Written: June 1943
Source: 1975 reprint of original. Notes from The Unbroken Thread
Transcription/Markup: Emil, 2002
Proofread: Emil, 2002
The document issued by the RSL “A Criticism of the WIL Pamphlet ‘Preparing for Power’” places us in the unfortunate position of having to adopt an extremely sharp tone in answer to several points, whereas we would have preferred that the discussion remain entirely on the most comradely plane. For apart from the important differences with the political ideas expressed in the RSL criticism, we are forced to take up the question of method in polemics. The method adopted in the RSL criticism is alien to bolshevism.
Despite this, however, there is sufficient material here to clarify our differences and effect a valuable education for all who do not wish to close their eyes and who do not seek to stifle the faculty of critical Marxist thinking.
In our reply we will attempt to re-establish and clarify the various terms such as chauvinism, revolutionary defeatism, etc, which our RSL comrades are so fond of bandying around, yet failing to understand the terms in their revolutionary essence.
In the introductory paragraph of their criticism, WIL is characterised as “an organisation, not moving politically in our direction, but moving away from us.” Our friends of the RSL can only have arrived at this characterisation as the result of indulging in pipe dreams. Wishing to divorce themselves from reality, they find themselves expatiating, in an inverted form, the philosophy of Dr. Coue... “WIL is moving way from the Fourth...WIL is moving away from the Fourth...” But unfortunately, the IS, recognising the hallucinations from which the RSL is suffering, wrote on June 21, 1942: “In our opinion your attitude towards the WIL is utterly false. Without ignoring personal differences inherited from the past, it is necessary to recognise that your false attitude flows directly from a false political appreciation of this group. You see in it a centrist group ‘moving away from us’. This is an opinion which we can by no means share.” For our comrades of the RSL who believe that the IS is a serious body capable of correct political appreciation, this formula should place the discussion in its proper perspective.
In our opinion the document does not contain a single clear and principled idea which can be counterposed to the ideas set forth in our thesis. We are presented with a series of disconnected, eclectic and hair-splitting quibbles, which we cannot accept as having been honestly arrived at. Take the very first argument which is put forward:
“A basic defect of the WIL document lies in the complete omission of any real explanation for the decline of British Imperialism and its defeats. The weakness of British Imperialism lies in the fact that owing to the uneven development of capitalism, its accumulated imperialist booty is now out of proportion to the relation which its economic (and consequently, military) strength bears towards that of rival imperialisms. Hence, it finds it difficult, or impossible to maintain its conquests unaided. Hence, therefore, its defeats and its forced reliance upon the USA. But according to the WIL document, everything is explained by ‘Old School Tie Blimps’ in the colonial service and armed forces, whose stupidity and incompetence is but a reflection of the fact that the British Bourgeois system has completely outlived itself and by the ‘enfeeblement and decline of the ruling class.’ It is true that we also read: ‘In reality the process of decline has been going on for many years before the war. The altering relationship of forces between the Powers was bearing less and less relationship to Britain’s nominal position.’ But this ‘altering relationship of forces’ is apparently considered to be due to the ‘senility and decay of British imperialism’, the causes of which are unexplained, not to the fact that certain of its rivals have experienced a relatively more rapid rate of economic and military development. It is, of course, quite true that ‘the British bourgeois system has completely outlived itself’ but this is true of all bourgeois systems in this epoch of the general decline of imperialism. Even Britain’s rivals in this war are decaying. Thus the WIL give us no real reason for Britain’s defeats and difficulties and moreover, by stressing and exaggerating the weakness of Britain and ignoring those of her rivals, gives a totally false picture of the position.”
This statement is the measure of a bankrupt leadership. A child of ten reading the document Preparing for Power could not wilfully misunderstand and misrepresent the ideas expressed in this way. We do not need the RSL to explain what is ABC to all Marxists - the law of uneven development of capitalism. Have the RSL forgotten that the law of uneven development has been the theoretical bag and baggage of the Stalinists for the last two decades in their polemics against the Marxists? A mere glance at the passages quoted would indicate that it is precisely on this law that our estimate of perspectives in Britain is based. Even though the thesis contained nothing else, only wilful mis-representation could lead to such meaningless criticism. The section referred to is headed: “Britain’s decline as a world power" and in our next section we have this passage:
“Because of the super exploitation of the colonial masses the British Imperialists were enabled to grant concessions to a privileged stratum of the British working class, and even to a certain extent, to raise the level of the whole of the British workers above that of the European workers. Basing herself on this, Britain’s industries became archaic and outdated, instead of advancing as in Germany and America, on the basis of modern technique. Hopelessly outmoded from a technical standpoint, she has been fighting on the shoulders of the colonies...”
Is this passage not based upon the law of uneven development and does it not explain the reasons for the changed position of British Imperialism? Moreover, as the “objective scientists” the RSL is aiming its criticism in the wrong direction. Trotsky puts the responsibility for the defeat of France on the shoulders of Blum and Thorez...who saved French capitalism from destruction in the stay-in strikes in 1936! Their position gave French capitalism privileges, and foster sluggishness, etc.
But where is the method of dialectical materialism in the RSL criticism? Perfectly true, that world capitalism as a whole is declining and in its death agony. But in the thesis we are not discussing world imperialism as a whole, except as insofar as the world position affects Britain. It is precisely the unevenness of development of capitalism which has provoked the “senility and decay” of British capitalism. If Britain’s world position has worsened due to technical superiority of Germany and America and her specific position as a world empire no longer corresponds to her weakened economic position, does this indicate a position of virility, youth and strength, even if we take the position of Britain in relation to her competitors? And does not this changed position have a reflection in the consciousness of all classes, including that of the ruling class? In their eagerness to find some “Marxist" criticism, the RSL have seized on some points without thinking out where their criticism would lead.
True, since the document was written, the military position of British Imperialism has enormously improved. But this does not alter anything essential in the document itself. It is thanks mainly to the heroic defence of the Soviet Union by the masses and the terrific economic and military preparations of America, that this is so. As Trotsky expressed it, Britain in all fundamentals still remains a base for the mightier imperialism of America. In any case, the objective process must have subjective results among the masses, and it is to this that we must devote attention.
Before passing on to the “basic points” it is necessary that we deal with one or two of the more glaring errors. The RSL states:
“With regard to the section entitled ‘The possibilities of fascism in Britain’, we must suggest to the WIL that they are in error in stating that ‘Mosley could only come to power on the basis of German bayonets.’ This suggests that the German bourgeoisie, if victorious, could set up a fascist regime here. This is false and in contradiction to the experiences which have taken place on the Continent. Fascism cannot be imported in this way. All that the Germans could do would be to set up some form of Bonapartist regime. Actually the position of British fascism would be greatly weakened by such a conquest by German Imperialism. But we, of course, realise that the WIL needs this picture of Mosley triumphing in order to provide a background for their policy of veiled support for the imperialist war.”
Our comrades of the RSL are really in too much haste to demonstrate the "chauvinism” of the WIL. And here in doing this, is where the RSL borders on methods more akin to Stalinism than to Trotskyism. Apparently, they have been reading, without absorbing, as we will attempt to show later on, the Old Man’s last article on fascism. But the WIL has no need to go to the RSL classes on this question either. The whole section of our thesis on fascism is precisely based on the Old Man’s ideas on this question. The section is directly aimed at providing the impossibility of fascism coming to power in Britain in the next period by German bayonets or by any other means.
In omitting the lines preceding the quotation they give, the RSL method savours of the “double bookkeeping” method of which they have accused us. The preceding lines say: “It can be seen therefore, that there can be no question of fascism in Britain in the period opening up.”
Does this suggest that we are using the Hitler bogey to cover up our "veiled support for the imperialist war?” The RSL needs precisely "this picture to provide a background” for false arguments against the WIL. The most amusing aspect of this accusation, made with such triumph against the WIL, is that it was precisely our organisation which had to explain the role of fascism and the conditions of its rise, in our criticism of the RSL. We would refer members of the RSL to our “Reply to the Political Statement of the RSL, 1941". The RSL has apparently accepted the criticism, forgotten that it was made against the RSL, and now attempts to use it against us. This is what we said:
“On the order of the day is not fascism, but revolution...So it was in France, so it was in Spain. The revolution will come first. This, of course, is based on the perspective which is the most likely one - that Hitler does not succeed in occupying the British Isles. If the German imperialists could do so, then the trend of events would be entirely different. But even in that event we could not speak of fascism in the Marxian sense of the term, but of a regime with no support among the population, resting entirely upon the support of foreign bayonets.”
But if it is any satisfaction to the “revolutionary” conscience of our RSL comrades, we say quite unequivocally: We would regard with horror a Nazi occupation of the British Isles. But alas, we would regard in exactly the same way an Anglo-American occupation of Germany! And in this “chauvinism" we find ourselves in very good company. The Old Man wrote about the fall of France as a catastrophe, not only for France, but for all Europe. If that is chauvinism, let the RSL make the most of it. But we must remind these comrades, while on the job, that they had better bear in mind the elementary rules of honesty in polemics. Distortions and hair-splitting serve to confuse, instead of to clarify the issues. The RSL leadership would be better advised in all future discussion, especially between those claiming to support the same tendency, to use scrupulously honest quotations and to cease being “unfair", as the IS terms it.
In such haste were they to manufacture arguments that they did not even check up before embarking on irresponsible comments. They quote from us:
“Once the masses compare the glittering promises about ‘after the war’ [with what they are to compare them is not given], their indignation will rise to unprecedented heights and revolutionary explosions will result.”
In fact, the quotation should read:
“Once the masses compare the glittering promises about ‘after the war’, of which they are sceptical even today, their indignation will rise to unprecedented heights when confronted with reality.”
Lenin once remarked that a sectarian could make as many mistakes in two lines as would require a book to answer. It would be a waste of time to track down and answer all the quibbles, distortions and somewhat vulgar sneers of the RSL. But two points must be dealt with before attempting to go onto the broader issues raised. Writing on WIL’s position on entrism, the RSL says:
“While it is, of course, natural for centrists respectfully to observe the orientations of other centrists, to attempt to model their conduct upon them...”
We would ask the RSL whether it is not “natural” for Marxists to observe the orientation of centrists, reformists, and even fascists for that matter, in order to determine the movement of political opinion in one direction or another at any given period? But this without necessarily “modelling" their policy in the same direction. Perhaps the explanation of the position of the RSL leadership today is provided by their refusal as “intransigent revolutionaries” to bother themselves about the orientation of the working class.
The RSL’s efforts to manufacture a case against the policy of WIL leads them into making assertions which land them in a somewhat contradictory position. On the one hand they say:
“It is illuminating to observe that the perspective of workers’ conquest of power during the war is pushed right into the background by the WIL, indeed it is barely mentioned.”
On the other hand they say:
“For to justify this opportunism, to be able to cover it with a cloak of revolutionary phrases, the WIL has to paint its picture of the present situation in revolutionary colours, it has to speak as though it were on the eve of the seizure of power! And, with such a perspective, the Labour Party tactic not only cannot be used, but actually becomes a hindrance.”
“You pays yer money and you takes yer choice!” as the showman says. Whatever may or may not be the policy of WIL it is obvious that it cannot be both of these.
The basic reason for the mistakes of the RSL lies in the fact that the leadership does not understand the revolutionary attitude towards the war. It is this which leads them to the sins against Marxism which they commit. Their position is summed up towards the end of their statement:
“In conclusion, we must state that the basis for all the main political mistakes of WIL is to be found in the defencist position it has adopted with regard to the imperialist war since the fall of France first made the defeat of British imperialism a real possibility. Defencism rarely shows itself in its open form especially in a left-centrist organisation. Concealment is especially necessary in an organisation still professing to stand upon the principles of revolutionary defeatism...”
