This document was written by Gerry Healy following protracted discussion of the Central Committee of the Socialist Labour League, of which he was the General Secretary and main theoretical leader. It was intended to provide general guidance for wider discussion in the whole organisation, a kind of scaffolding round the work of constructing new substantial political perspectives. Great lessons can be learned from Healy’s work of clarifying the political questions prior to a conference of the organisation he led, and from his method of building it. Further, the text below is a valuable historical record of a crucial period of the class struggle in Britain.
Special Conference of the Socialist Labour League
December 3rd/4th 1966
British Perspectives (Part 1. Economic)
1. The deepening crisis now facing British Capitalism and the Labour Government of Harold Wilson is bound inseparably to a rapidly maturing international crisis of imperialism. The crisis in Britain will not be understood or resolved in the interests of the working class unless it is seen from this international point of view. We are now entering a stage where the post war boom, which has seen a moderate expansion for imperialism, is drawing to a close and a new stage is opening up which will be dominated by an intensification of the struggle facing the working class, struggles which will decide the future of humanity.
2. The crisis afflicting Britain and the rest of the capitalist world has its origin in the citadel of imperialism, the United States of America. The United States emerged in the post-war world as the major capitalist power, in whose hands responsibility for the future of the whole system in its struggle for survival rested. America was forced, in this period, to provide massive funds for the restoration of European capitalism which had been shattered by the war. “Aid” and military expenditure had to be poured into Europe and the rest of the world in order to provide the basis for any social stability. On the shoulders of American capital also rested the major responsibility for the series of wars against the working class and peasantry in Colonial and ex-Colonial areas, notably in Korea and currently in Vietnam and South East Asia. In addition, capital on a large scale poured out of the States, again principally to Europe seeking profitable investments. In this way major sectors of European industry and finance fell into the hands of American capital, often most advanced sectors of European capital such as motors, electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals etc.
3. These expenditures have proved an impossible strain for the giant of world capitalism. This is the root cause of the present international crisis facing imperialism. In particular they have produced a growing balance of payments deficit for the United States. Not only have the large expenditures on warfare abroad and “aid” payments produced this deficit: the needs of war have pushed up the imports bill and reduced exports so that there has been a continual tendency for the trade surplus, (i.e. the surplus produced on physical exports less physical imports), to shrink. The war in Vietnam is now undoubtedly a major source of growing strain for the US economy. At the same time Johnson cannot simply decide to call off this war. Not only would this produce an immediate crisis in the large sector of the economy which is directly or indirectly dependent upon arms production. More than this: a defeat in South East Asia would strengthen the fighting capacity of the world working class both inside and outside America and destroy the real purpose of the war: to make inroads into Communist China to regain the markets which were lost to imperialism in the post-war world.
4. This balance of payments crisis for the US is directly linked to the crisis in the world monetary system, which, despite the attentions of financiers and statesmen throughout the world, is no nearer solution. In the post 1945 world only two units were acceptable for the settlement of debts between capitalist countries – gold and the dollar. The £ sterling was given limited status as an international currency, largely confined to the British Commonwealth. The dollar owed its privileged position as an international “reserve” currency to the overwhelming position of dominance of US capital and to the guarantee which the American government gave to exchange dollars for gold at the rate of 35 dollars to an ounce of fine gold. The growing external imbalance of the US economy has now thrown these arrangements into crisis. In particular the balance of payments deficits have produced a massive drain of gold away from the States.
In the post-war world the gold reserves of America have fallen by more than half and are now plunging downwards towards what Johnson and his advisors consider to be the absolute safe minimum level of 10 billion dollars. The growing deficits have meant that many countries have acquired large dollar holdings in their reserve which are now reaching dangerously large proportions in relation to the shrinking volume of gold in Fort Knox. As a result there is widespread speculation about the stability of the present dollar price of gold and continual fear that a devaluation of the dollar will occur. Many countries, fearing such a devaluation and also hostile to the privileged position of the dollar which has, in effect, allowed the US to take over large slices of European capital, have, in recent years, undertaken a rapid conversion of their existing dollar holdings into gold. Notable among these has of course been France. France has argued that any reform of the world money system can only proceed on the basis of the abolition of the privileged positions of the dollar and the £. The growing tensions between the capitalist powers and their inability to achieve any agreement about the monetary system or the re-organisation of capitalism are but an indication of the growing contradictions of the imperialist system and further evidence that the productive forces cannot be systematically developed within the confines imposed by the capitalist national state.
