Internal Bulletin by G. Healy
In any appreciation of such a document as this it is necessary to understand that it is important history, a snapshot of a moment in time. This internal document was type written and copied on an ink duplicator in June 1945, a few months after the founding of the Revolutionary Communist Party as the British section of the Fourth International, which had been founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938. An intense debate ensued concerning the relation between the RCP, the centrist Independent Labour Party and the reformist Labour Party. Healy disagreed with the position taken by the RCP Central Committee, and produced this document to place his position before the whole party in order to gain support for his view.
The Central Committee took the narrow formal view that it was only necessary to win individual members away from these other organisations, while Healy’s method was to place the organisations as a whole in dialectical relation, in order to achieve the necessary transformation of the political leadership of the working class, the negation of centrism and reformism into revolutionary leadership.
Significantly, it is clear from the text that Healy had, at this stage, a working grasp of the Leninist dialectical method, and this in spite of the fact that Lenin’s philosophical notes were not available in English translation till the publication of Volume 38 of his Collected Works in 1961. We can conclude that this perspective was a sufficiently concrete grasp of the dialectic of the class struggle at that moment and a sound guide to practice at that time. In particular, it is an invaluable insight into the struggle for revolutionary theory and leadership in opposition to the reformist Labour and trade union bureaucracy, a struggle which continues to this day.
INTERNAL BULLETIN. New Series No. 9.
OUR TASKS AND PERSPECTIVES
The first National Conference of the R.C.P. faces tasks and responsibilities of the greatest importance for the future of the revolutionary movement in Britain. It is significant to record the virility and cohesion of the forces of the Fourth International since the historic fusion of March 1944, in sharp contrast to the acute degeneration of the reformist, Stalinist and centrist leadership during the same period. A sober assessment of our experiences in the light of objective circumstances during that time will enable us to shoulder our burdens throughout the great struggles ahead in a mature Marxist fashion, born of confidence in the great ideas of the Fourth International.
Great Britain stands on the threshold of the mightiest class battles in her history. Having stumbled through her longest and bloodiest imperialist campaign, her economic position lays bare the background of the coming conflict. The basis for the stable, classical bourgeois democracy was being undermined by the threat to her monopolist position in her colonial and world markets in the interim period between the two imperialist wars.
The competition of her more efficient rivals drove Great Britain from nearly all fields of investment except her colonial markets and those investment areas where, protected by tariffs and trade agreements, she could still cushion the effect of her chronic overproduction and the World Slump, in all but the monetary spheres – an advantage which was denied to decaying European capitalism. In contrast, therefore, bourgeois democracy was able to offer minor social reforms and concessions, a position which became more untenable with the general decay of world capitalism.
The Second World War has tremendously increased the tempo of this decline. Up to the outbreak of war in 1939, British overseas investments totalled £3,700 million, which dwindled to approximately £1,500 million at the end of 1942, a decline of almost two-thirds during the first three years of the war. Coupled with this decline in foreign investments, Great Britain had had to endure a loss of markets and trade preserves, due to industrialisation of colonial markets, and an indebtedness due to lend-lease transactions. To counteract this loss and to restore the pre-war status, it is estimated that an immediate 50% increase in exports is necessary. In the past the backbone of export trade were the textile and coal industries, and a glance at their present plight exposes the hopelessness of such a restoration. The Cotton Textile Mission to the USA reported the productivity in textiles was three times greater than in England, and that 42% of the looms in Lancashire were built before 1900. At the same time is is officially announced that a minimum of £350 million is needed to re-equip the coal industry.
In the sphere of shipping and general transportation services, Britain has not only lost her pre-war leading position, but faced competition from the USA, with less than 20 million deadweight tons of merchant shipping as against 56 to 58 million tons. Since a decline in the income from foreign investment can only be met by a fall in imports, it follows that there will be a reduction in imports, especially foodstuffs, with an attempt to rely on home-produce, leading to a corresponding increase in prices because of the greater expense involved. With a decrease of consumer goods on the market, the amount of circulating money has increased from £580 million in September 1939 to £1300 million in 1945. Thus we see the growing basis of monetary inflation which will lead to soaring price levels without wages keeping in step.
The historical basis of reformism in England has resulted primarily from its dominant position in the colonies and the world market. Out of the ability of the bourgeoisie to bribe strata of the proletariat arose the aristocracy of labour which formed the social basis of the economism of the trade union movement and the opportunism of its political counterpart – the Labour Party. But the steady decline of the industrial and financial hegemony of Great Britain has stripped the economic base from the bourgeois democratic regime, as is reflected in its inability to grant the slightest concessions to the working class. A crisis of capitalist democratic rule means in turn a crisis in the Labour Party. Although these issues lurk at the moment in the background a wide leftward swing of the workers is sweeping in this direction. Millions of fresh proletarians, whose elementary problems are insoluble under capitalism are moving towards political action. The big capitalists, conscious of the struggle which lies ahead, prepare extra-parliamentary measures. They are keenly aware that the stranglehold of the labour and trade union leaders over the growing rank and file must inevitably weaken, and they prepare accordingly. Dealing with the possibility of such development if a Labour government should come to power, Trotsky wrote in The Defence of Terrorism, in 1935:
“As a counterweight to the Labour Government and a safeguard against revolutionary action by the masses, big capital would set about energetically supporting, (this it has already begun to do), a Fascist movement. The Crown, the House of Lords, the bourgeois minority in the House of Commons, the bureaucracy, the military and naval commands, the banks, the trusts, the main body of the Press, ever ready to bring up the bands of Mosely or of some other more efficient adventurer to help the regular armed forces.”