An understanding of this confusion can be obtained by restating the fundamental position of Marxism on the question of war. If we take any of the writings of Lenin during the period of 1914-17, the issue can be clarified. In the little pamphlet Socialism and War, for example, we read the following:
“Social chauvinism is adherence to the idea of ‘defending the fatherland in the present war’. From this idea follows repudiation of the class struggle in war time, voting for military appropriations, etc. In practice the social chauvinists conduct an anti-proletarian bourgeois policy, because in practice they insist not on the ‘defence of the fatherland’ in the sense of fighting against the oppression of a foreign nation, but upon the ‘right’ of one or other of the ‘great’ nations to rob the colonies and oppress other peoples. The social-chauvinists repeat the bourgeois deception of the people, saying that the war is conducted for the defence of freedom and the existence of nations; thus they put themselves on the side of the bourgeois against the proletariat. To the social chauvinists belong those who justify and idealise the governments and the bourgeois of one of the belligerent group of nations, as well as those who, like Kautsky, recognise the equal rights of the socialists of all belligerent nations to ‘defend the Fatherland’. Social chauvinism, being in practice a defence of the privileges, prerogatives, robberies and violence of ‘one’s own’ (or any other) imperialist bourgeoisie, is a total betrayal of all socialist convictions and a violation of the decisions of the International Socialist Congress in Basle.”
It is clear from this single quotation that the RSL have failed to understand the essence of the meaning of chauvinism. How can any serious party or individual honestly claim that the above quotation characterises the policies and activities of WIL? Our fundamental international thesis War and the Fourth International explains:
“In those cases where it is a question of conflict between capitalist countries, the proletariat of any one of them refuses categorically to sacrifice its historic interests, which in the final analysis coincide with the interests of the nation and humanity, for the sake of the military victory of the bourgeoisie. Lenin’s formula: ‘defeat is the lesser evil’ means not that defeat of one’s own country is the lesser evil as compared with the defeat of the enemy country; but that a military defeat resulting from the growth of the revolutionary movement is infinitely more beneficial to the proletariat and to the whole people than military victory assured by ‘civil peace’. Karl Liebknecht gave an unsurpassed formula of proletarian policy in time of war: ‘The chief enemy of the people is in its own country.’" [source] (paragraph 58)
And indeed to pose the problem in any other way would be to become inverted chauvinists: that is, while not supporting the bourgeoisie of one’s own country, to fall into the objective position of supporting the bourgeoisie of the enemy country.
Here let us remark, that we have recollections of a document written by the same author of the present RSL document, which adopted precisely this false position, and which the RSL would prefer to forget.
In his last writings, which are undoubtedly among the finest he ever wrote, the Old Man gave the finest theoretical exposition of the Marxist-Internationalist attitude to imperialist war in general, and the present imperialist war in particular. These fragments will remain for all time the classical exposition of the Marxist approach to the problem and of the dialectical method as a means for determining the policy of the revolutionary party. The readers will forgive us if we quote extensively both from Lenin and Trotsky to establish the position of Marxism on an unassailable basis. Trotsky presents the theoretical basis of our attitude towards the war thus:
“The present war, as we have stated on more than one occasion, is a continuation of the last war. But a continuation does not signify a repetition. As a general rule, a continuation signifies a development, a deepening, a sharpening. Our policy, the policy of the revolutionary proletariat towards the second imperialist war is a continuation of the policy elaborated during the last imperialist war, primarily under Lenin’s leadership. But a continuation does not signify a repetition. In this case too, continuation signifies a development, a deepening and a sharpening. We were caught unawares in 1914.
“During the last war not only the proletariat as a whole but also its vanguard, and, in a certain sense, the vanguard of this vanguard was caught unawares. The elaboration of the principles of revolutionary policy toward the war began at a time when the war was already in full blaze and the military machine exercised unlimited rule. One year after the outbreak of the war the small revolutionary minority was still compelled to accommodate itself to a centrist majority at the Zimmerwald Conference(1). Prior to the February Revolution and even afterwards, the revolutionary elements felt themselves to be not contenders for power but the extreme left opposition. Even Lenin relegated the socialist revolution to a more or less distant future...
“In 1915 Lenin referred in his writings to revolutionary wars which the victorious proletariat would have to wage. But it was a question of an indefinite historical perspective and not of tomorrow’s task. The attention of the revolutionary wing was centred on the question of the defence of the capitalist fatherland. The revolutionises naturally replied to this question in the negative. This was entirely correct. But this purely negative answer served as the basis for propaganda and for training cadres but it could not win the masses who did not want a foreign conqueror.
“In Russia prior to the war the Bolsheviks(2) constituted four fifths of the proletarian vanguard, that is, of the workers participating in political life (newspapers, elections, etc). Following the February revolution the unlimited rule passed into the hands of the defencists, the Mensheviks and the SRs. True enough, the Bolsheviks in the space of eight months conquered the overwhelming majority of the workers. But the decisive role in this conquest was played not by the refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland but the slogan: ‘All power to the Soviets!’ And only by this revolutionary slogan! The criticism of imperialism, its militarism, the renunciation of the defence of bourgeois democracy and so on could never have conquered the overwhelming majority of the people to the side of the Bolsheviks...” (Bonapartism, Fascism and War, an unfinished article by Trotsky, dictated just prior to his assassination in 1940.) [source]
And following on this analysis, the basis is laid for the Marxist approach to the problems of the war today. The collapse and betrayal of the great parties of the Second International(3), by their support of the capitalist fatherland, came as a terrible shock and a great blow to the whole socialist movement. It was no accident, for example, that when Lenin in Switzerland received the issue of Vorwaerts, organ of the German Social Democracy, voting war credits to the Kaiser’s government, he believed at first that it must have been a forgery of the German general staff. In this little episode is mirrored the confusion and disorientation of the revolutionary vanguard.
The internationalists of all countries remained as isolated individuals and groups, most of whom merely opposed the war in a confused pacifist and semi-pacifist way. As late as the middle of 1915, at the Zimmerwald Conference, only a handful of delegates assembled. Yet even among this vanguard of the masses, confusion and lack of theoretical understanding of the war and of revolutionary policy were clearly displayed. The main task of Lenin during this period was not at all to win the masses to his banner, but to educate the vanguard, and even the vanguard of the vanguard. As Trotsky expresses it, Lenin had to concentrate his attention exclusively at this period on the question of "defence of the capitalist fatherland".
If we would examine all the extensive writings of Lenin from the beginning of the war to the outbreak of the February Revolution, we would find that they concentrate on theoretical questions as to the nature of the war and the betrayal by the Second International of the international proletariat. Lenin’s basic task was the struggle against what he characterised as social chauvinism and social opportunism. Lenin’s role then was to demonstrate that the class struggle remains the basic law of class society in peace time as in war time. Luxemburg and Liebknecht in Germany, and in a confused way the ILP(4) pacifists and opposition groups in other countries all groped in the same direction. All at that time conducted their work around the theoretical struggle on the question of the “defence of the fatherland". So it was that even after the February Revolution, this question occupied a predominant place. It is here that the confusion of the RSL on the question of “revolutionary defencism" arises.
Lenin would not tolerate the slightest concession to social patriotism and support of the bourgeoisie. After the overthrow of the Czar, the Mensheviks and SRs became social patriots and supported the Russian bourgeoisie. Lenin condemned the position of Kamenev and Stalin who, in Pravda, came out in support of the Provisional government, and in an unclear fashion even supported the war by saying that they would defend the bourgeois revolution against the attacks of the armies of the Kaiser. The revolutionary defencism which Lenin condemned was that of the Mensheviks and SRs who supported the war, who supported the capitalist state, and who supported the ruling class, as the method of defending the gains of the February Revolution. By revolutionary defencism is meant no more, no less, than social chauvinism. Lenin’s speech to the delegates of the Bolshevik faction of the soviets clearly put the position:
“The masses approach this question not from the theoretical but from a practical viewpoint. Our mistake lies in our theoretical approach. The class conscious proletarian may consent to a revolutionary war that actually overthrows revolutionary defencism. Before the representatives of the soldiers the matter must be put in a practical way, otherwise nothing will come of it. We are not at all pacifists. The fundamental question is: Which class is waging the war? The capitalist class, tied to the banks cannot wage any but an imperialist war. The working class can...” (Lenin, Collected Works (LCW), Vol. 20, p. 96, International Publishers, New York, 1929.)
We must base ourselves on the Leninist attitude towards war. Such a position serves for propaganda purposes and educates cadres. But how to win the masses?
Let us take an example from another sphere in which the Marxian attitude has been worked out theoretically and demonstrated practically. Marxism has demonstrated the superiority of the Soviet system to parliamentarism. But the position of the anti-parliamentarians, basing themselves on this correct idea, is hopelessly sectarian. It is necessary to lay this down theoretically, but in our day-to-day agitation we still conduct our work through parliamentary elections and convince the masses by their own experience of our point of view; not by the mere repetition, parrot-fashion, that soviets are the sole means of salvation for the working class. The mistakes of the RSL are of the same character.
Trotsky throws a penetrating light on one of the most important reasons for the impotence of the revolutionary left during the last war. Trotsky has emphasised better than anyone else the outlived character of the national state and its reactionary role in our epoch. Our attitude is based on that criterion. Our opposition towards war waged by imperialist states lies precisely on their outmoded character and the fact that support for any imperialism cannot assist the development of the productive forces - on which all human progress depends. From this stems the profoundly dialectical approach of Trotsky to the problems of the revolutionary movement in the last war. Russia was the country where the proletariat was freshest and most revolutionary. Bolshevism had conquered the overwhelming majority of the organised and politically awakened workers before the commencement of the last war.
On the eve of the war, barricades were already appearing on the streets of St Petersburg. Yet in the first period of the war the Bolsheviks were smashed by police repression without protest on the part of the masses, and even sections of the workers participated in patriotic demonstrations in favour of the Czar. The war weariness and disillusionment of the masses led to the February Revolution. Yet despite the traditions of Bolshevism within Russia, the Mensheviks and SRs gained overwhelming preponderance among the masses, including the workers. The war weary masses placed in power, not those who consistently opposed the war, but social chauvinists!
In Germany, where Liebknecht and Luxemburg conducted an internationalist opposition to the war, the German revolution placed the rotten social democracy and not at all the Spartacists(5) in power. Yet the socialist traitors had supported the Kaiser and the imperialist war to the limit and even figured in the cabinet of his government. The social democrats fought and opposed the revolution with all their strength and even attempted to save the monarchy. Yet by the irony of history they usurped the power in the revolution.
In Britain where the Labour leaders were supporting the war as members of His Majesty’s government, the radicalisation and revolutionary upsurge of the British workers saw a tremendous increase in the support and influence of the Labour Party. The revolutionary international remained isolated from the working class - this despite the disillusionment of the masses of the people in the war and its results.
