C.L.R. James

Revolutionary Socialist League

(April 1938)

Source: Fight [incorporating The Red Flag], Vol. 1 No. 1, April 1938.
Transcribed: Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Staffan Lindé.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

FIGHT, hitherto the organ of the Marxist Group, now makes its reappearance in a new form and under new control. It is the organ of the Revolutionary Socialist League, an organisation formed by the fusion of the members of the Marxist Group and the majority of the members of the now dissolved Marxist League.

For many years the movement for the Fourth International in this country has suffered from the division of its forces. This division has been a source of internal struggle or at least disharmony, of disappointment to our friends – and derision to our enemies. Against this disunity a great blow has been struck by the fusion of the two oldest Trotskyist groups in the country. The Red Flag was the pioneer journal of Trotskyism in Britain; Fight came into existence more than a year ago, and the two papers worked side by side. Today that duality is over. The two organisations have joined forces and present one paper and a common programme – the programme of the Fourth International.

Our policy is today familiar to many. We stand for Socialism, the abolition of landlords and capitalists by the workers in collaboration with the oppressed colonial peoples. We believe that society has reached a stage where it is possible so to organise production as to end poverty, unemployment, inequality and war.

The “constitutional” method of achieving socialism, supported by the Labour Party, is for us obvious nonsense. As soon as property owners feel that their property is in danger, they will arm fascist bands and seek to bludgeon the workers into slavery. The capitalists respect democracy only so long as democracy respects the capitalists. That is the history of post-war Europe, and Britain sooner or later will face the choice. Nothing will save the workers but the organisation of a revolutionary party which will lead them with a full consciousness of the struggle that lies ahead. This was the purpose of the Third International. But that body has degenerated under the guidance of the rulers of Russia. Today, when bullets and slander are destroying the memory and traditions of the October Revolution in Russia – which they rightly call “Trotskyism” – they are seeking to turn the workers of the world away from the class-struggle and make them into servants of Soviet foreign policy. Hence their advocacy of alliance with Liberals (called the Popular Front), their abandonment of the class-struggle, their faith in the League of Nations, their assassination of the Spanish revolution, their frenzied hate of the Trotskyists. Today the Third International is an enemy of the revolution. Hence the necessity for the Fourth International.

Failure of Centrism

Here arises the question of the I.L.P. which professes enmity to the counter-revolutionary policies of the Third International. They claim to be for a new International. Why, then, are we not with them, or they with us? The Marxist Group worked for years in the I.L.P. where there are so many good comrades; but the leadership of the I.L.P. is corrupt. On the Abyssinian question they betrayed their principles; they embarked on the folly of the unity campaign in which, as we predicted, they were deserted by their allies, the Socialist League and the Communist Party, while their representatives in Spain were persecuted by the Third International; it has taken them nearly two years to come to a decision on the Moscow trials, and even now all they do is to beg Stalin to stop it, as for years they begged the Third International to mend its ways. Maxton, McGovern, and Brockway, take years to declare a principle but need only a few hours to break it. And these shifty, oily phrasemongers will not in the day of crisis be suddenly transformed into men able to deal with great events. They live on the traditions of the I.L.P. and inspire confidence in no-one, not even in themselves.

Nothing is left for revolutionaries in this country, therefore, but the building of a new revolutionary party. The danger of war and of fascism make this an imperative necessity. We know that the workers in the Labour Party and the Trade Unions are decisive in the struggle against fascism and war. At present these workers are tied to Transport House, but when the crisis comes, they can be torn away from their treacherous leaders, but only on the basis of lessons learned in their daily struggles and not by talk about the “democratisation” of the Labour Party or by asking Bevin and Citrine to adopt a “really socialist programme.” A revolutionary party fighting for a revolutionary programme side by side with the workers in the Labour Party, on the job and in the streets, can convince them that there is a way out and that we know it. All else leads to catastrophe. That is the lesson of the whole history of the postwar world.

Defence of the U.S.S.R.