5. The American “solution” to this crisis is to attempt to correct her external imbalance and in this way be once more in a strong enough position to put the other capitalist powers, notably France, in their place. But such a “correction” must have profound implications for the rest of imperialism and not least for British capitalism. To correct her deficit the US is being forced to cut down her imports, to intensify her drive for exports, to cut down on her aid programme and reduce wherever possible military expenditure abroad. All these measures will slow down the rate of expansion in the world economy, if not produce an immediate turn down. They will at the same time involve necessarily an intensification of the struggle for world markets: this can already be seen in the case of motors where the problems facing such giants as General Motors in the States is producing a drive by the US firms for increased markets inside Europe which is certain to drive many of the smaller firms to the wall. In the second place the cutback in “aid” from the States must produce an intensification of the crisis in all colonial areas, who will be even less able to make any purchases from the metropolitan countries. This is especially serious for British capitalism which is still heavily dependent upon “underdeveloped” countries for a large slice of its exports. Even on the level of monetary movements the same contradictions are apparent. Interest rates in the United States are now at their highest level for 40 years, despite all the efforts of Johnson to effect some stability. This rise in rates of interest now begins seriously to threaten future capital investment plans of the monopolists. What is involved here is a conflict between banks and industry. The implications of rising U.S. rates of interest are also serious for the rest of the capitalist system; they produce a tendency for rates to rise in all the leading international money markets which intensifies the danger of world slump and recession.
6. The response of the Labour Government to this crisis over the past two years has been determined at every stage by a consideration of the needs of American capitalism. It is in this sense that we can say that Wilson has had no independent economic policy and that he has in no sense been in control of the crisis. This is clearly established in the case of de-valuation of the £. The “defence of the £”, which has been so strenuously undertaken by Callaghan since October 1964 has been directly in response to the needs of Johnson and the American capitalists even more than it has to the City of London and the British bankers. The question of the future of the £, its value in relation to the dollar, and its role in the international monetary system rests much more with Wall Street than it does with Threadneedle Street. After the war, the £, although greatly weakened, and now much less important than the dollar, had to be accorded limited status in the world monetary system. It was, and still is – responsible for the finance of a considerable slice of world trade and payments and could not be dispensed with by the US. This is even more true today. Were the £ to be devalued, it would produce an immediate and deep crisis in the entire monetary system of the world. There is little doubt that the dollar would be unable to survive intact and devaluation would almost certainly be forced on the Americans. In such a situation a disastrous “devaluation cycle” on the pattern of the ‘30’s would almost certainly occur and produce a major slump in the world economy. This is why Johnson has been so keen to see the value of the £ preserved and why aid was poured into London on such a massive scale after October 1964. This does not rule out the possibility of devaluation by the Wilson Government. But such a devaluation would be entirely different from that carried out by Cripps in 1949. It would produce, in present circumstances, a head-on collision with the United States, indicating a major crisis in the entire capitalist world and throwing into the melting pot the future of the Western military and political alliance.
7. The “defence of sterling”, which Wilson has undertaken over the past two years has of course only further impeded any possible recovery in the fortunes of British industry and capital. To preserve the present parity of the £ has involved the most severe credit squeeze since 1955. To correct the balance of payments deficit all growth and modernisation in the economy has been halted and the National Plan thrown overboard. This has involved not only a steep rise in unemployment but a savage cut-back in capital investment on which any possibility of modernisation rests. This is the familiar “stop-go” policy of the Tories, but a policy carried out by a Labour Government in quite different circumstances from that of Selwyn Lloyd and Thorneycroft. This policy of Wilson has intensified the problem facing every exporter; with production cut back as a result of the squeeze, unit costs inevitably tend to rise and export markets become even more difficult to maintain. This is precisely the problem which now faces the car industry. In addition the severe contraction of bank credit has starved industrialists of the funds necessary to finance the export trade or to buy capital equipment for modernisation.
These consequences of the increase in unemployment and cuts in home demand are an accurate indication of the depth of the crisis of British capitalism. A measure of unemployment was seen by sections of the employers to be absolutely necessary in order to weaken the working class, which had built up its expectations and its organisation during the boom. They are in fact unable to clear from their path the obstacles to getting higher production at lower cost. The same contradictions are present in the protest of some sections of the employers, (motors etc.), against overall restrictions on credit. These are necessary as part of the plan to cut down the working class, but within the capitalist framework they prevent investment and expansion deemed necessary for the next phase of “reflation”.
