to combat Stalinism
Equally typical of this centrism is your leadership’s failure to offer intransigent opposition to the criminal policies of Stalin. Their refusal to face up to the implications of the campaign of intimidation which accompanies the present Stalinist line flows logically from their refusal to offer political opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy—its abandonment of internationalism, its persecution of the revolutionaries inside Russia as well as outside. The belated article They disgrace the name of communism hastily published in the pre-conference New Leader in an attempt to anticipate this criticism, will not deceive the revolutionaries in the ILP.
Brockway states (December 8 1941) that he does not believe it necessary to hold “special” meetings to combat the Stalinist campaign; that such meetings would assist rather than deter the Stalinists in their provocations. At the same time he refers to the tactics they used against the ILP’s brother party—the POUM—in Spain. But it was precisely because the POUM carried out the same ostrich policy as is now being carried out by the ILP, that facilitated the attacks against it, culminating in the murder of its leaders by the Stalinists.
Already the campaign has reached the stage of physical assault, not only of Trotskyists but of members of the ILP. As the war proceeds and the workers turn towards the left, the Stalinists will in desperation turn to more violent methods. Under these circumstances it is an elementary precaution of self-preservation that a vigorous campaign of exposure be waged against these degrading methods of organised hooliganism. The Central Committee of the Communist Party has issued instructions that the names and addresses of all Trotskyists should be secured. This undoubtedly applies to members of the ILP as well. In Spain and in France this action was a prelude to Stalinist assistance to police reaction. In the Nazi occupied countries the names and address of revolutionaries opposed to CP policy were handed over to the Gestapo. This is not a question of a merely incidental character. It concerns the very existence of workers’ organisations which operate a policy opposed to Churchill and the Communist Party. If the ILP refuses to carry the struggle against the Stalinist pogroms, how will they face up to the far stronger blows of the capitalists when they really start to suppress the left wing? Particularly since they will have the active assistance of the Stalinists.
We appeal to the members of the ILP to force its leadership to reverse its present disastrously negative policy and to conduct a vigorous united front campaign with other working class bodies which will expose the Stalinists before the whole labour movement, as well as protect our organisations from their gangster assaults.
In this conference a great responsibility rests on the shoulders of the revolutionary elements in the ILP. It is time to wage a relentless struggle against the unreal opportunistic pacifist policy of the leadership. If they genuinely believe that the ILP can be transformed into a revolutionary party, they must fight for a revolutionary policy. In this task they will have the full support of the Workers’ International League and the revolutionary workers gathered under the banner of the Fourth International, the banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.
Labour leaders hold workers back
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 8, May 1942]
The recent bye-elections have been the means of demonstrating the present mood and feelings of the British masses. Rugby, Wallasey, Grantham, Cathcart, and Cardiff—all these present a broad cross-section of the mood among the people—not only the workers, but the middle class as well.
What is striking about these elections is the clarity with which they reveal the change in outlook of the working people. All of these constituencies were previously represented by Tories—some with big majorities. Now we have the situation where, for the first time since the outbreak of the war, the government is suffering defeats, while a substantial vote is recorded for the ILP in the constituencies which they have contested.
Coupled with the growing restlessness in industry, as evidenced by the growing strikes among the miners, dockers and engineers, the defeats underline the rapidly developing distrust of the masses of the people in the rule of the capitalist class. The reasons for their disillusionment are becoming clearer daily: the military defeats, the incompetence and bungling of the military officer caste; the profiteering, chaos and mismanagement in production; the pauperisation of the small businessmen—all these have played their part in developing an anti-capitalist sentiment among the working class and the general radicalisation of the masses as a whole.
Despite all the attempts of the labour and trade union leadership to drive the Labour supporters into the camp of the Tory candidates, the elections show that only a negligible proportion of Labour supporters have allowed themselves to be led in this direction. As a matter of fact, a substantial proportion of the former Tory voters are steadily moving to the left by voting against the official government candidates, while large numbers have become apathetic and indifferent.
The feeling prevailing in the country is demonstrated by events in Rugby where a large number of workers—socialists, trade union militants, and shop-stewards, Labour Party and members of the Trades Council—came together to discuss the putting up of an independent “socialist” candidate to fight the official government candidate. They went so far as to elect their nominee. The intervention of W. J. Brown, on a fake left programme, caused their nominee to withdraw. Despite the particularly vituperative attacks of Transport House, Brown was enabled to win the seat by a narrow majority. In Grantham, on a pretence of supporting a “labour” programme, the independent candidate was elected. But the clearest and most decisive indication of all was given by the result of the Wallasey election. On a programme of “common ownership of the means of production”, the former Labour Party member Alderman Reakes was elected by a large majority! This in a constituency with a strong middle class vote and formerly a fairly safe Tory seat. Cripps’ brother, who intervened on a “non-party” independent platform, did not even succeed in retaining his deposit.
In the areas which the ILP contested, they received a substantial proportion of the Labour vote but did not win the majority of working class supporters, primarily because of their pacifist or semi-pacifist position and their negative sectarian approach.
A particularly pernicious role in these elections was played by the so-called Communist Party. In all the elections, they attempted to influence the voters to support the government candidate. These “communists” attempted to utilise the stirring resistance of the Red Army in their appeals to the electorate to support the representatives of big business! Despite all their propaganda, the decisive majority of the workers refused to be diverted from expressing their growing opposition and mistrust of the capitalists and bankers who control the policy of the Churchill government.
The capitalists and their representatives have realised clearly the lesson of these elections. Commenting on Sir Stafford Cripps’ speech appealing for “economic democracy” after the war, the Times comments:
“The country is in a mood to respond to such a programme. Recent bye-elections are among many symptoms which show that the challenge of a positive appeal will bring fresh heart and fresh enthusiasm to the ordinary citizen bearing without complaint [!] the burden and the drabness of war on the home front. The candidate who can offer such an appeal will in the long run win the suffrages of the electorate.”
The ruling class has seen the striking fact that all the anti-government candidates achieved victory on the basis of left demagogy; of an anti-capitalist, anti-profiteering appeal on the basis of a more efficient organisation of production to “prosecute the struggle against Hitlerism”; and lastly, on the basis of more help for the Soviet Union.
Unmistakably, despite all the efforts of the Labour leaders, despite all the efforts of the Communist Party leaders, to hold the masses in check, the war itself is pushing them irresistibly in the direction of socialism. The only thing holding this development back is the betrayal of the Labour, trade union and CP leadership. The verdict of the working class electorate is clear. They are demanding by their votes an end to the electoral truce. They have given a vote of no confidence in the policy of the official labour leaders.
Comrades of the Labour Party and trade unions, comrades of the co-op, comrades of the factory committees, comrades of the whole labour movement! Is it not clear that the policy of the labour and trade union leadership is false and shameful? They claim to be in the government in the interests of waging a war against fascism in the interests of the working class. But they have entered into a truce with those elements who represent the bankers and financiers who subsidised, armed and helped to organise Hitler and his gangsters. They talk about “equality of sacrifice” while the big monopolies continue to pile up profits at the expense of the toilers. They ask the workers to accept lower rations, while the rich live well. They shout for increased production by greater strain and effort on the part of the workers, while the profits and greed of the bosses impedes and sabotages production. And they persist in remaining with the capitalists as their obedient tools and lackeys.
They tell us “national unity” is necessary to defeat fascism! But the feeling among the people is that “national unity” with the ruling class is leading the people to major disaster, both on the home front and the military front; that “national unity” is leading to the strengthening of reaction at home and fascism abroad. In reality, the reason is that these “leaders” are content with the present line up—they are content to remain tied to the millionaire combines and banks. If the labour leaders would end the so-called political truce and fight for a general election on a fighting Socialist policy—on the programme of the Socialist Appeal—they would obtain an overwhelming majority throughout the country. In the past, the Labour leaders have always used the excuse that the workers were not ready for a “full socialist case”. Today that excuse is shown to be completely exposed. It is these so-called leaders who are holding the struggle back. The workers are only waiting for an enthusiastic, positive lead. They are looking for a way out of the impasse in which they have found themselves.
Shame on those who have no faith and no confidence in the working class. These bye-elections have been a means of demonstrating the correct class instincts of the workers. Their progressive aspirations are being utilised and misdirected by these fake left opportunists. Now is the time to harness this feeling in the interests of socialism.
Workers’ International League believes that the solution of the problems which confront the working class can only be solved by the workers taking power into their own hands. But the first step in this direction must be re-establishment of the independence of the organisations of the working class from subordination to the bosses. While the workers still have faith and trust in their leaders we will fight side by side with them to put these leaders to the test. In this way we believe that the correctness of our ideas will become apparent to the whole of the working class.
The Labour leaders claim to represent the interests and aspirations of the workers: the workers have demonstrated their desires! The coalition must be ended! Labour must take power! Put into force the programme of the Socialist Appeal!
British refuse arms to Indians
“Live more frugally” says Lord Linlithgow!
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 9, June 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: British refuse arms to Indians
The road to India’s freedom
The permanent revolution in India and the tasks of the British working class
By Ted Grant and Andrew Scott
[Workers’ International News, Vol. 5 Nos. 3&4, - presumably June 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: The road to India’s freedom
Labour lefts rehearsed debate with Tories!
Right wing Tories want military dictatorship
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 10, July 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Labour lefts rehearsed debate with Tories!
An open letter to the Yorkshire Miners’ Association
Our answer to the slanders of the President, Mr. Joseph Hall
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 11, August 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: An open letter to the Yorkshire Miners’ Association
Right wing Tories fear our programme
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No.11, August 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Right wing Tories fear our programme
New allies of Communist Party
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 12, September 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: New allies of Communist Party
The ILP—A ship without a compass
Labour leaders hold workers back
[Written: May 1942]
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 5 No. 1, October 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: The ILP—A ship without a compass
Wainwright and Doriot: birds of a feather
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 5 No. 3, December 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Wainwright and Doriot: birds of a feather
Open letter to Yorkshire miners
[Socialist Appeal Cortonwood supplement,
c. January 1943]
On Wednesday, December 23, the Council of the YMA carried a resolution which stated:
“That this council meeting authorises the officials to take legal advice as to what action, if any, can be taken in regard to the articles which are continually appearing in Socialist Appeal.”
This resolution is aimed to silence our criticism of Hall and the present leadership at Barnsley and its policy. It carries the campaign to suppress the Socialist Appeal initiated by Hall last July a step further. It is a police substitute for an open discussion before the miners of Wombwell and Yorkshire.
The Socialist Appeal has had some hard things to say about Joe Hall. So also do we say hard things about any working class “leader” whose policy is against the interests of the workers. These are mild, let it be said, in comparison with statements made to the Socialist Appeal by hundreds of miners about their “leaders”.
Although Hall has had every opportunity to reply to a public challenge which was issued on July 18 1942, he has not availed himself of the opportunity and attempted to refute our charges.
His latest move is an act of desperation.
Meanwhile the so-called Communist Party members and sympathisers in the Yorkshire area are peddling the story that the Trotskyists and their paper, the Socialist Appeal, are responsible for the present strike at Cortonwood. Every miner who is familiar with the events leading up to the strike will immediately recognise this as a lie, and will brand it as such.
In peddling these lies the “communists” echo the slanders of Joe Hall whose allegations were completely exposed as the lies that they are in Parliament, when the coal owners and Tory representatives attempted to use his allegations to get the Socialist Appeal suppressed.
“Why does a political organisation interfere in an industrial dispute?” is the trick question which the fakers ask. Any miner who deludes himself that it is possible to separate industrial from political questions is making a grievous blunder.
When the coal owners say that the present strike “holds up production and helps the Nazis,” that is a political action; the coal owners who were responsible for firing the first shot in the industrial field attempt to throw the political responsibility for the outcome of the dispute on to the shoulders of the workers. The action of the government in allowing the courts to be used to intimidate the colliers, is a political action. The action of Hall and his colleagues, of tying the hands of the miners behind their backs, giving up the right to strike, and collaborating with the coal owners and their capitalist government, is a political action. So also is the action of the renegade “communists” who have deserted the workers and appealed to the miners to accept the cut in the interests of the “war effort.”
It is no accident that the coal owners who are Tories in politics embrace Joe Hall who claims to be Labour. Nor is it an accident that Joe Hall who was the most bitter opponent of the Stalinists 18 months ago, now embraces them and endorses the political activities of the Communist Party and Young Communist League, while the Stalinists quote Joe Hall with great favour. For all these people have the same political aim: support for the present capitalist coalition and its repressive legislation against the working class. No matter what they may say in private or in the bedroom about “socialism after the war,” their public activities and present day actions is detrimental to the interests of the working class.
The Socialist Appeal is the organ of Workers’ International League, a Trotskyist political organisation which continues the policy of revolutionary socialism. The policy which made the Russian revolution. We oppose the present capitalist coalition, its repressive legislation against the workers, and all its other actions detrimental to the working class. We do not believe that this capitalist coalition is interested in conducting a war for democracy nor that it is capable of doing so, since it uses repression against the people in the colonies as well as at home. We believe that the only people who are really interested in or capable of conducting a war against fascism and reaction are the working class, and for that reason we say that political power must be in the hands of the workers.
In our view, the only way in which coal production can be thoroughly organised is by the nationalisation of the pits without compensating the present owners, who have sucked the blood of the miners for long enough, and by the operation of the pits under the democratic control of miners and technicians, who are the only people really capable of solving the question of production.
In the present dispute we believe that any honest working class organisation must come out openly in defence of the Cortonwood miners and assist them to the maximum in their present struggle.
These actions are political acts for which we take full responsibility before the workers.
Workers’ International League (Fourth International)
Wainwright blunders again on the Chinese revolution
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 5 No. 5, February 1943]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Wainwright blunders again on the Chinese revolution
5. WIL’s pre-conference documents and updates [August and December 1942]
The tumultuous growth of the WIL is reflected in the works of its first national conference of August 1942 (which was curiously denominated “pre-conference”). The group that before the war organised around 30 members had developed as a national organisation with more than 300 members. The WIL, unlike most of the groups that gathered around the Left Opposition and the Fourth International, was mainly proletarian in composition, organising a large majority of young workers. The scope and quality of the publications reflected this numerical and qualitative growth.
The conference political document Preparing for power, drafted by Ted Grant, reflect the confidence of the whole organisation in the revolutionary future.
The strengthening of the WIL also posed in different terms the future of the forces of Trotskyism in Britain, as the organisation became a powerful pole of attraction for all the best elements in the many groups that split in the permanent crisis of the official section of the Fourth International, the Revolutionary Socialist League.
After being rejected as the official section of the Fourth International in 1938, thanks to the manoeuvres of Cannon, the WIL grew steadily while the RSL splintered. In August 1942 already the WIL had emerged as the principal force of British Trotskyism. The conference voted a resolution that we reproduce in this section to appeal to the IS to step back on the previous decision and accept the WIL as an official section.
The last document is a draft update on perspectives written by Ted Grant after the conference. This is an important document showing the development of the position of the WIL with the approach of the second half of the war.
Preparing for power
Revolutionary perspectives and the tasks of the Fourth Internationalists in Britain
[Workers’ International News, Vol. 5 No. 6, September 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Preparing for power
Resolution on military policy
[Original document, WIL pre-conference, August 1942]
Capitalism in decline is accompanied and characterised by wars and revolutions. The defeat of the post-war revolutionary movements in Europe and the East has made it possible for the capitalist class to plunge the world once again into the nightmare of modern war and militarism. This is evidence of the complete impotence of capitalism; it underlines the inability of the capitalist class to organise society on a peaceful basis and harness the economic laws and productive processes in the interest of humanity as a whole. For the second time within twenty-five years capitalism has plunged humanity into the bloody maelstrom of universal war. Out of the last war the only victory that was gained by the proletariat was the Russian revolution. In all other countries the revolutionary movements were defeated principally because of the failure of the leadership. Because of this failure capitalism has been able to plunge the world into the Second World War.