The Turn Towards the Labour Party
The most striking indication of the economic crisis now unfolding itself in Britain is the increase in trade union membership during the war. There are now over eight million workers organised in trade unions. Out of these 6,642,317 are affiliated to the Trade Union Congress. In spite of the craft limitations of some of the important engineering and allied trade unions, it is clear that the urgency of the crisis ahead is even succeeding in driving some of the responsibilities of reality into the thick-headed bureaucrats. The Amalgamated Engineering Union is actively discussing amalgamation with other unions in the engineering confederation. A similar development has already taken place amongst the miners with the formation of the National Mine-Workers’ Union. Close on the heels of the proposed amalgamation of the unions covering the basic industries come the distributive trade unions, with the Shop Assistants’ Union at its annual conference endorsing the terms of the proposed amalgamation with N.U.D.A.F.
Increase in trade union membership and the amalgamation of various unions express in unmistakable terms the elementary organisational preparations of the advanced workers for the struggle ahead. Inside the unions themselves the acute limitations of the industrial struggle on the economic field continue to be felt by increasing numbers of workers. The elaborate negotiating machinery, instituted under entirely different conditions from what exist today, tends to hamper a speedy solution of even the most elementary trade union problems. Shop stewards and rank and file militants are more and more realising the severe limitations of the “put it through procedure” demands of the employers and the union bureaucrats. Every good trade unionist knows that this “procedure” racket takes months in most cases to operate and after all the results are either meagre, or more often than not – nil. The record of the National Arbitration Tribunal bears testimony to this, and as a result the number of “unofficial” strikes continues to soar. There can be little doubt about the magnitude of the strike struggles which will arise in the future.
The frustration of the workers in the economic conflict with the capitalists inevitably forces itself into political channels, and a struggle against the forces of the state. They see through control of Parliament a “short cut” out of all their troubles. Politics, considered as a mass historical force, always lags behind economics. Objectively the situation demands the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, but subjectively the workers still think it is possible to wrest control through Parliament. Trade unionists, weary after months of protracted negotiations, turn towards political action as a weapon which they think will enable them to settle accounts decisively with the employers. The Labour Party is historically the political expression of the trade union movement; and this turn towards political action is clearly expressed in the increase of the trade union affiliated membership, which stood at 2,375,381 in December 1944, an increase of 138,074 over the previous year, and the highest since1927. Each year of the war has recorded an increase, and the deep-rooted character of this development can be gauged from the manner in which the mainly petty-bourgeois Draughtsmen’s Union has been force to relinquish its opposition to payment of the political levy, by 21,757 to 9,288 votes at its last annual conference.
The coalition dealt a heavy blow to the individual membership of the Labour Party. A sharp decline was noticeable between 1939 and 1942, but from 1943 onwards there has been a steady increase. Now that the coalition has been broken there is every sign of a revival in the localities. In one Midlands area, for instance, the speed of recruitment left the local agent without membership cards! A further indication of the movement towards the Labour Party can be seen if we compare the over-all membership figure for 1917, the year preceding the end of World War l, which stood at 2,465,131 with 2,641,144 the over-all figure for 1944, the year preceding the end of World War ll in Europe. The strong support for the Labour Party on the electoral field can be seen in the Neath bye-election results and the sympathy which is forthcoming from the armed forces, especially from the “B.L.A” and S.E.A.C.
Simultaneously with this development, parties such as the I.L.P. and Common Wealth, which because of their unstable political basis are unable to face the battles ahead, are caught in the main stream of the movement and dragged towards the Labour Party, where they will probably converge with the Labour lefts , Tribunites etc. These parties were unable to analyse the situation clearly. The non-sectarian elements amongst the I.L.P rank and file, for instance, want to participate actively in the struggle of the workers, but the leadership, who are unable to give a revolutionary lead, transform such a tendency into a deal with the reformists.
The Stalinists, who are straining every nerve to gain a mass basis, continue to hammer at the door of Transport House for affiliation – so far without success, since the bureaucrats still consider themselves capable of doing the dirty work without their aid. Nevertheless, despite the repeated rebuffs from the Labour bureaucrats, the Communist Party can be expected to go ahead with renewed vigour in building up a strong national fraction in the Labour Party. Whilst they will undoubtedly constitute a serious menace to the leftward-moving workers, it is also true that the gulf between the reformist character of the Stalinist programme and the revolutionary needs of the moment will have a profound effect upon the most advanced sections of the rank and file. Inside the Labour Party they will be free from the immediate pressure of the bureaucratic hand of the Stalinist apparatus and will have to compete with the revolutionists through open discussion before advanced workers. In such circumstances possibilities for making some really big gains from the C.P. will open up.
Why “Labour to Power”?
The task of building a revolutionary party in Britain depends primarily upon a correct Marxian approach to the character and role of the reformist labour and trade union bureaucracy. It is from such an attitude that we derive our slogan of “Labour to Power”. We have continuously opposed the ultra-lefts who would place our numerically week tendency in a political vacuum through their sterile opposition to this demand. We have argued correctly that it is our job to participate with workers in their political experiences, thereby demonstrating to them in practice the correctness of the programme of the Fourth International. The implication of the slogan “Labour to Power” lies in our conception that the masses of working people in this country will understand the need for a revolutionary policy and party, not from abstract interpretations of political problems, but from the mighty struggles between classes which are now on the order of the day.
