The documents given here concern the unification of the Workers International League, of which Healy was a member, and two other organisations, in preparation for affiliation to the Fourth International as the British section. They were written in the second half of 1943. Reading them today, it is clear that the process of unification between the three organisations was un-necessarily protracted due to the conservatism of the leaders involved, and that these documents express Healy’s fight to achieve progress against these leaders. What is most important is that the process of building the revolutionary party today is likely to involve similar struggles, and we can learn important lessons from this history.
Healy was sometimes criticised for unrealistically predicting imminent revolution, but this is a serious misunderstanding of his dialectical method. To appreciate the possibilities of revolution in any moment it is necessary to grasp the inner essence of the class struggle through the dialectical materialist method, and above all to avoid the trap of basing theory and practice on surface impressions. At this time there was every reason to expect great revolutionary developments in Europe. The Stalinist counter-revolutionary Comintern had been dissolved in May 1943. In Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia, the working class commanded centrally organised and armed revolutionary organisations. The Red army was advancing across Europe at a furious pace, crushing the Nazi war machine and demonstrating the enormous power of socialist planned economy. No wonder Healy was convinced that the Fourth International had great possibilities before it.
OUR MOST IMPORTANT TASK
Our present unity discussions with the R.S.L. which were opened at the instigation of the W.I.L. have now dragged on for over two years. Glancing at the length of time alone, we must realise that if things go on as they are, some of us will be “born again” before the methods at present adopted will solve the problem. In the meantime our National Conference fast approaches and the discussion on the International, as raised in the Political Bureau’s resolution, will certainly hold the floor as the main item.
The ground for this discussion has been enriched by our timely political analysis of the policy of the R.S.L. and the document of L. Cooper, which has been circulated to members. I mention the latter because while one may disagree with the way in which this document was presented by Cooper to the organisation, nevertheless it is our job to appraise its contents politically. There is little doubt that it reflects the views of leading members of the International, some of whose activities in Britain in the past have not greatly impressed members of the W.I.L. Nonetheless these are capable and tested international leaders whose arguments demand the most minute examination. Cannon and his colleagues have demonstrated that they can stand the test, and this point is fully appreciated by the American capitalists.
This of course does not mean that we should maintain an awestricken silence and refrain from critically analysing their attitude towards the groups in Britain. On the contrary this is a vital necessity if we are to enrich the International with the lessons of experience of the past period. But it would be a mistake to allow our past disagreements with representatives of the International Secretariat to dominate completely our decisions at conference. The present situation must be taken in its entirety and not merely from the angle of what Cannon & Co. have done in the past. A one-sided view of the present deplorable state of affairs in Britain can only further confuse a situation which is already overburdened with confusion. Our task therefore is to study as carefully as possible our relationship with the Fourth International in line with the tasks and role of the group in the future. This document is an attempt to stimulate discussion in this direction.
2. The Official Policy
Two things stand out since the World Conference of the Fourth International in 1938. The first and most important is that the attitude of the Secretariat towards the inter-group situation in Britain remains basically the same: they still consider the unification of the R.S.L. and the W.I.L. as a necessary pre-requisite to the building of the revolutionary party in Britain. Secondly their attitude towards W.I.L. has been sympathetic and friendly – a marked contrast to their denunciation of the Lee group at that time.
On the first point the following paragraph from Cooper’s letter sums up their position:-
“The WIL’s first duty to the international movement, to its membership, and in the last analysis to the workers of England, is to raise high the genuine banner of party unity on a democratic centralist basis and move heaven and earth to achieve it! Your slogan should be, all individuals, groups and programmes to be tested in one united party! Democratic decisions and disciplined action of one united party!”
They claim that since the differences in Britain are programmatic and tactical, they can be solved on a democratic centralist basis inside one organisation. Their accusations against our group’s inability to understand democratic centralism arise from what they call our “for the record” attitude to this question. It should be stated here that although the R.S.L. disagrees with the International’s military policy, they have had their rights in the International guaranteed up to now on this basis of democratic centralism.
