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.