The period which followed the last war found millions of workers all over Europe supporting the same set of leaders who had for four years betrayed every one of their interests. In Germany and in Russia in the first stages of the struggle the workers awakening to political life did not turn to the Bolsheviks or the Spartacists, but to the Mensheviks and the Social Democrats. This fact is clearly illustrated in the results of the elections to the Constitutional Assembly in Russia in November 1917, which were as follows: Out of 36 million votes the Bolsheviks gained 25 per cent, the various parties of the landlords and capitalists 13 percent, and the petty-bourgeois democratic parties , Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks etc., 62 percent. The support of the war by the reformist leaders of Russia, Germany and France, who were counterparts of the Hendersons and Clynes, did not prevent the masses from turning to them. We are witnessing in many respects a similar development today. In spite of the unbridled treachery during the war the Bevins, Morrisons ant Attlees are still able to muster strong working class support on the basis of demagogic left gestures. Such a sham cover was clearly perceptible at the Labour Party Conference, where the “rights” of former years were more “left” than the lefts of the type of Aneurin Bevan.
By raising the slogan of “Labour to Power” on the basis of our programme, we demonstrate clearly that it is impossible for revolutionary socialists to boycott the Labour Party and the Labour leaders at the present stage. We are keenly aware that the workers of Britain will pass through the whole gamut of political experiences which the Russian working class went through, before they will turn to the conscious revolutionary minority. In other words, it is our perspective that they will try at first to find a way out of their impasse through the traditional organisations of the working class, that is, in particular, the Labour Party which is the party of the trade unions and the organised workers.
The Tactical Implications of “Labour to Power”
How, and in what way, has our party attempted up to the present to gain support for its “Labour to Power” demand? The answer to this question should provide a useful key to an understanding of our perspective in the future. Inside the unions, the factories and through the “Socialist Appeal” we have continually advocated that policy. In the fight against the coalition this was our positive answer to the working class. During the campaign around the arrests of our comrades and later in the Neath bye-election we consistently raised this slogan as the central plank of our propaganda.
Our main method of recruitment to the R.C.P, [Revolutionary Communist Party – Ed.] is on the basis of personal contact. No one will deny that this is indeed a slow means of building the party. The important factor to note is that our recruitment at the present time is in general on a propaganda basis. People are attracted towards us not because we have demonstrated our capacity for leadership as a party in the past struggles, but because of the correctness of our propaganda arguments. An analysis of the Neath campaign clearly bears this out. Until a few months before the bye-election, we were almost strangers in that district; and throughout the campaign we had to rely wholly on the strength of our propaganda to win support. So far as this went, we achieved some important results, but we were unable to bridge the gulf which separated us from the average Labour Party supporter, who while agreeing that many of the things we said were good, nevertheless held back when it came to giving us actual support; he still felt that we were “strangers”, and naturally wanted to know more about us. The lesson is obvious. We cannot win the support of the working class solely on the basis of propaganda. It is necessary to combine this with active participation in their struggles and especially their political experiences. Herein also is contained the answer as to why our growth is so slow. The disparity between this growth and the widespread scope of our propaganda is clear proof of the limitations of the latter.
From the platform of the R.C.P. we advance the slogan of “Labour to Power” on the basis of our programme. The workers whom we seek to impress are preparing to undergo some of their greatest political experiences inside the Labour Party and on the periphery. Many of those in discussion will agree that our policy seems all right, but many who are conducting the actual fight inside the Labour Party will ask, “What are you doing about it?” Serious workers do not easily desert their old organisations in response to a promise of something better. This is the central lesson which must be learned from the Stalinist ultra-left hay-days. We are a small party of a few hundred members, conducting our “Labour to Power” propaganda mainly outside the Labour Party. It is now vital for the future of our movement to face the facts and recognise that we have to supplement this propaganda by participation in the experience of the workers inside the Labour Party.
It is our contention that the tactical implication of “Labour to Power” in the coming period is the adoption of the perspective of entry into the Labour Party.
Will the Advanced Workers “Skip” the Labour Party Stage?
Hostility to the “sell-out” policy of the Labour leaders does not in itself contain the necessary education to attract workers directly to the R.C.P. Between ourselves and these workers there exist formidable stumbling blocks such as the C.P. and the I.L.P. and Common Wealth.
The latter organisation is an excellent example of the frustration of the middle classes with the policies of the Labour leaders. To its ranks flocked people who were fed up with the infamous Labour and Tory coalition. Their reaction to the role of the renegades from socialism, however, did not bring them to the Fourth International, which emphasises our point, that this alone is not sufficient. What of the development of Common Wealth today? The termination of the coalition has knocked the bottom out of their world so far as an independent political existence goes, but in spite of their condemnation of the behaviour of the Labour leaders in the past, the best elements are getting ready to enter, not the R.C.P., but the Labour Party.
No single organisation in Britain has carried out more anti-Labour Party propaganda during its ultra-left phases than the Communist Party. From the point of view of denunciation and exposure some of this was effective, and it attracted a number of workers into the Party. In fact it is safe to assume that of those workers who have moved away from the Labour Party since World War I, the majority at one stage or another became members of the C.P. Some of these still remain – as can be seen from the strong opposition to the withdrawal of C.P. candidates in favour of the Labour Party during the recent internal discussions, whilst a number have dropped away in apathy. One of the great crimes of Stalinism is the disorientation of these very fine elements. But apart from this, there is an important conclusion to be drawn from the present status of the C.P. itself, because in spite of all its past gains of workers who broke from the Labour Party, nevertheless it is now forced to gravitate towards the Labour Party.
The I.L.P, on the other hand, contains a number of individuals who have not only broken from reformist politics, but also from the corrupt school of Stalinism. So far as any decisive movement from the Labour Party in our direction has taken place, these are in many respects politically the nearest to us. Yet the sectarian attitude of these elements on the all-important demand of “Labour to Power” and the role of the Labour Party constitutes a powerful obstacle to entry into the R.C.P. Taking the I.L.P. as a whole, it represents as we know a movement in the “middle of the road”, i.e. of people who after breaking from the Labour Party became a fully-fledged centrist party.