Cooper sums up the I.S. position on the question of democratic centralism, laying heavy stress upon this tried and trusted method of Bolshevik organisation, and warning the W.I.L that our attitude “serves to miseducate our members”:-
“The methods of a democratic centralist party that democratically arrives at decisions and carries its decisions into action in a disciplined manner, and later, democratically decides again to carry [the] same or other decisions into action, (and so on round the democratic centralist circle), are the only methods that can carry the Party through all its tasks and to its final victory. The crises of capitalist society invariably affect the ranks of the Marxists to one degree of another, and the opinion and methods of members at all stages generally differ slightly, severely, or fundamentally, and only the methods of democratic centralism can keep the ship on its course in spite of all the elements.”
On the second point, it is noted that we have “dug deep” into the ranks of the workers, and the eagerness with which they publish news from the S.A. in the American “Militant” shows how they appreciate this. It would be a rash illusion, however, to imagine that because they realise our growing influence, they will recognise us on this basis. This is far too superficial; we should, in my opinion, clearly understand that Cannon and his supporters will not shift an inch from what they term the democratic centralist basis of the International. They will stick firmly to this principle not only in Britain but elsewhere, because in effect it is the cardinal principle of Bolshevik organisation. We cannot permit ourselves any day-dreams on this question.
3. The Meaning of the 1938 Tactic.
The refusal of the W.I.L. to enter the 1938 Unity Agreement was not based upon the fear of internal discussion and faction struggle as is understood in a Bolshevik sense. Critics of the group have continually attempted to use this argument – but Bolshevism to them means nothing more than a “talking school”.
What must be understood about the 1938 situation in Britain is that apart from the W.I.L. the other groups were simply stagnating. The culminating point of petty-bourgeois degeneration, which set in almost since the inception of Trotskyism in Britain, had been reached when Cannon arrived. “Fusion today – splits tomorrow” was the policy. Worker elements were becoming demoralised and it was necessary to take a sharp stand if fresh proletarian elements were to be trained and protected from this type of politics.
The differences between ourselves and the I.S., [International Secretariat of the Fourth International – Ed.] amounted to this. They wanted to institute a fusion which in the opinion of the W.I.L. could only intensify this degeneration. Instead of arraigning a temporising period of discussion prior to the fusion under I.S. supervision, they completely overlooked the dominating influence of the petty-bourgeois rot, and arranged a fusion which ultimately split to pieces as predicted by the W.I.L. The W.I.L. on the other hand desired such a period of discussion in order to prove to the I.S. the real state of the British movement and at the same time to protect and fortify the young proletarian elements from degeneration. The W.I.L. felt sure that if there were a period of discussion before fusion, their case would be proved.
While opposing the immediate fusion, however, the leaders of the W.I.L. were aware that such an opposition could only be temporary. Two things could happen. Either the fusion would be successful and we should have to enter the R.S.L., or in the long run our influence would grow to the extent that we should dominate any fusion that took place (the position today), thereby crushing any petty bourgeois influence. At the same time, I repeat, the theory of waiting for the R.S.L. to die out was not entertained. And it could not be otherwise. We were in complete agreement that the democratic centralist method of solving problems either of a tactical or programmatic character was indisputable; and we recognised this by not opposing unity as such in 1938, except by laying emphasis on the need for a temporising period in order to supply a healthy background to such a unity.
The essential meaning of the 1938 tactic of W.I.L. was to provide a temporary breathing space to purge the movement of as much petty bourgeois poison as possible, in order at a later stage to fuse on a basis which would to a large extent complete this process. It was a purely temporary tactic, which it was understood at that time would be abandoned as soon as conditions were favourable (as they are today, since we undoubtedly would have a majority in any unification).
4. A Temporary Tactic Becomes Permanent.
Let us now proceed to the present position of the group. Cooper accuses us of writing “for the record”. This serious allegation is unfortunately true. Take for example the following paragraph from our letter to the R.S.L., 24/5/43.