In all other countries the same phenomenon can be observed. One of the reasons for this (of course there are other fundamental reasons into which we cannot enter here) was precisely the issue which Trotsky raises. The correct criticism by the internationalists (by itself), “of imperialism, its militarism, the renunciation of the defence of bourgeois democracy, and so on, could never have conquered the overwhelming majority of the people to...their side.”[source]
It has been shown that the attention of the revolutionary vanguard was concentrated on the renunciation of the defence of the capitalist fatherland. This could not be a basis to win the masses who do not want a foreign conqueror. "True enough,” Trotsky wrote, “the Bolsheviks in the space of eight months conquered the overwhelming majority of the workers. But the decisive role in this conquest was played not by the refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland but by the slogan ‘All power to the Soviets!’ And only by this revolutionary slogan!”[source]
An examination of the Bolshevik agitation in the period between February and October demonstrates this irrefutably. Not only this. If we examine Lenin’s approach to the masses on the question of the war before February 1917, and after, there is a striking difference. In the first period as we have shown, it is purely of an appositional character; in the second, the period of revolution, all agitation and for that matter, propaganda and theory, is directed towards the goal of the seizure of power. With the imminence of the goal before him, Lenin links up the question of the war with the problem of which class possesses power. In this he is not at all contradicting his stand during the early period of the war, and in fact remains watchful that the leadership of the Bolsheviks does not stray from the internationalist position. But now, from theoretical clarification, he is carrying the policy into action. From training the cadres, he is advancing towards the solution of the problem of winning the broad masses. In both positions he remains true to the stand of Marxism. There is no need to quote extensively for this.
The RSL has stated (quite incorrectly) that the WIL bases its agitation on the war on Lenin’s Threatening Catastrophe. [source] However, this pamphlet itself is an annihilating reply to the sectarian criticism of Trotskyism and its attitude towards the war. In attempting to dodge the issue the RSL states: "In practice the WIL claim that, for instance, Lenin’s remarks on the Threatening Catastrophe [written on the eve of the seizure of power!] apply today, and such is the basis of their propaganda.” We might draw the attention of the leadership of the RSL to the fact that even if we did base ourselves on the perspective of the immediate seizure of power, it solves nothing of the question of whether or not we are chauvinist. It would indicate only, in the worst event. an error of perspective.
The fact that Lenin wrote on the eve of the seizure of power could not excuse him if he were guilty of chauvinism. Nor would it excuse the WIL today. Twenty-five years after they are willing to forgive Lenin his "chauvinism” because it led to the successful revolution, but without having learned that had Lenin adopted their method, there would have been no revolution. In our view, chauvinism “on the eve of the seizure of power” would be a hundred times more unpardonable than at any other time. However, let us examine what Lenin really did say. In Threatening Catastrophe, under the section, The war and the fight against economic ruin:
“All the above measures of fighting the catastrophe would, as we have already pointed out, immeasurably strengthen the defensive power or, in other words, the military strength of the country. This on the one hand. On the other hand these measures cannot be introduced without transforming the predatory war into a just war, without transforming the war waged by the proletariat in the interests of all the toilers and exploited." [source (translation differs)]
“It is impossible to lead the masses into a robbers’ war in accordance with secret treaties and still expect them to show enthusiasm. The foremost class of revolutionary Russia, the proletariat, realises ever more clearly the criminal character of the war, while the bourgeoisie not only has failed to shatter this conviction of the masses, but on the contrary, the consciousness of the criminal character of the war is growing. The proletariat of both capitals of Russia has become definitely internationalist. How can anyone talk about mass enthusiasm here in favour of the war? One thing is inseparably bound up with the other; internal politics with foreign politics. It is impossible to render the country capable of defending itself without the greatest of heroism on the part of the people in courageously and decisively carrying out great economic transformations. And it is impossible to appeal to the heroism of the masses without breaking with imperialism, without offering to all the peoples a democratic peace, without thus transforming the war from a war of conquest, a predatory criminal war, into a just, defensive, revolutionary war." [source]
The most ignorant and confused peasant would be able to understand this. The RSL triumphantly exclaims, as if it had discovered a crime:
“...their [the WIL] slogan, nowhere explicitly stated in the document it is true, but implicit in it and in their other propaganda is ‘turn the imperialist war into a workers’ anti-fascist war’. In other words their main attack is directed not against the British bourgeoisie, but its rivals, the fascist regimes.”
If the argument contained in the first part of this ‘charge’ can be levelled against us, then it applies a hundred times more to Lenin...because Lenin’s propaganda for changing the imperialist war into a workers’ war is not implicit, but explicitly stated. In any event, how can the war be changed into an anti-fascist war without the workers having conquered power? So far as we are concerned, we prefer to remain in the “chauvinist” company of Lenin. The latter part of this criticism, that our “main attack is directed against the fascist regimes” is absolutely false and cannot honestly be held by anyone who reads our press and documents.
On the question of slogans too, Lenin answered the RSL long in advance. They complain that WIL does not raise the slogan of turning the imperialist war into a civil war, though the WIL has proclaimed often enough that it stands on the principles and methods of the Fourth International. It would be nothing short of lunacy to raise this as an agitational slogan in the period ahead. As senseless as raising the slogan of the insurrection for the week after next.
There is a time and a place for every slogan. Just think, in the middle of the revolution, Lenin proclaims:
“To speak of civil war before people have come to realise the need of it, is undoubtedly to fall into Blanquism(6).” (LCW, Vol. 24, p. 236) [source] And to give some advice that ultra-lefts would be wise to pay some attention too: "It happens only too often that, when history makes a sharp turn, even the most advanced parties cannot get used to the revolutionary situation for some time, and repeat slogans that were correct yesterday, but have no more meaning today, having lost it as suddenly as the sharp turn in history ‘suddenly’ occurred.” (LCW, Vol. 21, p. 43) [source]
At a certain stage in the revolution, Lenin even denounced those who claimed that he stood for civil war, quite correctly laying the responsibility on the shoulders of the bourgeoisie for anything of the sort:
“Is there anything more absurd and ridiculous than this fairy tale about our ‘fanning civil war’ when we have declared in the clearest, most formal and unequivocal language that the main burden of our work is the patient explaining of proletarian policy as opposed to the petty bourgeois defencist obsession of faith in the capitalists.”
Our policy in relation to the problems of the epoch remains on the granite foundation laid down by Lenin. Our attitude towards imperialist war remains that of irreconcilable opposition. We continue the traditions of Bolshevism. But in the epoch of the decline and disintegration of capitalism a continuation, as Trotsky points out, does not mean a mere repetition. In the quarter century that has passed, the objective conditions for the socialist revolution have reached maturity and the decay and disintegration of capitalism have revealed themselves in the abortive attempts at revolution on the part of the masses, in fascism, and now in the new imperialist war. All the objective conditions of the past epoch render the proletariat responsive to the posing of the problem of the conquest of power by the working class.
As distinct from 1914-18, the cadres of Bolshevism have been trained and educated in the Leninist approach towards imperialist war. The social-chauvinism on the part of the Social Democrats and the Stalinists was anticipated and predicted by the Trotskyists long in advance. The theoretical exposure of social chauvinism is not a live issue for Bolshevism today. We build and construct our party on the Leninist internationalist basis, not least on the fundamental question of war.
As Trotsky once pointed out, war and revolution are the fundamental test for the policy of all organisations. On both these questions we continue the Leninist tradition. But Marxism does not consist in the repetition of phrases and ideas, however correct these may be. Otherwise Lenin could not have developed and deepened the conceptions first formulated by Marx. And Trotsky could not have propounded the theory of the Permanent Revolution. If all that was required of revolutionaries was to repeat ad nauseam a few phrases and slogans taken from the great teachers of Marxism, the problem of the revolution would be simple indeed. The SPGB(7) would be super-Marxists instead of incurable sectarians. As Trotsky remarked of the ultra-lefts, every sectarian would be a master strategist.
In the last analysis, the basic principles of Marxism, as developed theoretically by Marx himself, have remained the same for nearly a century. The task of his successors consists, not at all in repeating a few half-digested ideas, parrot fashion, but of using the method of Marxism and applying it correctly to the problems and tasks posed at a particular period. It is now necessary to approach the problem of war, not only from its theoretical characterisation by Lenin, but in the task of winning the masses to the Leninist banner. For the past epoch the cadres of the Fourth International have been educated in the spirit of internationalism. We look at the war from the principled basis established by Lenin, but now from a more developed angle. We do not conduct our propaganda from the standpoint of analysing the nature of the defence of the capitalist fatherland alone but from the standpoint of the conquest of power by the working class and the defence of the proletarian fatherland.
As Trotsky posed the problem:
“That is why it would be doubly stupid to present a purely abstract pacifist position today; the feeling the masses have is that it is necessary to defend themselves. We must say ‘Roosevelt (or Wilkie) says it is necessary to defend the country: good, only it must be our country, not that of the 60 families and their Wall Street.’” (American Problems, August 7, 1940.) [source]
Only hopeless formalists and sectarians, incapable of appreciating the revolutionary dynamic of Marxism, could see in this a chauvinist deviation or an abandonment of Leninism. Our epoch is the epoch of wars and revolutions, militarism and super-militarism. To this epoch must correspond the policy and approach of the revolutionary party. War has come as a horrible retribution for the crimes of Stalinism and reformism. It came through the fact that the traitors in the workers’ leadership frustrated the striving of the masses in the direction of the socialist revolution. It is a reflection of the blind alley in which imperialism finds itself, and of the historical ripeness and over-ripeness for the socialist revolution.
The last world war was already an expression of that fact that on a world scale capitalism had fulfilled its historical mission. This objective fact leads rapidly to the subjective position where the masses of the workers are ripe for the posing of the problem of the socialist revolution, that is the problem of power. The events of the past epoch have left the working class with a psychology of frustration and bewilderment. They regarded with apprehension and horror the coming of the second blood-bath in which they would expect nothing but suffering and misery. In this war, right from its inception, among the British workers, especially among the Labour workers, there has been an absence of hatred towards the German people. Even in America, where the masses are far less politically conscious than in Britain, in a recent Gallup Poll, two thirds of the people interviewed differentiated between the German people and the nazis on the question of responsibility and punishment after the war. This, despite all the propaganda of the bourgeoisie. If this is the case in America, it is a hundred times more true of Britain.
It is perfectly true, however, that especially among the working class there is an unclear, but deep-seated hatred of Hitlerism and fascism. But with all due respect to the leadership of the RSL, this hatred is not reactionary and chauvinist but arises from a sound class instinct. True, it is being misused and distorted for reactionary imperialist ends by the bourgeoisie and labour lackeys. But the task of revolutionaries consists in separating what is progressive and what is reactionary in their attitude: in winning away the workers from their Stalinist and Labour leaderships who misuse these progressive sentiments. And there is no other way than that mapped out by Trotsky in his last articles, of separating the workers from the exploiters on the question of war.
The decay and degeneration of British imperialism render the masses responsive to the posing by the revolutionaries of the problem of power; to the problem of which class holds the power. Every issue which arises must be posed from this angle. Our position towards war is no longer merely a policy of opposition, but is determined by the epoch in which we live, the epoch of socialist revolution. That is, as contenders for power. Only thus can we find an approach to the working class. On paper, and in the abstract, the RSL accepts the “Transitional Programme" [source] as the basis for our work in the present period. Trotsky points out that the objective situation demands that our day to day work is linked through our transitional demands with the social revolution. This applies to all aspects of our work. The plunging of the world into war does not in the least demand a retreat from this position, but on the contrary gives it an even greater urgency. But the same theoretical conception which forms the basis of the Transitional Programme(8) and dictates the strategical orientation of all our activists forms the basis of the strategical attitude towards war in the modern epoch.
War is part of the life of society at the present time and our programme of the conquest of power has to be based, not on peace, but on the conditions of universal militarism and war. We may commiserate with the comrades of the RSL on this unfortunate deviation of history. But alas we were too weak to overthrow imperialism and must now pay the price. It was necessary (and, of course, it is still necessary) to educate the cadres of the Fourth International of the nature and meaning of social patriotism and Stalino-chauvinism and its relation towards the war. Who in Britain in the left wing has done this as vigorously as WIL? But we must go further. The “Transitional Programme", if it has any meaning at all, is a bridge not only from the consciousness of the masses today to the road of the socialist revolution, but also for the isolated revolutionaries to the masses.