Let us be frank about the possibility of people leaving the Labour Party and coming direct to us. The comrades who raise this question are endeavouring to rationalise a conflict of ideas as to the sanctity of the “independent” party. They recognise correctly that the political experience of the masses stands higher now than at any period of history, resulting in a growing discontent with the Labour and trade union leaders. They correctly envisage a movement in our direction, but here the matter rests, because they concentrate their gaze on one definite form of growth so far as this movement is concerned, i.e., the “independent” party. For them everything is a straight line development. Out of correct premises they draw false conclusions. In staking their perspective on the fact that the past bitter experiences will result in a clearer understanding of the role of the Labour and trade union leaders amongst a growing number of workers, they automatically conclude that this is sufficient to ensure the transformation of the R.C.P. into a mass party – or to be more precise into their conception of a mass party; generally speaking most sectarian politicians know how to count up to a thousand.
Such conclusions spring from a non-dialectical conception of the history of the working class and in particular the present phase of its development. In endeavouring to repudiate the fact that the Labour Party will play a powerful role in the coming struggle, because a number of workers are already conscious of its treacherous role, they ignore the new content in the situation, which is the tremendous working class struggles in the offing. They fail to see that this struggle is not only reflected in a movement towards the Labour Party, but that it is drawing in its wake such organisations as the I.L.P. and Common Wealth, who in the past represented a movement away from the Labour Party. This same development will also affect a number of people who moved away from the Labour Party, for example, during the years from 1939 to 1942, out of disgust with the pro-war policies of the leadership.
Lenin tirelessly explained to the ultra-lefts “that we must not assume whatever is obsolete for us is obsolete for the class, for the masses”. The young generation, which is now entering politics, has not passed through the same experiences as the “old timers” who have lived through the Labour betrayals of the past. Unfortunately a large number of the latter elements still cling to that party because of its long-standing traditions. The influx of younger workers will undoubtedly assist in the revolutionary rejuvenation of many of these, but because of the time-lag in their own political development, they will have, as Trotsky puts it, to “recapitulate the experience of older generations, even though within a greatly diminished scope.” To be sure the great battles ahead will have a “hot house” effect upon this process, but before the vast majority of these take the revolutionary road, they will undergo a phase of most intense internal struggles inside the left wing of the Labour Party. The role of our party must be to act as a Marxist “guide post” inside that left wing. No one denies that a certain number of people will drift in our direction if we remain outside, But as Trotsky always emphasised, “one swallow does not make a spring.”
We must view the situation objectively. The leftward movement of the masses tends more and more to push the smaller left parties towards the Labour Party. Everything points to a confluence of forces inside that organisation at a later stage. Can we ignore this development in favour of the idea that if we preserve our “independence” the workers will eventually break from the Labour Party through their own experience and the join us? Such an attitude was defined by Comrade Trotsky as follows:
“The historical problem that must be solved is decreed as solved already. The confidence yet to be won is announced as won already. That, it goes without saying, is the easiest way out. But very little is achieved that way. In politics we must proceed from facts s they are, and not as one would like them to be, or as they will be eventually.”
“It is our duty”, said Lenin, “to master all forms, to learn how to supplement with maximum rapidity one form with another, to substitute one for another, and to adapt our tactics to every change that is called forth by something other than our class, or our efforts.” This is doubly true of the relation of “independent” party work to the future developments in the Labour Party. It is necessary to take Lenin’s advice and realise that it will be essential at some future date to substitute instead of our open work the entrist tactic. The big political battles in the future will be fought out in the Labour Party and the political requirements of the situation demand a complete tactical re-orientation.
Why Are We Concerned with the I.L.P?
There are three considerations which determine our attitude towards the I.L.P. First, its origin which is centrist, with an anti-war tradition as against the background of reformist betrayal of the official Labour and trade union leaderships. This position in the revolutionary period which is now beginning can be a powerful obstacle to our growth.
Secondly its social composition, which heterogeneously spreads over all shades of opinion from reformists and pacifists to revolutionaries, with a sprinkling of industrial militants who as yet remain confused. We are interested in educating these latter elements (and any others besides) who are politically the closest to Trotskyism in Britain. Comrade Trotsky particularly stressed this point in his article “The Left Socialists and our Tasks”, when he wrote:
“The Third International was itself recruited from 9/10th of centrist elements who evolved to the left. Not only individuals and groups but also entire organisations and even parties with their old leaders or part of the old leadership placed themselves under the banner of Bolshevism … It is clear that the rebirth of the revolutionary workers’ movement will take place at the expense of centrism.”
These remarks, as we shall show, are also highly applicable to the future developments in the Labour Party.
Thirdly the general direction of the I.L.P. is towards the Labour Party at a time when millions of fresh workers are also moving in this direction. Since we are competing for their leadership, it follows that we are irreconcilably opposed to the I.L.P., which we regard as our nearest competitor who must be defeated.
We are monopolists in the field of politics. To make a successful revolution in Britain, the working class will require to do it only through one party and one programme. We are the nucleus of such a party and our programme is the Transitional Programme of the Fourth international. That is why we are out to destroy all competitive parties, such as the I.L.P., especially when it trades ideas which, superficially, to the inexperienced worker, may seem similar to ours.