The decay of capitalism during the past twenty-five years has manifested itself above all in the rise of fascism. The tearing up of the Versailles Treaty by Hitler in 1935 inaugurated a new era of super militarism which was to lead to the period in which the entire peoples and resources of the world would be directly or indirectly engaged in war.
All the major problems of capitalism, all social problems will now be solved by force and clash of arms. To protect its right to exploit the peoples; to protect its right to retain control of the means of production, the capitalist class has been compelled by the inexorable logic of its system to extend its militarism over the entire circumference of the earth. Gone is the period of small, select professional armies, separated by artificial barriers from the mass of the people. The entire populations, male and female in the metropolitan states, are drawn into the vortex of capitalist militarism and war. The present impasse in which mankind finds itself can only be ended by the victory of the proletarian revolution. This is an elementary task if humanity is to survive with its cultural achievements of the past centuries and not be plunged into a period of the most degenerate form of barbarism.
The new war comes in circumstances which are by no means a mere repetition of those of the first holocaust. This applies above all to the question of power. If conditions were ripe in Russia in 1917 for the proletarian Revolution in 1917, they have become incalculably more so in other countries in the intervening quarter of a century. The question of power is placed on the order of the day for Britain no less than for the rest of Europe and the world. As the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International puts it.
“The economic prerequisites for the proletarian revolution has already in general achieved the highest point of fruition that can be reached under capitalism. The question of power is raised today against a background of universal militarism and in conditions which are not merely a repetition of those of the First World War, but are a profound extension and development. The revolutionary party must perforce take this into account; its policies must likewise be not a mere repetition, but an extension and development.”
The question of “democracy versus fascism” has nothing to do with the present battle. The existence of competing groups of capitalists who strive for world markets is the basic cause of the present conflict and not at all the so-called “ideology” of nations. In the interests of their class, capitalist democrats become fascists on the morrow. German and Italian fascism have many allies in the camp of the “democracies”. Polish, and other European fascists have found full freedom and accord within the “democratic” ranks.
The defeat of the Popular Front regime in Spain at the hands of fascism had already unmasked the deception, that a successful war against fascism can be conducted under the leadership of capitalist democracy. The war in Europe and the crushing victories of Hitler, actively aided by the greed and cowardice of the whole class of bourgeois democrats, has consummated the exposure. The sell-out of the French ruling class; the miserable capitulation of Laval and Pétain; the role of Churchill and the British ruling class—who were aware of the negotiations of the French capitulation, but kept silent—all this served to shatter any illusion that [capitalist democracy is really capable of waging a struggle against fascism]. The capitalist “democrats” are willing to sacrifice millions of lives of the duped workers and toiling people but they are resolute in their refusal to sacrifice one inch of their territory or one ounce of their property in the interests of the “nation” as a whole. In the final analysis, to save themselves from the wrath of their own masses, they are prepared to call in the fascists in one country after another; to retain the control of their property in their own hands, they pass over to the enemy.
No less complete and devastating has been the crushing of the reformist illusion of a peaceful and gradual progress within capitalism and its gradual transformation into a socialist society. All organisations which based themselves on this conception have been shattered in Europe by the onward rush of fascism ad reaction. At best these organisations of the working class—the traditional Labour and trade union organisations—were based on peace. The first test of imperialist war has shattered them as living functioning organs. Parties of a centrist or a pacifist nature, whose most extreme and “revolutionary” [statements] were protests against the horrors of war, but which do not base themselves on the revolutionary struggle to end the system which gave rise to war—these parties were shattered when the first test came. Mere protests against the war are futile and cannot take the workers a single step forward in the struggle against fascism, militarism and war. The working class requires a positive programme which bases itself on war as the characteristic feature of the present epoch, and takes this as a starting point for practical actions, which must lead to the taking of power and transforming the war into a genuine struggle for the liberation of the peoples of Europe and the world from Hitler or another form of oppression.
The British workers found themselves becoming not only militarised, but facing a fascism armed to the teeth which had succeeded in conquering the whole of Europe. The rise of fascism and its recent gigantic military victories have not left the British workers unmoved. They have no wish to become part of Hitler’s “new order”. The unending chaos and incompetence of the capitalist class both in the industrial and military spheres has caused a highly critical mood to spring up among the masses. This mood has not been at all for “peace” with Hitler. It has on the contrary been aimed towards a more vigorous and a different sort of prosecution of the war. It is this desire of the masses for a genuine struggle against fascism that the Labour and communist parties exploit to chain the workers to accept “national unity” with the capitalist class. It is, however, only [in] the absence of a non-pacifist alternative with a loud enough voice, that the second and third internationals have succeeded in keeping this mood within the narrow cracking banks of the chauvinist channel.
For a revolutionary party to come before the workers with a programme of “peace” would mean that such a party would condemn itself to complete isolation from the masses. On this basis it would not win the sympathy of the masses but their hostility. The workers do not want to see a victory for Hitler; this is testified by the results of peace programmes in by-elections where pacifist candidates invariably lose their deposits. If a programme of power is to be put forward in present day circumstances it cannot be pacifist—it must be military.
Even in Russia in 1917 a purely negative answer on the question of the defence of the country, against foreign conquerors could not, as Trotsky has pointed out, win the masses “who did not want a foreign conqueror”. Once Lenin had recognised that power was not a perspective of the more or less distant future but was on the order of the day, his propaganda in relation to the war became more positive. No longer was there merely refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland but measures were advanced which, said Lenin, “cannot be introduced without transforming the predatory war into a just war, without transforming the war waged by the capitalists in the interests of the capitalists into a war waged by the proletariat in the interests of all the toilers and exploited”. How much more is it necessary today to advance such measures and such a policy of transforming the imperialist war into a just revolutionary war.
The apologists for American and British imperialism, the Stalinists and the social democrats, as well as the pacifists and centrists of various shades, lie prostrate or stand aghast before the onrush of Hitler’s gigantic machine. These apologists for capitalism, agents of the class enemy within the ranks of the workers, sew the seeds of pessimism and defeat within the ranks of the working class. Undermining proletarian independence, sabotaging the class instincts on the part of the workers, thrusting them into the stifling and treacherous embrace of the ruling class, they call upon the workers to accept its militarisation and its military programme. A successful defence of the rights which the working class still retains and the genuine struggle against fascism whether from within or without can only be waged by the struggle for the conquest of power by the working class. The Fourth International ceaselessly explains to the workers the necessity for class independence, the necessity to place no hope or confidence in the struggle “against fascism” in the ruling class, but ceaseless tries to win the majority to the idea of transforming the war into a struggle for their socialist emancipation.
World War II has posed the question in an even more categorical manner than the last: which is to prevail—the dictatorship of the capitalists or the dictatorship of the proletariat? The reformist programmes have been destroyed one after another, but the programme of Leninism and Trotskyism has stood the test; when the workers of conquered Europe rise again, the programme of the Fourth International will head their armies. In this programme too the masses of the East and the Americans will find their liberation. In contrast to the pessimists who preach defeatist adaptation to their imperialist masters, WIL is based upon the unassailable optimism in the future of the working class. It prepares the workers not only for the seizure of power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but for the defence of the victorious proletarian fatherland from external reaction and fascist aggression, as well as the liberation of the European masses from fascism and capitalist reaction.
War and militarism, which crushes all other organisations and disrupts all other programmes within the ranks of the working class, has provided a new test for the programme and cadres of the Bolshevik current. In line with the new period, WIL adapts its programme and tactics to the new conditions imposed upon the working peoples. The present period in Britain is characterised by the organisation of the wider sections of the working class into the military machine. Our programme must therefore take this into consideration as the point of departure. We present to the workers their own class programme, independent of and counterposed to that of the ruling class.
Pacifism, which characterised the attitude of the majority of the socialist internationalists in the last war, was responsible for isolating the revolutionaries from all the currents of the revolution in the decisive section of the armed forces. In the present period when the greatest masses in the history of Britain are organised in the army, navy, air force and Home Guard, a pacifist policy on the part of the revolutionary party would be sterile and lead to impotence in the face of great events. Essentially proletarian in the composition of our organisation, pacifism has nowhere reared its head as a tendency in our ranks or tinged the individual members of our cadres. Thus the unity and solidarity within our ranks has made it possible to adopt a clear and unambiguous attitude toward the problem of militarisation; has made it possible to fully assimilate the military policy of our international movement.
The imperialist war is not our war. The militarisation of capitalism is not our militarisation. In the same way as we oppose the exploitation of the workers in the factories and workshops, so we oppose the exploitation of the workers by the capitalist military machine. Just as we opposed the preparations of the imperialists for war before it broke out into open conflict, so we oppose the war today and the class which conducts it. But the war is here. We did not choose the arena: once confronted with this objective situation we base our programme on it.
Only with the mass of the workers will it be possible to conquer power and establish the socialist revolution. In this period the masses in the armed forces are to play a decisive role. Just as we seek to take over control of the industrial organisation of the country in the interests of the proletarian revolution, so we seek to take over control of the military machine. The capitalists seek at all costs to retain control of the armed forces—in the final analysis this is the main instrument of their rule. To maintain control they have centred all power in the hand of a caste of aristocratic and bourgeois professional officers. They have deliberately created a mysterious cult out of military theory and military strategy. Money is lavished on select schools to train their sons in the arts of military leadership. All this with the object of keeping the masses in ignorance of military theory and retaining control of the military machine. Bourgeois privilege, partly hidden in civil life, is unmasked in all its most reactionary features in the bourgeois military machine.
Meanwhile three years of military defeats for British imperialism has succeeded in raising the class character of the officer caste before the workers [and] has succeeded in exposing their incompetence as military strategists. All sections of the population are now discussing strategy and the “blimp” characteristics of the officer caste. Trained in working class and democratic organisations and conceptions, the working class queries the dictatorial methods and caste system of the Higher Command. In such a situation an independent military policy for the workers is essential. Such a policy must strive to organise the workers on their own class lines within the military machine. It must simultaneously seek to organise the workers into independent proletarian military organisations, controlled and officered by the working class and by workers’ organisations.
Our proletarian military policy is a decisive question which separates our tendency from all other parties of the working class. It is an independent military policy designed to supplement our general political policy for the seizure of power.
In the first place our programme seeks to defend the interests of the workers in uniform from the exploitation of the bourgeois state and its officer caste. We demand the abolition of the dictatorial military regulations, which were framed in a period of semi-feudalism, and their substitution by laws based upon genuine democracy. Abolition of life and death powers of the officers over the worker soldiers; abolition of court martials and the rigorous punishments which they enforce. We demand that all the privileges of the officer caste be abolished. The treatment of officers as equals except in line of duty.
We demand an adequate wage based upon industrial conditions and accepted trade union standards. No financial victimisation of the soldier worker by the bourgeois state.
We demand the setting up of state-financed schools, controlled by the trade unions and labour organisations, where workers can be schooled the arts and tasks of military technique and strategy. No appointed officers by the bourgeoisie, but election of officers from the ranks.
All the time we seek to break down the last barriers which separate the worker soldier from his industrial brother: full civil rights for the military to participate in politics and to be represented in all the democratic bodies of the nation. We demand that the Home Guard be dissolved into a workers’ militia embracing the whole of the population, male and female. Only such a military force can guarantee the working class against invasion, only such a force can guarantee the population against Pétainism.
All the time we seek to propagate and legislate our military programme. We demand that Labour conduct a struggle for the implementation of these demands in Parliament and country.
The Fourth International is the only international workers’ party equipped with a scientific Marxist programme. Our tendency alone retains an unshakeable confidence in the working class and its socialist future. We alone are ready to meet the capitalist class in the period of universal militarisation on its own ground. In Britain, it is our party alone, Workers’ International League, which seeks to organise and lead the proletarian struggle for power on the conditions of today.
 This resolution, drafted by Ted Grant, was presented to the WIL pre-conference but deferred to the internal bullettin for further discussion. We have checked this version with a previous draft. All changes have been identified in the footnotes.
 We include this line that was deleted in the final resolution, we presume accidentally.
 In the first draft this sentence was followed with: “and in so doing they lay the basis for the victory of fascism whether of the Anglo-American or German variety.”
 In the first draft, this sentence was followed with: “It is not a question of a refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland, but of conquest of power by the working class and the defence of the proletarian fatherland.”
 The following sentence was deleted in the final version of the resolution: “Just as in times of peace we stood for the active formation of workers’ defence corps to defend the working class organisations and rights from fascist and reactionary violence, so in war times we stand for the defence of our rights from fascist attack from within or without, and this can only be undertaken under the control of the workers themselves.”
WIL pre-conference appeal to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International
WIL pre-conference appeal to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International
By Political Bureau of WIL
[Resolution, WIL pre-conference, August 1942]
To the International Secretariat of the Fourth International
This, the first national conference of Workers’ International League, held under the conditions of semi-legality imposed upon us by the present war politics of the British bourgeoisie, sends greetings to the International Secretariat, expressing our solidarity with it and through it to all sections of the Fourth International throughout the world.
It takes this opportunity to reaffirm its acceptance of the Transitional programme of the Fourth International and The imperialist war and the world proletarian revolution as its basic documents and as the guide to our programme in Britain.
In addressing ourselves to you, we once again express, by the unanimous vote of our membership, the desire to be acknowledged as an official section of the Fourth International.
The international conference of 1938 rejected the appeal of Workers’ International League (then only a small minority group) to be accepted as an official section of the Fourth International, or to be recognised as a sympathetic section. This decision on the part of the conference was based on an entirely incorrect estimation of the British movement and its various components. The conference placed its trust in the “Unified Revolutionary Socialist League” in the hands of C.L.R. James, of Maitland and Tait, of Starkey Jackson. Today the “unified” organisation has splintered into no less than five fragments; C.L.R. James is now with the Burnham-Schachtman revisionists (his deviation had been noted by the WIL comrades in 1937); Maitland and Tait have adopted the stand of “conscientious objectors” opposing the war on “ethical grounds” and have decisively broken with Bolshevism; Jackson has almost completely disappeared from the political horizon of the revolutionary workers. Meanwhile, despite the loss of R. Lee who returned to South Africa due to illness, and contrary to the prediction of the conference that the WIL would splinter into fragments and finish in the mire, the WIL has attracted to its ranks all the genuine militants of our tendency in Britain and stands today as the only representative of the Fourth International with a voice among the British working class.
In order to assist the IS in arriving at a correct decision, we present a short factual summary of the early development of the Fourth International in this country as well as a complete statement on the present situation on the forces of the British Trotskyists, especially since the “peace and unity” agreement signed in 1938 and adopted by the foundation conference of the Fourth International.
The initial cadres of the left opposition in the Communist Party of Great Britain were in the main petty bourgeois with a general low understanding of Bolshevik theory and a particularly low understanding of the practice of Bolshevik organisation. Its ideas were borrowed wholesale from the international left opposition, in particular from the American section. It made no attempt to concretise these ideas for Britain.
The spirit of a petty bourgeois discussion circle was fostered. No real attempt was made to acquaint the youth members and sympathisers of the theoretical differences between the Bolshevik Leninists and the Stalinist bureaucracy, nationally or internationally, or with the programme of the opposition. The leadership showed the greatest incapacity to train the younger elements or to conduct any decisive political action. Consequently the political level of the British opposition lagged behind that of almost every section of our movement internationally. These factors had an extremely demoralising effect on the worker elements within our ranks and among the contacts drawing close to our tendency.
It was possible for this loose collection of individuals to hold together while the general campaign for re-entry into the communist parties was the policy of the International Left Opposition, for in this country it enabled them to appear in public as “critics” while binding them to no real programme of activity.
However, when the German betrayal revealed the full depths of Stalinist degeneracy, and impelled the International to consider the reform of the Comintern no longer possible and the perspective of the orientation towards the new International was adopted, the semi anarchistic character of the British Bolshevik Leninists was revealed and their basic weaknesses exposed.