8. The whole of the Labour “Left”, following Cousins, and supported to the full by the Stalinists, place policies before the working class which cover up the sharpness of the crisis. Their policies represent their capitulation to capitalism: the proposals to cut defence spending, devalue the pound, and restrict capital exports are essentially attempts to “rationalise” capitalism. They are put forward in order to prevent the working class from taking the revolutionary path demanded by the crisis. In this way the intensification of the crisis of imperialism provides the conditions for exposure of the bankruptcy of the Stalinists as well as of the Social Democrats. The “productivity” and “high-wage economy” policies put forward by Cousins, Jenkins and the Stalinists are their response to the danger of the working class following the lead of the Socialist Labour League, in the case of the Stalinists quite consciously. These reformists are actually suggesting that imperialism be peacefully wound up. The large income which comes from the transactions of the City of London and the privileged position of the pound sterling are to be quietly given up. When troops are brought back from East of Suez, all the interest and profit accruing from the investments they protect, (which certainly amount to a great deal more than the military expenditure), are to be left to the colonial masses! The supplies of raw materials such as oil guaranteed to British capitalism by the stationing of these troops are to be left to chance. Wilson, who has crawled on his belly to the British capitalists and to the international banks, is presumably going to challenge Wall Street. This petty bourgeois fantasy represents the bankruptcy and the danger to the working class of the work of the Stalinists and the left Social Democrats. It opens up at the same time the urgency of a successful political challenge to these tendencies in order to respond in a Marxist way to the radicalisation of the workers by the present economic crisis.
9. In fact the balance of payments crisis is not what either Wilson or the “left” pretend it is. The external crisis arises in no way because exports are insufficient in value to pay for the required volume of Imports. That is, the crisis cannot be solved simply by measures designed to cut down imports and boost exports. This crisis arises because British capitalists are caught between two insoluble objective difficulties. They need, as capitalists, to overcome the structural weakness built into British industry and economy by its history, and yet the task of “modernisation” is undertaken by Wilson and the employers precisely at a time when the international conditions have reached a point where they act against any such “national” regeneration. On the other hand, there is the organised working class, standing against the industrial and political measures which the capitalists must take in order to cheapen their cost of production.
On the whole British industries are geared to the production of the older types of commodities where demand on a world scale is no longer expanding so rapidly and where the growing crisis in “underdeveloped” markets will add to the problem. The modern “technologically based” industries, so close to Mr. Wilson’s heart, play a relatively minor role in British capitalism compared to her major rivals. Thus over the last few years, although exports and imports have risen at roughly the same pace, there has been a disproportionate rise in importation of advanced types of machinery, of chemicals, steel, machine tools, products associated with the electronics industry and with automation. Many of these goods cannot be produced at home and supplies have to be sought abroad. This is the real balance of payments crisis: British capital cannot earn a sufficient surplus in the increasingly competitive market of the world which is sufficient to pay for imports. Yet without these imports there can be no modernisation of British industry on which increased exports ultimately depend. The intensity and quality of the crisis in Britain is indicated by the fact it now strikes at the heart of the most advanced industries in the country: motors and steel, the former of course being the biggest single export and dollar earner. We are no longer talking of a recession hitting the “backward” or “depressed” industries such a coal, railways, cotton or shipbuilding. In this sense the crisis is quite different from that as recently as 1962/3 when unemployment on a large scale was last felt. It is the quality of the present crisis, reflected in the balance of payments position, which must be pressed home. It is this quality which determines the development of the class struggle. That is, for the capitalists, it is no longer merely a question of simple wage cutting, as to a large extent it was in the ‘30’s. Now what is at issue is the relationship of the employers and the state to the organisations of the working class. The growing tendency for the unions to become integrated into the capitalist state, for all questions of wages to become the concern of the state, is very much a central part of the present crisis. For the capitalists, the need is increasingly to break up the organised resistance of the working class, to atomise it. Only in this way will it be possible to make even the attempt at the basic structural re-organisation of British capital which is so urgently required.
