[Book] Ted Grant Writings: Volume One


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[1] . 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[2] , 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[3] 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[4] , 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.


[1] The document refers to an imminent conference which was postponed.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

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