We are in favour of I.L.P affiliation to the Labour Party from a revolutionary point of view in order to expose the reformist approach of the centrist leadership. It would be most desirable if we could complete this exposure before the I.L.P. actually affiliated to the Labour Party. Whilst we recognise that the regroupment and the polarisation of forces inside the Labour Party would work in our favour, nevertheless it must be understood that we do not simply tie our perspective to the I.L.P. affiliation to the Labour Party. Far better to have the R.C.P. united with the best elements of the I.L.P entering the Labour Party on the basis of a thorough understanding of what is involved, than to have the I.L.P. enter intact. Therefore all our actions in relation to it, both inside and outside, must be designed to remove it as an obstacle, preferably before in affiliates.
But how is this task to be carried out? The “road back” to the Labour Party is not so easy for the bureaucrats. Internally they have strong opposition from a miscellaneous array of ultra-lefts, whilst in the negotiations with Transport House issues undoubtedly cropped up which were unforeseen by Brockway and McNair, who gave the impression in advance that the “prodigal was about to return to his father’s house”. Analysing these developments, however, from a broad point of view, it appears that if the I.L.P. does enter the Labour Party the great majority of the ultra-lefts will go with it, since in the past their leading personnel have proved quite incapable of working out an independent perspective, whilst the Transport House obstacles appear to be a preliminary stage in the haggling before actual entry. Naturally if the I.L.P. did enter the Labour Party at some time in the future it would be necessary for our party to re-evaluate the situation, but it should be understood that our perspective for total entry does not necessarily depend upon such a step. The development of the struggle itself will determine this, and it is not excluded that we might enter the Labour Party in advance of the I.L.P. But the main point is that the I.L.P. is not yet in the Labour Party. It is this factor which must decide our immediate orientation and not speculation, which may be correct of otherwise, as to the possibility of its entry. Our job is to take the situation as it is, with the understanding that the left swing is driving it towards the Labour Party.
The significance of the I.L.P. orientation towards the Labour Party must be analysed in conjunction with the approaching internal crisis in that organisation. Trotsky analysed this development as follows:
“The events in Austria, coming after the events in Germany, placed a final cross over ‘classic’ reformism. Henceforth only the dullest leaders of Britain and American trade unionism and their French follower, Juojaux, the president of the Second International Vandervelde, and similar political ichthyosauri will dare to speak openly of the perspective of peaceful development, democratic reforms etc. The over-majority of reformists consciously take on new colours now. Reformism yields to innumerable shadings of centrism which now dominate the field of the workers’ movement in the majority of countries. (‘Centrism and the Fourth international’)
Dealing further with the impact of this crisis inside Social Democracy, he goes on to remark that it will result in a “shift between two poles, Marxism and reformism, that is passing through the various stages of centrism.”
It follows from this analysis that the main weight of our activity in the next period must be directed against centrism. In fact Trotsky emphasised this very point when writing the above lines:
“The new International can develop principally at the expense of the now prevailing tendencies and organisations. At the same time the revolutionary international cannot form itself otherwise than in a consistent struggle against centrism. (Ibid. Our emphasis)
The fight against the I.L.P. today is an essential preparation for the battles of tomorrow within the amorphous mass of the Labour Party. That is why it is necessary to state clearly that our work in relation to the I.L.P. is not merely to gain members for the R.C.P., but to equip our party as a whole in the struggle against centrism. A revolutionary leadership and party is neither self-created nor proclaimed. The internal struggle between the different layers of the working class form a very necessary stage in its development; this in turn underlines the importance of a serious approach to the problem of centrism, which today is the problem of the I.L.P.
To set our course for a decisive struggle against the I.L.P, demands a co-ordinated tactical orientation between the fraction work and the independent party work outside, which means to say that the party as a whole should be geared to such an action. If for instance, the main emphasis is on building the independent party and subordination the fraction work in the I.L.P. to this end, (as in our present perspectives), then it is clear that the main weight of our political activity is turned, not towards the I.L.P. but to strengthening the independent part by grabbing members wherever we can get them. The outcome of such a policy is that the I.L.P. becomes a secondary question for our party, leading to a division of labour in which the smaller portion is relegated to the I.L.P., there to conduct guerrilla fraction work to enlarge the membership of the independent R.C.P. In our opinion such an approach is incorrect in the present period, and can never succeed in dealing decisively with the I.L.P., or for that matter, as we shall show, with the left wing of the Labour Party. We repeat, the fight against centrism is a foremost problem, not one of secondary importance. What is also true is that our guerrilla activity always enables the centrist leaders to snipe at our comrades in the I.L.P. on the grounds that they are “alien elements”, “disrupters”, etc., acting on behalf of the R.C.P. This is their favourite weapon for bringing us up against the organisational loyalty of the rank and file, thereby hindering the process of clarification.
The crisis of the working class is a crisis of leadership, and the essence of the matter is this: Is it possible to build a leadership outside, or through active participation in the struggle within the workers’ organisations? We know that there are people who imagine that if we only have the “independent” banner flying the workers will eventually come to us. The same error can be made regarding leadership. To be able to lead one must be able to do more than write propaganda articles and supply advice from the outside for those who are working inside. To deal effectively with the I.L.P. means that we have not only to be prepared to fight them politically, but also to come to organisational grips with their leadership in order to smash it. We must learn to out-manoeuvre politicians of the McNair, Brockway school in practical struggle, which is an essential pre-requisite in the training of leadership.
This requires a perspective where it is clearly laid down that all work in the I.L.P. is conducted with this aim in view. In other words we must be prepared at the right moment to approach the I.L.P. as an organisation on a principled programmatic basis with a view to fusion, or to take any other steps which events may demand. It may well be that other developments will cut across this proposal, in particular that the I.L.P. will shortly enter the Labour Party. That is very true, but in the meantime this has not happened, and it is necessary now to place our fraction work on a sound footing. Our whole party must understand that the I.L.P. work is not a “side-line” task, but a co-ordinated part of the preparations which our party is making to grapple effectively with the menace of centrism.