10. The British capitalist class is still deeply divided on the question of entry into the European Common Market as a means of tackling the crisis of British Capital. Tied as they are to the older “backward” markets of the world, many firms see in Europe the chance to modernise and re-equip their ailing industries. On the other hand France is extremely unlikely to allow Britain into Europe with the £ and the Sterling Area enjoying its present privileged position. In this sense the question is once more not one which concerns only the British bourgeoisie. A devaluation of the £ and a winding up of the Sterling Area would be a blow not only to the City of London but would throw the world monetary system into serious dislocation and as we have pointed out above would almost certainly lead to a devaluation of the £. In this regard the question of entry into Europe is quite different than it was in the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s. Then the main drive for Britain’s entry came from the U.S. who, apart from wanting some counter-weight to German and French capital also wished to make better use of the capital which they had invested in British industry, which was only possible on the basis of an enlarged European market. Those in the Labour movement who advocate entry into Europe as a simple “solution” to the present crisis take none of these factors into account. Wilson may well take Britain into Europe; but this would involve sharp conflicts not only with Johnson but with the British working class in the form of a drive in export industries for modernisation and re-capitalisation.
11. In other words, the development of the present international crisis for capitalism increasingly determines more directly the political relationships between the classes. The Socialist Labour League does not simply have an alternative policy to the Stalinists and other reformist tendencies. The crisis, for us, resolves itself, not in advancing a “solution” for it in the manner of the Stalinists. For us a study and examination of the development of the economy is part of the preparation for the building of a new leadership in the working class movement, a leadership which will be able to take full advantage of this maturing crisis in leading the working class forward to the smashing of capitalism and the taking of power.
Gerry Healy, 30 October 1966.
*See Problems of the Fourth International, this site - Ed.
Special Conference of the Socialist Labour League
December 3rd/4th 1966
British Perspectives (Part 2.)
1. We have now had the experience of two years of a Labour government. It is therefore necessary that we make a balance sheet of the experiences of the Socialist Labour League during that time. Everything points in the direction of important class actions directly involving the government during the coming period so that our preparation for the construction of the revolutionary party has to take into account not only the general trends but as far as possible the particular experiences of the movement since October 1964.
The seamen’s strike marked the end of an era of purely trade union industrial action. It pointed the way for political strikes, that is, strikes in which the government would directly confront those on strike. It is important that we understand the qualitative difference which will arise in the political experience of the working class as a result of this change. The aftermath of purely industrial strikes invariably leads to a return to work and in time a superficial loss of interest in the reasons for the dispute. The aftermath of a political strike, since it forces those who participate to think in a political way no matter how limited, inevitably leads to a higher political consciousness when the strike is over. The political strike is characteristic of a pre-revolutionary period, wherein the working class faces problems which can only directly be resolved by taking power. The more political strikes the working class have to endure over the next period, and we are assured that this will at least last 12 months, the higher political understanding not only of those who participate but of those workers who, while they might not be on strike, have similar problems to those who went on strike.
The political strike sharpens enormously the crisis of social democracy, the Labour government and the trade unions. Generally speaking, during the period of the political strike, these organisations
have ceased to function on behalf of their members, even on the smallest reformist issues. The more discontent grows as a result of rising prices, unemployment and a decline in wage earnings, when the trade unions, because of legal reasons, cannot act for those members, the more an enormous vacuum is built up at the base and within the labour movement. Revolutionary Marxists are called upon to theoretically and practically work towards the centre of this problem and not to proceed with the same conception of slow development the characterised the period of inflationary boom.
To many there will at first sight appear to be an enormous contradiction between what they see to be the slow development of our movement and this growing opposition within the ranks of the Labour Party and the trade unions.
Marxist theory is based on the generalised conception of the developing struggle of the working class throughout its history. Whilst it is true that considerable time lags can and do take place in the course of this development, there inevitably comes a time when the working class cannot be contained by promises of the reformist leaders and the door is wide open for the intervention of the Marxists. We believe that this is the situation which now confronts the Socialist Labour League and the Young Socialists and it explains the reason why we are calling the Special Conference. We have to examine at this conference all the experiences of the organisation and the theoretical conclusions which flow from them since Labour took the power in October 1964.
2. It is important to understand that the reformists did not come to power with an exclusive mandate to betray the working class. Because of the crisis of British capitalism which, was clearly seen during the last year especially of the government of MacMillan, it was obvious that a Wilson government would inherit all these problems and place the responsibility for solving them squarely on the shoulders of the working class.
