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.