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Jim Higgins

More Years for the Locust

Chapter 4

World history would indeed be very easy to make if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favourable chances. It would on the other hand be of a very mystical nature if “accidents” played no part. These accidents naturally form part of the general course of development and are compensated by other accidents. But acceleration and delay are very much dependent on such “accidents,” including the “accident” of the character of the people who first head the movement.
Marx, Selected Correspondence, p.320

Moving from an open party to Labour Party entry is rather akin to a gregarious claustrophobic applying for long term solitary confinement. You have to learn a whole new mode of expression (Labour Party jargon is no worse than Trotsko-jargon, just different). It is also necessary to mitigate your undiluted politics in the cause of winning friends and not being expelled. Thus, in the 1950s and for some years to come, your immediate allies were Tribuneites and semi-stalinists, who abounded in the Labour Party. At the same time it was necessary not to allow your politics to be suborned by the wiles of left social democracy. For example, the Healy group virtually adopted the Stalinist sympathies of their allies in the Socialist Outlook and later on, during the German rearmament debate, it was necessary to deter SR Group members from seconding resolutions with such preambles as: Entering the Labour Party “The Germans who have already started two world wars ...”.

The first issue of Socialist Review appeared in November 1950. It was sub-titled Live Writing on World Politics and sold for sixpence. Content aside, this was quite good value for 36 duplicated pages, each one of which had justified right hand margins, a time consuming and tedious job with conventional typewriter and stencils but Bill Ainsworth insisted that it appear as professional as possible. In line with the founding meeting’s policy of seeking recruits amongst ex-RCP members and the Socialist Fellowship, the lead article, The Struggle of the Powers, was by Roger Tennant, another of Cliff’s pseudonyms used during his period of Irish exile. In internal documents he was referred to as Roger to fool the Special Branch. The article outlined the Korean war as the outcome of the rival imperialisms’, America’s and Russia’s, bids for world domination, while Vs Felix wrote In the Mirror of Stalin’s Parliament an analysis of the newly elected Supreme Council of the USSR. A reprint from the POUM’s La Batalla detailed the Class Struggle in Hungary and Bill Ainsworth wrote a detailed critique of the pro-Stalinist content of Socialist Outlook, showing the magazine’s uncritical support of both North Korea and Yugoslavia.

The programme of the new journal was cunningly outlined in a piece by Peter Morgan: Amended Draft of Policy Submitted for Socialist Fellowship Conference. This document had a certain root and branch quality to it that might have caused some unease at Labour Party headquarters had they been aware of it. The Labour Party’s policy document Labour and the New Society was castigated as, “... one more milestone on the road away from socialism ...”. Russia and the Western powers were characterised as equally obnoxious imperialisms. Nationalisation of the land, all large financial institutions, industrial and distributive enterprises, without compensation and under workers’ control, socialist planning and the monopoly of foreign trade were also called for. In addition to a state financed national building plan, all luxury hotels and mansions were to be requisitioned and all existing housing to be controlled and allocated by tenants’ committees. Prices and any necessary rations were to be controlled by the Cooperative Societies and distribution workers. A rising scale of wages and a declining scale of hours was also thought to be, and probably was, a popular demand. The call for the abolition of the monarchy, the House of Lords, the standing army and the officer caste was balanced by the demand for a militia with the election of officers and full trade union rights for all ranks. The document was nicely rounded out with a call for an end to secret diplomacy, an end to annexations or reparations, for freedom of the colonial peoples and the United Socialist States of Europe. After all this it is rather sad to read the plaintive footnote at the end which says: “This draft was not accepted for the Socialist Fellowship Conference.”

The next few issues of Socialist Review were little different from the first. Articles on the Stalinist states predominated, outweighing by some margin highly critical articles on the Labour Party. For a few months in 1951, the magazine had a line drawing on the cover, a combined portrait of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky as if to prove the paper’s revolutionary credentials. Today, nearly 50 years later, the magazine does not read at all badly, with substantial pieces by, among others, Duncan Hallas, Ray Challinor, Geoff Carlsson, Peter Morgan and Tony Cliff. What it does not read like, of course, is an entrist magazine.

By April 1952, however, Socialist Review acquired for the first time a printed format and the approximation of an entrist paper. The additional capacity of the typeset page was utilised to examine at length the Bevanite controversy. While placing no faith in Bevan himself the magazine called for the construction of an “ideologically rearmed” left against the “unholy alliance of the neo-Tory right wing Labour leadership and the Tories proper” [1] In the next issue, P Mansell (Jean Tait) reviewed Cliff’s Stalin’s Satellites in Europe, published under the name Ygael Gluckstein. It will come as no surprise that the reviewer warmly supported the author’s thesis that the ‘People’s Democracies’, like Russia are bureaucratic state capitalist regimes ...” [2]

The very next issue saw the adoption of the strapline, above the title, “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism”. This splendid formulation – which has the merit of being simple to understand at the same time as it indicates, with some precision, the political essence of the magazine – was originally coined by the Independent Socialist League (see Appendix A), the American group led by Max Shachtman, one of the leading expositors of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism.

Despite the advances made in the journal, the first few years of the SR Group’s existence were not easy. The comrades were, in the main, young and inexperienced and however far reaching their ambitions their ability to act was extremely circumscribed. The original intention to recruit from ex-RCP members and the Socialist Fellowship came to nothing. Apart from a few fragments, of which SR was one, the Trotskyist movement had virtually ceased to exist. A movement that had organised a few hundreds was now down to tens, and those widely separated, so that the possibilities for debate of disputed questions was fairly remote. Revolutionaries worked in their constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) selling a few hundred copies of their journals and stagnated.