The Young Socialists, however, challenged this reformist treachery. From 1963 as a majority of the Labour Party youth movement they actively campaigned for socialist policies. The problems facing them were enormous. They had little or no support from the adult movement because as is usual with reformist and opportunist organisations, the Labour Party and the trade unions concentrated their efforts exclusively on the election of a Labour government. The tendency towards reformism was therefore rampant in the period where the Young Socialists had to wage their sharpest struggle against Wilson and the situation did not become favourable immediately after the election of a Labour government.
When the Young socialists formed their own organisation and began to campaign for mobilising the adult workers they still had and still have today to contend with a reluctance on the part of many workers, even though critical of Wilson, to break politically from the politics of the Labour Party. During the latter part of 1964 and 1965 we ran campaigns on such issues as the old age pensioners’ increase in order to try to win some sympathy from adult workers. We had a limited success, which, in turn, encouraged the Young Socialists to continue with this orientation towards the adults. But the tempo was slow. The Young Socialists themselves had not completely broken from the ideology of reformism. They tended to cling to reformist routinism without understanding the relationship between what they now in fact had, a revolutionary Marxist organisation, and the working class. The success of the Young Socialists in their fight against Wilson was not by itself decisive. They had, and still have, to understand that the construction of a revolutionary youth organisation involves a very high standard of understanding of Marxist theory in relation to the everyday activity which they have to carry out. The more importance of this task was posed before the Young Socialists in the latter part of 1964, and during 1965, the more the politically weaker members tended to retreat. It became necessary therefore to renew the political orientation of the Young Socialists towards the adults. This opportunity was afforded by the campaign against the Prices and Incomes Bill which began in October 1965.
The high point of this campaign was undoubtedly the January 26th. demonstration and all those activities which flowed from it. January 26th. proved that it was possible to mobilise substantial numbers of older workers behind the politics of the Young Socialists. The Young socialists on the other hand demonstrated that they were a serious organisation and critically supported, even though they knew it was a diversion, the activities of the Stalinists against the anti-trade union legislation. At the conference in Morecambe in April 1966, the Young Socialists brought together many adult workers in an effort to cement the relationship between them and, of course, to implement the policy of the Socialist Labour League.
The seamen’s strike again saw the Young Socialists in the forefront of the activity against the anti-trade union legislation. Once more we went through the experience of a struggle with the Stalinists which brought out many important lessons. Right through 1966 there has been no let-up in our effort to implement the policy of bringing the revolutionary youth into relationship with the adult workers and thereby establishing a revolutionary leadership.
During 1966 also, another important development took place. The hesitancy of many adult workers on the January 26th. demonstration to join with the Young Socialists gradually began to wear off. At the Brighton Conference of the Labour Party of October 2nd, the Young Socialist demonstration made a powerful impact amongst older trade unionists. This has been since demonstrated by the response which we are now having amongst motor car workers.
To sum up our experiences: We have slowly, in some cases, very slowly made the turn to the adult workers, whilst we have at the same time been passing through different experiences. These experiences on the surface may appear to be very small in content but what is involved is not so much a mass development towards the revolutionary party but a qualitative development of leadership. This qualitative development has had to pass and will have to pass through what appears to be repetitive forms of activity, although each form brings to the surface something new. This something new cannot be understood without analysing the experiences which we gain from each form of activity in great detail from the standpoint of our political perspectives.
Those comrades who have no respect for Marxist theory will naturally pull away and appear tired. What they are in fact doing is to retreat at the point where it is most necessary to understand that in an old-established working class movement like we have in Britain great changes, at least in appearances, cannot and will not take place at this stage speedily. There is a very consistent process at work behind the class struggle which entirely verifies the Marxist method but which cannot be understood or utilised by Marxists unless they apply this method continuously.
3. We have now reached an entirely new stage in the development of alternative revolutionary leadership. We were the first to recognise the importance of the political strike. Our understanding of the history of pre-revolutionary Russia emphasises how important this period is. We are now able to educate and train our members in direct contact with the class struggle under conditions where it is possible to prepare them for alternative leadership in the Labour Party and the trade unions under entirely different conditions from that which we have experienced in the past.