The directive given to the British section was a turn towards the centrist organisations as the main field of work. This perspective worked out by comrade Trotsky was fundamentally correct, but the tactic resulted in miserable failure due to the complete incapacity of the Trotskyists to carry this tactic out.
This turn towards the centrists marked the first of what was to be a series of disastrous splits. Incapable of acting as a unified body, the opposition burst asunder, one group entering the ILP, the other the Labour Party. This initial split took place without any thorough discussion or preparation, the factional lines running parallel to the personal alliances of the various individuals.
From 1934 until 1938 a continual series of splits took place. The “factions” were characterised by a core who, generally speaking, broke along lines of personal affiliation. The few who remained on the periphery of these “factions”—mainly fresh elements just turning to the Bolshevik-Leninist viewpoint—moved aimlessly from one faction to the other seeking a lead.
The Oehler split in America came as a godsend to the various factions. A new variant arose in resplendent garb. “The principle of the independence of the Bolshevik Party” became the centre of the “new” and “higher” forms of political discussion. The axis of life changed and it now became possible to rationalise the lack of political decision. Since the “independents” borrowed their ideas for their use value, never once was a serious document produced for a genuine discussion.
During the whole of this period the International was completely misinformed as to the real situation in the British movement, either in its strength, what forms of work it carried out, its support among the workers or in any other aspect of its activities. The survey of the archives of the IS will bear witness to this.
The Trotskyist groups which had evolved and disappeared were myriad. The Communist Left Opposition, the Marxist League, the Marxist Group, the Chelsea Action Group, the Revolutionary Socialist League, the Revolutionary Workers’ League and the Workers’ International League—all these in the London area alone, although others developed from time to time in the provinces. By September 1938 there were three distinct groups in existence in the London area—the Revolutionary Socialist League, the Militant Group and Workers’ International League. In Edinburgh there was a grouping progressively evolving from the De Leonist standpoint to the programme of the Fourth International, the Revolutionary Socialist Party.
Added to these was an amorphous grouping containing some of the earliest leaders of the opposition, Groves, Sara, Wicks, Dewar, who while proclaiming themselves Trotskyists remained on the periphery of the Bolshevik movement and finally covered up Groves’ capitulation to the Labour Party bureaucracy.
Each year without fail, a “unity” conference was called but without any serious preparation or intention. The soft elements who had proved incapable of any continuity of organised work appeared on the platform and played a preponderant role in the “discussions.” Each year it became more and more obvious that a genuine unification among the old elements was precluded because of the determination of the “leaders” to retain their independence and because of the absence of a genuine ranks and file.
Such was the state in the British movement when the “peace and unity” conference was held in September 1938. In the bulletin circulated for pre-conference discussion, a copy of which is no doubt in the hands of the IS, the thesis of the WIL—Tasks of the Bolshevik Leninists in Britain—was the only serious attempt to analyse the perspectives in the British labour movement and to outline the basic tactic which should govern our work.
The outcome of this conference is well known to the IS. Three groups, the RSL, MLL and RSP signed the unity agreement, the WIL remained outside. Arising from this conference two major decisions were made by the foundation conference of the Fourth International in relation to Britain, decisions voted on by none other than D. D. Harber, C. L. R. James and F. Maitland! These were:
1) It accepted the “unified” organisation set up in Britain—the RSL-MLL—as the official section of the Fourth and proclaimed that this unified grouping would have the full political, moral and material support of the International.
2) It rejected the application of WIL that it be recognised as an official or even a sympathetic section, attacking WIL for its “unprincipled clique politics” and proclaiming its inevitable degeneration and collapse.
Hardly had the ink dried on the “peace and unity” agreement and the American delegates departed for home when the cracks in the “unified” movement began to appear. These cracks rapidly widened into splits as the result of what we characterised in our document to the foundation conference as “a compromise with sectarianism.”
The Edinburgh RSP broke away. The “lefts” followed suit, setting up the RSL which they proclaimed as the “official section of the 4th in Britain” since the official RSL-MLL, entrists in the Labour Party, had no open status as such. This was followed by a general disintegration of the majority of such provincial contacts or groups as the RSL-MLL retained.
Once again the old situation appertained but, as the result of the mistaken intervention of the IS, it was more chaotic than at any time in the past.
During this period WIL continued its work. That we suffered to a certain extent from the denunciation by the International we will not deny. But the general harmony within our ranks and the absence of any marked personal struggle coupled with a clear cut political perspective gave us a marked superiority in the orientation and organisation of our cadres.
A new phase began in the development of our movement. Whereas the years 1934 to 1939 witnessed a series of interminable splits, superficial reunifications, and splits again, the last year 1939 to 1940 has marked a period of genuine unification within the framework of WIL.
Provincial sections of the various groupings have one by one approached WIL for membership. The RWL had evolved from the official RSL-MLL disbanded, the large majority of its membership unconditionally entering the ranks of the WIL, the “leadership” retiring into the political wilderness. Resulting from the adoption of a resolution on the part of the majority membership of the RSP to enter the ranks of WIL and become its Edinburgh local, the “leadership” of three expelled the entire membership resulting in their entry into our ranks and the isolation of Maitland and Tait from the militant revolutionaries in Edinburgh.
At the same time the membership of WIL rejected the proposals of the Molinier and his agents who were sent here to place before it the policy of this anti-Trotskyist sect.
The present situation finds the British Trotskyist movement in a more favourable situation than at any time in its history but one which is none the less unsatisfactory. The official recognised section of our movement, the RSL-MLL, has at all intents and purposes, collapsed. The comrades of the IS are aware that we are not given to overstatement in the interests of factional struggle. The MLL, a paper organisation within the Labour Party without a vestige of support in the rank and file of the Labour Party, was ignominiously thrown out by the Labour bureaucracy without a ripple. Not a single branch protested to the LP conference at its expulsion in May 1940. The last issue of the Militant appeared in June. It produces no publication, it holds no meetings, it conducts no discussion circles. In name it retains status of the British section of the Fourth International, in fact it has completely collapsed.
In contrast to this the WIL has moved slowly but steadily ahead. We have produced every important document of our international movement and sold them in thousands. The semblance of a genuine national organisation has been formed. Militants from our ranks play a leading role in workers’ struggles in many parts of the country—in the trade union and the shop stewards’ movement, particularly in heavy industry our comrades’ voices are heard at conventions of the working class, a new feature in British Trotskyism. Our publications have appeared regularly and under the most adverse conditions and today they are the accepted Trotskyist publications in Britain.
Simultaneously with this advance in Britain we planted the flag of the Fourth International on Irish soil, having organised and developed the Irish section of the Fourth International which has made significant advances on the basis of the correct application of our tactic of entry into the Irish Labour Party. We hold leading positions on the Dublin constituency council of the Irish Labour Party. The leadership of the Dublin unemployed workers’ movement is in the hands of the Irish section of the Fourth International. Our comrades have been imprisoned on several occasions as the result of their militant leadership of the Irish workers’ struggles. The Catholic Action has been forced to conduct an extensive campaign through the Jesuit controlled paper—the Catholic Standard—against “the communists who are in the Labour Party under the direct instructions of Trotsky.”
The consistent record of work conducted by WIL, the general collapse of the RSL-MLL at present recognised as the official section of the Fourth International in Britain, the fact that the voice of the Fourth International finds expression only through organs of WIL in this country, these underscore our request to official recognition as the British section of our tendency.
For the victory of the Fourth International in Britain.
For the victory of the Fourth International throughout the world.
 We have checked the resolution passed by the WIL pre-conference against a draft. All changes have been identified in the footnotes.
 In the draft it said: “and Harber”.
 We include the words “as ‘critics’ ” from the draft, which we presume were mistakenly omitted in the final resolution.
The draft text read: “The French party’s turn to the Socialist Party and the Oehler split…”
 In the final resolution the following sentence was omitted: “The loose connection between the IS and the British movement facilitated this process.”
 The draft added the “Unified Revolutionary Socialist League-Militant Labour League”.
 In the final resolution the following sentence was omitted: “It was evident that unification would only take place on the basis of a programme of work.”
 Published in this volume.
 The following paragraph was cut: “In Edinburgh, a resolution was adopted in the Revolutionary Socialist Party that ‘the RSP adopts the perspective of WIL and its tactic in building the revolutionary party of the Fourth International in Britain. It therefore terminates its independent existence as the Edinburgh RSP and becomes the Edinburgh local of WIL, accepting the discipline of WIL and operating under its central leadership. Because of the special conditions in the locality, the open propaganda platform now run by the RSP be continued under the control of the local section of WIL.’ ”
The draft read “unfortunate”.
 The draft read “is undoubted”.
 The following paragraph was cut: “The RWL which had evolved from the official RSL-MLL disbanded on the adoption of a resolution, ‘that this organisation dissolves itself and that its members enter the WIL organisation…’ The mover of the motion stated: ‘I am moving this in view of the unification of the Trotskyist forces which is taking place within Workers’ International League (the MLL is disintegrating, some of its best forces having already joined the WIL and others are likely to do so in the immediate future). Nobody suggests that the WIL is perfect nor does this entry mean that individual comrades retract any of the criticisms made in the past of the WIL. All this proposed entry means is that since there is a general and basic agreement on the Transitional programme of the Fourth International by the comrades of the WIL, the WIL today provides the nucleus for what we all hope will be the real British section of the Fourth, the revolutionary party. I am moving this resolution in the spirit that if it is accepted by the comrades, the entry into the WIL will not be made with the aim of building factions, cliques or “capturing the WIL”, but with the honest intention of working together in the loyal spirit of comradeship.’ ”
Constitution of WIL (1942)
[Workers’ International News, Vol. 5 No. 6, September 1942]
Full text available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive: Constitution of Workers' International League
Report of pre-conference, August 1942
By Political Bureau of WIL
[WIL, Internal circular]
The first national meeting of our organisation, our pre-conference, has now been concluded. Discussions were held on all the main political questions, India, industry, the new Constitution and the perspectives. A resolution on military policy was referred to the Internal Bulletin due to the lack of time and to insufficient discussion before adoption. The resolution of our American comrades and their general political ideas on this question was formally adopted by conference to express our complete solidarity with the military policy of the Fourth International.
Now that our position on the main strategical and tactical questions has been formally adopted and the new Constitution comes into force, it is necessary for the branches to tighten up on their work and put into force the new orientation of the organisation.
The pre-conference marks an epoch in the development of the British working class. It marks the “coming of age” of British Trotskyism. In the past the Trotskyist groupings in Britain were more or less compelled to exist as discussion circles without any real contact with the workers. Composed in great part of intellectuals and petit bourgeois elements, their discussions never passed beyond the academic stage. Ours is the first national conference in Britain of Trotskyists in which the delegates and membership were almost exclusively proletarian in composition.
This in itself is a tremendous step forward for our movement and a reflection of the process of development in British society today. The objective situation reveals itself as one tremendously favourable for the development of the revolutionary party. The delegates revealed the determination of our group to face up to the problems posed by history. The problem of transforming as swiftly as possible, the old outlook, habits and ideas, and prepare to transform our group into a party capable of leading the working class to the conquest of power.
The adoption of the new perspectives and the new Constitution formally marks the break with the old past of the group. The change from the group based primarily around study circles, to a propaganda group striving to integrate itself with, and face to, the masses. The delegates and the conference discussion revealed the hope and confidence that our young, weak and untried organisation would grow up to the tasks posed by history.
18 branches were represented by delegates; 4 were unable to attend. Many districts in which there are prospects of forming branches in the immediate future were represented by individual comrades who did not possess delegates’ votes. Most of the industrial areas and cities were represented, but some important gaps are revealed where it becomes necessary immediately to find a basis, notably Manchester and Wales.
The age of the delegates revealed that we are composed in the main of young workers, although a few old seasoned fighters were present as well. The eagerness and anxiety of the delegates to get down to the job was the theme that ran right through the conference.
The whole tendency and outlook of the delegates, which expressed the feeling among the groups, was outward.
All delegates were members of trade unions. Miners, engineers, railwaymen, clothing workers, transport, sheet metal workers, aircraft, woodworkers, carpenters, building trade workers, etc., were represented at the conference. It was revealed that between 90 and 95 percent of the members of the organisation are members of trade unions. The organisation is overwhelmingly proletarian in membership and outlook.
The basic ideas of the conference which have thoroughly rooted themselves among the membership in the past year were accepted by the membership unanimously. The Constitution in which the new orientation of the group is embodied and the perspectives, apart from one or two minor points, were agreed on as the basis of our work in the coming period. The membership endorsed the turn away from the LP tactic and on to the road of building the revolutionary party as an independent force, without any hangovers from the old orientation being revealed. The old garment as cast aside and the new one donned without any attempt to cling to an outmoded tactic.
Conference understood the basic problem as the necessity to prepare and train the cadres for the coming revolution in Britain. Now that this basic idea will form the axis around which the whole of the activity of the group will revolve, it is necessary to strenuously and seriously implement the pre-conference decisions.
1. The education of our cadres, to assimilate theory, understand history, to speak and face up to the problems involved in transforming the group into an organisation which will be capable of conducting agitation among the masses.
2. Work within the factories, trade unions and factory committees on the lines of the discussion and documents to be systematically conducted.
3. A decisive turn towards the workers disillusioned with Stalinism.
4. The fraction in the ILP and the group itself to observe very carefully the developments within the ILP.
The leadership and the membership revealed the utmost confidence that with systematic work on the orientation indicated, it should be possible to double, and more, the membership by the time of the conference in a few months time.
Shortcomings in the organisation were: the production of the Socialist Appeal late in the month, which retarded the work of the organisation in the provinces; the inexperience and youth of a large proportion of the membership; the fact that as yet the theoretical level as revealed by the discussions is not as high among the membership as it should be; the weakness of some sections of the membership in numbers and connection with the workers.
Conference was a test of how far our organisation had developed. It revealed a certain lack of internal preparation on the part of the leadership in relation to documents and theses for discussion. Most of the energy had been expended on the external side of our work and not sufficient time spent on conference preparation. In this sense it revealed that we are not only in the process of forging an organisation but of forging a leadership itself.
The need was revealed for the leadership to systematically educate and raise the level of the membership. In this connection it is absolutely necessary to transform Workers’ International News into a theoretical journal for the education of the members and close contacts, while the internal bulletin could be used for the purpose of educating the members, as well as for the purpose of discussing controversial questions.
The discussion on relations with the IS and the RSL revealed the determination of the membership to end the present ridiculous situation and to achieve a firm, principled, basis for fusion. The discussions with the RSL should serve as the basis for the education and inoculation of the membership against the sectarianism and ultra-leftism of all sects.
In itself, the conference is a water-mark of achievement for the Fourth International in Britain. It revealed the tremendous vistas of growth and work which stretch out in front of us. But the mood of the conference was not one of intoxication at the achievements already made.
The perspective before us is one which, for the first time, the Trotskyists can look forward hopefully to the possibility of playing a role in the great events to come. As far as the broad movement is concerned we have not even yet scratched the surface. But the conference marked the beginning of a new stage. It marked the beginning of the beginning. For the first time Trotskyists saw the historic possibility opening out in front of them, of influencing events not as spectators but as active participants. The delegates realised the immensity of the tasks and the immaturity of their forces to carry out these tasks. But they also saw the transformation of quantity into quality. We face these prospects and the coming events on an entirely different plane to that of two or three years back.
And that was the main achievement of the conference. The delegates left London determined to face up to the scope and limitless opportunities (only limited by the stature and numbers of our own forces) of the work which opens out before us. They went imbued with the faith and confidence that our organisation can form the nucleus that will build the party in the period opening ahead. At the same time, they went back with no false ideas of the relative weak forces at our disposal when compared to the objective tasks. They went back with the determination to do everything to remedy the weaknesses of the group and to make it a fit instrument of the British proletariat.