The RSL convinces itself of the superiority of its position over that of Stalinism and reformism. It comforts itself that it maintains the position of Lenin in the last war. This would be very good...if the RSL had understood the position of Lenin. However, for Trotsky and the inheritors of Bolshevism, we start (even if the RSL correctly interpreted Lenin, which it does not) where the RSL leadership finishes! We approach the problem of war from the angle of the imminence of the next period of the social revolution in Britain as well as other countries. The workers in Britain, as in America “do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say, ‘let us have a peace programme’ the workers will reply: ‘but Hitler does not want a peace programme.’ Therefore we say, we will defend the United States or Britain with a workers’ army with workers’ officers, and with a workers’ government, etc.” (Trotsky, ibid) [source]
Those words of the Old Man are saturated through and through with the spirit of revolutionary Marxism, which, while uncompromisingly preserving its opposition towards the bourgeoisie, shows sympathy and understanding for the attitude of the rank and file worker and the problems which are running through his mind. No longer do we stop at the necessity to educate the vanguard as to the nature of the war and the refusal to defend the capitalist fatherland, but we go forward to win the working class for the conquest of power and the defence of the proletarian fatherland.
The harping on the theme of “peace” runs like an ever recurring thread through the RSL document, and indeed, provides the key to the development of the RSL and their present position. Commenting on a sentence in "Preparing for Power", “The corruption and incompetence, industrially and militarily, raises sharply in the minds of the workers the question of the regime,” the RSL writes:
“There is no question of misunderstanding this sentence. It means that the workers are questioning the right of capitalism to continue as the system of this country. This before the workers have even begun to display a mass sentiment for peace, while they still support the imperialist war and are, in fact, anxious to see it more efficiently and offensively conducted.”
This recurring theme of “peace” indicates the hopelessly petit bourgeois position of the leadership of the RSL. And it does not rise accidentally either. It is the continuation and culmination of a whole series of mistakes on the question of the revolutionary attitude towards militarism and war. At the time when conscription was imposed in Britain a few months before the outbreak of the war, the RSL in the Militant(9) correctly condemned conscription for imperialist ends. But as a means of fighting against this they found themselves in the company of the Peace Pledge Union, the ILP and other pacifist and semi-pacifist bodies in advocating the futile, and from a revolutionary point of view, the dangerous policy of refusal to accept conscription into the militia. This at a time when it was obvious that the overwhelming majority of the workers would enter into the militia. In the Militant of June 1939, the RSL wrote, under the heading “What to do":
“Conscription must he smashed! Demand that the TUC prepare a General Strike. Demand that the Labour Party force a General Election. Demand that the Executive Committee of your Trade Union instructs all its members of conscription age to refuse to register, and defend them if they are prosecuted for refusing. Only by mass action can conscription be smashed!”
This revolutionary-sounding alternative had an entirely social pacifist orientation, characteristic of centrism and petty bourgeois socialism. From the standpoint of the traditional Leninist position it was a false general directive: and as the attitude towards conscription adopted by comrade Trotsky demonstrates, it was also false from the standpoint of modern Leninism-Trotskyism. It left the members and sympathisers of the RSL without the slightest directive on what to do when faced with the concrete position: Register.
Indeed, so utopian was this that the directive to refuse to register was given, yet the members of the RSL registered. It is indeed somewhat embarrassing to even have to argue over such questions among people who claim to be supporters of Lenin. But as the RSL leaders seem to have a hankering for posing as defenders of “old fashioned” ideas, perhaps it will settle the matter if we give a good quotation from Lenin on this question. Incidentally, the revolutionary attitude on this issue goes way back to Marx, and even the old social democracy on the continent had a correct and revolutionary attitude when compared with that of the RSL:
“At the present time the whole of social life is being militarised. Imperialism is a fierce struggle of the great powers for the division and re-division of the world, therefore it must inevitably lead to further militarisation in all countries, even in the neutral and small countries. What will the proletarian women do against it? Only curse all war and everything military, only demand disarmament? The women of an oppressed class that is really revolutionary will never agree to play such a shameful role. They will say to their sons: ‘You will soon be big. You will be given a gun. Take it and learn to use it. The proletarians need this knowledge not to shoot your brothers, the workers of other countries, as they are doing in the present war, and as you are being advised to do by the traitors to socialism, but to fight the bourgeoisie of your own country, to put an end to exploitation, poverty and war, not by means of good intentions, but by a victory over the bourgeoisie and by disarming them.’” (LCW, Vol. 23, p. 82) [source (translation differs)]
Immediately the war began, the RSL joined up in an unprincipled alliance with the pacifists in the “Socialist Anti-War Front". Hardly had they recovered breath from the exertions in this direction than they immediately fell into an even worse petit-bourgeois pacifist position. At a time when both the Stalinists and the ILP came out with the slogan “Stop The War", the RSL made haste to follow in the same pacifist strain. In one of the issues of the Militant this was blazoned as the main headline! There is no need to polemicise against this position today, as events drove it into oblivion.
Not even the RSL, which dropped this slogan without explanation, would argue in its favour now. In fact even the centrists of the ILP would not do so. From this error, the RSL leadership naturally and automatically slid into the next. The Executive Committee of the RSL issued a special statement repudiating the section of the Manifesto of the Fourth International - Imperialist War and the World Revolution, 1940, under the heading: “Workers must learn the Military Arts" [source] as being inapplicable to Britain. In private the leaders of the RSL pooh-poohed the idea that comrade Trotsky could have been the author of such “chauvinist” statements, which corresponded to the WIL’s position. This is what they said:
“Under the heading ‘Workers must learn the Military Arts’, the Manifesto demands that the state immediately provide the workers and the unemployed with the possibility of learning how to use arms. This might be construed by some as support for the opportunist demand put forward by certain organisations in this country for the arming of the workers. The slogan ‘arm the workers’ put forward in a belligerent country at a time when the masses are at a white heat of patriotism and in immediate fear of invasion is purely defencist and patriotic in character. The masses at such a time desire arms in order to repel the invader, i.e. in order to defend their ‘own’ capitalist state. Such a slogan is used by the imperialists for recruiting purposes....The British Section therefore states that the demand in the international manifesto has no validity in the existing conditions in this country...”
Their position on this question flowed from the incorrect policy they held previously on the question of conscription. And finally, as the culminating point of this whole process, they finish up with the position of...peace in the present period! Well might an ordinary worker retort to such a position: "They say ‘Peace, Peace,’ and there is no peace!” Lenin undoubtedly pointed out the necessity to utilise at a certain stage the desire of the masses for peace. But in the very quotation given by the RSL he pointed out that such a position had nothing in common with pacifism. The RSL’s position, on the contrary, is pacifist and has nothing in common with Leninism. All Lenin’s writings on this question were aimed not only against the social patriots, but also against those who toyed with the slogan of peace without reference to time and place and the conditions under which peace could be obtained:
“We do not want a separate peace with Germany, we want a peace among all peoples, we want the victory of the workers of all countries over the capitalists of all countries.” (LCW, Vol. 24, p. 125) [source (translation differs)]
“The slogan ‘Down with the War’ is correct, to be sure, but it does not take into account the peculiarity of the tasks of the moment, the necessity to approach the masses in a different way. It reminds me of another slogan, ‘Down with the Tsar’, with which an inexperienced agitator of the ‘good old days’ went directly and simply to the village - to be beaten up. Those from the masses who are for revolutionary defencism are sincere not in a personal but in a class sense, i.e. they belong to such classes (workers and poor peasants) as really gain nothing from annexations and the strangling of other peoples. They are quite different from the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia who know very well that it is impossible to give up annexations without giving up the rule of capital, and who unscrupulously deceive the masses with beautiful phrases, with no end of promises, no end of assurances.
“The average person who favours revolutionary defencism looks upon the thing in a simple matter-of-fact way: ‘I for one, do not want any annexations, but the German “presses” me hard, that means that I am defending a just cause and not any imperialist interests.’ To a man like this it must be explained very patiently that it is not a question of his personal wishes, but of mass, class, political relationships and conditions, of the connection between the war and the interests of capital, the war and the international network of banks etc. Only such a struggle against defencism is serious and promises success, perhaps not very quick, but real and durable. The war cannot be ended ‘at will’. It cannot be ended by the decision of one side. It cannot be ended by ‘sticking the bayonet into the ground’, to use the expression of a soldier defencist.” (LCW, Vol. 24, p. 65) [source (translation differs)]
Lenin defines the position on war further:
“To terminate the war in a pacifist manner is sheer Utopia. It may be terminated by an imperialist peace. But the masses do not want such a peace. War is a continuation of the policies of a class; to change the character of the war, one must change the class in power.” (LCW, Vol. 24, p. 150) [source (translation differs)]
This clear and simple position constitutes an annihilating reply to the position of the RSL on peace. In following all the major errors of the leadership of the RSL during the last few years on this question, there is revealed indubitably the existence of a petit-bourgeois pacifist or semi-pacifist tendency. But the quantity of the mistakes develops into a new quality. The RSL leadership is now revealing a fundamental breach with the ideas and methods of Leninism, with the ideas and methods of the Fourth International. Trotsky answered this particular argument on “peace" for us in his criticism of Shachtman(10) in August 1940:
“We should understand that the life of this society, politics, everything, will be based on war, therefore the revolutionary programme must also be based on war. We cannot oppose the fact of the war with wishful thinking; with pious pacifism. We must place ourselves upon the arena created by this society. The arena is terrible, it is war, but in as much as we are weak and incapable of taking the fate of society into our hands; in as much as the ruling class is strong enough to impose upon us this war, we are obliged to accept this basis for our activity.
“I read in a short report of a discussion that Shachtman had with a professor in Michigan, and Shachtman formulated this idea: ‘let us have a programme for peace, not war; for the masses not for murder,’ etc. What does this mean? If we do not have peace, we cannot have a programme for peace. If we have war, we must have a programme for war, and the bourgeoisie cannot help but organise the war. Neither Roosevelt(11) nor Willkie are free to decide; they must prepare the war, and when they have prepared it they will conduct it. They will say they cannot do otherwise, because of the danger of Hitler, etc, of the danger from Japan, etc.
“There is only one way of avoiding the war - that is the overthrow of this society. However, we are too weak for this task, the war is inevitable. The question then, for us, is not the same as in the bourgeois salon - ‘Let us write an article on peace, etc’, which is suitable for publications like The Nation. Our people must consider it seriously; we must say: the war is inevitable, so let us have an organised workers’ programme for the war. The draft of the youth is part of the war and becomes part of the programme." (Trotsky, American Problems) [source]
Comrades of the RSL, there is nothing chauvinist in this! It is the revolutionary internationalist and Marxist approach to war and the militarism of our epoch. It is not at all excluded that at a certain stage, there will arise a mass feeling for peace resulting from the mass slaughter, stalemate on the military fronts, the suffering of the masses reaching an unbearable intensity. However, even if this arises, our approach would still have nothing in common with the pacifist position of the RSL leadership. We would approach the question from the angle, that just as we cannot leave the problem of the war in the hands of the capitalists, so it would be fatal to leave the problem of peace in their hands. Peace in the modern epoch, if imperialism still survives, will not be much different from war. Peace under capitalism cannot be of long duration, but merely an interlude.
The sole road for ensuring peace would lie in the overthrow of imperialism in Europe and the world. In effect then our emphasis might shift in our agitation from the difference between war waged in the interests of the masses and war waged by the capitalists, on the one hand, to peace in the interests of workers, and peace in the interests of the capitalists, on the other. The axis of our agitation would remain the same: the problem of Power: which class holds and wields the power in its own interests.