What are the chances of our success? Granted that we are on the correct road, what chance have we of building a party strong enough to lead the workers of Britain? If the question is the preliminary to defeatism and renunciation, it is not worth answering. Against war and fascism we must struggle or perish. But correct strategy must be grounded in a sober estimate of possibilities. We do not start in a vacuum. Our heritage is mixed. We have Marxism: the theoretical weapons and tradition of Babeuf, of Marx and Engels, of Lenin and Trotsky, of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. We also to some extent carry the burden of Stalinism, its crimes and its errors. For many, the nightmare of Stalinism proclaiming itself as socialism condemns every form of Marxism. It is not without irony that we who, for many years and still today are denounced as the enemies of the Soviet State, now increasingly have to stand between the U.S.S.R. and a devastating disillusionment. As people turn in disappointment and disgust from the loud shouting and charlatanry of the Stalinist megaphones, they pay more attention to us and for the first time are beginning to distinguish between the solid gains of the October Revolution, the failure of the world revolution and – direct result of this failure – the fungoid bureaucratic lump that is now fathered on the Russian workers and peasants. They see at last the danger that this bureaucracy represents for Russia, the immense catastrophe that it prepares for humanity by repeating the crime of 1914, driving the workers into the coming war for the sake of “democracy and peace.”

Necessity for Action

That – the historical truth of our analysis – has hitherto been our main strength. Today it is more than ever valuable and is forcing its way among all sincere socialists. Recent events not only in Russia but all over the world are creating conditions for a favourable reception for the doctrines of the Fourth International. Where the Duchess of Athol, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Winston Churchill, Citrine, Bevin and Harry Pollitt are all united on the way to achieve peace in their many-keyed chorus for a war to preserve peace, the voice of Marxism can be heard more clearly if only by simple contrast with the prevailing mass of lies and hypocrisy which stands for 1914 all over again. Every day shows people more and more ready to hear us. We have proved it during the last year; we prove it every day.

But propaganda is not enough. Marxism can clarify; it cannot create. The workers may listen, but they can only be convinced by experiencing our capacity to translate theory into practice, to assist them in their daily struggles. That time has proved or will prove us right is of little value.

We are revolutionaries, not prophets, and it is through our actions that the workers will learn to respect our theory. It is through practical work only that our theory will remain vital, constantly checked and renewed, a living weapon in the class-struggle, and not the vain repetition of abstract formulae.

A work of patient struggle and unremitting organisation is before us. We know it. In that knowledge and in our historical background lies the guarantee of our future.

Appeal to Revolutionaries

We are fortunate that the fusion has brought together some of the best and most reliable comrades in the British Trotskyist movement. For us, this first step is but the beginning of unceasing efforts toward the fusion into one united organisation of all the Trotskyist elements in this country. We are convinced that with such a fusion it would not be long before the Workers’ Party, the British Section of the Fourth International, could be definitely established.

Let those who are hesitant or fainthearted remember this: we do not need to create all our cadres. The work of the Communist Party in its early days has not been without results. There are thousands of good revolutionaries scattered all over the country who are sunk into disillusionment for varying periods but are stirred into life again at the approach of war and the increasing bankruptcy of capitalism. For long our analysis of the Soviet Government kept them from us; the Moscow trials have opened their eyes. It is to them in particular that we appeal not to stand aside but to rally to our banner. The workers are ready as they always have been. When in history have the workers ever fought more heroically or more persistently than they have fought in Spain since Alfonso fell, seven long years ago? The occupation of the factories in France is a landmark in working-class initiative and solidarity. The Arabs have fought a guerrilla warfare against British imperialism with immense courage, skill and resource. The Abyssinians strike great blows at Mussolini’s pretended domination. The Indians daily show unexampled militancy and staying power. In the U.S. the workers, lead though they are by reformist leaders, achieve tremendous strikes. It is the revolutionary International only that is wanted; and it is the British section that we must build. We summon all our comrades and allies to unite with us in the struggle for the revolution — to lift the worker out of his poverty and narrow range of life, to cure unemployment, to smash fascism, to abolish war, to assist the colonial peoples in their task of liberating themselves, in short, to end the chaos and misery that is capitalism.

Last updated on 27 April 2018