On balance, the organisation can be well satisfied with the success of the conference, despite the many weaknesses which it revealed. It can be well confident that by “common effort” all shortcomings will be rectified. But despite all weaknesses, the delegates know, our comrades know, that their party, their group, is the party and the factor in Britain which will transform the situation to the favour of the working class.
For the immediate attention of all locals
To implement conference decisions immediately it is necessary to prepare the group for the next step forward.
1. Locals should immediately elect delegates to form the DCs in the following districts: Scotland, Yorkshire, Lancs., Midlands, London. DCs in the provincial centres should be convened for the second week-end in each month, should elect officials and immediate notification and contact should be made with the centre.
2. Thorough discussions on perspectives should be undertaken, a review of local activity undertaken, and the local work brought into line with the decisions of the conference.
3. To facilitate the work of the Political Bureau and the Central Committee in training the membership locally, the first and third weeks of each month should be given entirely to local business and group activity. On the other weeks, a political discussion should be undertaken by the locals on the main political problems facing the workers, on the leading articles in our press, or on the letters of the Political Bureau when and as these are circulated for discussion.
4. The Socialist Appeal must be used even more vigorously than in the past as a national organiser.
Note: Minutes of the CC and the PB will not be circulated except to members of these bodies. To maintain the maximum contact between the locals a fortnightly report will be sent out from the centre to replace the old practice of circulating CC minutes.
Perspectives and tasks
[Original draft document, winter 1942]
The meeting of the national conference this year is a suitable time to check up on the ideas and perspectives adopted at the last conference and to modify or alter them in the light of the experience of the last twelve months, if that is necessary. The developments of the last period if anything have reinforced and given added weight to the conclusions embodied in our document Preparing for power. Our general perspectives remain fundamentally unaltered. There is no necessity then to repeat the basic ideas developed and adopted as the policy of the party.
Since last year the military position of British imperialism has completely changed. In the Pacific the onrush of Japanese imperialism has been checked and stemmed. In Europe the resistance of the Soviet Union has weakened and undermined the power of German imperialism. For two years the Nazi war machine has been battering itself to pieces in the vain endeavour to destroy the Soviet Union. The elite of the German troops lie buried on the plains of Russia. And meanwhile the flower of Soviet youth and a great part of the industrial wealth of the Soviet Union has been destroyed. The mutual destruction of these two powers suits the interests of British imperialism perfectly. For two years the British imperialists have had the opportunity of preparing their rearming on a tremendous scale, while their losses in equipment and manpower have been relatively small. As a result, far from facing the peril of imminent destruction the imperialists now face the prospect of victory over the Axis.
But what is important to note is that the changed position of British imperialism is not due mainly to her own efforts but to those of her “Allies”. The changed prospects are due to the efforts of the Soviet Union and to the staggering armaments programme of American imperialism.
Thus the rosy prospects of British imperialism are somewhat illusory. It is thanks to her position as a base from which the United States can come to grips in a death-grapple with her most formidable competitor and rival that on the surface British capitalism’s position as a world power has been strengthened and preserved. In fact this has been a means of concealing the stark reality of the decline and decay of British imperialism as a world power.
American imperialism has ruthlessly stripped the British capitalists of their foreign investments and grabbed strategic economic and political positions within the British dominions and colonies. Even in Europe the American bourgeoisie are manoeuvring for position so that Britain will not have the lion’s share even there. The decline of British imperialism is concealed somewhat by the huge shipments of food and munitions under the lend-lease agreement to Britain by the American capitalists. But once this huge subsidy is withdrawn the position of the British bourgeoisie will become really serious. It is on this international background that political life has developed in Britain. The main line of development has proceeded on the lines sketched out in the perspectives. There has been a further growth of the radicalisation and discontent of the masses. This has proceeded apace despite the military victories which have been obtained in this period by the ruling class. The radicalisation has affected nearly all the strata of the population. The victories of the Common Wealth at the bye-elections have been a symptom of this process. Further illustration of this process has been the production by the ruling class of the Beveridge report as a means of harnessing and side-tracking the discontent of the workers with promises of “social “security” after the war. Even this measure has been regarded as too “revolutionary” by the decisive sections of the British capitalists who realise only too well that they will have a difficult job of surviving American competition after the war and are preparing the greatest attack on the standard of living which the masses have experienced for the past century.
Even more striking as a means of gauging the changes of consciousness among the masses has been the widespread scepticism and disbelief in the efficacy of the scheme as a means of ameliorating their lot with which the plan has been greeted, especially within the ranks of the working class. This has indicated the maturity and development of working class consciousness in the last quarter century and provides a favourable background to the development of the revolutionary party of the working class. Even a complete and decisive military victory for British imperialism in the next period cannot prevent tremendous revolutionary convulsions among the masses.
The situation which is rapidly developing in Ireland where the masses are moving left in a terrific wave is but a pale reflection of the process that will develop in Britain at a later stage. In Ireland, with a predominantly agricultural population, the Labour Party, the most left party in the political arena, has developed from a tiny force into a major factor of the situation. In Dublin they have won the majority of the population to their banner. Even in backward and reactionary Ulster the Orange workers are gravitating towards socialism. In the case of Ireland this development has taken place because of the steep fall in the standard of living of the population, due mainly to the deliberate economic measures adopted by Britain to exert pressure on Eire. A similar economic pressure will be exerted by American imperialism on Britain, once they have defeated the Axis. Thus the pressure of America will be one of the main levers of the revolutionisation of Britain. Except that if we wish to have a parallel with Eire it is to the developments in Dublin we would have to look rather than Eire as a whole. Britain with its rich proletarian tradition and its proletarian majority of the population far more swiftly and far more intensely will move towards the left under the impact of development of events both abroad and home.
Meanwhile developments during the course of the war within Britain are an indication of the events which are yet to come. Under the pressure of the masses the first dress rehearsal of how the Labour Party is going to react has taken place. Definite hints of the splitting away of the right wing have been given as was forecasted. The revolt of the majority of the Labour MPs on certain issues such as the Beveridge plan, in which they voted against the coalition, is another. Inevitably the LP will be driven into opposition at the first serious crisis, when an active mass movement has developed. The coalition will be smashed under the pressure of the Labour workers. Meanwhile the decisions of the last Labour conference do not in the least invalidate these conclusions. The shameful Vansittart resolution and the defeat of the resolution asking for the ending of the electoral truce did not in the least reflect the feelings of the rank and file Labour workers. They merely indicate how far the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour bureaucracy have degenerated and separated themselves from the masses. Possibly even in the coming year the LP might be compelled to end the coalition. Whether the coalition will be maintained or not does not depend in the least on the vote recorded at Westminster but on the movements of the class struggle in the next period. The inactivity and lifelessness of the LP organisations has continued over the country as a whole. But in some areas a definite revival of the LP is to be observed. The continuation of the truce will further stifle and kill the activity of the local Labour organisations. Only at a later stage will the LP revive, and form a fruitful ground for activity. At the present time the hopelessness of basing all activity within the LP has been completely confirmed. Nevertheless the most striking feature of the situation is the critical attitude of big sections of the Labour workers towards the leadership. This scepticism among the workers organised in the trade unions and the LP is an important capital for revolutionary socialism, and has had further reinforcement by the antics of the Labour leaders in the past 12 months. Of course the moment the masses swing forward the Labour leaders will be compelled to thrust forward their left face and will even use revolutionary phrases in order to keep control of the movement. It is virtually certain that then the broad masses will swing behind them. But the critical attitude and the suspicion of the policy of the Labour leaders will remain firmly fixed at the back of their minds. At the first signs of a failure to turn words into deeds they will look elsewhere for leadership. Hidden for the moment are some very nasty shocks and surprises for the Labour bureaucracy in the movement and ideas of the workers.
The first big wave of enthusiasm for communism which embraced millions of the workers after the entry of the Soviet Union into the war has now subsided. The CP in Britain had temporarily received a rich harvest in sympathy and support as a direct consequence of this mood among the masses. But the wholesale and vicious anti-working class activity of the Stalinists has had its effect. The strike-breaking and cynical betrayals of the interests of the workers wherever conflicts have broken out between the workers and the employers have aroused antagonism and hatred towards the Stalinists by most of the workers involved in such disputes. This flies so much in the face of tradition of class solidarity of the British workers that it has produced a violent reaction against Stalinism wherever workers have come in contact with it. The CP has definitely lost the support of tens of thousands of worker-militants, the natural leaders and fighters of the working class. Not only that, dozens and hundreds of the best elements of the CP refusing to stomach their vile policy have been expelled, driven out or simply dropped out of the CP. Even in their strongholds, South Wales and the Clydeside, especially the latter, the CP is losing ground. For a time the Red Clydeside tolerated the sell-out, out of their tradition of loyalty and their class instinct of wishing to support the Soviet Union. But now among the best sections of the workers the CP is falling to pieces. According to a document issued by the CP the sales of literature and dues collected have fallen tremendously in comparison with other areas. The dissolution of the Comintern has been the last straw and CP speakers attempting to explain it away outside factory gates on the Clyde have been received with jeers and insults from the workers.
So strong has been the reaction against the Stalinist blacklegs that the Daily Worker and the CP have had to tone down their attack on the workers. The Daily Worker in dealing with strikes no longer hysterically denounces the worker but writes against the strikes almost as “objectively” as the Daily Mail. This to prevent a complete loss of support among the workers. The CP has grown from the ranks of the more backward sections of the workers, among a section of the petit-bourgeoisie and even from formerly entirely non-political areas. The best elements are alienated by the support for the Tory candidates at the bye-elections and other phenomena.
Nevertheless the process does not develop in a simple fashion. The CP has lost heavily in influence in the last year. But it still remains as a strong force and on the basis of mass upsurge may once again increase its influence especially on the less conscious elements of the workers, and in those areas where the workers have not seen the Stalinist policy in action, in direct conflict with the workers at elections and during strikes. But the opening of a mass movement will pose tremendous difficulties for the leadership even if the present policy is “modified” under the influence of events. If the alliance with the Soviet Union is continued the CP will have to carry on the present policy despite the results. This opens up the prospects of serious clashes between the membership and the leadership. From the ex-members of the CP and the best elements who remain we can expect to make big gains.
It is not yet clear whether the subsidies from the Kremlin will continue to be sent or the funds will be cut off, through the agreement between Stalin and Anglo-American imperialism. If the funds are cut off it will cripple the CP. But even if not, the CP will undergo big tests in the coming period which will splinter it to pieces.
Independent Labour Party
The last twelve months have seen a steady growth in membership and support for the ILP. Big increases in membership can be observed. But already the centrist or rather left-reformist leadership is preparing to sell out to the reformists. This will immediately open up contradictions with the left workers in its own ranks. The perspective of growth of the revolutionary left will be further enhanced and reinforced by the influx of left workers from the Labour Party and outside attracted to the ILP as a left force. Our fraction within the ILP while it has achieved good results is still very weak. Not sufficient broad agitation around concrete issues has been systematically developed. The issues of internationalism and the attitude towards the Labour masses must be utilised as the basis of our activity among the ILPers. Strides have been made but a tightening up of the work will be necessary.
Industry and the unions
The key work of our party lies within industry and the unions at the present time. Events of the past 12 months have indicated the process taking place among the working class. After years of quiet the basic section of the workers are beginning to stir. Strikes among the miners, transport, railwaymen, engineers, shipping, etc., have taken place. The unions have received an enormous influx of members bringing the number of organised workers to the highest recorded in British history except for the peak year 1920. There is not a basic sector of industry where the mood of the workers is not turning towards the left. The ferment within the ranks of the advanced militants in industry, and the desire to co-ordinate the activities of the fighting elements against the attack of the bosses, taken in conjunction with the necessity to combat Stalinist treachery and the sabotage and indifference of the trade union bureaucracy, has led to the formation of the new organisation of shop stewards and militants. Similar in many respects to the Clyde workers’ committee, which was set up for like reasons in the last war, the present organisation—while possessing many weaknesses and facing obstacles that the Clyde committee never had—nevertheless this council is on an entirely higher plane. The level of consciousness of the guiding layer is far above that of the workers who set up the Clyde workers’ committee. The last 25 years of experience have lifted the movement to an entirely higher level. The movement though weak in its initial stages is looking towards a national orientation rather than limiting it to only one industry and one part of the country. We are already playing a leading role in this movement and by developing correct perspectives and [with] correct work should succeed in winning over to our banner the best industrial militants, who will be attracted to the militant programme of this organisation throughout the country in the coming period. These are the natural fighters and leaders of the working class who are selected on the basis of the actual struggle in the workshops and wield enormous influence among the workers. With a correct policy on our part they can through their actual experience draw the logical political conclusions and find their way into the ranks of the revolutionary party. These workers are of the finest revolutionary material and from them should come perhaps the biggest influx of members, certainly the most valuable portion in the coming period.
The general strategical orientation of the organisation has been borne out by the experience of the past 12 months. Modest but important gains have been recorded for the organisation and we have made steady if slow progress. We have been established as a definite tendency within the ranks of the labour movement. The period that opens up is one of sharp turns and sharp breaks in the situation. In the industrial as well as the political sphere a period of storms and crises looms ahead. The sharp breaks and crises in the situation must not take us unawares. Despite the strides which we have undoubtedly made the organisation is still very weak and shaky. Our trained cadres are still few and inexperienced. The process of building the cadres and building the party must be accomplished simultaneously. Twelve months’ work and twelve months’ experience indicates the necessity to continue on the path which has been mapped out at the last national conference.
Report on ILP work to the International Secretariat
[Original document, presumably April 1935]
International Secretariat – International Communist League
We desire to bring to your notice the state of affairs now prevailing in the Bolshevik-Leninist fraction in the ILP, known as the “Marxist Group”.
Present position in the ILP
Since the 1934 annual conference the decline in the membership and influence of the ILP has continued steadily. The ILP has lost what little influence it had amongst the workers and ILP branches have become little groups averaging 4 to 12 active members whose main contact with the outside world consists in selling the New Leader, the party organ. Financially, the position of the party is even more desperate than before and it is only saved from bankruptcy by donations and loans from bourgeois and petty bourgeois sympathisers and members.
How has this development of the ILP reacted on the political consciousness of its members?
A year ago the then secret Bolshevik-Leninist fraction in the ILP had a little under thirty members, almost all active. All these were in London, where some ten branches supported our line at the 1934 winter divisional conference (which, by the way, was held in January, before most of the comrades of the Minority of the old Communist League had entered the party and before the fraction had been organised). At the 1934 annual conference held at Easter of last year, 20 branches voted for the Fourth International.
Today the Marxist Group has a number of sympathetic groups in the provinces, and a paper membership of about 70 in London, of whom between 30 and 40 are active. The support obtained for our principles at the 1935 winter divisional conference was not substantially greater than was gained last year. At the 1935 annual conference, which has just taken place, the vote for the Fourth International was so insignificant that no count was taken; comrades who were present reckon it at not less than 6 and not more than 10. On the question of the relation to the Labour Party, the vote was also counted, but our support is estimated as being between 20 and 30 votes. The number of delegates at his conference was 110 .
Since the entry of the Minority of the old Communist League into the ILP not one old member of the party has been won over to our position in the London division, all our support having come either from new members (whom, in most cases, we had converted to Bolshevik-Leninism before they joined the ILP), or from old ILPers who had, to a greater or lesser extent, adopted our position before we had entered—in most cases owing to the propaganda carried on by the old Communist League.