“At our Political Bureau meeting on Sunday 23rd. May 1943 we resolved to: Urgently appeal to the R.S.L. to agree to an immediate Joint Meeting of our Executives with the purpose of arranging the date of a Unification Conference of our two organisations, to be held within the next month.”
Compare this with paragraph 8 of the Resolution on International Affiliation, dated July 1943, (two months later):-
“In view of the protracted discussions that have already taken place within each group on the political and tactical questions which separate us, the W.I.L believes that together with, and in agreement with the I.S, a six months discussion period be opened up, at the end of which period unification be affected, on the basis of one policy and one tactic, as a Fusion conference by majority vote.”
On May 24th. we note “the new conditions and immediate perspectives” and press for a unification conference within the next month, i.e., June. In July we ask for six months discussion, at the end of which we will have a Fusion Conference. Did the new conditions and immediate perspectives change within one month, which justified the postponement of a unity conference from one month to six? Of course not. We were writing “for the record” on 24th. May, as well as in paragraph 8 of the July Resolution; because everyone knows that these so-called six month discussion periods are a farce. The fact alone that they have gone on for two years is proof of this.
The implications of this “writing for the record” form of Bronx politics can be very serious for the group. In the first place it can never expose Harber & Co (since they are doing the same thing), and secondly it weakens the political prestige of the W.I.L. on the International, which will make it far more difficult to expose any alien tendencies on this important body in the future.
In plain language, what does all this two years’ discussion and correspondence amount to? Simply this. We do not seriously desire unity with the R.S.L., otherwise we would not have to resort to such methods. In effect, what was a temporary tactic in 1938 has been elevated into a long-term policy today, although the present conditions are such as we at that time considered favourable for unity. Herein lies the fundamental error of today, which is a departure from the 1938 W.I.L. perspective on unity.
5. The Importance of the International.
The regroupment of international revolutionists under the banner and platform of the Fourth international was one of the most important contributions of Comrade Trotsky to the cause of Marxism. We must never forget this. No matter how small or weak, the various sections exist and grow strong throughout the greater part of the world. Already the “World Party of Social Revolution” is acquiring a flesh and blood meaning for growing thousands of oppressed workers and peasants. Our foremost job is to build and strengthen this great movement. The permanent crisis of world capitalism, the dissolution of the Third International, and the opening out of the European revolution provide great prospects for the Fourth International.
Because of this the question of recognition as the official section in Britain is the most important issue before the group. The fact that we recognise in Paragraph 2 of our resolution the need for one section only in each country gives this point added weight.
The dissolution of the Comintern introduces “new conditions and immediate perspectives” (letter to R.S.L. of 24th. May). Agreed. The final destruction of this rubbish in the imperialist incinerator by Charwoman Stalin, unleashed great opportunities for our movement. Briefly, it meant that worker militants who instinctively move towards revolutionary internationalism were freed from the greatest barrier which divided them from the Fourth International. It meant that provided we worked properly we would be able to win increasing numbers of these militants on the basis of our international affiliation, i.e., the fact that we were the official section of the Fourth.
As the position stands in Britain today, to win these workers would mean a struggle against the R.S.L. and its off-shoot the T.O., as well as the I.L.P., [Independent Labour Party – Ed], who put forward a bogus internationalist policy in quite substantial doses. Let us accept the fact that the R.S.L. & Co are weak and not likely to gain many recruits at our expense. But what of the I.L.P.? Padley showed at the Holborn Hall debate that he could use the fact of our unofficial status to some advantage. In our struggle to profit by the new situation we should have to meet the unnecessary opposition of the R.S.L. and the I.L.P. around the fact that we are not the official section. Let us make no mistake; Padley & Co can do a considerable amount of harm on this issue. The task of our conference is to strike the weapon from their hands.
