It was Healy’s practice to send such political letters as this to clarify important questions and keep members informed. They show his method of party building and are vital material necessary for training leading Marxist cadres today. (Ed)
POLITICAL LETTER NO. 3. Feb 16, qp62
TO ALL MEMBERS.
Since the beginning of the year the Tory offensive had become increasingly clear. The “pay pause” pushed the white collar union leaders into retreat and slowed down the wage demands for the major unions. By increasing taxation and a high bank rate, the Tories succeeded in inflicting an indirect cut in the value of real wages and began a process which is and must lead to unemployment. [Text as original- Ed]
The publication of the new white paper gives a clear insight into government policy; there is to be a strict limitation of any wage increases to somewhere between 3 and 4½ per cent. There is to be no curb on the cost of living, unemployment is expected to go on increasing and the April Budget may well bring further increases to the cost of living.
The Tory proposal for limited wage increases is strictly a tactical one. It is part of their strategy of wearing down the working class through utilisation of the right-wing trade union and Labour leaders to demoralise them whilst at the same time building up a reserve army of unemployed. In some respects it is a period parallel to that of the early 1920’s, although the crisis is much greater.
We are on the threshold of several years of militant struggle against the Tories. There are signs that even during the early months of this conflict the right wing leaders will be greatly discredited.
On the eve of the battle, with hardly a shot having been fired, they are on the run before the Tory offensive. At least it could be said that their counterparts in the 1920’s did endeavour to organise some kind of defensive action.
The yardstick for measuring the right-wing treachery today lies in understanding the chronic nature of the present crisis of British imperialism. The TUC chiefs are well aware that they have very little ground for manoeuvre. These gentlemen start as if they were living in the days following the 1926 defeat.
Sidney Greene’s references to “flipping strikes” and Webber’s assurances that there will be no strike are the kind of tactics used in the 1930’s in the period of tragic defeat of the working class. Because of all this the gulf between the right wing leaders and the rank and file has widened considerably in the last few weeks. We can now see more clearly the role of these leaders in the BLSP strike. It was not Rootes, the employers, but the AEU executive who defeated that strike.
When we speak of a crisis of leadership today we mean something which is very concrete. There is, as it were, a vacuum in the field of leadership inside the Labour movement at a time when the slightest attempt on our part to give leadership will receive considerable response. Just as the monopolies flex their muscles to drive down the standard of living of the working class, so will the workers, in their own way, seek ways and means to prepare against this offensive, despite the right wing.
The Socialist Labour League will try to intervene in the present situation in a way that we have not done in any previous struggle. Our programme is as follows:
1. No confidence whatsoever in the right wing trade union leaders. They are preparing a defeat.
2. For wage increases corresponding to the real increases in the cost of living. This increase in the
cost of living to be ascertained by the trade unions working with the weekly expenditure of
their members and not by the fake government indices.
3. The establishment of rank and file committees embracing all the industries with wage claims,
locally, regionally and nationally.
4. The building up of a new leadership from the ranks of these committees to replace the right
5. These committees to be strictly part of the trade union movement, and to be connected in
their activity with the struggle inside the Labour Party against the right wing.
6. For a Labour government pledged to nationalise all the basic means of production and the
establishment of a system of workers control.
Here is a programme which answers the problem of leadership, the monopoly threat of the Common Market, and will, at the same time, expose the right wing both inside the trade unions and the Labour Party.
It would be a mistake to conceive that the crisis of leadership in the labour movement is something separate from the crisis of leadership in the Socialist Labour League. Since our last conference we have experienced a considerable resistance inside the organisation on the part of comrades who refuse to correct routine methods of work and who allow the situation in their areas to deteriorate in a way that creates considerable difficulty for the Organising Committee.