With regard to the internal position of the group of Bolshevik-Leninists, the position is far worse today that it was a year ago. A dangerous spread of centrist tendencies is to be observed within the group itself. This is of course due to the influence of the centrist environment, and has been accentuated by the fact that many of the old ILP comrades who have linked up with the Minority of the old Communist League since the latter entered the ILP have never been more than left centrists, who set a sentimental loyalty to the ILP “their party” above the principle of Bolshevik-Leninism. These comrades have come to us because they look upon our movement as the only way of saving the ILP. This tendency is manifested in a number of ways:
1) Making a fetish of doing ILP work and of “loyalty” to the ILP leadership and constitution. Naturally all Bolshevik-Leninists working in the ILP must expect to do a certain amount of ILP work (which mainly consists in selling the New Leader), also the constitution of the party must not be broken in such a way as to render expulsion possible—but some of the leading comrades of the Marxist Group carry this to the point where they are in danger of placing loyalty to the ILP higher than Bolshevik-Leninist principles. As an example of this, recently two South African comrades said in private discussion with comrade Johns, a member of the committee of the Marxist Group, that they thought that under certain circumstances the Labour League of Youth (Youth organisation of the Labour Party) might be found to be a better field for our work than the ILP. At the next meeting of the Holborn Branch of the ILP (of which both comrade Johns and the South African comrades are members), comrade Johns, in the absence of the South African comrades, accused them of disloyalty to the ILP, inasmuch as they thought the Labour League of Youth a better organisation than the ILP, and on these grounds moved their expulsion from the branch and the party. Certain of our comrades managed to get this matter postponed for a time so that the comrades in question should have an opportunity for defending themselves.
2) Lack of concrete perspectives. No discussion of our perspectives for our work in the ILP has been held since the formation on the Marxist Group; it appears to be taken for granted by the leadership of the group that so long as the ILP exists so long must Bolshevik-Leninists continue to work inside it, to the exclusion of all work in other parties (such work, however fruitful the results, would of course be disloyalty to the ILP). The membership form which must be signed by all comrades wishing to join the Marxist Group begins by saying: “In becoming a member of the Marxist Group in No. 6 division, I recognise the necessity for a British revolutionary party, such as is not existing today, and I believe that the ILP can be converted from its present centrist position to a revolutionary line”. The confession of faith contained in the part of the quotation which we have underlined still remains the official policy of the Marxist Group, despite growing doubts on the part of certain of the rank and file. Attempts to start a discussion on this question have been passed over by the leadership of the group, usually on the plea of “lack of time, owing to the necessity of discussing more important questions”.
3) Organisational degeneration of the Marxist Group itself. Internally, the position of the group of Bolshevik-Leninists in this country is far worse than it was a year ago; a year ago the fraction was organised on the basis of local groups, which met every week and received reports from the committee, which also met weekly. Communications from the International Secretariat were discussed at committee meetings, and discussed among all members, with the exception of one or two who were considered not yet thoroughly reliable.
On the organisation of the wider open fraction (the Marxist Group) it was decided that until all members of the wider group were won over to our full position the inner Bolshevik-Leninist fraction should still function. This decision has never been carried into effect, and the inner fraction has now been liquidated in the outer one (Marxist Group)—with the result that there now exists no machinery by which the average member of the fraction (however reliable he may be politically) can be informed of communications from the IS. An attempt has recently been made to form a secret inner fraction within the Marxist Group, for this purpose of controlling policy and discussing the IS correspondence. Unfortunately, however, this attempt has been made by a small clique of the leadership on a basis of personal preference and/or ILP work done. At the first meeting which was called with this end in view, there were invited a number of members of the Marxist Group who were by no means yet fully won over to our principled position. The meeting was largely abortive—as a number of comrades walked out: some as a protest against the manner in which the meeting had been called, and others (the unreliable elements just mentioned), because they were opposed on principle to relations with any body outside the ILP. A second meeting has since been held, and we believe that this resulted in the formation of a small clique of perhaps half a dozen, which designs to guide the policy of the Marxist Group and maintain relations with the IS. On this we have little further information: a number of the oldest members of the group, who were known to be politically reliable, were not informed of this meeting, and one of them, who came along by chance (as the meeting was held in the private house of comrade) was asked to leave before the meeting began, while its purpose was concealed from him.
Attendances at the ordinary Marxist Group meetings continue to decline.
Such, comrades, is, in briefest outline, the position in the ILP and the Bolshevik-Leninist group working there in with its left centrist fellow-travellers; the unhealthy developments described above flow from the whole situation, in which a small group of Bolshevik-Leninists finds itself isolated in a centrist party, poor in working class contacts, and on the membership of which they make no apparent impression. The psychological pressure exerted by this environment upon our cadres cannot be overestimated, and it is no accident that most of the comrades who were in the leadership when the Minority of the old Communist League entered the ILP have withdrawn either wholly or partly from work in that party. Two of these comrades, (comrades, Kirby and Harber—both of whom attended the last Plenum of the IS), are now working in the Labour Party and Socialist League, where they have formed a Bolshevik-Leninist group. They both left the ILP individually, since they felt that they could work there no longer, and are now working for Bolshevik-Leninist principles in a new environment. These comrades now consider that such individual resignation is a tactical error, and carried to its logical conclusion might lead to the dislocation of the Bolshevik-Leninist forces in this country.
We considered it our duty to bring the above facts to your notice, and to warn you against accepting at its face value information sent by cliques of comrades, and to ask for your guidance in the present difficult situation. Naturally, the signatories of the present letter realise the fundamental necessity of keeping intact the scanty Bolshevik-Leninist forces in this country, and have no intention of taking any action detrimental to the principled unity of these.
Please write to us at the following [enclosed] address:
With communist greetings,
A.B. Doncaster—Member of ILP and Marxist Group.
E. Grant—Member of ILP and Marxist Group.
R. Porteons—Member of ILP and Marxist Group. I endorse the statement of facts contained in this letter so far as they refer to recent events but make reservations with regard to the theoretical presentation of them.
Stuart Kirby—Member of Labour Party and Socialist League and of Bolshevik-Leninist fraction therein.
D.D. Harber—Member of Labour Party and Socialist League and of Bolshevik-Leninist fraction therein.
S. Frost—Except the last two paragraphs.
All the comrades signing this letter are not acquainted with all the facts given, as some of them have only joined the ILP within recent months; all, however, are in agreement as far as the facts bearing on the present situation are concerned.
[We would like to thank Ian Hunter for making this letter available.]
 This internal report to the International Secretariat of the International Communist League of April 1935—signed amongst others by Ted Grant—described the sorry state of the early groupings of the British left opposition, such as the Marxist Group in the ILP, and advocated the reorientation of Trotskyists towards entry in the Labour Party.
 For clarity, we have expanded the different abbreviations used in the original letter to signify Bolshevik-Leninist.
 Corrected in handwriting on the original to read 153.
Clear out Hitler’s agents!
An exposure of Trotskyist disruption being organised in Britain
By W. Wainwright
[Pamphlet, Communist Party of Great Britain, August 1942]
This text by William Wainwright is one of the best examples of the Stalinist School of falsification and slander directed against Trotskyism. The instruction that Trotskyists “should be treated as you would treat a Nazi” or “treat him as you would treat an open Nazi” was launched in the middle of the war, as an incitement to murder any Trotskyist or indeed any militant of the ILP.
Clear them out!
There is a group of people in Britain masquerading as socialists in order to cover up their fascist activities.
The members of this group are very active. And dangerous.
They go among the factories, shipyards and coalfields, in the Labour, trade union and co-operative organisations. They try to mislead the workers with cunning deception and lies. They hide their black aims with “red” talk. They sow doubt, suspicion and confusion, retard production and try to undermine the people’s will to victory.
They are called Trotskyists.
You’ve heard of the fifth column. The Trotskyists are their allies and agents in the ranks of the working class.
They are a greater menace than enemy paratroops. Because they seem to talk the language of workers, wear similar clothes, and get themselves jobs in Britain’s factories, shipyards and pits.
The people of the world accuse the Trotskyists of these crimes against humanity:
1918—Attempt to assassinate Lenin.
1935—Attempt to assassinate Stalin.
1921—Organised spying for Germany in Soviet Union.
1936—Contacts with Hess. Plot to take advantage of Soviet-German war, overthrow government, seize power and give Ukraine to Germany and Eastern territories to Japan in return for services rendered.
Fought against Popular Front government.
Worked to destroy Franco-Soviet pact.
Accepted Nazi funds. Trotskyist leader Doriot now openly helping Nazis in France.
Staged armed uprising against Republican government at critical point in Spanish war against fascism. Opened sections of the front to fascists.
Worked against Anglo-Soviet pact before the war. Supported Chamberlain’s Munich policy. Call for violent overthrow of Stalin and Soviet State. Aim to sabotage war production in Britain and hold up second front.
The Home Guard has been taught a quick way to deal with enemy paratroops and spies.
You must train yourself to round up these other, more cunning enemies, on whom Hitler depends to do his work for him in Britain.
This book is a simple training manual. It will explain to you the tactics of the strange war that Hitler is waging in your factory, organisation and home. It is a war of politics and sabotage, the counter-part of the war of tanks, planes and guns.
This happened in Moscow 1937
Scene. The Supreme Court of the USSR. Radek, the Trotskyist, is in the dock. Vyshinsky, the Public Prosecutor, is cross-examining him.
Vyshinsky: What questions were raised in Trotsky’s letter to you?
Radek: The victory of fascism in Germany. The growth of Japanese aggression. The inevitability of these countries waging war against the USSR. The inevitable defeat of the USSR. The necessity of the bloc [the Trotskyist group—Ed.] if it came into power, to make concessions.
Vyshinsky: Excuse me, please. Inevitable defeat: how did Trotsky and you picture that? And what was your and Trotsky’s attitude towards defeat?
Radek: The attitude towards defeat was entirely positive because it was stated that this would create the conditions for the accession to power of the bloc, and it even stated more, that it was in our interest to hasten war.
Vyshinsky: Hence you were interested in hastening war and it was to your interest that the USSR should be defeated in this war? How was this put in Trotsky’s letter?
Radek: Defeat is inevitable, and it will create the conditions for our accession to power, therefore, we were interested in hastening the war.
(Verbatim official report of the trial of Radek)
This man was a Trotskyist. Men like him are working in this country today.
These men are enemies
What is a Trotskyist? Trotsky was a Russian who gathered around him an unscrupulous gang of traitors to organise spying, sabotage, wrecking and assassination in the Soviet Union.
They came together after the workers took power in Russia and had cleared out the capitalists.
They wormed their way into important army positions, working class organisations, even government posts. They plotted with the Nazis to hand over large tracts of their country once they had weakened it sufficiently to make its defeat quite certain.
In the event of war, they undertook to open the gates to the enemy.
Like Quisling in Norway, Laval and Doriot in France, they were promised positions in a Nazi puppet government in return for services rendered.
They did a great deal of damage in Russia before they were caught. But their plot was unearthed. They were brought to trial. The guilty were executed or put in prison.
The whole world listened incredulously to the story that was unfolded at the Moscow trials.
It does not seem quite so strange today.
Do you remember Madrid and Barcelona, where the Trotskyists gave assistance to General Franco? Do you remember what happened when Belgium and Holland were invaded, when fifth columnists, who had hidden their real characters before, opened fire from the windows of their houses on their neighbours in the streets below? Remember France, where Doriot, chief Trotskyist, welcomed the Nazis with open arms, and is one of their most important men today?
It is time that Britain learned the lesson.
The Trotskyists want you to think they are advocates of a type of revolutionary political thought.
They are nothing of the kind. They have nothing in common with any organisation of the working class.
Trotsky’s men are Hitler’s men.
They must be cleared out of every working class organisation in the country.
The Trotskyist plan
Trotskyists oppose and hate the leaders of Russia. They want to see Russia defeated and Hitler victorious. They want to weaken Britain, Russia’s ally.
But they do not say what they are after. They thrive only if they successfully deceive.
They know that British people are tolerant, easy-going and ready to give everyone except an obvious fascist a hearing.
They therefore use every opportunity to put forward cunning arguments and propaganda, to try to lead the people down the road of defeat.
If you examine what they say and write, you will find that it all boils down to these six aims:
1. Hold up supplies of arms to Russia.
2. Delay and sabotage the second front.
3. Hold up British production.
4. Undermine the Anglo-Soviet alliance.
5. Destroy the confidence of the people and Forces in Britain’s ability to win.
6. Create conditions that will lead to a pro-Nazi government in order to do a deal with Hitler.
If this plan were entirely successful, Hitler would win the war.
Even if only a tiny part of it were achieved, it would cost the lives of thousands of British workers in and out of uniform.
That is why you must equip yourself with the knowledge that will help you to pierce the Trotskyist deceptions, and expose them in their true colours.
Let us test some of their arguments, and see where they would lead the people.
“The Red Army has lost its morale and is therefore unable to resist the Nazi armies…”
“Stalin has sapped the strength of the Red Army by removing and executing over 90 percent of the highest and most qualified commanders…” (From Trotskyist papers)
These extracts come from the Trotskyist papers, and were spread by their speakers during the first months of the Nazi attack against Russia.
What was the purpose of these Nazi lies?
The Trotskyists hoped that people would think: “What’s the use of sending arms to Russia? It will be all over before they get there. If they do arrive, the arms will fall into enemy hands.”
Who else was trying to play this game?
Hitler, for one. Do you remember his boasts that Moscow would fall “before winter sets in”? Do you remember how the Nazis tried to get the world to believe that “Timoshenko’s army groups are in headlong flight,” and that “Russia as a military power is finished”? Do you remember how Hitler’s friends in Britain gave the Red Army ten days, then six weeks, then six months to live?
They all had the same idea: to dishearten the British people and to delay the arrival of reinforcements on the Eastern front.
These arguments were made to look very stupid by the Red Army’s heroic and magnificent fight.
But lies work well until they are found out—and then it may be too late.
“ILP opposes arms for Russia”
“Speaking at an ILP conference in Glasgow, Mr. John McGovern: ‘The conference voted against a resolution moved by the Parkhead branch pledging it to assure the supply of all arms and equipment needed by the USSR.’ ” (Daily Herald, February 2 1942)
Mr. John McGovern, a leader of the Independent Labour Party, presided at the conference reported in this cutting. This organisation is riddled with Trotskyists, whose activities dominate it from top to bottom.
Why did they take this decision?
They cannot say: “Because we want to see Russia defeated.” They have to cover up their intentions.
They say: “We agree to send arms to Russia—but only under workers’ control.”
Russia is a working class state. If Hitler were to win, the workers in control in Russia would be overthrown, and fascism installed instead.
The decision of this ILP conference means that those who were present pledged themselves to try to stop tanks, guns, planes and every other kind of war material going from Britain to its ally bearing the brunt of the struggle.
Hidden behind their slogan: “workers’ control for Britain” is the Trotskyist aim to smash workers’ control in Russia.
Which is what Hitler would pay them a fortune for—if they were successful.
The second front
“We don’t want a boss class army on the continent.”
“It will liberate Europe from its present tyranny but will only establish a new tyranny.” (From Trotskyist papers and speeches)
Every week the second front is delayed is worth more than a fortune to Hitler: it is worth tens of divisions of men, hundreds of tanks and planes, thousands of guns.
That is why the Trotskyists and all Hitler’s other friends in Britain are so busy peddling their poison against the second front.
While Hitler is hurrying in Russia and Egypt, they are organising a delaying action for him in Britain.
If the Trotskyists went about saying “We want Hitler to win,” they wouldn’t get very far with their propaganda.
So they wave a red flag and put their case in another way.
They would like you to believe that there is no difference between Churchill and Hitler. That British troops will carry out the same brutal atrocities in Europe as the Nazis. And that Stalin, Timoshenko and the other Soviet leaders, who have called for the second front, are partners in a plot to install a new kind of oppression in Europe.
For all these reasons, the Trotskyists say, you must prevent a British invasion of the continent.
Which means: let Hitler go on fighting his enemies one by one.
Do you remember Colonel Moore-Brabazon and Captain Margesson?