The revolution in Europe has begun. The task of forging sections of the Fourth International in the occupied countries is now one of primary importance. Thanks to the favourable conditions in Britain, we have built up what is undoubtedly the most important group nearest to the continent. Because of this we have an added responsibility for our international status.
The political re-orientation of continental revolutionaries promises to be as urgent now as in the days when Lenin and Trotsky formed the Comintern. Yet how can we participate with authority in these discussions if we have not the status of an official section of the Fourth? Is it not here that the real meaning of the World Party of Social Revolution emerges - to guide and assist the growth of revolutionary parties in every part of the world? Again in the face of the fact that there are bound to be numerous dissident groups on the continent all claiming to represent the Fourth International, how can we establish the principle of one section in each country if we have not solved it in Britain?
We have some excellent co-thinkers and sympathisers among continental socialists, and the only way we can train them for the future conflicts in Europe is to show them how we can solve the problems in Britain.
But what of Cannon, the comrades will say. Did he not make a mistake in 1938? If we capitulate today are we not allowing him to get away with his mistake? Is it not a fact, others will ask, that the only reason Cannon refuses to recognise the W.I.L. is because his prestige is at stake?
These arguments, however, provide additional reasons why the W.I.L. must be a section inside the Fourth International. If it is true that Cannon adopted a bureaucratic outlook when dealing with the British situation, this tendency will continue to reflect itself on the International. It can only be fought by a section of the International, not by an organisation outside the International. Surely this is elementary. If we solve the problem in Britain and become the official section, we shall have taken the first decisive step to check any false tendencies on the part of Cannon and his associates. Far from capitulating, we shall have demonstrated our unshaken confidence in Bolshevik organisational principles to every other section of the International. To remain outside the International is to maintain an ultra-left sectarian attitude in the struggle against bureaucratic tendencies in the I.S., and at the same time to strengthen any false policies that may arise there.
Therefore I submit the following reasons why we must become the official section without delay:
1. To bring an end to the false orientation of the 1938 tactic, which was originally intended as a temporary tactic, but which has now been transformed into a long-term policy; in this way to terminate the false “for the record” method of controversy which threatens the W.I.L.’s political prestige on the International.
2. To strike an obstructionist weapon from Harber, Padley, and others, paving the way to take advantage of the new prospects opened by the dissolution of the Third International.
3. Because we can contribute towards the building of the International, not merely in Britain but in Europe and throughout the world, only by being an official and integral part of that International, accepting its discipline on the basis of its democratic centralist structure.
6. What We Must Do
The main purpose of this document is to bring home to the membership the importance of being the official section of the Fourth International in view of the vital necessity to strengthen the traditional organisation of Trotskyism in the great struggles already begun. If we accept the history of international Trotskyism since 1933 (which is a history of Bolshevik regroupment in the Fourth International), then we must place the question of the International as the most important question before the group. All other questions of group development, such as the press, industrial work or organisational activity are bound up with whatever stand we take on the International. If we accept the political principles of bolshevism then we must accept the organisational method. It is not sufficient to say that we accept the programme of the Fourth International and that we expound it better than the R.S.L., if we do not accept its organisational method, which means that we must be affiliated to the International, accepting its democratic centralist basis; just the same as it is not sufficient to claim to be a Trotskyist and to be more controversial with the policy of Trotskyism than the organised Trotskyists, unless one joins the Trotskyist party accepting its democratic centralist discipline. That is what is meant by Bolshevik organisational methods.
When considered as a political question, unification with the R.S.L. and T.O., despite their weakness and lack of programmatic and tactical clarity, is subordinate to the importance of being the official section of the Fourth. We know full well that Harber and a number of his supporters are the backwash of petty-bourgeois politics reminiscent of the 1938 period. But how vastly different is the present situation! In 1938 petty-bourgeois politics dominated the Trotskyist movement. Today the predominantly proletarian W.I.L. holds the scene as the recognised tendency of Trotskyism. Whereas in 1938 it was necessary to take temporary measures to protect the young proletarian vanguard from degeneration, today our comrades are thoroughly schooled against such a possibility. If we accept this fact and have faith in the political judgement and wisdom of the membership, then surely we have nothing to fear from an internal struggle against Harber and his tiny band of supporters. On the other hand we have much to gain, since it is obvious that through a political struggle against these people the political development of the membership will be accelerated and their Bolshevik organisational understanding will be steeled for the great tests to come.
