Jean van Heijenoort writing as Marc Loris

The British ILP

“The British ILP” Fourth International, (International Notes) February 1943, p.63, under the name “Marc Loris”, (765 words).

The following letter was addressed to the editor of Left, a British monthly sponsored by the ILP but of which George Padmore, who is not an ILP member, is now an editor.

Editor: In the October 1942 issue of Left you reproduced in part my article, “The ILP—Words and Reality,” from the June 1942 Fourth International, and I cannot but thank you for that. But, in so doing, you involved me in a discussion with Walter Padley, who answered my article in your December issue. I do not intend to reply to Padley’s arguments one by one; the delays caused by distance would make such a controversy of extremely little interest to your readers. I must only say that neither Padley’s answer nor- what is more important— the Independent Labour Party’s policy and activities in the months after my article have been able to make me change my estimate of this party.

In this short letter my sole intention is to try to show the main defects of Padley’s method of argument. First, Padley—like every true centrist—could not fail to accuse the Fourth International of maintaining a dictatorial regime; he cannot forgive the British followers of the Fourth International, “who allow an international centre thousands of miles away to dictate their political thinking.” Very fortunately, the British Fourth Internationalists did not wait for my article to criticise the ILP. They have done it for a long time, very often with much more powerful and direct arguments than mine. Nobody had to “dictate” this to them. They only had to observe the political reality. As a matter of fact, how could the Fourth International “dictate” anything to anybody? It has no fat posts to offer, no well-lined cash-box, no GPU. What else could bind its followers together but the common recognition of a certain number of objective truths? The characterization of the ILP as a centrist party is one of these truths. Since centrism is not for us a subjective appreciation, some kind of insult, but an objective political reality, with very definite features, its existence can be established by different people, even “thousands of miles” apart, without anybody having to “dictate” anything to anybody else.

In my article I gave a few examples of the opportunist character of the ILP’s parliamentary work. My criticism was based on facts and quotations—including the minutes of parliament. Padley does not try to disprove these, but to refute me, he simply quotes abundantly the ILP’s basic statement on parliament. It is well known that every opportunist party has in its archives some fine resolutions that it takes out on holidays. (Incidentally, even the ceremonial “basic statement” is not so fine and could be criticized on many points.) The day by-day practice, however, is quite different. The inconsistency, for a revolutionary viewpoint, of the work of the ILP’s parliamentary representatives is traditional and can be verified by everybody (from Maxton’s thanks to Chamberlain after Munich for having saved the peace, to Maxton’s recent proposition that the African colonies pass under the yoke of American imperialism). I must also mention the disproportionate role played by the parliamentary group in the internal life of the ILP where it is the bulwark of the right wing; indeed, the party as a whole is its prisoner.

I must make one final comment on Padley’s remark that revolutionary parties “do not grow on trees” and that perfection does not exist in this world. Padley uses a very old sophism: perfection is impossible, there will always be defects, therefore—this is the implicit conclusion— why criticise them? An argument on the same pattern is used by every supporter of the status quo. “Man is not perfect,” answers the philistine to the socialist criticism of bourgeois civilisation. “The ILP does not pretend to perfection,” answers Padley to our criticism. Certainly perfection does not belong to this world. But what does it mean to repeat such a platitude? It means only to justify passivity

No, indeed, the ILP is not perfect and, in our opinion, it can go forward only through a sharp struggle against a large part of its present leadership. The coming wave of revolutions will require from revolutionary parties clarity, firmness, consistency and resolution. These qualities are those in which the present leaders of the ILP are most lacking. The duty of the members of the party is to push aside those who prattle about “impossible perfection” and to proceed to adapt their organization to the revolutionary requirements of our epoch.