They were thrown out of the government by public pressure because they fought against the plan for a second front.
When Margesson went, Mr. James Maxton, a leader of the Independent Labour Party protested and defended him: “I have never seen anything wrong with the conduct of Captain Margesson in doing his job,” he said. (Parliament, February 24 1942)
Maxton and his partners do not want a second front. They don’t want to fight fascism at all. “Man’s struggle should be a struggle of the intellect,” he told an audience in Glasgow (December 18 1941). “The struggle that is wanted in our day is not the struggle that takes us on to the battlefield,” he said.
They won’t fight fascism—but they’d jump at the chance of sending men to fight against Russia.
In 1938, an international organisation* of which Mr. Fenner Brockway was general secretary, called on Trotskyists all over the world to assist the “forces in Soviet Russia which are struggling against the Stalinist bureaucracy.”
Today, Doriot, French Trotskyist, has organised a detachment of troops to fight Russia.
Mr. Fenner Brockway’s organisation tries to do the next best thing: to delay, the opening of a second front in Europe.
“Why increase the bosses’ profits?”
“Strike for higher wages.” (From Trotskyist papers and speeches.)
The more arms we get, the stronger we will be to smash the Nazis.
The less arms we have, the better Hitler likes it.
So the Trotskyists try their hardest to hold up the production of arms.
Again they use the trick of waving a red flag. They talk about the boss’s profits. They try to take the heart out of the workers. “Why slave when you are only piling up money for the boss?” they say.
They want you to go slow, not to give your best work, to be misled by their talk of strikes and the boss’s profits into sabotaging our troops and the Red Army.
They want you to do in Britain, what the French, Dutch, Polish and Norwegian workers are doing on the continent.
But whereas Europe’s workers are holding up supplies for the Nazis, the Trotskyists want you to hold up the weapons that will smash the Nazis.
Strikes are organised against Hitler in France. The Trotskyists want to cancel out these efforts against Hitler by organising strikes in Britain.
Europe’s workers are fighting and dying to help Britain to get ahead in the race to produce more arms. The Trotskyists want to offset all their courageous activity.
Arms, not arguments, is what our soldiers and the Red Army men need. Soviet workers don’t worry if profits have been made on a tank sent from capitalist Britain.
To them and to our lads in Egypt and to the men who will invade the continent, a tank is a tank, and the more they get, the better they like it.
Who else wants to hold up British production, besides Hitler and his pro-Nazi friends?
Some coal owners would like to hold back good seams of coal until after the war. Some shipbuilding magnates are against expanding their industry because the cost of upkeep after the war would cut down their profits. Some steel manufacturers want to keep output down because scarcity raises prices. They also are worried about their post-war profits.
The Trotskyists, by their cunning talk, are helping these profiteers.
“Even if you did conclude a pact with Russia, it would, in my estimation, give no real aid.” (Hansard, August 24 1939)
This cutting comes from the official report of a debate in Parliament. The speaker was Mr. John McGovern of the Independent Labour Party.
Nor is the Trotskyist opposition to an alliance with Russia new.
Mr. McGovern and his associates were foremost in this country in their opposition to the peace front with the Soviet Union which could have prevented war ever from starting. Instead, they backed Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement and building up Hitler.
“Do the government believe that in the event of a pact being successful the Russian government are willing to place their forces behind this country in any struggle which may take place?” asked Mr. McGovern. (Parliament, June 26 1939)
“The Labour Party”—he protested—“are trying to foist Russia on to this country.” (July 5 1939).
Today, Britain has at last formed an alliance with the Soviet Union. An alliance which will mean the salvation of humanity.
But the Trotskyists go on with their undermining work.
They cast suspicion on the leaders of the Soviet Union. They utter the same kind of slanders that pour out of the Nazi lie factories in Berlin against Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. They spread foul rumours of a possible British or Soviet separate peace with Hitler. They play on the people’s impatience for the second front by sneers that we intend to fight to the last Russian, while at the same time they do everything they can to stop the second front from being opened.
Who else, in addition to Hitler, intensely dislikes our associations with Russia?
There’s Major Cazalet, former member of the Friends of National Spain, an organisation which collected cash for fascist General Franco.
There’s Lord Phillimore, formerly chairman of the same organisation and collector of funds for fascist General Mannerheim in Finland.
These are the people, and there are others like them, whose activities receive the support of the Trotskyists and the ILP.
The Trotskyists aim to undermine the confidence of the people and the Forces in Britain’s ability to win.
They go around whispering: “What are we fighting for?”
Mr. Maxton, too, told an audience in Glasgow:
“You will bleed yourselves white in this war, and at the end, you will be so sick, you won’t care whether you have won or lost.”
Every Nazi victory is used by them as an opportunity to run down Britain, to attack the government, to dishearten the people, and to paint a picture of the impossibility of facing up to the fascists.
They want you to believe that the fight is hopeless, that the whole government is rotten, that Germany has a monopoly of military experts.
In the debate on Libya, the ILP members lined up with those who were trying to bring about the government’s downfall.
The British people are fighting for dear life against the most cunning, brutal and treacherous enemy of mankind. The Nazis, wherever they have conquered, have destroyed the trade unions, the cooperatives, the labour and communist parties, all organisations of the people and have instituted a rule of terror against the population.
We are fighting, not only to liberate the peoples of Europe and to enable them to restore all their working class organisations, but to defend our own trade unions, our own organisations that have been built up by years of sacrifice and struggle.
Victory means the possibility of going forward to create those conditions that will lead to socialism.
Defeat means the end of working class organisations, and goodbye to all ideas of socialism for generations.
That is why the Trotskyites do everything they can to dampen down the peoples’ enthusiasm, resolution and will to win, by their lies about the aims for which this war is being fought.
A deal with Hitler
British workers want to get the best possible output of war materials. They want to see this country fighting the total war of a free people in arms. They are quite naturally impatient at the slow way Britain is getting into her stride, angry at the waste they see, bitter at the mistakes that take place.
They look at Russia, and see that socialism is a more efficient way of running a country than is capitalism.
This is when the Trotskyist enemy of Russia comes round with his poison.
“You want to get efficiency in industry?” he asks. “You will never do it under capitalism,” he says. “First you must abolish capitalism, and get workers’ control, socialism.”
Why do they say this?
Not because they want socialism. All they want to do is to stop everyone pulling together in the fight against fascism. They want to disrupt the unity of the British people. They want the workers to fight Churchill instead of Hitler.
Would this bring socialism? Of course not. It would give fascism its chance.
Hitler would be able to carry on his attack on Russia without fear of a second front in the West; and after weakening Russia, he would then be able to turn on Britain.
Instead of socialism, British workers would get Nazism.
That’s the plan of the Trotskyists.
They know that to defeat Hitler, every section of the people, Conservative, Liberal, Labour and Communist workers, middle-class and capitalist class must fight as allies in a united struggle against their common enemy.
“We want socialism now.” (Trotskyist papers)
They know that Hitler won his victories in the past because of the divisions inside the countries he attacked.
They aim to sow those divisions in Britain, to prevent the national unity of the people from presenting a solid front against fascism.
What kind of a government would they like instead of the present one? Mr. John McGovern, of the ILP, gave us a clue:
“If I had to choose between Hitler and the Prime Minister, I should not know exactly on which the choice had to fall.” (Official report of Parliamentary debates, July 1 1942)
This is the man who waves a red flag and calls himself a “socialist.” He had no difficulty in making up his mind to support Chamberlain when he was backing Hitler.
He is against Churchill: Churchill signed the Anglo-Soviet alliance. He backed Chamberlain: Chamberlain opposed this alliance and built up Hitler.
What a Record!
When Chamberlain signed the pact with Hitler at Munich, Mr. McGovern said: “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (Hansard, October 6 1938). Mr. Chamberlain’s policy of “appeasement,” he described as “the road of peace.” (September 3 1939).
His partner, Mr. Maxton, was equally emphatic with his praise for the Munich pact:
“I congratulate the Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain) on the work he did in these three weeks.” (October 4 1938)
“On an occasion like this I do not wish to say a controversial word, but simply to agree with the step which has now been taken.” (September 28 1938)
Mr. Maxton defended Hitler’s aggression with:
“What objections can you have to Herr Hitler wanting to defend the people of his own race and of his own nationality wherever they may be?” (October 4 1938)
Their whole record is one of support for the most reactionary pro-fascist forces in Britain and for the Nazis abroad.
“We were ridiculed when we stood for peace when Abyssinia was conquered…When Czechoslovakia was over-run we wanted peace, and we were called Chamberlain’s allies and Hitler’s allies,” said Mr. McGovern. (Hansard, October 3 1939)
“I was in favour, as Hon. Members know, of non-intervention on the Abyssinian issue,” said Mr. Maxton. (Hansard, April 14 1937)
When Spain was invaded by Mussolini and Hitler, the Trotskyists and the ILP were attacking the Spanish peoples’ government and backing the organisation of fascist spies and Trotskyists working for General Franco behind the republican lines, which covered up its real aim by calling itself the “Party of Marxist Unity” (POUM).
Mr. McGovern summed-up his policy:
“If we say to Mussolini, ‘You must withdraw these troops, and if you do not we will use our power to see that supplies are cut off; and we are prepared to use every pressure against you,’ then Mussolini will be driven into an enlarged war. Am I going to advocate that the people of Britain must go into Spain and fight on behalf of the Spanish government? Am I to say that they are to go into China and fight for the Chinese? Am I to say they are to go into Abyssinia and fight on behalf of the Abyssinians? The test is: ‘Am I prepared to go myself?’ and I say ‘No.’ ” (October 21 1937)
At the time when it was still possible to stop fascism’s march across Europe by presenting the firm united front of all peoples, the ILP, like the “appeasers”, raised the bogey of war to try to frighten Britain into passivity and inaction.
Today we are paying the price.
Guernica has been followed by Coventry, Lidice and the other towns and villages of the countries that have been plunged into war by the pro-Nazis who covered up their aims by shouting the slogan of “peace.”
Puddings and shirts
There’s an old saying: “Never judge a pudding by the shirt you boil it in.” Also: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Apply these sayings to the Trotskyists.
The pudding is their so-called policy. The shirt is a red one, to cover up what’s inside the pudding.
Those Spanish workers who ate the Trotskyist pudding have found out that it was poisoned alright. So also have the workers of France.
It is an old, old trick that the Trotskyists use.
Hitler and Goebbels use it. They call their party the National Socialist Workers’ Party. That’s what “Nazi” stands for. It is neither national nor socialist. German workers are finding out the lie today.
Spanish Trotskyists called their organisation the Party of Marxist Unity. It worked for the fascists.
French Trotskyists called theirs the People’s Party. It sold the people to Hitler.
British Trotskyists call themselves “militant socialists” and other titles of a similar character. They are neither militant nor socialist, but the very reverse. The Independent Labour Party has ceased to be independent or labour, but carries out a policy which Hitler couldn’t better.
So don’t be taken in by the red flag, the red tie, the socialist sounding speeches and articles.
Ask yourself: “Where will this lead me? Whom will it help?” and you’ll be able to see through the Trotskyist trickery and deception.
Don’t say to yourself: “ It’s a good thing there aren’t many of them in this country. We don’t have to worry.”
It is true that the Trotskyists are few in number. But they started in a small way in other countries too. They were not rooted out in time, and were able to deceive many people, who discovered their treachery when it was too late.
In France, the Trotskyists are led by Jacques Doriot, who was thrown out of the Communist Party which discovered in time what manner of man he was.
He opposed the People’s Front in France. His argument was: “I don’t want workers to associate with capitalists.” He slandered the Soviet Union, and was in the front ranks of the attack against the Communist Party. When the People’s Front government suppressed the fascist party, Doriot formed a new party which the fascists joined so that they could continue their work.
Now he is completely unmasked. He is Hitler’s best assistant. He runs a paper for the Nazis and leads the fight against the brave people who are resisting the fascist enemy, handing them over to the fascist executioners.
The Trotskyists disrupted French unity against fascism: now they support unity with fascism against the people.
In Spain, “The main enemy of the people in the rearguard are the Trotskyists: they are the bitterest enemies of our cause, the direct agents of Franco in our ranks,” said Jose Diaz, Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party (Report to Central Committee, 1937)
The Trotskyist organisation was called the POUM. Of them, the Valencia Socialist paper wrote:
“Spies and traitors! When will we have done away with them or when will they have done away with us? Are they spies in the service of a party, or is it a party in the service of spies?” (October 24 1937)
“The POUM is the refuge of spies…the most dangerous acts of sabotage have been entrusted to two spies who are members of the POUM. The most dangerous of those who have been arrested belong to this party.”
Mr. Maxton, however, supported this organisation.
“The POUM…is a political party of the same viewpoint as my own party in this country.” (House of Commons, January 19 1937)
And Mr. Fenner Brockway handed Gorkin, leader of the POUM, the sum of £100 at a meeting in Brussels in 1936, “to be placed at the service of the POUM in their struggle.” (Official report, published in London at the ILP headquarters).
Under the slogans of “workers’ control”, the POUM succeeded in hampering production for the Spanish fight against fascism. Under the slogan of “collectivise the peasantry”, they sent armed bands to shoot peasants who did not agree with communal farming, with the object—in which they largely succeeded—of preventing the harvesting of crops and the cultivation of food. At a critical moment for the republican government, they staged an armed uprising in Barcelona.
The Trotskyists and the ILP in Britain still boast of their support for the POUM, and are defending the fifth columnist activities of its leader, Gorkin, who has now made his way to Mexico.
The Trotskyists pretend they support Russia but disagree with Stalin’s leadership. This is only another cover to hide their aims.
Right from the first days of the Russian revolution the Trotskyists have tried to bring about its downfall. Before the Russian workers took power, the Trotskyists tried to lead them to defeat.
The Independent Labour Party has conducted a consistent campaign of lies and attacks against the Soviet Union. Philip Snowden, one of its former leaders and partner of Ramsay MacDonald, wrote some venomous attacks against the young Soviet Union in the Labour Leader (the forerunner of the New Leader). When the editor protested, she soon found herself out of the editorial chair. They protested when the people of Menshevik Georgia, which they called an “ILP state”, and which plotted with the interventionists to restore capitalism in Russia, drove out the traitors and joined the Soviet Union. They protested when the Trotskyists and other fascists were brought to trial in Moscow.
Now the British Trotskyists are trying to carry on the work the Russian Trotskyists left undone, and are actively engaged in a campaign designed to bamboozle the British people.
Don’t under-estimate the danger because of their small numbers.
Be on the alert for the Trotskyist disruptors.
These people have not the slightest right to be regarded as workers with an honest point of view.
They should be treated as you would treat a Nazi.
Clear them out of every working class organisation and position.
What to do with the Trotskyists
First—remember that the Trotskyists are no longer part of the working class movement.
Second—expose every Trotskyist you come into contact with. Show other people where his ideas are leading. Treat him as you would treat an open Nazi.
Third—fight against every Trotskyist who has got himself into a position of authority, either in your trade union branch, local Labour Party or co-op. Expose him and see that he is turned out.
Many workers, trade unionists and Labour Party members, unthinkingly express views which sound Trotskyist. Don’t confuse these honest but muddled opinions with Trotskyism.
The real Trotskyist is a bitter enemy of Stalin and the other trusted leaders of the Soviet Union. That’s his fingerprint, whatever else he may say. And that’s how you can spot him. As for the people who are genuinely confused, your job is to explain. Explain. Explain. Get them to read this booklet. If they haven’t time, explain what is in it to them.
Factory workers: be on your guard
Clear out the bosses’ agents!!
Under the guise of a struggle against “Trotskyism” the leadership of the so-called “Communist” Party have instructed their members in the factories to launch a campaign of lies and slander against leading shop stewards and prominent trade unionists.
The object of this campaign is twofold:
1. It seeks to undermine the strong rank and file trade union movement which has been built up in the factories during the last few years.