We must say frankly that approximately one-third of the members of the National Committee have acted in this way over the past year. Despite considerable discussion and assistance in the areas, all that has been received is a number of undertakings to improve the work which have proved to be worthless. In fact, we now regard such undertakings with deep suspicion. There are comrades who believe that all they have to do is to admit their mistakes and then continue in the same old way. Such comrades are unable to consciously extend their role in the organisation in relation to the struggles now developing in the labour movement.
The promise to correct mistakes which turns out to be worthless is nothing more than an opportunist evasion of responsibility. It is a running away from the serious preparation for the struggle and reflects a parallel development amongst the centrist and VFS types.
At the time of crisis, the right wing moves further to the right when the Tories crack the whip. The centrists get out of the way and the working class is left leaderless. Those comrades who in practice refuse to correct mistakes are prepared to make any excuse in order to be left alone. In other words they act as a dead weight inside the organisation and in this way constitute an opposition to the established leadership. Such opposition does not necessarily at this stage have to take on offensive forms. In forcing the leadership constantly to argue and debate with it, it wastes valuable time on the part of leading comrades which would otherwise be going into building the movement. Such comrades help to slow down the movement, weaken effective leadership and in this way assist the centrists and others who reflect right wing pressure to immobilise our work.
With four months to our Conference we must say very bluntly to these comrades that the game is up. We are not going to tolerate any longer people who promise to correct mistakes and then do nothing about it. We are not going to tolerate administrative methods of work which act only as the creation of a front behind which no real work is done. We are not going to tolerate a situation in which leading members do nothing about increasing the sales of our publications and the improvement of relations between our branches and the local labour movement.
Marxist leadership now demands that we fight in a most conscious way against all those who would slow the movement down and prevent it from being adequately prepared for the struggles ahead. Indeed it is an essential part of our preparation that we should wage an all-out campaign against such methods.
If our analysis of the present situation is right – and we believe it is – then the keynote of our work as always is preparation and more preparation. Fortunately we have been able to carry this attitude into the youth work and we believe that we may be on the threshold of some important advances. These would play a big part in the reorientation of our movement to meet the crisis. The brunt of the struggle ahead will fall on the youth. The organisation of this youth into a Marxist organisation constantly being educated and trained to become leaders is now the most decisive of all tasks before our movement.
To those weary people who want to find hideouts to escape the implications of the coming struggles and who constantly remind us of the smallness of our forces, our answer is simple. Yes comrades, our forces are small. It is extremely difficult to develop a qualitative leadership of the type required in Britain today without a constant struggle inside and outside our ranks. There can be no complacency about the Socialist Labour League. But we have a plan to rapidly overcome this difficulty. Now that the big struggles lie immediately ahead we propose calling upon the youth to fight. The big battalions, numerically speaking, for the Marxist movement will come from this youth. Nothing can be changed without them. That is why we regard our patient efforts to work in the youth movement down to the smallest detail to be of considerable importance. It is not a question of “just other work”, but an essential and integral part of the preparation for the British revolution.
We now face a situation in which the sales of our publication should steadily increase. But here again we have a constant battle against sluggishness and routinism. Here again we have to put up with members who are too comfortable and complacent in their outlook. There are far too many in the Socialist Labour League who are content with routine sales for The Newsletter and who allow weeks to go by before they check actual numbers sold. We are forced then to write off substantial debts which have in some cases emerged as a result of sheer laziness. Every branch must be on its toes to root out these bad habits. We hope in the next few weeks to commence a national campaign to increase the circulation of The Newsletter. The central purpose of this campaign will be to increase the sales especially amongst industrial workers. Meanwhile, we want each branch to prepare a breakdown of its sales in a way that will enable the members to estimate how many papers are going into the various industries in the localities. It is vital that we increase the sales of our paper amongst industrial workers.
We are now re-printing the article “Plan to Beat the Tories” in pamphlet form. We hope that the sale of this pamphlet will exceed 5,000 copies. We hope that it will become the subject of discussion in every trade union where we have members and sympathisers.
We appeal to all our members to do everything they can to face up to the responsibilities for building the Socialist Labour League in the coming months.
16 February 1962.