[Book] Ted Grant Writings: Volume One


WIL pre-conference appeal to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International

WIL pre-conference appeal to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International[1]

By Political Bureau of WIL

[Resolution, WIL pre-conference, August 1942]

To the International Secretariat of the Fourth International

Dear comrades,

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[2] 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”[3] 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[4] 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[5]. 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[6], 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[7].

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[8]—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[9] 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[10]. 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[11], 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[12] 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.


[1] We have checked the resolution passed by the WIL pre-conference against a draft. All changes have been identified in the footnotes.

[2] In the draft it said: “and Harber”.

[3] We include the words “as ‘critics’ ” from the draft, which we presume were mistakenly omitted in the final resolution.

[4]The draft text read: “The French party’s turn to the Socialist Party and the Oehler split…”

[5] In the final resolution the following sentence was omitted: “The loose connection between the IS and the British movement facilitated this process.”

[6] The draft added the “Unified Revolutionary Socialist League-Militant Labour League”.

[7] 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.”

[8] Published in this volume.

[9] 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.’ ”

[10]The draft read “unfortunate”.

[11] The draft read “is undoubted”.

[12] 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.’ ”