2. It is the “all clear” signal to reactionary employers to victimise and frame-up active trade unionists.
You must know the truth
“Communist” Party policy today fully supports the handful of profiteers who run this war in their own interests. Those who carry out that policy in the factories are doing the bosses’ dirty work. They are bosses’ men who must be exposed and cleared out.
When our brothers in the mining industry were on strike for better conditions against the tight-fisted tyranny of the coal owners it was the “Communist” Party which urged its members to blackleg and scab.
The “Communist” Party alleges that supporters of the Socialist Appeal are agents of Hitler. This is a lie. We defy any member of the Communist Party to defend this lying statement in open debate. The Socialist Appeal stands for the complete destruction of fascism whether it be of the Nazi, Mosley or any other variety. It advocates as the first step towards a genuine struggle against Hitlerism the expropriation of the millionaire armament kings and the nationalisation of the war industries under workers’ control.
Here are the real facts
Fact No. 1—Communist Party policy helped Hitler conquer Europe.
When Hitler rode roughshod over the continent, the “Communist” Party accused Britain and France of starting the war.
“The war did not develop out of the British and French desire to liberate humanity from fascism, but to protect their Empires against German claims, and further was started by Great Britain and France and not by Germany. Therefore the Soviet Union considers itself justified in the first place in making an agreement with Germany to prevent itself being involved in an imperialist war.” (Moscow paper Trud, January 21 1941)
“Above all the conclusion must be drawn that Germany’s actions in the present instance were forced on it…Britain and France wanted to undermine Germany’s military positions and fundamentally to improve their own positions. Germany was not desirous of falling into a worse position and was compelled to adopt counter measures.” (Daily Worker, April 12 1940)
Fact No. 2—The Communist Party wanted peace with Hitler.
On October 4th 1939 Hitler was offering peace.
“We are against the continuance of this war. We demand that negotiations be immediately opened for the establishment of peace in Europe.” (Communist Party special statement, Daily Worker, October 4 1939)
Fact No. 3—The Communist Party policy helped Hitler invade the Soviet Union by confusing British workers.
When Hitler massed his Panzer divisions on the Eastern front, this is what the “Communist” Party told the British worker the day before he marched:
“Even before the arrival of Sir Stafford Cripps, the British ambassador in USSR and particularly after his arrival, British and in general the foreign press, began an intense dissemination of rumours on the ‘proximity of war between USSR and Germany’…Despite the obvious nonsensical character of these rumours, responsible Moscow quarters have still found it necessary, in view of these rumours, to authorise Tass to state that these rumours constitute clumsily concocted propaganda by forces hostile to USSR and to Germany and interested in the further extension and unleashing of war.” (World News and Views, June 21 1941)
Fact No. 4—Before June 22 1941 the Communist Party carried out Hitler’s dirty work in Britain—today they do Churchill’s dirty work.
They tell you that Churchill is a great statesman but this is what they said on October 11 1940:
“Churchill is chiefly known to the workers as the breaker of the general strike, the Home Secretary who sent troops against striking miners and railwaymen, and the fomentation of intervention against the struggling Soviet republic.
“Let the Labour leaders fawn on him as they will. The rank and file of the labour movement do not trust this man. No new world or reconstruction will come from him. His words long ago lost their charm. There are perhaps many Tories who already realise that they have not only chosen a leader, but also a liability.” (Daily Worker, Editorial, October 11 1940)
Lies and confusion
That is all the “Communist” Party has to offer the British workers.
When Stalin has a pact with Hitler they support Hitler and oppose Churchill.
When Stalin has a pact with Churchill they support Churchill and oppose Hitler.
Their policy is completely dependent upon the pacts that Stalin signs and not upon the needs of the British or international working class.
The Socialist Appeal continues Lenin’s policy and opposes both Churchill and Hitler. It fights for working class power as the only real answer to fascism.
Fellow workers—do not be deceived by the lies and slanders of the Communist Party. Urge a debate in your trade union branch between a representative of the Socialist Appeal and the Daily Worker—between Workers’ International League and the Communist Party. This is the best way to expose the false political position of these people. Like Hitler their policy is the bigger the lie the more people will believe it, but once brought face to face with the truth they have no answer.
Thesis of Indian Fourth Internationalists
The following document is a section of a thesis adopted in the latter part of 1941 by the formation committee of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India as the programme on which all Marxist revolutionists could form a single revolutionary party. Together with certain other groups, the original committee has now constituted the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India as an adherent of the Fourth International. The party is now centring its agitation on the central slogan of the constituent assembly.
Together with the Ceylon Socialist Party (the Lanka Sama Samaja Party) and a recently-formed organisation in Burma, our Indian comrades have established the Federation of Bolshevik-Leninist Parties of Burma, Ceylon and India, for the revolutionary destiny of these three peoples is closely linked together.
The native princes
The revolt of 1857 represented the last attempt of the old feudal ruling class of India to throw off the British yoke. This revolt, which despite its reactionary leadership laid bare the depth of mass discontent and unrest, alarmed the British rulers, and led to a radical change in policy in India. Seeking for bases of social and political support, the British abandoned the policy of annexing the Indian states within British India, instead guaranteeing the remnants of the feudal rulers their privileged and parasitic positions in innumerable petty principalities, buttressing their power and protecting them against the masses, and receiving in return the unqualified support of these elements for the British rule. The princes of the Indian states, maintained at the cost of a chaotic multiplication of administrative units, are today only the corrupt and dependent tools of British imperialism, and the feudatory states, checker-boarding all India as they do, are no more than a vast network of fortresses erected by the British in their own defence. The variety of the states and jurisdiction of the feudal princes defies a generalised description but they bolster alike the reactionary policies of imperialism in India. The despotism and misgovernment practiced by the great majority of these rulers in their territories have created and perpetuated conditions of backwardness extreme even in India, including the most primitive forms of feudalism and slavery itself. Their collective interests are represented by the Chamber of Princes, instituted in 1921, which is the most reactionary political body in India.
The most solid supporters of British rule in India, after the princes, are the landlords. In fact the majority of the princes are no more themselves than glorified landlords, playing the same parasitic role as the landlords of British India. The landlords of India have a record of medieval oppression, of rack-renting and usury, and of unbridled gangsterism over a disarmed peasantry, which has made them the most hated exploiters in India. The rapid extension of landlordism in modern times through the development of intermediary and new parasitic classes on the peasantry, has not only increased the numbers of those who receive land rents, but firmly linked their interests with those of the Indian capitalist class, by ties of investment and mortgage. The political role of the landlords has always been one of complete subservience to British imperialism, as well as the greatest obstacle in the way of agricultural development which demands a thorough-going democratic revolution in the agrarian field and the liquidation of landlordism in all its forms.
The second half of the nineteenth century saw the rise of an Indian capitalist class in Bombay and other industrial centres. The Indian bourgeoisie of the early period, conscious of its own weakness and dependent position in economy, offered no challenge whatever to British rule. But the deep economic conflict between their own interests and those of the twentieth century, [forced them] to utilize the national political movement to strengthen their bargaining power against British imperialism.
The Indian bourgeoisie
The bourgeoisie, in the absence of any competing class and especially of an independent proletarian movement, assumed complete leadership of the national political movement through its party, the Indian National Congress. The bourgeois leadership of the movement was clearly demonstrated in 1905, by the choice of the economic boycott of foreign goods as the method of struggle against the partition of Bengal. The aims of the bourgeoisie were defined during this period as the attainment of “colonial self-government within the Empire” as junior partners of the imperialists. They abandoned the struggle and adopted a policy of co-operation with the British after the grant of the Morley-Minto reforms, their own aims being satisfied for the moment.
The last years following the First World War, and the years which immediately followed it, were marked by the development, for the first time since 1857, of a mass struggle on a national scale against imperialism based on the discontent and unrest of the peasantry and the working class. This discontent was especially marked in Bombay, where the wave of working class strikes was on a scale hitherto unknown in India, and reached its highest point in 1920 for which year the number of strikes reached the gigantic total of 1.5 million. The Montague-Chemsford reforms were designed to meet this rising threat by buying off the bourgeois leadership, and they succeeded to an extent that the section of the bourgeoisie who wanted whole-hearted co-operation with the government seceded from the Congress to form the Liberal Federation (1918). But the growth of the mass movement compelled the Congress bourgeoisie either to enter the struggle or be isolated from the masses. Launching under its own banner the passive resistance movement, and later the mass civil disobedience movement of 1921-22, the Congress entered the struggle but only to betray it from the inside.
The mass movement which, despite its timid and unwilling leadership, had attained the undeniable character of a mass revolt against the British Raj, was abruptly called off when at its height by the bourgeois leader Gandhi, and a period of demoralisation followed for the masses. The reactionary and treacherous character of the bourgeois leadership was shown clearly in the Bardoli resolution of 1922, which condemned the no-tax campaign of the peasantry and insisted on the continuation of rent payment to the landlords, assuring the zamindars (landlords) that the Congress “had no intention of attacking their legal rights.” The bourgeoisie thus demonstrated its reactionary attitude toward the land question in which lies the main driving force to revolution in India.
With the worsening conditions of the late 1920s, the mass struggle developed again at a rising tempo, and was again led to defeat by the Congress (1930-34). The aims of the new struggle were limited by Gandhi beforehand to the celebrated 11 points which represented exclusively the most urgent demands of the Indian bourgeoisie. Nevertheless the movement developed in 1930 far beyond the limits laid down for it by the Congress, with rising strikes, powerful mass demonstrations, the Chittagong Armoury raid, and the risings at Peshawar and Sholapur. Gandhi declared openly to the Viceroy that he was fighting as much against the rising forms of revolt as against the British imperialists. The aim of the bourgeoisie was henceforward to secure concessions from imperialism at the price of betraying the mass struggle in which they saw a real and growing threat to themselves. The Gandhi-Irwin settlement was a settlement against the mass movement, and paved the way for a terrific repression which fell on the movement during its ebb in 1932-34.
Since 1934 Gandhi and the leaders of the Congress have had as their chief aim that of preventing the renewal of a mass struggle against imperialism, while using their leadership of the national movement as a lever to secure the concessions they hope to obtain from imperialism. They see in the rising forces of revolt, and especially in the emergence of the working class as a political force, a threat to their own bases of exploitation, and are consequently following an increasingly reactionary policy. Reorganising the party administration so as to secure to the big bourgeoisie the unassailable position of leadership (1934), they transferred the centre of activities to the parliamentary field and to working the new Constitution in such a way as to secure the maximum benefits to the bourgeoisie, until the intransigence of the British parliament and the Indian government in the war situation and the withdrawal of many of the political concessions of provincial autonomy again forced the Congress into opposition (1939). The Congress bourgeoisie then engaged in a restricted campaign of individual “non-violent” civil disobedience with narrowly defined bourgeois aims and under the dictatorial control of Gandhi himself. By this move they hoped to prevent the development of a serious mass struggle against imperialism, the leadership of which will be bound to pass into other hands.
The main instrument whereby the Indian bourgeoisie seeks to maintain control over the national movement is the Indian National Congress, the classic party of the Indian capitalist class, seeking as it does the support of the petty bourgeoisie and if possible of the workers, for its own aims. Despite the fact that under these conditions revolutionary and semi-revolutionary elements still remain within the fold of the Congress, despite its mass membership (five millions in 1939), and despite the demagogic programmatic pronouncements (constituent assembly, agrarian reform) which the Congress has repeatedly made, the direction of its policy remains exclusively in the hands of the bourgeoisie as also the control of the party organisation, as was dramatically proved at Tripuri and after. The Indian National Congress in its social composition, its organisation, and above all in its political leadership can be compared to the Kuomintang, which led the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 to its betrayal and defeat.
The characterisation of the Indian National Congress as a multi-class party, as the “national united front,” or as “a platform rather than a party,” is a flagrant deception and calculated only to hand over to the bourgeoisie in advance the leadership of the coming struggle, and so make its betrayal and defeat a foregone conclusion.
The more open reactionary interests of the Indian bourgeoisie find expression in many organisations which exist side by side with the Congress. Thus the Liberal Federation (1918) represents those bourgeois elements who co-operate openly with the imperialists. The sectional interests of the propertied classes are represented by various communal organisations, notably the Moslem League (1905) and the Hindu Maha Sabaha (1925) which are dominated by large landlords and bourgeois interests and pursue a reactionary policy in all social and economic issues, deriving a measure of mass support by an appeal to the religious and communal sentiments of the backward masses.
The petty-bourgeois intelligentsia
Because of their position of dependence on the capitalist class and in the absence of a real challenge to their leadership from the proletariat, the various elements of the urban petty bourgeoisie and of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia have always played a satellite role to the bourgeoisie. The radicalisation of the petty bourgeoisie under imperialism found its first and strongest expression in the prolonged terrorist movement in Bengal and elsewhere, the failure of which, despite the heroism of its protagonists, demonstrated finally the utter inability of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia to find an independent solution of its own problems.
Today the urban petty bourgeoisie find its political reflection mainly in the various organisations within the fold of, or under the influence of the Indian National Congress, such as the Forward Bloc, the Congress Socialist Party, the Radical Democratic Party of M. N. Roy, etc.
Within the Congress, the petty-bourgeois leaders have repeatedly lent themselves to be used by the bourgeoisie as a defensive colouration before the masses, bridging with their radical phrases and irresponsible demagogy the gap between the reactionary Congress leadership and the hopes and aspirations of the masses. Thus the demagogy of Bose and Nehru, as well as the “socialist” phrases of M. N. Roy and the Congress Socialist Party, to say nothing of the “Marxism” of the national united fronters of the Communist Party of India, have in turn served the Ghandian leaders as a smoke screen for their own reactionary manoeuvres.
The humiliating capitulation of the Congress Socialist Party to the Congress leadership, the conversion of M. N. Roy and his Radical Democrats to imperialist war-mongering, and the departure of Subhas Chandra Bose from the Indian scene, are symptoms of the diminishing political role of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, which however theatrically it may posture before the masses in normal times, exposes in times of growing crisis its political bankruptcy, and exists only to be utilised by the bourgeoisie in its deception of the masses.
The peasantry comprises the vast majority of the Indian population (70 percent). The stagnation and deterioration of agriculture, the increasing land hunger, the exactions of the government, the extension of parasitic landlordism, the increasing load of rural debt and the consequent expropriation of the cultivators are together inevitably driving the peasantry on to the revolutionary road. Peasant unrest, leading frequently to actual risings—Santal rebellion of 1855, Deccan riots of 1875—have been a recurring motif in Indian history. In the last two decades, and especially since the world economic crisis (1929) the peasant movement has been on the rise and has taken on a more and more radical character.
It is precisely the depth and scope of the agrarian crisis that places the revolution against imperialism on the order of the day, contributing to it the driving force and the sweep which are necessary to accomplish the overthrow of the ruling power. Nevertheless the agrarian revolution requires the leadership of another class to raise the struggle to the level of a national revolution. The isolation and the scattered character of the peasant economy, the historical and political backwardness of the rural masses, the lack of inner cohesion within the peasantry and the aims of its various strata, all combine to make it impossible for the peasantry to play an independent role in the coming revolution.
The invasion of moneyed interests has sharply accelerated the disintegrating tendencies within the peasantry. The creation of a vast army of landless peasants, sharecroppers and wage-labourers on the land has immensely complicated the agrarian problem and rendered necessary revolutionary measures of the most far-reaching character. The basic antagonism between landlord and peasant has not been reduced by the entry of finance capital into agriculture, since this did not bring with it any change for the better in farming methods or in the system of land tenure. On the contrary, the landlord-peasant antagonism has been given a sharper emphasis by the extension of parasitic claims on the land and the overthrow of landlordism by the transference of the land to the cultivator remains the primary task of the agrarian revolution. Nevertheless, this basic antagonism has been supplemented by a new one, which is reflected in the growth of an agricultural proletariat in the strict sense of the word. Beside this, the invasion of finance capital has made the problems of mortgage and of rural debt more pressing in some parts of India than in others, and these facts taken together will probably give to the agrarian revolution, at least in some areas, an anti-capitalist character at a very early stage.