This politically qualitative development of the Socialist Labour League is not just something which affects our organisation, but which gradually begins to penetrate the working class and alter the perspectives for the working class. There are, for example, the political implications of the struggle which is now developing in Britain. For many years internationalism has been a pious word used on occasion to denote some struggles that were happening outside Britain. However, on the eve of another attempt to enter the Common Market it has been possible through the Young Socialists campaigning for internationalism in relation to the struggle against the war in Vietnam and the reformist Labour leaders, to establish the closest working relations with the revolutionary youth in Western Europe. The struggles that are, therefore, coming in Britain, will have a direct bearing on the struggles in Western Europe, just as the struggles there will greatly assist us in Britain. Internationalism is no longer a holiday word for socialists, it is a practical reality which will greatly strengthen the qualitative nature of our work in the coming period.
4. Our special conference must set out to achieve a clear political understanding of what is meant by alternative leadership. We do not see this as something separate from the working class but as a qualitative development within the working class, a development which in the case of Britain requires the most painstaking, penetrating and patient analysis of all the work of our organisation.
The Pabloites and state capitalists bury themselves in the Labour Party and succumb to all its reformist pressures. We participate in the youth movement and the trade unions in order to lay the groundwork for a real onslaught on the opportunists of the Labour Party. This is the period where we prepare to do real battle with Wilson and his allies. But this cannot be done without a strong revolutionary organisation firmly based in industry and the trade unions and with large masses of young people developing politically to supply it with leadership and above all also numerical forces.
We have now arrived at this stage. Henceforth we can transform entirely the work of our organisation in relation to events in the mass movement; but that means, we insist, constantly thinking over the experiences of the SLL and the YS, especially over the past two years.
5. Two years of Labour government have witnessed an important polarisation to the right of all the centrist forces, that is the old-type centrists, such as Michael Foot, Silverman & co. and the newer ones who were elected in 1964/66, such a Heffer, Newens, Bidwell and others. These people have proved themselves utterly incapable of providing any sort of leadership. They are so thoroughly imbued with reformism and opportunism that at this stage they absolutely refuse to make the slightest break from Wilson. All the little groups, Pabloites, state capitalists and others, who in one form or another, hang on to the coat-tails of these gentlemen are now moving in the direction of the Communist Party. The British Stalinists are making great bid for what they call “leadership of the left”. In reality this is, of course, nothing more than an attempt to reproduce a new type of centrist leadership in the British working class movement at precisely the time when this movement is face to face with revolutionary struggle and revolutionary decisions. The Stalinists aim to be the leaders of the new betrayal and all those organisations who live off the crumbs from the reformist table but who have no real contact with the working class and who, in practice, reject the role of the working class now line up in one way or another with the Stalinists. For example, during the abortive lobbies of March 1st and June 22nd, the state capitalists and the Pabloites* supported the Stalinists. Again, they supported the Stalinists at the motor car lobby in Brighton on October 3rd. They now actively campaign for the Stalinists’ so-called “Industrial Conference” on December 3rd. Needless to say they constantly fight against the Socialist Labour League. Naturally their counterparts in the USA, the SWP, support the arch-Stalinist Aptheker in Congressional elections. At Liege they ganged up with the Stalinists to have the banner supporting the Hungarian Revolution removed. All this is happening at a time when the Stalinist bureaucracy is seeking ways and means to join hands with Johnson in strangling the Vietnamese revolution.
The emergence of the working class into political activity has completely laid bare the “left” pretensions of the centrists and their allies in the revisionist groups. Class knives are coming out and they run for cover. The Socialist Labour League alone basis itself on the power of the working class and on the ability of the working class, given revolutionary leadership, to effectively change the whole course of history.
The activity, therefore, of the Young socialists and the Socialist Labour League since October 1964 has in fact, forced the centrists, their hangers-on and the Stalinists into a corner. This is one of the most important qualitative political sides of what we have succeeded in doing. It is not only a question of whether or not we have given successful leadership in terms of being able to force the government to abandon its anti-trade union legislation. We have been able to prepare for the future by clearing away the confusionist and centrist debris of the past. In turn, we have demonstrated the strength of the Socialist Labour League as a revolutionary workers’ organisation, which produces its publications regularly and which has greatly improved the standards of its youth work since the expulsions in the autumn of 1964.
