Ted Grant

I.L.P. Conference

Written: April 1944
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 5 no. 21 (Mid-April 1944)
Transcription: Harry 2007
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2007

The I.L.P. Conference this year was marked by the steady move to the right on the part of the leadership.

As usual with the I.L.P. Conferences, there was no real attempt by the leadership to sharpen out and clarify the political perspectives and tasks of the working class at home and abroad. It was marked also by confusion and lack of clarity on the political issues involved, even by the advanced elements among the rank and file.

The burning urgency of the fact that Britain is entering a period of class struggle and class battles unexampled in British history, of which the recent wave of strikes are but the first skirmishes, should have been the keynote of the discussions.

As a self-styled revolutionary socialist party, it should have been the duty of the I.L.P. leadership to raise this problem before the membership in the sharpest possible manner in order to prepare them for the task of giving leadership to the elementary movement of the masses. But, apart from anything else, it was apparent that the centrist leadership of the I.L.P. was incapable of understanding the nature of the process taking place, and of the stern and stormy period ahead, with all its dangers and opportunities.

This was emphasised by the attitude towards the attack of the capitalist government on the Trotskyists and trade union militants. Virtually the whole of the I.L.P. rank and file instinctively recognised that such an attack was directed against the rights and liberties of the working class, and particularly of those making a stand for revolutionary socialism. They were heartily in favour of associating themselves with the Trotskyists. Particularly was this so of the revolutionary left-wing of the I.L.P., who demonstrated courage and resolution on this question. Such comrades as Alec Auld of Newcastle, Ted Fletcher of Birmingham, and Bill Loughlin of Armley showed that they were not in the least afraid of standing shoulder to shoulder with the Trotskyists in the face of capitalist attack. The leadership seemed to be terrified at the prospect of being associated with, or labelled as, “Trotskyists”, and while prepared to offer assistance and support to the arrested comrades as individuals (which is a very progressive step, of course), they were not prepared to show open solidarity with them as the representatives of a political tendency.

One of the Leeds delegates exposed the manoeuvring of the Standing Orders Committee in excluding mention of the political tendency, affected in the protest resolution on the attack on the young comrades arrested in Newcastle. Of all the I.L.P. leaders, John McGovern alone had the courage to show open solidarity with the Trotskyists; but he too refrained from giving mention to the Revolutionary Communist Party, as if by pre-arranged agreement with the N.A.C.

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From the discussions, it could be seen that the leadership is preparing to return to the Labour Party at the earliest convenient opportunity, when under pressure of the masses, the political truce is broken.

This represents no great change for the leadership, which has basically remained a left reformist trend. However, the affiliation of the I.L.P. to the L.P. would be definitely progressive. It would accelerate the emergence of a genuine revolutionary left-wing within the I.L.P., and help to clarify, and thus demarcate clearly, the revolutionaries from the reformists within this party.

At the same time, it would serve to educate thousands of Labour workers who would join the I.L.P., if the left-wing were there to carry out this task and win them to the viewpoint of revolutionary socialism. Unfortunately, the left-wing is divided on this question, one section being unable to understand the dialectic of the process. The pacifist elements, however, have lost a great deal of the support they had in the past. But meanwhile, an openly clear-cut reformist wing has hardened itself out; Jimmie Maxton, Tom Taylor, and Carmichael being among its leading exponents.

This was graphically demonstrated when Taylor and others openly came out in support of U.N.R.R.A.—they argued that this organisation, set up by Anglo-American imperialism, had been organised purely for humanitarian reasons to feed the starving people of Europe! As if the imperialists cared for anything but their own interests, and as if this organisation was not set up as a weapon of blackmail to starve the revolutionary workers, just as America and the Allies starved the Hungarian Soviet Republic and blockaded the Soviet Union after the last war.

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The left-wing scored a decisive victory on the issue of Common Wealth. The resolution from North Birmingham and North-East Division of the I.L.P., declaring:

“This conference expresses its profound dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the policy of the N.A.C. in concluding an electoral agreement with the petit bourgeois pro-war Common Wealth Party.”

The main feature of the conference, and one which would give most concern to that tendency in the I.L.P. which is moving towards a new revolutionary socialist policy, is that not only is the I.L.P. heterogeneous in policy and composition, but that the left-wing is also not homogeneous, firmly knit, and clear as to its aims and policy; here lies the real weakness of the left-wing. In great part, this left-wing reflects the new industrial members of the I.L.P., those attracted to the I.L.P. by its anti-war stand, and those old elements of the I.L.P. pushed towards the left by the events of the last years. They represent a healthy tendency within the party.

But the danger persists that unless this nucleus hardens itself theoretically, and prepares to struggle consistently against the open reformist and veiled centrist currents, it will disintegrate and become demoralised, thus striking a blow against the revolutionary movement as a whole. This tendency, in the long run, can only serve the movement by struggling for a clear revolutionary policy in the I.L.P., and thus prepare the way for a fusion of all the genuine revolutionary elements in Britain into one revolutionary party.

The struggle for theoretical clarity in its own ranks, and the effort to teach the best elements in the I.L.P., especially its industrial militants, the perspectives and tasks of the revolutionary current in Britain, must be the main task of the left-wing in the I.L.P. in the next period.