In order to strengthen their case, the RSL quotes from War and the Fourth International: “The revolutionary struggle for peace which takes on ever wider and bolder forms is the surest means of ‘turning the imperialist war into a civil war’...” This conditional prognosis of the possible development of events is used merely as a cover for a pacifist or semi-pacifist position. However, even in the Russian Revolution, which is deemed "typical” of the events which will take place in other countries, the slogan of “peace” was not separated by Lenin from the idea of revolutionary war. On the contrary, Lenin waged a struggle, especially in the first months of the revolution, precisely around the question of "revolutionary war” being possible only if the proletariat held state power. However, he never considered it in the bald way in which the problem is conceived by the RSL.
True it is, that the slogan of peace was one of the mightiest weapons in the arsenal of Bolshevism. However, this conditional formula does not necessarily have to be put forward at all stages of the war, possibly not at all at certain periods. Slogans such as “peace” are based on the consciousness of the masses. At the present time the masses in Britain are what the RSL chooses to call “chauvinist". Faced with a choice between peace with a victory for Hitler, or even a compromise with the nazis, and the continuance of the war, 99 per cent would favour a continuance of the war. The Labour leaders justify their support for the capitalist government by the necessity to fight Hitlerism. What can the RSL reply to this? To refer to the enemy at home is very good and correct, but does not constitute a reply to the worker. For he does not desire a foreign conqueror and a fascist one at that. Instead of looking down with scorn and disgust at the “chauvinist” masses, the RSL leaders should try and learn something from the workers as well as attempt to be their "teacher".
An instructive episode occurred in the early stages of the war in 1939, before the fall of France. The Stalinists, during their “anti-war" period, launched a campaign in their stronghold of South Wales. They secured a referendum among the South Wales miners on the question of war. This among one of the most militant and class conscious sections of the workers in Britain. A great deal of discontent and uneasiness existed among the miners on the question of the war. They were suspicious of the aims of the ruling class. Under these conditions, the Labour and reformist bureaucrats had to execute a manoeuvre to prevent the Communist Party from gaining big support among the miners on the ballot vote. They placed the question on the following basis: “Against the war” or “For the war with a Labour government". As was to be expected they secured an overwhelming majority of the votes for the latter. And this was at a time when Hitler had not gained his tremendous victories and the masses did not feel directly threatened by the totalitarian heel of the nazis.
To reach these workers we must have a programme that can face up to the problem squarely of the defeat of reaction both at home and abroad. It is significant in this connection that the pacifists have lost a great part of what little support they had at the beginning of the war. Even the ILP has been compelled to modify its pacifist outlook. And even from the intransigent and isolated RSL leadership, while retaining basically its pacifist outlook, no more is heard of the pathetic slogan “Stop the War". All this, of course, has been due to the unparalleled victories of German imperialism. The leadership of the RSL has been unable to orient themselves to events and apply the revolutionary method which a theoretical understanding of the past would demand. For them everything must be an exact replica of the past. Revolution in war-time must follow the exact pattern of the Russian Revolution. In reality history proceeds in a far more complex way. The events of all revolutions are decided by the fundamental structure of class society, and that is why the basic laws of all revolutions can be formulated and predicted in advance. But to lay down an absolute blueprint, from which events cannot deviate, would be scholastic nonsense. There are too many factors involved which are completely incalculable. The Paris Commune(12) developed on different lines from the Russian Revolution; the Russian from the Chinese and Spanish, etc, etc. On questions of this character, the lines of development can be indicated only algebraically.
Let us examine how the RSL sees the present situation in Britain today:
“Nor are these false policies long in merging. ‘The corruption and incompetence, industrially and militarily, raises sharply in the minds of the workers the question of the regime.’ There is no question of misunderstanding this sentence. It means that the workers are questioning the right of capitalism to continue as the system of this country. This before the workers have even begun to display a mass sentiment for peace, while they still support the imperialist war and are, in fact, anxious to see it more offensively conducted.
“Either all previous history was accidental and from it no lessons can he learned or else the WIL utterly misunderstands and distorts not only the present position of British imperialism, but also the present stage of development of working-class consciousness. We incline to the latter theory. The mood of the masses is still predominantly in support of the imperialist war and the British bourgeoisie are conducting the war as efficiently as the limitations of ‘democratic capitalism’ permit. These factors do not provide for the ‘rapid maturing’ of ‘all the conditions for social explosions’. When social explosions come, as come they will, they will not arise upon the basis of demands by the workers for a more efficient prosecution of the war. No class struggles can arise on this issue because it is not a class issue as far as the workers are concerned. This is not their war and they have no class interest in victory in it.
“At present the masses are under the ideological leadership of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois and hence support the imperialist war. Many defeats have been suffered by the British bourgeoisie in this war and sections of the workers have as a result criticised the leadership of the bourgeoisie and demanded a more efficient prosecution of the struggle. But this is not a proletarian class reaction to the situation, it is a petty bourgeois reaction and is possible only because the workers are still imbued with alien class ideology. Such working class discontent will stop at grumbling, in the same way as the similar and even more vocal discontent of the petty bourgeois does, and may even be transformed by British victories into greater support for the imperialist government.
“It cannot lead to working-class action, just because the demand for a more efficient prosecution of the imperialist war is not a class demand for the workers. Moreover class action by the workers, as they know, would yet further impair the efficiency of British imperialism. British defeats can lead to social explosions, but they will be explosions caused by war weariness, by a desire to end the fruitless slaughter, to escape from the economic hardships of war and to bring an enduring peace and prosperity to the world.”
These lines indicate a complete lack of comprehension of the position in Britain today. They constitute an indictment of the stagnant position in which the RSL finds itself. Any organisation with the remotest connection with the working class in Britain would realise that this is hopelessly incorrect as an appraisal of the actual situation. From the secluded cliffs of Eastbourne the situation may look something as portrayed above. But in the development of the class struggle, the position is entirely different. The development of mass consciousness in Britain during the war has been in the direction of a "socialist” and, yes...even a “communist” consciousness. Among the workers, within the ranks of the armed forces, among wide strata of the middle classes, a growing ferment and a process of radicalisation has been taking place.
There has not been a period in Britain for many decades in which the minds of the masses have been so receptive to revolutionary ideas and revolutionary perspectives. The objective, and even in a sense, the subjective conditions for the socialist revolution are already maturing in Britain. It can be stated without exaggeration that the ground is more favourable for the swift growth of Trotskyism within the British working class than at any time in the history of our movement. There is a growing and widespread criticism and lack of confidence in the ruling class. The present relationship of forces between the classes has been completely undermined. This, in its turn, has its effect within the ranks of the ruling class, where differences and fissures have been opening out.
We are in a pre-revolutionary situation. With a correct policy we can gain a good springboard for a great leap in influence in the coming period. Here we see why it is that the WIL has made substantial if modest gains in the present milieu, while the RSL has declined and disintegrated. But in order to take advantage of the situation it is necessary to understand the process that is taking place and the way in which the mass consciousness will develop.
With an air of smug incredulity, the RSL proclaim “there is no question of misunderstanding this sentence. It means that the workers are questioning the right of capitalism to continue as the system of this country...” If this means that we say that the workers seriously desire a socialist revolution now, it is nonsensical. But that the workers are unconsciously moving in this direction, is true beyond a doubt. Yes, comrades, we definitely assert that the workers are beginning to challenge the right of capitalism to continue as the system of this country.
Only hopeless scholastics would attempt to lay down a rigid pattern from which events do not deviate. The RSL pictures the workers as if they were in a state of violent and hysterical chauvinism. They triumphantly point to the undoubted fact that the overwhelming majority of the masses still support the war. But they do this because of a desire to defend their rights and their organisations from destruction, and not at all from a desire to defend the capitalist class. It is a pity that the RSL never asks the question: why if their mechanical schema is correct, the defeats of British imperialism in the past did not lead the masses to demand “peace” but on the contrary, led them to desire to see the war “more efficiently and more offensively conducted"? Nor do they explain why the workers, who support the war, have become more and more critical of the ruling class despite the victories, as is shown from the by-election results and the increased number of strikes. Any pseudo-socialist programme has secured big support against government candidates in by-elections.
The Common Wealth(13), reflecting the move of the petit-bourgeoisie towards the proletariat has secured successes in traditional Tory strongholds. The Times sees in this an ominous “portent” of the feeling of the masses. The “revolutionary Marxists” of the RSL are incapable of making this correct evaluation. Literally, there is not a single firm social prop within the population upon which the bourgeoisie could be certain of relying in a social crisis. The civil servants in one union after another are violating the Trades Disputes Act. Even the police have not been unaffected by the prevailing mood within the population. It is precisely in an attempt to sidetrack this mood among the masses, that the Beveridge Scheme(14) has been brought forward. Millions of workers are sceptical of the aims of the ruling class in the war and of the results of a British victory. But they still support the war. Is it because they have a hatred of the “Huns” as the RSL would have us believe? On the contrary, among the broad masses, especially those organised in the labour and trade union movement such a feeling is non-existent.
As if to mock the position of the RSL the victories of the British armies in North Africa have coincided with strikes and unrest throughout the country on wage questions. According to the RSL’s version, the opposite should have taken place. In reality there is no contradiction here. The masses support the war because they cannot see any alternative. In the meantime, the class struggle does not wait. Here is the key to the mood in Britain which the Old Man so clearly visualised.
The masses are becoming critical of capitalism and imperialism, but feel themselves paralysed by fear of the consequences of a nazi victory. The military policy and the Old Man’s writings give us the weapon that provides the answer to the questions which are troubling the masses. The leadership of the RSL still supports the idea of agitating for Labour to take power. How does it happen that they support what, according to their method of reasoning, should obviously be a "chauvinist” demand? And they have done so right throughout the course of the war. Far from the Labour leadership desiring “peace", even the so-called left wing of the type of Shinwell and Bevan are more zealous than anyone else in their support of the war. The RSL talks of the big swing in the direction of Labour that will take place in the next period. This is correct, but they have not understood or explained why this is so.
The first big swing of the workers to the left, a process which is in its beginnings already, will come because of the dissatisfaction with the contrast between their own conditions and the profits and privileges of the capitalist class. It will not be an anti-war movement as such at all. In spite of the Labour Party’s wholehearted support of the war, the masses will inevitably move towards the Labour Party. A revolutionary situation does not arise with the masses as hysterical patriots one day, and deliriously demanding peace the next. Their demands will reflect themselves in pressure on the leadership of the mass organisations. Today that pressure is being reflected in the movement towards the ending of the political truce. But the growth of the mass feeling for the ending of the coalition is expressed as a reaction against support for the bourgeoisie, not against support for the war.
What programme does the RSL suggest we should develop among the masses as the programme for the Labour government? A programme for immediate peace? As fear of a Hitler victory subsides, the demands of the masses for improvements and concessions grow. This is especially so, as the broad strata realise, that victory and the ending of the war will not improve their conditions, but will result in mass unemployment and widespread distress. In spite of the ideas of the RSL, the experiences of the last war and its aftermath have not gone without leaving traces on the consciousness of the working class. The need for Marxists is to dissect and find what is progressive in the contradictory moods and to understand the changes in the psychology and movement of the Masses.
The attempt of the labour and trade union leaders to demagogically intensify their promises to the working class of the glorious prospects after the war is far from achieving startling success. The Stalinists are beginning to reap the rewards of their strike-breaking and anti-working-class activity in the shape of increasing antagonism towards them on the part of the workers. And this, in spite of their attempts to whip up and intensify chauvinist feelings, and in spite of the widespread sympathy for the Soviet Union.