There may be comrades who imagine that this is a waste of time and that we should be occupied with some other activity. These timely remarks from Comrade Trotsky are addressed especially to them:
“ ‘What good can be expected from Nazareth?’ How can one approach organisations at the head of which are centrists? We are quite ready, they say, to unite with the rank and file workers, but we do not see any sense in approaching the centrist leaders, etc., etc. Such a purely formal manner of posing the question is erroneous. They are greatly affected by propagandist sectarianism.”
To pave the way for a proper approach to the I.L.P. we should endeavour to take immediate advantage of recent developments in the Party. The failure to gain affiliation to the Labour Party in the recent negotiations has dragged into the open a first class exposure of the unprincipled politics of the leadership. Considerable hostility exists among the rank and file towards the N.A.C. for the way they crawled to Transport House, only to receive a rude snub. The anti-affiliation wing are claiming that the present situation is a vindication of their position, whilst an undoubted frustration is in evidence amongst the rank and file. A unique opportunity is opening up for the R.C.P. to expose the reformist attitude of the N.A.C. towards affiliation. The internal crisis in the I.L.P. provides us with the possibility of regrouping our forces in a very short time, whilst conducting a widespread clarification on the basis of programme throughout the party.
It is necessary for our party as a whole to draw closer to the I.L.P. rank and file. We should wherever possible strengthen our fraction work and endeavour to enter into friendly discussions with them in the localities. Our national fraction work must be given priority attention by the Central committee and the Political Bureau. The “Socialist Appeal” should turn its attention to a friendly analysis of the problems confronting the left wing of the I.L.P. I.L.P. members should be invited to send in their point of view and in this way a comradely background for our work should be developed. When they see that the R.C.P. as an organisation is prepared to come to their assistance in the fight against the Brockways and the McNairs, considerable progress will be made. This means an adoption of the perspectives we have outlined and an abandonment of a raiding policy. To put the I.L.P. out of action, even if we never gained a new member, would justify such a turn by our party.
Our Present Perspectives are Inadequate.
The struggle to build a revolutionary party constantly demands a wide-awake and sensitive attitude towards the working class movement. In Britain today we have an entirely different situation from that which existed at the time of our fusion conference. Prior to that conference our movement had to endure a period of virtual isolation as far as our political relations with the traditional parties of the working class were concerned. Apart from the I.L.P. where we had begun to attract some promising support for our programme, the quiescence of the Labour Party had brought fraction work in its local organisations to a standstill, whilst the mildest sign of militancy from the rand and filer in the C.P. meant swift expulsion. The Trotskyist movement, therefore, had very little opportunity to gain political support except through independent propaganda work, mainly inside the trade unions, where certain gains were made by the W.I.L.
There are periods such as this in the history of every revolutionary grouping when it has to undergo similar isolation due to historical circumstances. But the scene has shifted today, large numbers of workers are beginning to take an interest in politics and the old parties are showing increasing signs of life. This necessitates a change in our orientation to enable us to maintain a correct relationship with these new developments. It is not good enough to draft perspectives noting these changes, and then to draw the conclusion along the lines that “we do not change”.
“Without an extensive and generalised dialectical comprehension”, wrote Trotsky, “of the present epoch as an epoch of abrupt terms, a real education of young parties, a correct strategical leadership of the class struggle, a correct combination of tactics, and above all, a sharp and bold and decisive re-arming at each successive breaking point of the situation is impossible. And it is just at such an abrupt breaking point that two or three days sometimes decide the fate of the international revolution for years to come.” (“Third International After Lenin”, page 86)
The C.C. propose that we adopt the same perspectives for the coming period as those outlined in the fusion conference resolution (March 1944) on the “Entrist Tactic”, i.e. the subordination of fraction work in the Labour Party and the I.L.P. to the task of building an independent party. Noting the movement towards the Labour Party, however, the comrades have added a rider that we must increase the weight of our fraction work in that organisation; apart from this point, it is in essence a continuation of the old perspective.
The test of any policy id how it works out in practice, and the experiences in the I.L.P. over the last few months demonstrate the inadequacy of such a perspective for dealing with the new problems which are arising.
A series of provocations timed by the centrist bureaucrats on the instigation of Transport House resulted in the expulsion of a number of our sympathisers in the Newcastle area. In the struggle which preceded this event, the comrades were sorely handicapped because of the smokescreen which the N.A.C. members laid down on the question of their organisational loyalty to the I.L.P. Errors of course were made (no one can blame the comrades for these), and at each stage McNair deliberately utilised such openings to brand them as “disrupters” etc. In this way the political questions were clouded over and our comrades forced on the defensive around organisational issues. It must be recognised that the low vote for one prominent comrade at the I.L.P. Annual Conference did not arise because he was not a good party builder. In fact it is safe to say that in regard to activity he ranked amongst the foremost in the Party. The real answer lies in the fact that the majority of the delegates felt he would be more at home in the R.C.P. (it is true f course that the facts about Laski’s talks with Brockway came to light the following day, but then it was too late.)
The “walk out” policy pursued by all our supporters in the Newcastle area following these expulsions cannot succeed in breaking the I.L.P. even in that area. We may gain some new members, but at a price. The main problem of the I.L.P. still remains with a greatly weakened support for our tendency. In turn the bureaucrats are strengthened and new weapons have been added to their arsenal in the shape of concrete proof on the Trotskyists’ policy for breaking up the I.L.P., which as an organisation, unfortunately, still retains the support of the vast majority of members who are not convinces that joining the R.C.P. is the correct step.
