D. Hallas

A Programme for Action

(July 1952)

Copied with thanks from Ian Birchall’s website Grim and Dim.
For a discussion of the context of this document and the response to it see the linked article.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Since the inception of our group we have pursued a policy of propaganda and education amongst advanced workers, many of them already influenced by Trotskyist ideas. We have concentrated on building a cadre rather than on influencing the class struggle. In spite of occasional attempts at political action, that is to say, intervention in specific struggles with concrete slogans, we have remained in the main, a purely propaganda group. (Of course individual comrades have been engaged in various actions – I am concerned here with the group as a unit.) I believe that this policy was absolutely correct in the first period of our existence. We have succeeded by these means in stabilising our membership, getting rid of indigestible elements, integrating new comrades, and in publishing a paper. But we can make no significant further progress along these lines as the experience of the last six months has demonstrated. The conclusion to be drawn is, in my opinion, that we must enter into serious political work with our present cadre. In order to avoid any misunderstanding it is essential to make clear the difference between political actions (or agitation if comrades prefer) and propaganda. If in a local labour party we put down a motion on the textile crisis saying, in effect, that the crisis is inevitable under capitalism, condemning the self-defeating class collaboration policies of the leadership and calling for a struggle against the bosses (as, for example, is done in the excellent article by Cde. Lowndes in the last issue of our paper) – this is propaganda action. Everything we say is true and it is very necessary to say it as effectively as we can. But it is not a political intervention. Supposing that instead, we put down a motion demanding work or full maintenance at trade union rates, mentioning in passing our general thesis but concentrating our fire on the immediate demand then we are giving a concrete answer to a concrete question, an answer which wide sections of the workers can understand and can be induced to struggle for – in other words a political as opposed to a propaganda answer. At the present time our answers as a group are all of the propaganda variety. The decisive proof of this is the paper. We have articles, excellent articles, on many questions, articles which analyse and inform, articles for the serious student, but not (with one or two exceptions such as the articles of Cde. Carlsson) articles calling for action in any immediate and concrete sense. To say that we must now enter into serious political work means that we must shift our emphasis from propaganda to agitation. To do this we need two things, a programme and a perspective. Again to avoid misunderstanding by a programme I do not mean a document reiterating the fundamentals of Communism – though such a document one should certainly also have – I mean a list of things we tell the workers to do now, by a perspective I do not mean an analysis of the decline of British capitalism – again this is a necessary weapon in our armoury – I mean a concrete plan of work to build the group. I submit the following as a suitable transitional programme, i.e., as a programme of demands which can be made to appear both necessary and realizable to broad sections of the workers given their present (reformist) level of understanding but which in reality pass beyond the framework of bourgeois democracy. Naturally, since it says only part (a fairly small part) of what we advocate, it is only one of several possible programmes and for that reason I would not be dogmatic in defending the inclusion of one point and the exclusion of another. But I would strongly maintain that it is the sort of programme for which we ought to be actively fighting.


The Socialist Review stands for the overthrow of the Tory Government by all the means at the disposal of the working class movement and the establishment of a Labour government pledged to carry out radical measures in the interests of the workers, including the following:

  1. To break the stranglehold of finance capital on the means of livelihood of the people and progress towards socialism, renationalise without further compensation all industries denationalised by the present government and nationalise the Joint Stock banks, insurance companies, the land, the chemical industry and the twelve sections of the engineering industry specified by the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions.
  2. To eliminate the class of social parasites whose numbers have been swollen by the so-called compensation provision of previous nationalisation measures and establish the socialist principal (sic) that all who eat must work, introduce the principle of cash compensation to ex-owners in cases of proved need only, such need to be assessed by elected committees of workers, and suspend interest payments on the national debt except on holdings of less than £500.
  3. To prevent the growth of a new class of bureaucratic “managers”, and to make “industrial democracy” more than a phrase. The majority of all members of national, area and other boards in nationalised industries shall consist of elected workers’ representatives who shall be subject to periodic re-election and to recall at any time by the men and women who elected them and who shall be paid the average skilled rate in the industry concerned. To prevent sabotage by the capitalists in the remaining privately-owned industries. Two or more elected workers’ representatives shall sit on the board of each concern employing more than 20 workers with full legal rights to attend all meetings and inspect all books and documents and to call in expert advisers from outside where necessary. To prevent bureaucratic mismanagement and unnecessary disputes, no change in working conditions at pit and plant level shall be permitted in any industry without the consent of the pit or shop organisation of the workers in whose hands shall rest exclusively the control of hiring and firing.
  4. To develop the social services till they approach the socialist principle of from each according to his ability to each according to his need, taking the following first steps:
  1. Reinstate a completely free national health service and abolish the anomaly of the “private” patient.
  2. Establish the principle of full maintenance at trade union rates for the unemployed.
  3. A sliding scale of adequate pensions based on a new and realistic cost of living index.
  4. A real housing drive assisted by the allocation of adequate capital resources, interest free loans to local authorities, more drastic powers to requisition and rent-free state-owned land.
  1. A foreign policy based on independence of both Moscow and Washington, political support to the struggles of the workers and peasants everywhere, independence to the colonies or free federation if they desire it as an immediate right, economic aid to the backward areas, withdrawal of all British forces from overseas, and immediate publication and repudiation of all secret treaties and only such rearmament as is necessary to defend a socialist Britain.

I will not attempt to anticipate objections to this sort of programme except on one point. It may be argued that because the programme does not call for workers’ councils, democratisation (a euphemism for disintegration) of the state machine, etc., it is a reformist programme. I would reply to that by pointing out that this programme cannot possibly be carried out without a fight to the finish with the bourgeoisie. In the course of that struggle the situation will become clearer to the advanced workers and we can then advance such slogans which will then be seen to be necessary. To advance them now would be simply a waste of time.It goes without saying that in our propaganda we put the Marxist case, but this programme is for immediate agitation in the British Labour movement and must therefore be designed to fit the consciousness of that movement, not of some hypothetical one.

Finally our perspective. Our next steps should be:

  1. Transform the S.R. into a paper fighting for this programme as an immediate task.
  2. Initiate groupings in the localities based on this programme including all who will accept it regardless of what illusions they may have on other questions.
  3. Invite all existing groupings and individuals to do likewise. (I have in mind here people like the Kendall group in the L.O.Y. and the “Rally” periphery, etc.) and attempt to unite them on this basis into a national fraction.
  4. Develop trade union fractions within this group on the basis of our usual trade union demands.
  5. A paper for this group (ours if possible but not as a principle).

I believe that with work and good direction from the centre this is a realistic proposition and is the correct tactic for a Labour Party fraction. We start on the basis of a programme (unlike the “Socialist Fellowship”) which will be acceptable to many elements whom we cannot now reach (“we are sectarian” etc.) and who will in the course of the struggle arrive at a consistent revolutionary position – with our assistance, naturally. This is the road to a sizeable revolutionary fraction and ultimately to the masses.


D. Hallas


Last updated on 20 August 2016