[Book] Ted Grant Writings: Volume One

Index

Report on ILP work to the International Secretariat[1]

[Original document, presumably April 1935]

International Secretariat – International Communist League

Dear comrades,

We desire to bring to your notice the state of affairs now prevailing in the Bolshevik-Leninist[2] 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[3] .

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.

W.G. Bryce—ILP.

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.]

Notes

[1] 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.

[2] For clarity, we have expanded the different abbreviations used in the original letter to signify Bolshevik-Leninist.

[3] Corrected in handwriting on the original to read 153.