The lessons from the Newcastle events are twofold. First, the basic reason for the expulsions was the clash between the work in the I.L.P. and the independent orientation of the R.C.P., i.e., the policy of guerrilla fraction work. Secondly such a policy cannot remove the I.L.P. as an obstacle from our road. One has only to study the debacle of similar episodes carried out by the Stalinists in the past in relation to the Labour Party, with the usual proclamation in the “Daily Worker” on “Why I joined the C.P.”, to recognise the futility of such a method of work. But the Labour Party still retains its mass support despite all this.
It would be a mistake to imagine for one moment that the Newcastle experiences were the result of errors made by a comrade or comrades. On the contrary, this situation will be repeated over and over again in whatever organisation we pursue this policy. It is our opinion that such a policy will never solve the problem either of the I.L.P. or the left wing in the Labour Party.
We do not deny our responsibility for having jointly supported the “entrist tactic” resolution at the Fusion Conference; but today the situation has completely changed, and the Newcastle episode is part of the price we are paying for the failure to alter our perspectives accordingly in relation to the I.L.P.
A Change in Orientation is Necessary.
When drafting perspectives for the coming period we must recognise, as Comrade Cannon put it, that “the problem is not merely one of building a revolutionary party, but of clearing obstacles from its path. Every other party is an obstacle.” Our attitude to all the parties in the labour movement, of course, is not the same. With regard to the C.P., for instance, because of its origin and the direction in which it is traveling, that is to the right of the labour movement, we shall conduct an irreconcilable fight against it.
The centrist I.L.P. on the other hand is moving in the direction of the Labour Party. Inside that organisation at a later stage, under the pressure of working class struggle, we shall witness for a transitory period a widespread centrist regroupment between right and left wings. It is in the direction of the Labour Party also that the newly awakened political elements of the working class are turning, therein to come under the influence of this development. Comrade Trotsky, taking the experiences of the early Comintern as an example, pointed out time after time that it drew its main forces from the centrists who had evolved to the left. In 1933, dealing with such developments inside the Social Democratic and centrist parties on the continent, he remarked that “the passage (towards us) of entire units and local organisations” from these bodies was still ahead. Our future perspectives must be based on such premises, that is why our party as a whole must be turned in the direction of the I.L.P. and the Labour Party, seeking to help with every means at our disposal the genuine revolutionary workers towards the Fourth International.
In considering the inevitability of a centrist phase in the Labour Party, the problem of the I.L.P. emerges with crystal clarity. Analysing the possible sources of our growth in the next period in conjunction with the movement of the workers towards reformist politics, it should be clear that our greatest political gains will be from centrism. In such circumstances wily politicians such as McNair and Brockway can become treacherous stumbling blocks for our party. The experience of how their counterparts of P.O.U.M. acted as a brake on the Spanish Revolution bears testimony to this for all time. For this reason we are forced to deal with the I.L.P. as an immediate obstacle which must if possible be removed. In the next period, basing ourselves on the fact that it is not yet in the Labour Party, we have outlined what we consider the correct approach to this question. If it were to enter before we had time to settle accounts with it, then as we have already stated it would be necessary to re-examine the problem. Conversely, if a situation arose in the Labour Party which demanded preparation for an immediate entry on our part, and the I.L.P. was still outside, it is not excluded that, whilst conducting the work on the lines of our perspective, we might force things to a head inside the I.L.P., thereby facilitating a split off of the best elements who would join with us in our entry into the Labour Party. But that is not the case at this stage, when the movement is just beginning towards the Labour Party and the I.L.P. is still outside and very much under the influence of this movement. We have to analyse each stage in the developments objectively, taking into account all the factors in the situation, but at all times strengthening our party in the fight against centrism.
What does subordination of fraction work in the I.L.P. and Labour Party to the building of the independent party really mean? The supporters of this position have a conception that whilst maintaining the “independent” party it will be possible to work in these organisations with the object of winning comrades over to the outside party, thereby laying the basis for a mass party at some future date. The conception is entirely erroneous. Two groups (even in agreement), one inside and one outside, would inevitably lead to a repetition of the Newcastle experience. Besides, if leading comrades remained outside, they would have the greatest difficulty in directing the work within. It is impossible to direct work of such a character without participating in it, and as we have already shown in the last section on the I.L.P., it is impossible to educate a cadre of leaders in this way, since they must actively participate in struggle inside the mass movement along with the rank and file.
Our perspectives must be based upon turning the face of our entire organisation towards the I.L.P. and the Labour Party, changing our emphasis from one to the other in accordance with the exigencies of the struggle. The perspectives outlined by the C.C. are the exact reverse of this position. The comrades want to continue along the lines of the old independent propaganda work, relegating work in the I.L.P. and Labour Party to a secondary position. For our part, we are not calling for the immediate abolition of the open party work – such a position can only be determined by events; what we are calling for is that this work would be orientated towards the I.L.P. and the Labour Party and that our work in these parties is of primary and not secondary importance.
The advocates of the Central Committee’s perspective should ponder over the Newcastle experiences before calling for an increase in the Labour Party fraction. Through subordination this work to the building of the independent party they are adopting a raiding perspective in advance. If you accept as your main policy the building of the independent party, then you must accept the responsibility of further splits along the lines of Newcastle, because there will always be provocations of one kind or another. But if the rank and file of the I.L.P. and the Labour Party see the R.C.P. moving in their direction on the basis of its programme, it will be much more difficult for the bureaucrats to pull such stunts. On the present basis, however, an increase in the Labour Party fraction can only mean more repetitions of what happened at Newcastle.