6. Our Consistent international orientation towards the working class and our struggle to learn from the experiences of the class [struggle? – Ed] constitutes our main strategy. By pursuing this course we are learning how to apply our Transitional Programme and how to mobilise the working class on political issues which will directly lead to the taking of power. We are today, therefore, working in an entirely different political situation than that which we were forces to work in the period before October 1964.
Our trade union activity must above all else take into account this fundamental change. Syndicalist left politics in the trade unions can now lead only to disaster. It is not a question of left groups of trade unionists coming together to fight out issues like they have done in the period before the Prices and Incomes Act. Each struggle today has to be seen as a political struggle and prepared for politically. This at once puts an end to “left” trade unionism. Those trade union members of the Socialist Labour League who cannot grasp this important fact leave themselves open to grave disasters. “Left” trade unionism is essentially reformist trade unionism in a period where the basis of reformism has virtually disappeared. Revolutionary trade unionism is one that prepares its work within the trade unions by politically educating the most advanced workers. This means active participation in all struggles of the working class whilst at the same time patiently explaining to those with whom we struggle the essentially political meaning of what we are doing. That is why the publication of our booklet on the seamen’s strike is of such enormous importance for the Socialist Labour League and the Young Socialists. It is the only political analysis of the most important industrial event in Britain since 1926. The Socialist Labour League and the Young Socialists must concentrate on building up groups within industries and unions who will be able to create the political climate for big changes in these unions in so far as leadership and policy is concerned.
To change the present corrupt and bureaucratic leadership of the trade unions is not possible unless the political groundwork for this change is realised. Such change is not a simple question of putting up alternative candidates with left programmes. What is called for is an all-round development of the political consciousness of the rank and file, under conditions where Marxists will be able to demonstrate the kind of leadership which the unions require. In drawing these conclusions we do not in any way want to lay ourselves open to allegations that we are purely propagandist in our approach. We are nothing of the sort. We start from our political understanding of the present crisis of British capitalism and the counter-revolutionary role of its Labour lackeys. From there we proceed to lay the foundation for doing battle with their representatives in the workers’ movement. We do not shirk the slightest manifestation of struggle, no matter how small, but we do not confine that to left, syndicalist explanations, we try to relate all the struggles of the working class in the coming period to the need to build the revolutionary party for the purpose of taking power.
At the same time we do not turn our backs on the Labour Party. Right now by our political work we are preparing to send, especially from the trade unions, contingents of Marxists into the Labour Party in the coming period to head off the Stalinist orientation towards the centrists and to assist further in the exposure of the reformist political machine.
7. The Special conference should, therefore, consider for adoption the following series of proposals:
(a) In the pre-conference discussion we must thoroughly examine our work during the past two
Years and its relationship to the development of Marxist theory and the construction of the Young
Socialists and the Socialist Labour League.
(b) We must examine our trade union work and make more precise its realisation in a Marxist way
Within the trade unions, basing this on the trade union resolution adopted by the 1966 Conference
of the Socialist Labour League.
(c) We must go all out to build up the Young Socialists as a mass youth organisation; on the streets, in
the factories, at the labour exchanges and in the turn towards school leavers.
(d) We must work towards the launching of a mid-week issue of the News Letter; a smaller issue to
begin with but one which will analyse politically the problems which will now be constantly
emerging inside the trade unions and the factories.
(e) We must organise a series of public meetings in the main centres and in local areas in which
representatives of the Socialist Labour League and the Young Socialists will participate. These
meetings should help us towards recruiting and be orientated towards industry in the areas in
which they take place.
(f) Local study classes are now extremely important not only for the youth but for all those trade
unionists coming towards the League. An active and National Education Department is therefore
imperative. The coming publication of “In Defence of Marxism”, “Problems of the Chinese
Revolution” and a new edition of “Revolution Betrayed” are extremely important in this respect. The
National Education Department should be charged with the production of two basic study courses on
philosophy and economics by April 1967.
Our Conference should instruct the incoming Central Committee to set up a History Commission for the purpose of drafting a history of the Trotskyist movement in Britain. In the course of its work the commission should be charged with arranging the publication of a series of papers on various aspects of the history
8. Our Central Committee believes that this programme should provide the basis of our work up to the next Annual Conference of the socialist Labour League at Whitsun, 1966. Within this perspective the 1967 Conference of the Young Socialists at Morecambe in mid-March leading to an international conference of youth in the autumn of 1967 will play an extremely important role.
24 November 1966