Leadership of the peasantry
The leadership of the revolution, which the peasantry cannot provide for itself, can come only from an urban class. But the Indian bourgeoisie cannot possibly provide this leadership, since in the first place it is itself reactionary through and through on the land question, sharing as it does so largely in the parasitic exploitation of the peasantry. Above all, the bourgeoisie, on account of its inherent weakness and its dependence on imperialism, is destined to play a counter-revolutionary role in the coming struggle for power.
The leadership of the peasantry in the petty-bourgeois democratic agrarian revolution that is immediately posed can therefore come only from the industrial proletariat, and an alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is a fundamental prerequisite of the Indian revolution. This alliance cannot be conceived in the form of a “workers’ and peasants’ party” or of a “democratic dictatorship” in the revolution. The revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and peasantry can mean only proletarian leadership of the peasant struggle and, in case of revolutionary victory, the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship with the support of the peasantry.
The peasant movement
The growth of the peasant movement in recent times has led to the formation of various mass organisations among the peasantry, among which the most important are the Kisan Sanghs (peasant committees) which are loosely linked up in a district, provincial, and finally on an all-India scale in the All-India Kisan Sabha, whose membership in 1939 was 800,000. These associations, whose precise character varies from district to district, are in general today under the control and influence of petty-bourgeois intelligentsia elements who, as pointed out before, cannot follow a class policy independent of the bourgeois, although the growing mass pressure upon them is reflected in the more sharply radical demands they are forced to put forward. There is no means of deciding in advance the exact role of the Kisan Sanghs in the coming revolution. This will be determined by the correlation of forces within them, which in turn will depend largely on the consciousness and militancy of the lower layers of the peasantry and the measure of control they exercise in the Kisan Sanghs. But it can be stated beforehand, on the basis of the experience of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, that the existence of Kisan Sanghs on however wide a scale does not offer a substitute for the separate organisations of poor peasants and agricultural labourers in rural soviets, under the leadership of the urban working class. Only the soviets can assure that the agrarian revolution will be carried out in a thorough-going manner.
The working class
The industrial proletariat is the product of modern capitalism in India. Its rapid growth in the period since 1914 can be illustrated by a comparison of the Factory Acts statistics for 1914 and 1936:
|No. of factories||No. of workers employed|
The numerical strength of the industrial proletariat can be estimated at five millions, distributed mainly as follows (1935 figures):
(a) Workers in power driven factories (including those of the “Native states”):
|(d) Transport workers:||361,000|
|(e) Plantation workers:||1,000,000|
The Indian working class is chiefly employed in light industry (cotton, jute, etc) but also to some extent in the iron, steel, cement, and coal mining industries. The degree of concentration in industrial establishments is relatively high, owing to the recency of industrial development and the typically modern character of many of the new enterprises. The proletariat holds a position in Indian society which cannot be gauged by its actual size; the true gauge is the vital place it occupies in the economy of the country. The wage rates of the Indian proletariat are among the lowest, the living conditions the most miserable, the hours of work the longest, the factory conditions the worst, the death rate the highest in the civilised world. The fight to remedy these intolerable conditions and to protect themselves against the steadily worsening conditions of exploitation bring the workers directly to the revolutionary struggle against imperialism and the capitalist system, the destruction of which is necessary for their emancipation.
Working class struggles
The record of proletarian struggle in India dates back to the last century, but the movement took on an organised character only in the post-war period. The first great wave of strikes (1918-21) signalled the emergence of the Indian working class as a separate force, and gave to the national political movement during this period a truly revolutionary significance for the first time in its history. In 1920, on the crest of this strike wave, the Indian Trade Union Congress was formed. The second great strike wave of the late twenties, especially in Bombay, showed an immense advance in the working-class movement, marked by its growing awakening to communist ideas. The increasing millions of the workers and the growing influence of the communists caused the trade union movement to be split in two by those leaders who sought the path of collaboration with the bourgeoisie. Thus the reactionary Trade Union Federation was formed in 1929. The policy of the reactionary labour leaders was facilitated by the disastrous “red trade union” policy followed by the Communist Party of India on orders from the Comintern bureaucracy. With the arrest of the communist leaders on a trumped-up charge (the Meerut conspiracy case) and the further splitting of the Trade Union Congress in 1931, the wave of working-class struggle subsided once more. It was [during] this period (1930-31) that the Communist Party of India, which commanded the confidence of the awakening workers, made the grievous political mistake of standing aside from the mass movement which was again assuming revolutionary proportions.
The tendency towards economic recovery commencing in 1936, combined with the mass activities in connection with the election campaign of the Congress, led to a revival in the mass movement which entered once again on a period of rise. The Congress ministries saw a resurgence of the working-class strike movement with the Bengal jute strike (1937) and the Cawnpore textile strike (1938), a resurgence which was arrested only by measures of increased repression introduced by the government since the outbreak of war, but not before the Indian working class had clearly demonstrated its attitude towards the imperialist war, particularly by the mass political anti-war strike in Bombay of 80,000 workers.
The Communist Party of India, which alone in the last two decades could have afforded the Marxist leadership that above all things is needed, made instead a series of irresponsible mistakes, which find their expression in the bureaucratically-conceived policies of the Comintern. In conformity with its false central programmatic aim, the “democratic dictatorship” of the proletariat and the peasantry, the CPI fostered the growth of workers’ and peasants’ parties from 1926 to 1928, at the expense of an independent working-class party. This policy was shelved in 1929 to make way for an ultra-left sectarian policy (in the celebrated third period days of the Comintern) the signal expression of which came in the splitting of the trade union movement by the formation of “red trade unions”. This sectarian policy of the CPI led to its isolation from the mass struggle of 1930-31 and made the bourgeois betrayal of the struggle so much the easier. In the period of ebb which followed (1934) the CPI was illegalised and has remained so since. From 1935 onwards the CPI (again at the behest of the Comintern now openly and flagrantly the tool of the Soviet bureaucracy) reversed its policy once more and held out the hand of collaboration to the bourgeoisie through the policy of the national united front which credited the bourgeoisie with a revolutionary role. The CPI was transformed into a loyal opposition within the Congress, having no policy independent of that organisation, a state of things which continues today.
Mechanically echoing every new slogan advanced by the Comintern to suit the changing policies of the Soviet bureaucrats, the CPI has shown its reactionary character by its attitude towards the imperialist war. With its false theory of national united front, the CPI is making ready to repeat its betrayal of the Chinese revolution by handing over the leadership of the revolutionary struggle to the treacherous bourgeoisie. The Communist Party of India, because of the prestige it seeks to obtain from the Russian revolution and the Soviet Union, is today the most dangerous influence within the working class of India.
Openly preaching collaboration with the bourgeoisie, and today with the British imperialists at war, is the party of M. N. Roy. With a narrowing base within the working class, Roy has turned for a following to the labour bureaucrats supporting the war and to the bourgeoisie itself.
The Congress Socialist Party (1934) has from the beginning followed a policy of utter subservience to the Congress bourgeoisie, and remains today completely without a base within the working class. Surrendering its claim to an independent existence, the CSP has been split wide open by the communists who worked inside it, and is today an empty shell devoid of political substance.
To the left of the Communist Party, disgusted with its bureaucratic leaders and its reactionary policies, there exists a number of small parties and groups, occupying more or less centrist positions. Such are the Bengal Labour Party (Bolshevik Party of India), the Red Flag Communist (Communist Party) led by S. N. Tagore, etc. Without a clear-cut revolutionary policy and without making a decisive break organisationally and politically with the Comintern, these parties and groups are unable to offer the working class the independent leadership it requires. Nevertheless these groups and parties contain many tried fighters and able Marxist theoreticians, who would be invaluable in a revolutionary working-class party.
This party can be only the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, the party of the Fourth International in India, which alone with its revolutionary strategy based on the accumulated experience of history and the theory of permanent revolution in particular, can lead the working class of India to revolutionary victory. This party has still to be built on an all-India scale, though many groups exist already whose fusion in the formation committee of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India has provided the nucleus for its formation.
Despite its subjective weakness in organisation and consciousness, inevitable in a backward country and in the conditions of repression which surround it, the working class is entirely capable of leading the Indian revolution. It is the only class objectively fitted for this role, not only in relation to the Indian situation but in view of the decline of capitalism on a world scale which opens the road to the international proletarian revolution.
The permanent revolution
India faces a historically belated bourgeois-democratic revolution, the main tasks of which are the overthrow of British imperialism, the liquidation of a semi-feudal land system, and the clearing away of feudal remnants in the form of the Indian Native states. But although bourgeois-democratic revolutions occurring in the advanced capitalist countries in previous centuries found leadership in the then rising bourgeoisie, the Indian bourgeoisie appeared on the scene only after the progressive role of the bourgeoisie in the world as a whole has been exhausted and is incapable of providing leadership to the revolution that is unfolding in India.
Connected with and dependent on British capital from the beginning, the Indian bourgeoisie today displays the characteristics of a predominantly compradore bourgeoisie, enjoying at the best the position of a very junior partner in the firm British Imperialism and company. Hence, while they have been prepared to place themselves through the Indian National Congress at the head of the anti-imperialist mass movement for the purpose of utilising it as a bargaining weapon to secure concessions from the imperialists, the bourgeois leaders have restricted the scope of the movement and prevented its development into a revolutionary assault on imperialism. Incapable from the very nature of their position of embarking on a revolutionary struggle to secure their independence, and fearful of such a struggle, the bourgeois leaders have maintained their control over the mass movement only to betray it at every critical juncture.
Secondly, unlike the once revolutionary bourgeoisie of former times which arose in opposition to the feudal landowning class and in constant struggle against it, the Indian bourgeoisie has developed largely from the landowning class itself, and is in addition closely connected with the landlords through mortgages. They are therefore incapable of leading the peasants in the agrarian revolution against landlordism. On the contrary, as is clearly demonstrated by the declared policy and actions of the Congress both during the civil disobedience movements and in the period of the Congress ministries, they are staunch supporters of zamindari interests.
Finally, unlike the bourgeois-democratic revolutions of former times, the revolution in India is unfolding at a time when large concentrations of workers already exist in the country. The industrial proletariat numbering five millions occupies a position of strategic importance in the economy of the country which cannot be measured by its mere numerical strength. It is important to remember, moreover, that a hitherto uncalculated but indubitably very high proportion of these workers is employed in large concerns employing several hundreds of thousands of workers. The high degree of concentration of the Indian proletariat immeasurably advances its class consciousness and organisational strength. It was only in the post-war years that the Indian working class emerged as an organised force on a national scale. But the militant and widespread strike waves of 1918-21 and of 1928-29, which were the precursors of the mass civil disobedience movements of 1920-21 and of 1930-33, testify to the rapidity of the awakening. These workers are in daily conflict not only with the British owners of capital, but also with the native bourgeoisie. Faced by the threat of the working class, the Indian bourgeoisie has grown more conservative and suspicious. With every advance in organisation and consciousness of the workers, the bourgeoisie has drawn nearer to the imperialists and further away from the masses. It is clear that not a single one of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution can be solved under the leadership of the Indian bourgeoisie. Far from leading the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the Indian bourgeoisie will go over to the camp of the imperialists and landlords on the outbreak of the revolution.
The urban petty bourgeoisie, daily becoming declassed and pauperised under imperialism and declining in economic significance, cannot even conceive of playing an independent role in the coming revolution. Since, however, there is no prospect whatever of improving their conditions under imperialism, but on the contrary they are faced with actual pauperisation and ruin, they are forced into the revolutionary road. The peasantry, the largest numerically and the most atomised, backward and oppressed class, is capable of local uprisings and partisan warfare, but requires the leadership of a more advanced and centralised class for this struggle to be elevated to an all-national level. Without such leadership the peasantry alone cannot make a revolution.
The task of such leadership falls in the nature of things on the Indian proletariat, which is the only class capable of leading the toiling masses in the onslaught against imperialism, landlordism and the native princes. The concentration and discipline induced by its very place in capitalist economy, its numerical strength, the sharpness of the class antagonism which daily brings it into conflict with the imperialists who are the main owners of capital in India, its organisation and experience of struggle, and the vital position it occupies in the economy of the country, as also its steadily worsening condition under imperialism, all combine to fit the Indian proletariat for this task.
But the leadership of the working class in the bourgeois-democratic revolution poses before the working class the prospect of seizing the power and, in addition to accomplishing the long overdue bourgeois-democratic tasks, proceeding with its own socialist tasks. And thus the bourgeois-democratic revolution develops uninterruptedly into the proletarian revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the only state form capable of supplanting the dictatorship of the Indian bourgeoisie in India. The realisation of the combined character of the Indian revolution is essential for the planning of the revolutionary strategy of the working class. Should the working class fail in its historic task of seizing the power and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolution will inevitably recede, the bourgeois tasks themselves remain unperformed, and the power will swing back in the end to the imperialists without whom the Indian bourgeoisie cannot maintain itself against the hostile masses. A backward country like India can accomplish its bourgeois-democratic revolution only through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The correctness of this axiom of the theory of permanent revolution is demonstrated by the victorious Russian revolution of October 1917, and it is confirmed on the negative side by the tragic fate of the Chinese revolution of 1925-27.
In India, moreover, where the imperialists are the main owners of capital, the revolutionary assault of the workers against imperialism will bring them into direct and open conflict with the property forms of the imperialists from the moment the struggle enters the openly revolutionary stage. The exigencies of the struggle itself will in the course of the openly revolutionary assault against imperialism demonstrate to the workers the necessity of destroying not only imperialism but the foundations of capitalism itself. Thus, though the Indian revolution will be bourgeois in its immediate aims, the tasks of the proletarian revolution will be posed from the outset.
But the revolution cannot be stabilised even at this stage. The ultimate fate of the revolution in India, as in Russia, will be determined in the arena of the international revolution. Nor will India by its own forces be able to accomplish the task of making the transition to socialism. Not only the backwardness of the country, but also the international division of labour and the interdependence—produced by capitalism itself—of the different parts of world economy, demand that this task of the establishment of socialism can be accomplished only on a world scale. The victorious revolution in India, however, dealing a mortal blow to the oldest and most widespread imperialism in the world will on the one hand produce the most profound crisis in the entire capitalist world and shake world capitalism to its foundations. On the other hand it will inspire and galvanise into action millions of proletarians and colonial slaves the world over and inaugurate a new era of world revolution.
 This is the founding document of the Indian Trotskyist movement, which took place in the winter of 1941. We publish it in this appendix with its original introduction as it was published in Workers’ International News (Vol. 5 Nos. 3&4, 1942) in conjunction with the article by Ted Grant and Andrew Scott The road to India’s freedom.
 The Indian Councils Act of 1909 allowed the election of Indians to the various legislative councils in India for the first time.
 The Government of India Act of 1919 introduced self-governing institutions gradually to India, subject to British rule.
 The agreement between Gandhi and Irwin, signed on March 5 1931, put an end to the Civil Disobedience movement.
 The Santal rebellion was a native rebellion of the Santal people in Eastern India (now Jharkhand) against both the British colonial authority and the corrupt upper caste zamindari system. It lasted from July 1855 to May 1856. The British revenge was ruthless: every village of the Santals was attacked, plundered, their women raped and whipped and their teenagers castrated. In May and June 1875, peasants of Maharastra in some parts of Pune, Satara and Nagar districts revolted against increasing agrarian distress. The Deccan Riots of 1875 targeted conditions of debt peonage (kamiuti) to moneylenders. Peasants rioted to get hold of and destroy the bonds, decrees, and other documents in the possession of the moneylenders.