The arguments that are levelled against this solution centre on the fact that for a period we should be forced to turn towards and fight these people instead of outwards towards the workers. No doubt a certain amount of political struggle would be necessary, but this in no sense means that we should neglect our day to day activity. The more the membership were able to see the political superiority of our leadership, the greater would be their ability to conduct this everyday work.
On the other hand the “for the record” method of tackling this problem will continually tend to miseducate our members and undermine their confidence in the organisational methods of bolshevism. We cannot build a revolutionary party on such false methods; it can only be built on the basis of Marxist and Bolshevik principles.
In actual practice our present policy on unity is the same as Harber & Co. This is clumsily disclosed in the R.S.L. letter of 6/6/43, which remarks:
“Incidentally, it would be of interest to us to know why you are so much in favour of organisational unity with us today, when serious political differences exist, while you consistently rejected it in the days of 1938-39 when no such differences existed. Do you consider that your then attitude was incorrect or is your present attitude, like your past, dictated by ‘clique considerations’ – the differences being that you believe that now you could secure a majority in a united organisation, whereas previously this could not have been the case.”
You see their real reason for opposing unity is fear of being a minority. They are not sure of their political position so they do everything possible to “write for the record” as in the Starkey Jackson episode and the false verbal support for unification. But we can never hope to expose Harber by using Harber’s methods. This is the crux of the problem.
Our forthcoming conference must bring to an end the present disastrous methods which can never solve the problem of W.I.L. having official status in Britain. It must proclaim its recognition that the problem of being the official section is the foremost one before the group. Let us put an end to the letter writing and bogus six-months discussion periods by making an entirely new approach to the problem in Britain.
Our conference should propose the following unification agreement to the R.S.L. and T.O:
1. Immediate fusion of the three organisations under a central committee formed on the basis of one delegate for every twenty members of each group, the election to take place on a democratic centralist basis in each group.
2. Three months period of discussion prior to a unification conference at which a common policy and tactic will be decided.
3. W.I.L. policy to be the policy of the united organisation for these three months.
If these terms are rejected by the R.S.L. then the I.S. should be requested to suggest terms upon which an immediate fusion should take place.
The essential difference between these proposals and the frivolous methods of the past is that we shall fight for unity on this basis in the spirit of Cooper’s letter, in the fields both of theoretical discussion and of united action. It seems that if the R.S.L. refuse our sincere struggle for unity on this basis, there is not the slightest doubt that when the I.S. stipulate terms for unification they will do so in an atmosphere of wholehearted sympathy with the W.I.L.
Since the inception of the W.I.L. the membership have always been educated in the necessity to prepare for sharp changes. Indeed the whole history of Trotskyism demonstrated the Leninist method of the abandonment of outdated positions and programme and Marxian re-evaluation in the light of new changes and developments. We are faced with such a position now. If we go forward and fight for unity on this basis, far from capitulating on our decisions of 1938, we shall be fulfilling the essence of those decisions and at the same time demonstration the superiority of the W.I.L. in the field of political action.
10th August 1943 G. Healy
Copy of a letter dated 21st. August 1943 to Comrade Healy
Dear Comrade Healy,
At its meeting of August 19th. 1943, the Political Bureau resolved:
“That we give permission to Comrade Healy, together with one comrade who supports Comrade Healy’s line and a comrades who opposes it (Comrade Hinchcliffe), to unofficially approach the R.S.L. leadership with the three point ‘programme’ contained in comrade Healy’s document.
The Political Bureau will relieve the comrades from all activity which interferes with an energetic, enthusiastic ‘fight for unity’, which should serve to expose the alleged ‘for the record’ method of the Political Bureau.”