Strikes last year were the highest in many years in the face of innumerable difficulties and obstacles placed before the workers by the Stalinist and Labour bureaucrats. Hardly an indication of tranquil relationships in Britain! But in one factor, we see the amazing maturity of the working class demonstrated better than anything else: the widespread critical attitude not only towards the bourgeoisie, but towards the Labour leaders. This is not an isolated phenomenon, but embracing large sections of the workers, organised and unorganised, in industry and in the armed forces. Broad sections of the workers have no illusions about the trade-union bureaucrats, yet their class instinct and solidarity makes them cling to their organisations despite this. For the present they tolerate them for lack of an alternative.
The whole situation imperiously demands that we prepare for the explosions that are developing by understanding what is taking place in the objective development of events and their subjective reaction within the consciousness of the working class. The revolutionary minority can play a role even now, and can make certain of a powerful influence on the coming revolution. That we are in a period of black reaction and chauvinism within the working class can only be the opinion of sectarians who are completely out of touch with the working class.
The attitude towards the Labour Party and towards the mass organisations provides the key to the policy of any organisation claiming to be revolutionary in Britain. An incorrect position on this question would be fatal for the revolutionary tendency, especially one so weak and inexperienced as our own.
In order to overcome the isolation of the weak revolutionary forces, the tactic of “entrism” has been evolved by the Fourth International. It has been applied in different countries with varying success. But in all countries it has been conceived as a temporary tactic to facilitate the formation of the revolutionary party. In no case has it lasted for more than a couple of years. Indeed the whole conception underlying this tactic would be violated, if the idea of a permanent or semi-permanent sojourn in a centrist or reformist organisation were to pervade the actions of the revolutionaries. It is a tactic, and as such requires periodic examination to observe the results obtained, the possibilities of more fruitful results in different directions if different tactics were to be applied, etc.
The essence of Marxism consists in subjecting one’s strategy and tactics to the test of historical events and making the necessary revisions and alterations if these are called for by such events. That is why in 1936 the Old Man advised the British Trotskyists to bring to a close the tactic of working within the ILP and to turn towards the Labour Party. At that period the ILP was stagnating and falling to pieces; the Trotskyists were making little headway in the ILP and also stagnating. (There were a number of reasons for this apart from the objective situation in the ILP which cannot be dealt with here.) Anticipating the collapse of the ILP as the result of its sectarian isolation, Comrade Trotsky suggested entry into the Labour Party. This was correct at the time but subsequent events called for a further examination of the question. To mention but a single factor, owing to the way events have developed, instead of the ILP vanishing from the arena as the Old Man predicted, it has had a temporary rebirth and increase in influence.
But from a temporary expedient, the RSL wishes to convert a tactic into an eternal principle. With an air of superciliousness, they point out that the tactic of entry into the Labour Party was raised by Trotsky and the IS in 1936. That is, seven years ago. And what years! The world has been plunged into war, empires have vanished, we are entering a period of revolutionary convulsions. The whole development of social relations in Britain has suffered violent shocks, and with it the perspectives for the development of parties, classes and groups has undergone profound and far-reaching changes. But for the RSL sectarians nothing has changed. Their placid and uneventful “work in the Labour Party” which they were carrying on in 1936 remains the basis of their “activity” in 1943.
In support of the correctness of their position, they quote with an air of satisfaction from the Thesis of the WIL published in 1938:
“For the Labour Party, functioning as it does in bourgeois democracy, war time is election time, and in the peace period between elections, it becomes a mere skeleton, passively supported by its individual, trade union and co-operative members. At the present moment, except for the passive ripples of by-elections, its work is carried on by a small minority consisting in the main of the bureaucracy, a sprinkling of ambitious careerists, a few veterans who support the bureaucracy and the factions sent in by external organisations." [Hardly, we would note in passing, ‘an organisation which is in a state of flux...where political life is at a high pitch’ and ‘where the membership is steadily moving towards the left!’] “The mass membership for whose benefit they are adopted are [sic] notably absent from the auditorium...But far from negativing the activity of the revolutionary socialists within the Labour Party, the peace time structure gives them a political weight out of all proportion to their numerical strength...As the crisis forces increasing numbers of workers from passive to active support of the Labour Party, they will find within the Party a nucleus around which to gather, and Party growth means growth of the Left Wing.”
At the time these words were written this evaluation of the development of the Labour Party seemed most likely. It is certainly true that the Labour Party remained a skeletonised organisation. But this does not at all invalidate the description of the tactic of entry given in Preparing for Power. At that period it was a question of preparing points of support in the coming battleground of the Labour Party; preparing in advance for the influx of members which, correctly or incorrectly we expected the Labour Party to have in the immediate period ahead. However, events have worked out in a different way. What to do then? Turn one’s back on reality and stick doggedly to an obviously obsolete conception? This is the RSL method. It is not the method of Bolshevism.
The war and the events of the war have cut completely across the line of development of the consciousness of the workers and given it a different direction to what might have been anticipated. It is this that the RSL cannot or will not understand. We see this from the following statements:
“The WIL admit that ‘at a later stage’ the workers ‘will turn to the Labour Party’. They admit that at present the only movement is on the industrial field. But though realising that the political expression of this industrial movement will come first of all through the LP, they refuse to attempt to orientate the workers today towards the LP, i.e. to facilitate and hasten this movement. They fear that if they do so the workers will turn to the CP and the ILP although they have already agreed that the workers will turn to the Labour Party.”
What exactly does “orientating” the workers towards the Labour Party mean? If it is suggested that the basic core of the workers should be won over to support the Labour Party, the RSL is wasting its time. The organised workers in Britain have been supporting the Labour Party for decades. If the idea behind this is that of pushing the Labour Party into power as a means of facilitating the exposure of the Labour leaders, the method of expressing it is rather ambiguous.
It is perfectly true that the workers will turn to the Labour Party at a certain stage. But which workers? The process will be a not at all simple one. As the more backward elements move towards the Labour Party, simultaneously the more advanced elements tend to move away and seek for some other alternative. This is the case in relation to some of the best militants at the present time.
The experience of two Labour Governments and the present collaboration in the Government has not passed without some deep-seated effect. (We may say in passing that the RSL has not yet abandoned the thoroughly stupid slogan of a "Third Labour Government” despite the criticism of the IS that it be dropped because it “indicates a continuity with the lamentable experiences of the past.” But we are not discussing this here.) At the present time the ILP is attracting some of the more advanced workers into its ranks. The Stalinists on the other hand are attracting a large number of backward workers, where previously they had won the best and most conscious militant industrial workers. Meanwhile the best elements within the CP are becoming disillusioned in large numbers, and are leaving the party or being expelled for opposing Stalinist policy. These workers form part of the cream of the working class. With correct work, they can be completely broken from Stalinist and Centrist leadership, but they will not turn towards the Labour Party. They can become apathetic and turn towards a pure syndicalist tendency, but they will not turn towards the Labour Party.
For the working class as a whole the strategic slogan remains “Labour to Power” as a means of mobilising the masses for struggle and educating them through their own experiences as to the futility of reformism. But this is not in contradictory to the task of winning the more advanced elements, already disillusioned with reformism, directly to our ranks. As the “Socialist Left in the Labour Party” we could not expect to get a hearing from these elements.
But as always the sectarians of the RSL leadership are incapable of distinguishing more than two colours in the social spectrum. They say of our document:
“But with regard to the same question of the workers turning to the LP at a certain stage in their struggle, we find in the WIL document a certain ambiguity, which savours strongly of the ‘double bookkeeping’ of Third Period Stalinism...All these statements are obviously intended to throw doubt on the first quoted statement that the masses will turn to the LP...”
In reality there is not the slightest ambiguity or “double dealing" in the attitude adopted by the WIL, but an attempt to approach the problem of a mass movement from the angle of its many-sided and complex development. A mass movement never develops in the simple one-direction way in which it is pictured by the RSL, far from it. It reveals itself in contradictory and differing ways. In the last analysis, what is the whole basis for the historical need for a revolutionary party? Among other things, the fact that neither society nor the working class is homogeneous. The differing strata among the working class develop a revolutionary consciousness at different times, different places and at different levels. The working class contains advanced, backward, indifferent and inert strata, who find their way to the revolution by diverse means. To suggest that the whole of the working class simultaneously will turn to the Labour Party is so much formalistic nonsense. But that is the only conclusion that could be drawn from the statement of the RSL. For them a dialectical approach is “double bookkeeping".
Our present orientation does not mean that at a later stage it may not be necessary to place the whole of our forces within the Labour Party. This is a possibility, though it seems unlikely. But to suggest that we do so now is frivolous in the extreme and shows a lack of seriousness towards the question of building the Party. Far more likely, if the question of entrism assumes major importance, would be entry into the ILP. The affiliation of the ILP to the Labour Party, which now appears to be a most likely development, will sweep away the chimera of the “Socialist Left in the Labour Party". It is fairly obvious that the ILP would automatically become the left wing, attracting the leftward moving Labour workers to its ranks. But even this can only be determined by the relationship of forces in the future.
As a climax to their argument, the RSL states:
“The WIL or its leaders have not yet had the courage to deny openly in writing that the workers will turn first to the LP, but they are preparing the way for doing so. We may hear in the future that the masses are ‘skipping over’ the LP phase and turning directly to the WIL!”
It may surprise the RSL leaders, but some workers are...turning directly to the WIL! And these are undoubtedly the best material for Bolshevism. Not only that, but the WIL confidently anticipates that large numbers of the best workers will take that step in the future without any deference to the RSL’s schematic idea of how they should develop.
The whole method of their approach to the entrist tactic is false through and through. It reveals a completely opportunist approach to the problem of winning the workers over to Trotskyism. Nowhere else in the world have the Trotskyists, when conducting the entrist tactic, deported themselves as the “left wing” separate and apart from their open characterisation of themselves as Trotskyists. The RSL alone has done so.
It is interesting to note an admission in the reply to us which reveals their isolation at the present time. They say:
“The WIL admit that ‘at a later stage’ the workers will ‘turn to the Labour Party’. They admit that at present the only movement is on the industrial field...”
It is agreed then, that there is a movement of the masses at the present time, and that it is outside the Labour Party and not inside. The Labour Party being more or less dead at the present time, obviously the attention of serious Trotskyists must be devoted to that sector where activity and a milieu for work are in evidence.
Continuing their line of argument from the above, they say:
“But though realising that the political expression of this industrial movement will come first inside the LP they refuse to orientate the workers today towards the LP, i.e. to facilitate and hasten this movement...”
From this, the RSL are themselves saying, whatever the orientation may be in the future, that work at the present period lies outside the LP, in the unions and in the factories. They say we must approach these workers with the banner of the Labour Party. This is ridiculous. A section of them are already formally members, and another section are hostile to the Labour Party from a progressive point of view. These can be convinced of the correctness of the Labour to Power tactic, but simultaneously with this, and as an indispensable part of it, can and must be won over to Trotskyism. The most important task at the present time, and we may say, one in which we are having a fair amount of success, is to recruit the industrial militants and militant leaders of the working class into our ranks.
To approach these industrial militants, who are clashing sharply with the Labour Party and Trade Union bureaucrats in the industrial field, as Labour Party members of the “Socialist Left", would be merely to confuse them. This is standing the entrist tactic on its head. Originally the tactic was conceived as working among the advanced workers in a reformist or centrist organisation to which we directed our whole attention, and for which we had to pay the temporary high price of the loss of an independent banner. We worked inside the organisations as Trotskyists. Now the RSL asks us to approach the workers outside as “Left Labourites"! Merely to pose the question clearly, shows the absurdity of the position the RSL has landed into, by clinging to a tactic which history has already shown to be incorrect for the present period.