Let us consider for a moment how the average worker who has just joined either the I.L.P. or the Labour Party will view our policy as at present constituted. When he joins either of these parties he does it because he believes they stand for socialism. His experience inside the factory teaches him the necessity for unity in his ranks, when fighting the employer, and he carries this conception with him when he enters politics, where he develops a high sense of organisational loyalty for the party he joins. In his journey towards the revolutionary road, he instinctively expresses hostility towards any party or individual who endeavours to split or break up his party, before he is assured that such a step will not interfere with a united struggle against the employers. Hence the vital necessity to wage a ruthless struggle against sectarians, who having set up their conception of a revolutionary party adopt the attitude of “join us or for ever be damned”. Such people can never win the confidence of the working class, who arrive at revolutionary conclusions not, as Trotsky once pointed out, by passing through various grades in school, “but by the class struggle which abhors interruptions.”
The fight for revolutionary unity is always an important weapon in our possession when we approach workers who are in another party. But if we adopt the policy of snatching one here and there to join the outside R.C.P., there must inevitably be a showdown in which the best elements will look upon our policy as something quite different from their own interpretation of the fight for revolutionary unity, and this is how the subordination of our fraction work to the independent party must operate in practice.
The workers have a similar attitude towards the question of leadership. A comrade may be an excellent speaker and writer on working class problems, but when he enters a factory, to the other employees he is just one of the newcomers. To win their confidence is not an easy task, and woe betide our comrade if he imagines that all he has to do is to “lay down the law” regarding the policy of his party. It is necessary for him to forge a common bond with his fellow workers in action. They will listen, perhaps, to what he has to say, but until they see him in action with them all the talk in the world can fall on barren ground. Before our party can aspire to the leadership of the working class, it must participate together with them in their political experiences. The mass of the workers are moving in the direction of the Labour Party; to win their allegiance, it will be necessary for our party as a whole to assist them actively through their experiences in that organisation.
The question has to be clearly posed. Subordination of fraction work in the Labour Party in the next period to the independent R.C.P. is a “raiding” perspective which will not solve a single major task to far as our responsibilities for the development of the left wing are concerned. It will serve only to antagonise the best elements and provide the bureaucrats, as it did in Newcastle, with an excuse to throw our comrades out, whenever we begin to gain support. Our entire organisation, if it is to win the leadership and support of the workers who are now turning towards political action, can do so only provided it conducts its fraction work within the perspective of operating the entrist tactic at the most suitable time in the future.
“Politics is the science of perspective.” This definition by Trotsky is a timely appraisal of the Marxian method. When the war in Europe broke out in 1939, the overwhelming majority of British Trotskyists supported the “entrist tactic”, and there was every indication that such a policy would have been pursued to the hilt, had not the war cut across the leftward movement of the workers. At all times there was complete agreement that the cadres of the future revolutionary party would be drawn from the most advanced political elements in the labour movement. The turn to “independent” work could only be a temporary phase until the Labour Party sprang to life once again. Now, we have reached a situation where without the shadow of a doubt the most advanced workers are moving in its direction. Surely we are entitled to an explanation as to why the C.C. have revised the perspective of the “entrist tactic” which was devised for such an eventuality. Have the gains of the past four of five years of independent work justified this? Please give us the facts comrades. We want a clear perspective, not examples of empirical orientation.
In conclusion, just a few words about the implications of total entry. It may be argued that our affiliation to the Labour Party through trade union branches can be a suitable substitute for actual work in the organisation itself. This in not so. Trade union branches are as a rule affiliated to Borough Labour Parties and on these bodies one does not participate actively amongst the rank and file who are found in the Ward meetings etc. Therefore the strengthening of the Labour Party work must be through actual entry into the organisation.
The possibility of an R.C.P. application for affiliation to the Labour Party cannot be profitably discussed at this stage, and must not be made an issue around which the entrist tactic is side-tracked. Whilst it is not ruled out as an educational prelude to actual entry, nevertheless it must be examined as a secondary question in accordance with the specific circumstances as they arise.
Total entry into the Labour Party would mean the dissolution of the R.C.P. as an open party. The whole of our forces would have to be concentrated inside the left wing. Ideas may be prevalent that certain comrades, because of their prominence as Trotskyists, would not be accepted by Transport House. In our opinion such an approach as this would be incorrect. If we are in agreement that our policy is one of “entry”, such a perspective does not depend on the attitude of Transport House but is on the contrary directed against it, and the realisation of the policy must be carried out in spite of the Labour bureaucrats. It is impossible to say in advance how far we will succeed, but it is equally impossible to enter a battle saying that the aim is unachievable; that is defeatism. Speculation that this comrade or that comrade may not be able to enter must not become a smokescreen behind which the implications of the entrist tactic is dodged. If our party is for entry it will have to seek ways and means to accomplish it. Our appraisal of the Labour Party is entirely different from our appraisal of Transport House; and the left swing will make our entry much easier, provided we do not act like people looking for a job and hoping not to find one.
We sincerely urge our forthcoming conference to accept the following proposals:
1. All fraction work in the Labour Party to be carried out within the perspective of the entrist tactic. The
Attention of the Party to be turned to dealing with the problem of the I.L.P. as already outlined.
2. Turn the organisation towards the I.L.P. and the left wing of the Labour Party. Open up friendly relations
through sympathetic articles in the “Socialist Appeal”, analysing the problems confronting revolutionists.
Establish contacts in the localities and strengthen our fraction work.
3. Whilst independent activity will be carries out to the best of our party’s ability, it will gradually be orientated
Towards the activity inside these organisations, until in effect it is subordinated to it. The open work to
Continue until circumstances dictate the necessity for total entry into the Labour Party.
30th. June 1945.