The Political Bureau believes that the experience gained in the few weeks before the Conference should prove instructive to the membership and assist in the deliberations of the Conference.
(Signed), E. Grant,
Copy of reply from GH to PB, dated 25th August 1943
As I scanned the lines of your resolution dated 19/8/43 I was reminded of a talk I had with a member of the Communist Party at the factory just a few weeks ago. We were discussing the situation in Germany on the eve of Hitler taking power, and he was hotly insisting that the German Party had done everything possible to develop a militant struggle against the Nazis. “Did we not call the workers to a general strike?” etc. etc. he said. You are only too familiar with the confusion which the Stalinist leaders create in the minds of sincere workers around the origin of such “methods of struggle”. You are also aware of the necessity to explain the Bolshevik method for the preparation of such events, in order to expose the one-time suicidal adventurism of the late Comintern. It is not permissible to answer Party members who argue thus with a Yes, Yea and a Nay, Nay. We have to explain.
Bolshevism teaches us the vital necessity for correct preparation if success is to be attained in small things as well as large. You have been conducting unity discussions with the R.S.L. for over two years. A considerable numbers of letters and bulletins have passed to and fro, and it must be said that many of these have contained propositions for unity; yet nothing has happened. The reason of course is not hard to find. Never once, during the two years, has there been a deep and serious desire on your part to solve the problems of unity among the groups in Britain. You have only drawn up propositions and written letters about unity in order to “convince” the I.S. that “you are doing everything possible”. Yet they remain adamant because they realise that such steps are only “for the record”. Good records may be all right in the files but not good enough where the I.S. are concerned.
Successful unification among the groups can only be accomplished if we sincerely and genuinely prepare for such an event. This is made clear in the second last paragraph of my bulletin. The presentation of a unity programme by itself alone can never solve this problem. There must be correct preparation.
The resolution invited me and two other comrades (one for and one against) to unofficially approach the R.S.L. for unity on the three point programme outlined in my bulletin. It is not difficult to note a tone of cheap cynicism behind this proposition. Hitherto you have gone on the record to convince the I.S., or so you thought. This time you are hoping that this “for the record” resolution will convince the delegates at the forthcoming conference, some of whom promise to be extremely sceptical of your false methods.
The gist of your resolution is that you want me to engage in an unofficial adventure as an individual whilst you as the leadership wash your hands of the whole affair. You would like me to become an accomplice and assist in your further confusion of the membership, by embarking upon ill-prepared, hasty adventures a few weeks before the Conference. No comrades, it won’t work. Your manoeuvre is going to rebound on your own heads. If you believe that unity is necessary to solve the problem in Britain, then it is your job sincerely to prepare for such unity. Up till now the I.S., a number of group members and myself believe that your “for the record” methods demonstrate a false approach towards this problem. The I.S. letters, Cooper’s document and my internal bulletin bring home this point in no uncertain manner. You are the leadership; it is now your turn to prove the contrary. I prefer to stick to the Bolshevik method of attaining unity, and consequently have no alternative but to emphatically reject your proposition.
You state in your letter that on the basis of the resolution “the experience gained in the few weeks before the conference should prove instructive to the membership”. On the contrary: I believe that your experience of the last two years will prove of even greater interest to the membership. That is why the present discussion was opened. If you care to read my bulletin more closely you will see that it regards the question of unity in Britain as one which is entirely subordinate to the importance of being the official section of the Fourth International. It is on this basis that future contributions to discussion will be developed.
You are aware of the growing opposition to your policy on unity. Instead of shouldering your responsibilities in a political manner befitting a Bolshevik leadership, you start off with a moreover. This is bad; very bad. It shows that you are preparing for a further retreat at the Conference from the all important task of settling the British question which is so important for the future of the movement. I for my part sincerely hope you will alter your course before it is too late, otherwise I am afraid many valuable opportunities for strengthening our group will be lost.