Making a fetish of the tactic of entrism, converting it into a mystic principle standing above time and place, sometimes lands the RSL into fantastic positions. For example, the insistence of the RSL in “critically" supporting Labour candidates against the Stalinist and ILP anti-war candidates. By this stand they, the principled and implacable revolutionaries, found themselves in a position of critical support for the National Government, because of the coalition of Labour with the Tories! A vote for the Labour candidate could only be interpreted as a vote for the Government and thus for support of the war. Thus they placed themselves in a thoroughly opportunist position on the question of the war. (Here we may say that WIL gave critical support to the Stalinist and ILP anti-war candidates; at no time have we supported pacifist candidates as the RSL lyingly informed the IS in a letter of 7 July 1942.)
The main idea of entrism, the necessity to operate on a single field in a given set of circumstances, is summed up as in our 1938 document, in military terminology: “Full strength at the point of attack.” Posed in this way the situation and the tasks become clearer. It is not without significance that the RSL has not posed the question to WIL from this angle: Why are we not concentrating our forces “full strength at the point of attack” in the Labour Party at the present time? For it would raise the reply: It is ridiculous to concentrate one’s army in war on a sector of the front where there are no results to be achieved. Today the “point of attack” is the industrial field. But favourable results can be achieved by the adoption of guerrilla tactics. Owing to the development of events, magnificent opportunities for work open up before us in every direction - the trade unions, the ILP, the factories, shop stewards’ movement, and...even the Labour Party.
To concentrate work inside the Labour Party...the least important field at the present stage, would be suicidal. In politics, as in war, a commander who fails to make the necessary changes in the strategic and tactical disposition of his men when the relationship of forces has changed, leads his army to defeat. Such are the commanders of the RSL.
In reading the section of the RSL document which deals with the Labour Party tactic, one is struck with the weird combination of complete ultra-leftism towards the war question and opportunist approach towards the problem of work in the Labour Party. It is in the nature of sectarianism to transform itself, at the first serious test, into opportunism.
For they are two sides of the same coin. But the RSL succeeds in combining both simultaneously into their policy. At first sight it seems incredible. A sectarian policy of so-called “revolutionary defeatism” which is completely divorced from the working class and the class struggle...and inside the Labour Party into the bargain! But the solution is quite simple. The RSL are sectarians, but of a curious type. It is in the nature of small sectarian groupings to attempt to cover up their inadequacies in policy by a show of tremendous activity, at least for a certain period, before their forces wear themselves out in fruitless effort.
But despite their sectarianism, such an accusation could never be levelled against the RSL; and this is the secret of their policy. Never has the RSL applied its policy in practice in a consistent way anywhere within the ranks of the working class. Consequently the most extreme opportunism can nestle side by side with the most extreme sectarianism without any severe jolting.
For they never pass from words to deeds. Anyone with the slightest acquaintance with Labour workers, their outlook and their approach to problems, can see that any attempt to put forward the RSL’s present ideas would be lunacy. But the RSL overcomes this little difficulty very simply. They never put forward their so-radical policy within the Labour Party. This would be transgressing the limits of faction work! Within the Labour Party they act as “Socialist Lefts". Their “RRRevolutionary” policy on the war remains within the four walls of their bedrooms. Consequently, they can be as radical as they please. The world proceeds as usual, and they can sleep more soundly having done their revolutionary duty. But the matter does not end there. The Labour Party is almost dead at the present time. If the wards and borough parties are meeting at all, they meet very infrequently. This obliges people conducting “activity within the Labour Party” to do very little. In practice, work in the Labour Party means very little work. This suits the leadership of the RSL perfectly. All their grandiose phrases are but a compensation for their sterility and impotence.
In the last analysis, the basis of the errors of the RSL leadership lies in its petty bourgeois mentality. They conduct their policy in a milieu of inertia, gossip, and that of a discussion club. No serious attempt is made to train and organise a party that will be worthy of the tasks confronting it. Its policy is a product of its isolation and alienation from the working class. Instead of growing and increasing its membership, it is degenerating and stagnating. Unless a radical change is made in policy and methods of work, it will inevitably disintegrate. As a factor in the political arena it is of less significance today than when the war began. Continuation on the present course will lead to complete disappearance from the scene.
For years, the leadership of the RSL flogged the question of "unity” of the Trotskyist forces in Britain. Now. that the question comes up in a sharp fashion, the leadership, and even more the membership of the RSL, have a responsibility on this question. What is more, unity must be the first step towards work. It is time to allow fresh air into the stagnant atmosphere of the RSL. The membership of both organisations must integrate themselves in the actual field of class struggle and the joint carrying out of the policy of the Fourth International.
The period opening out in Britain has never been more favourable for our tendency. The dissolution of the Comintern opens up a new stage in the history of the Fourth International. The Founding Conference accepted the "Transitional Programme”[source], developed by our great teacher, precisely because of the new stage in the development of the Fourth International. The revolutionary internationalists in Britain must adapt themselves to this new position. The sectarian and opportunist position, both with regard to the Labour Party tactic and the attitude towards the war, must be abandoned. In the "Transitional Programme", Comrade Trotsky deals with sectarians as follows:
“Most of the sectarian groups and cliques, nourished on accidental crumbs from the table of the Fourth International, lead an ‘independent’ organisational existence, with great pretensions but without the least chance of success. Bolshevik-Leninists, without waste of time, calmly leave these groups to their own fate. However, sectarian tendencies are to be found also in our own ranks and display a ruinous influence on the work of the individual sections. It is impossible to make and further compromise with them for a single day. A correct policy regarding trade unions is a basic condition for adherence to the Fourth International.
“He who does not seek and does not find the road to the masses is not a fighter but a dead weight on the party. A programme is formulated not for the editorial board or for the leaders of discussion clubs but for the revolutionary action of millions. The cleansing of the ranks of the Fourth International of sectarianism and incurable sectarians is a primary condition for revolutionary success." [source]
The false position of the RSL leadership cannot and must not be maintained. Together with the WIL, the RSL must build the party of the Fourth International in Britain. To adopt any other course will be fatal to the RSL: We appeal to the membership of the RSL to speed up the negotiations and secure unity on a principled Bolshevik basis.
Political Bureau, WIL
June 7, 1943
Written: December 1942
Source: 1975 reprint
In our document “Our Political Criticism of the WIL” we state “on the two fundamental issues which face our movement today, that of our attitude to the imperialist war and that of the method of building the new revolutionary party, the WIL has adopted policies basically opposed to those of Bolshevism. It is an organisation, not moving politically in our direction, but moving away from us.” If any further evidence of the fact that the WIL is a centrist body, and moving away from Bolshevism, were needed, their recent document “Preparing for Power” provides all that is necessary.
In order to confine this discussion, as far as possible, to the most important issue, we are refraining from raising here criticisms regarding matters of secondary importance. A whole series of criticisms could, in fact, be raised and their omission here does not preclude us from raising them at some suitable opportunity. Meantime, however, our criticisms will centre round the WIL attitude towards the war and the problems raised by it, and the WIL attitude towards the LP.
A basic defect of the WIL document lies in the complete omission of any real explanation for the decline of British imperialism and its defeats. The weakness of British imperialism lies in the fact that, owing to the uneven development of capitalism, its accumulated imperialist booty is now out of proportion to the relation which its economic (and, consequently, military) strength bears towards that of rival imperialisms. Hence it finds it difficult or impossible to maintain its conquests unaided. Hence, therefore, its defeats and its forced reliance on the USA.
But, according to the WIL document, everything is explained by “the Old School Tie Blimps in the colonial service and the armed forces, whose stupidity and incompetence is but a reflection of the fact that the British bourgeois system has completely outlived itself,” and by the “enfeeblement and decline of the ruling class.”
It is true that we also read “in reality the process of decline has been going on for many years before the war. The altering relationship of forces between the powers was bearing less and less relationship to Britain’s nominal position.” But this “altering relationship of forces” is apparently considered to be due to the “senility and decay of British Imperialism,” the causes of which are unexplained, not to the fact that certain of its rivals have experienced a relatively more rapid rate of economic and military development.
It is, of course, quite true that “the British bourgeois system has completely outlived itself,” but this is true of all bourgeois systems in this epoch of the general world decline of imperialism. Even Britain’s rivals in this war are decaying. Thus the WIL gives us no real reason for Britain’s defeats and difficulties and, moreover, by stressing and exaggerating the weakness of Britain and ignoring those of her rivals, gives a totally false picture of the position.
The British ruling class is far from being “completely senile and incapable of even conducting her own wars.” Today it can claim a greater volume of production per head of the population than any of the Allied powers and one that is possibly greater than any other country in the world. British imperialism is far from losing confidence in itself. It is not our job to uphold the conduct of British imperialism nor its military prestige, but such gross distortions as those contained in the WIL analysis lead inevitably to false policies.
Nor are these false policies long in emerging. “The corruption and incompetence, industrial and militarily, raises sharply in the minds of the workers the question of the regime.” There is no question of misunderstanding this sentence. It means that the workers are questioning the right of capitalism to continue as the system in this country. This, before the workers have even begun to display a mass sentiment for peace, while they still support the imperialist war and are, in fact, anxious to see it more efficiently and more offensively conducted. Either all previous history was accidental and from it no lessons can be learned, or else the WIL utterly misunderstands and distorts not only the present position of British imperialism, but also the present stage of development of working class consciousness. We incline to the latter theory. The mood of the masses is still predominantly in support of the imperialist war and the British bourgeoisie is conducting the war as efficiently as the limitations of “democratic capitalism” permit.
Those factors do not provide for the “rapid maturing” of “all the conditions for social explosions.” What social explosions do come, as come they will, they will not arise upon the basis of demands by the workers for a more efficient prosecution of the war. No class struggles can arise on this issue because it is not a class issue as far as the workers are concerned. This is not their war and they have no class interest in victory in it.
At present the masses are under the ideological leadership of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois and hence support the imperialist war.
Many defeats have been suffered by the British bourgeoisie in this war and sections of the workers have, as a result, criticised the leadership of the bourgeoisie and demanded a more efficient prosecution of the struggle. But this is not a proletarian class reaction to the situation, it is a petty bourgeois reaction and is possible only because the workers are still imbued with alien class ideology. Such working class discontent will stop at grumbling, in the same way as the similar and even more vocal discontent of the petty bourgeois does, and may even be transformed by British victories into greater support for the Imperialist Government.
It cannot lead to working class action, just because the demand for a more efficient prosecution of the imperialist war is not a class demand for the workers. Moreover, class action by the workers, as they know, would yet further impair the efficiency of British Imperialism. British defeats can lead to social explosions, but they will be explosions caused by war weariness, by a desire to end the fruitless slaughter, to escape from the economic hardships of war and to bring an enduring peace and prosperity to the world.
Class action by the workers against the bourgeoisie is at present in an early stage and confined to relatively small sections of the proletariat. It is taking the form of strikes on economic issues. But during an imperialist war such strikes inevitably bring the workers into conflict with the imperialist state machine. The inevitable increase in this strike movement will bring about breaches in the class truce and will eventually smash it.
This process will be accompanied by a profound change in the workers’ attitude to the war. The present desire for a more efficient prosecution of the war will be replaced by the demand for peace. There is no mention of this demand in the WIL document. Yet in “War and the Fourth International” we read "The revolutionary struggle for peace which takes on ever wider and bolder forms is the surest means of ‘turning the imperialist war into a civil war.’” But omission of all mention of the slogan of peace by the WIL is, of course to be expected, for they do not raise the slogan of “turning the imperialist war into a civil war"; their slogan, nowhere explicitly stated in the document, it is true, but implicit in it and in their other propaganda is "turn the imperialist war into a workers’ anti-fascist war.” In other words, their main attack is directed not against the British bourgeoisie, but its rivals, the fascist regimes. Their main charge against the British bourgeoisie is that it does not fight those rivals efficiently enough!
It is illuminating to observe that the perspective of workers’ conquest of power during the war is pushed right into the background by the WIL, indeed, it is barely mentioned. They give three possible terminations of the war. The first is by the ruling class capitulating to Hitler, “under threat of revolution...as the French bourgeoisie did.” (Incidentally, where can the WIL show the slightest real evidence that the French bourgeoisie capitulated "under threat of revolution"?) But this, say the WIL, would be "immediately to provoke an uprising among the masses,” with the object of continuing the war[!!] [We would ask the WIL here to explain to us why, on their premises, no such uprising took place among the French workers?] The WIL even believe that not only are the workers better patriots than the capitalists, but that the “Labour leaders” would “place themselves at the head of the masses in order to continue the war"[!!!] Once again, why did none of this take place in France on the WIL’s premises, and, yet more to the point, why was the development of the Russian Revolution in 1917 so very different? In the past it has been the practice of our movement to regard the Russian Revolution as typical, at least in broad outline, of the proletarian uprisings during the imperialist war. It has been left to the WIL to treat it as an exception.
The second possible termination to the war is given as the victory of Britain and her allies over the Axis powers. “Once the masses compare the glittering promises about ‘after the war’ [with what they are to compare them is not given] their indignation will rise to unprecedented heights and revolutionary explosions would result.”
“The prospect of stalemate and a compromise peace” which is the WIL’s third choice is correctly regarded by them as “even more remote.”
“Long before the war had reached such a stage, and it would require several years, the endurance of the masses would have reached breaking point and the stability of the imperialist regimes would be put to the test. Revolution would begin in Europe or Asia and alter the whole balance of forces.”
And this is the only reference to revolution through “war weariness” in the whole of a document, written during an imperialist war and entitled “Preparing for Power” and emanating from an organisation that claims to be revolutionary! The termination of the imperialist war which we envisage and for which we are struggling is precisely this fourth possibility which the WIL so contemptuously push into the background. But then we are "old fashioned” enough to base our activity upon turning the imperialist war into a civil war.
Our basic criticism of the WIL’s centrist policy with regard to the war can be found in greater detail in our conference resolutions and to these we refer the members of the WIL for further details.
With regard to the section entitled “The possibilities of Fascism in Britain", we must suggest to the WIL that they are in error in stating that "Mosley could only come to power on the basis of German bayonets." This suggests that the German bourgeoisie, if victorious could set up a fascist regime here. This is false and in contradiction to the experiences which have taken place on the continent. Fascism cannot be imported in this way. All that the Germans could do would be to set up some form of Bonapartist regime. Actually the position of British fascism would be greatly weakened by such conquest by German Imperialism. But we, of course, realise that the WIL needs this picture of Mosley triumphing with the help of German bayonets in order to provide a background for their policy of veiled support for the imperialist war.
So far as the Labour Party tactic is concerned, we do not intend to deal with it here at great length. The WIL reader may find our attitude set out in our conference resolution “Industrial Work and our Perspectives". Some of their own past internal documents up to so recent a date as 1941 should also be of assistance to them in this connection. We shall confine ourselves to a few comments here.
The WIL confirms the correctness of the tactic of entry into the LP up to the end of the first 18 months of the war by referring to the fact that the ILP was at that time turning towards the LP. While it is, of course, natural for centrists respectfully to observe the orientations of other centrists, to attempt to model their conduct upon them, we would point out to the WIL that when, towards the end of 1936, LT and the IS first raised the question of our entry into the LP, no such attitude existed on the part of the ILP.
The WIL state “the whole idea activating the entrist tactic is to enter a reformist or centrist organisation which is in a state of flux, where political life is at a high pitch, and where the membership is steadily moving towards the left. It is essentially a short term perspective of work in a milieu where favourable prospects exist for obtaining results in a relatively short space of time.”
So far as the first statement is concerned, it is manifestly false so far as the entry into the British Labour Party was concerned. If the WIL members entered the LP expecting to find it in a state of flux, with a high pitch of political life, etc, they have been a long time discovering their mistake! So far as the second sentence is concerned it is also false so far as our entry in this country was concerned. The greater reserve strength of British imperialism has made developments inside the British LP slower than on the continent. We knew this when we entered. We also knew, incidentally, that imperialist war would at first delay this internal development still further, only to accelerate it greatly at a later stage.
The WIL admit that “at a later stage” the workers “will turn to the Labour Party.” They admit that at present the only movement is on the industrial field. But though realising that the political expression of this industrial movement will come first inside the LP, they refuse to attempt to orientate the workers today towards the LP, i.e. to facilitate and hasten this movement. They fear that if they do so the workers will turn to the CP and the ILP, although they have already agreed that the workers will turn to the LP.
But with regard to this same question of the workers turning to the LP at a certain stage in their struggles, we find in the WIL document a certain ambiguity, which savours strongly of the double bookkeeping of “third period” Stalinism. In one place we read: “Insofar as the workers are moving at all at present, they are expressing themselves on the industrial field. At a later stage they will turn to the Labour Party.” This is a clear statement of the position and perspectives. But we also read: “At that stage [i.e. before the war] it seemed the most likely course of events that the awakening of the masses would move completely on the traditional course and pass through the Labour Party. But the outbreak of war cut across the development of events and produced a different pattern.” “It is useless to base the tactics of today on the possibilities of tomorrow.” “If [our emphasis] as the result of the mass upsurge, hundreds of thousands and millions participate actively in the organisation of the Labour Party...” “But history never repeats itself in exactly the same way. The masses of the workers, above all the advanced stratum, have a certain scepticism towards the Labour leaders.”
All these statements are obviously intended to throw doubt on the first quoted statement, that the masses will turn to the LP. The WIL or its leaders, have not yet had the courage to deny openly, in writing, that the workers will turn first to the LP, but they are preparing the way for doing so. We may hear in the future that the masses are “skipping over” the LP phase and turning directly to...the WIL.
In finishing this section on the LP tactic, let us quote to the WIL a few passages from their document “Contribution by the Workers’ International League to the Discussion on the tasks of Bolshevik Leninists in Britain" issued 1938. We would point out, in advance that none of the ideas contained in these passages originated in the WIL, they were merely borrowed by the WIL from our organisation.
“For the Labour Party, functioning as it does in bourgeois democracy, war time is election time, and in the peace periods between elections, it becomes a mere skeleton, passively supported by its individual, trade union and comparative members. At the present moment, except for the passive ripples of by-elections, its work is carried on by a small minority consisting in the main of the bureaucracy, a sprinkling of ambitious careerists, a few veterans who support the bureaucracy and the factions sent in by external organisations.”
(Hardly, we would note in passing, an “organisation which is in a state of flux", “where political life is at a high pitch” and "where the membership is steadily moving towards the left"!)
“The mass membership for whose benefit they are adopted are [sic] notably absent from the auditorium...But far from negativing the activity of the revolutionary socialists within the Labour Party, the peace time structure gives them a political weight out of all proportion to their numerical strength...As the crisis forces increasing numbers of workers from passive to active support of the Labour Party, they find within the party a nucleus around which to gather, and Party growth means growth of the Left Wing.”
In conclusion, we must state that the basis for all the main political mistakes of the WIL is to be found in the defencist position it has adopted with regard to the imperialist war since the fall of France first made the defeat of British Imperialism a real possibility. Defencism rarely shows itself in its open, naked form when it first arises, especially in a left-centrist organisation.
Concealment is especially necessary in an organisation still professing to stand upon the principles of revolutionary defeatism. The WIL is attempting to conceal the essential chauvinism of its policies by using today slogans which are revolutionary in a period of acute class struggle, e.g. workers’ control of production, election of officers etc. It is using these slogans in such a way as to imbue them with a counter-revolutionary content, e.g. workers’ control of production in order to increase production for the war. And, in order to justify its abuse of these demands, it has to attempt to describe the present situation as though it was, in fact, one of acute class conflict.
Hence its absurd under-estimation of the strength of British Imperialism, its exaggeration of the discontent of the masses. Hence even its policy with regard to the Labour Party tactic. For though the WIL attitude on this subject seems to be ultra-left, and is in fact so, if taken in isolation, it links up with and forms an essential part of their general opportunism, For to justify this opportunism, to be able to cover it with a cloak of revolutionary phrases, the WIL has to paint its picture of the present situation in revolutionary colours, it has to speak as though it were on the eve of the seizure of power! And, with such a perspective, the Labour Party tactic not only cannot be used, but actually becomes a hindrance.
We are well aware that the WIL can point to a number of passages in their document which state or imply a contrary estimate of the present situation. But these are merely yet further examples of that thoroughly dishonest system of double bookkeeping which we have mentioned above. In practice, the WIL claim that, for instance Lenin’s remarks on the “Threatening Catastrophe" [source] (written on the eve of the seizure of power!) apply today, and such is the basis of their propaganda.
Adopted by majority of CC by postal ballot on 22 December 1942.
(1) Internationalist opponents of the First World War met in 1916 in the Swiss village of Zimmerwald. The February revolution in Russia 1917 saw the fall of the Czar and brought to power a provisional government of reformist and capitalist Parties.
(2) The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were, respectively, the revolutionary and reformist wings of the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party, at first as factions and, later, as separate parties. The SRs (Social Revolutionaries) were a reformist party with a large influence among the peasantry.
(3) Established in 1889 bringing together social democratic (socialist) and Labour parties. It effectively collapsed in 1914 when virtually all its sections voted to support their own capitalist governments in the war. It was revived in 1923 as a completely reformist organisation becoming known as the Socialist International.
(4) Independent Labour Party. Usually on the left, it split from the Labour Party in 1932. Most of its leaders returned to the Labour Party after the war, leaving it to a prolonged period of sectarian isolation until it was wound up in the late 1970’s.
(5) Grew from the revolutionary wing first in the German SPD, then the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD). Formed the basis of the Communist Party (KPD) in 1918. Its leaders included Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
(6) After Louis Blanqui (1805-81). French revolutionary socialist whose name became linked with the theory of armed insurrection by small conspiratorial groups, as opposed to the Marxist concept of mass struggle.
(7) The Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), established in 1905, was, and remains, a small sect with its own peculiar “interpretation” of Marxism.
(8) Adopted by the Fourth International at its founding in 1938. Transitional demands are intended to bridge the gap between the existing level of conciousness of the working class and the need for socialist revolution.
(9) Journal of the RSL. Not linked to the paper Militant established in 1964.
(10) Max Shachtman. One of the founders of the American Left Opposition, he split from the official Fourth International in 1940.
(11) Franklin D Roosevelt, a Democrat, was American President from 1933-45. Introduced the “New Deal” programme of state intervention intended to deal with economic recession while heading off the radicalisation of the working class. Wendell Willkie was the Republican Party Presidential candidate in 1940.
(12) The Short-lived workers’ government established after the uprising of the Paris workers on 18 March 1871. It was crushed on 28 May 1871, with over 20,000 workers murdered. Fully dealt with in Trotsky’s On the Paris Commune and Marx’s The Civil War in France.
(13) The Common Wealth party was formed in Britain during the war. Advocating radical policies including nationalisation, and opposing the wartime electoral truce, it won substantial votes and two by-elections.
(14) The report on “Social Insurance and Allied Services", published in December 1942. Its main proposals, a National Insurance Scheme and a National Health Service, were implemented by the 1945 Labour government.