For the most part, work in CLPs is non-political, involving fund raising, canvassing, socials and, it seemed to me, endless coach trips to Southend. Whatever their attractions, these are not fertile places for a usually solitary revolutionary to put down roots and grow. An aggregate of the entire SR Group would not have commanded a majority in the average CLP In the adult party recruits were very hard to come by. As is often the case, lack of progress led on to membership losses. Bill Ainsworth left, it is said, to devote himself to the possibility of inter-planetary travel; Duncan Hallas, who had become a National Council of Labour Colleges Organiser (so too were Jock Haston and Sid Bidwell among others), was posted to Scotland and drifted away for the next 14 years. Ken Tarbuck left, returning for a time to orthodox Trotskyism. These losses, given the grave shortage of experience and talent, were hard to replace.

In the Labour Party League of Youth (LLOY) there was a more sympathetic audience for the revolutionary message and, in this field of potential recruits, some actually joined. Stan Newens, who subsequently became a Labour MP, and is currently an MEP, was one of these, joining in 1952. Stan was one of the first of a long line of people on whom Cliff bestowed his most favoured comrade status. He was courted and made much of, attention that he, and his wife, repaid in a great deal of loyal group work in the LLOY, the Labour Party and in writing for Socialist Review. In addition, Stan was also UK business manager of Labor Action, which, along with New International, was distributed here through the SR Group. As the owner of a motorcycle he was regularly pressed into service carting Cliff round the country on his pillion on recruiting forays. Throughout his stay, the group was pursuing an entry tactic in the Labour Party, which Stan had joined in 1949.

It is probably true that Stan Newens was, and certainly is, most happy working in a Labour Party environment and it is also true that in any revolutionary group he would be closer to the right of it than the left. His political stance was not something that Cliff was unaware of, after all he was a group member for eight years, but somebody with a temporary inside track to Cliff must have objected to Stan’s politics. Two young busmen from the Hendon branch wrote in denouncing Stan and others, with much play being made of Eduard Bernstein and revisionism. Perhaps not unreasonably, taking the view that the fine Italian hand of T Cliff lay behind these recondite references to the man that Lenin and Luxemburg loved to hate, Stan decided to get on his bike. Today, he sums it all up: “In my opinion Cliff never really understood the British labour movement ... Cliff was always concerned with the internal organisation, rather than the broader work, which was for other people”. [3]

Joining at the same time as Stan Newens was Bernard Dix (he actually was a Shachtmanite) who wrote both in Socialist Review and in the ISL press under the name Owen Roberts. Later he became an Assistant General Secretary of NUPE, but resigned when he failed to become General Secretary, retiring to Wales where he took up left nationalism. He died in January 1996.

In September 1951, the first expulsion took place when Ellis Hillman managed to get himself on the wrong side of Cliff. For the light it may throw on later exercises in disciplining the cadre, it may be worth detailing this at length. Hillman had, apparently, been asked by the Secretariat to prepare an internal discussion document and with all the self confidence of the bright, but very young, decided on a major revision of the group’s theory of state capitalism. In 17, single spaced, foolscap pages he developed the notion that the Stalinist parties were the state capitalist societies in embryo. This attempt to marry state capitalism with bureaucratic collectivism did not go down well. The Secretariat rejected the document on the grounds that Stalinist state capitalism grows out of the need for capital accumulation as set out by Cliff in his RCP Internal Bulletin. Duncan Hallas also wrote a lengthy reply, published later as part of Documents of the International Socialists, a somewhat one-sided exercise as Hillman’s original document is not published.

What must have been especially galling to Cliff was that Hillman had been thoroughly enchanted by the works of the Johnson-Forest tendency [4] and, with an air of breathless awe, as if he had just met the Messiah on the Road to Damascus, he wrote: “... It is no exaggeration to say that Comrades Johnson-Forest’s latest work State Capitalism and the World Revolution is at a level at least the equal of Trotsky’s last works and a logical and fruitful development of them. The works on the state capitalism thesis that have been written so far have become obsolete and superfluous with the publication of Comrades Johnson-Forest’s masterpiece ...”

Having set to nought large chunks of Cliff’s magnum opus, Hillman than went on to produce another document (internal bulletin writing can become addictive and damages your membership prospects) Organic Unity. This proposed a closer working, with a view to unity, with Grant’s group. We have already seen that the Group was refusing all unity with defencist groups and few were more defencist than Grant’s.

Hillman’s days were numbered. First he was the subject of a few stray, in fact mutually inconsistent, accusations of alien loyalty. On the basis of his piece on The Nature of the Stalinist Parties he was accused of being a Shachtmanite, on the basis of Organic Unity he was a Grantite and, on general principle, because they were unpopular at the time, he was also accused of being an IKDer. [5] Quite a lot of heresy for one so young.

At a London meeting, Hillman was manoeuvered into refusing to retreat from the proposition, “That if the general interests of the revolutionary socialist movement came into conflict with the particular interests of our Group, the larger discipline of those general interests would have to prevail”. [6] In fact, the statement is really unexceptional: the interests of the revolutionary socialist movement would be paramount for all serious people, you might think. Not if you are Cliff (or, incidentally, Gerry Healy). For them the general interests of the revolutionary socialist movement are synonymous with the particular interests of the group, especially as the basic line is enunciated by themselves. This effectively means that Cliff’s immediate preoccupations are the stuff of which socialist revolutions are made. Hillman obviously did not understand this eternal verity and complained to the Secretariat, “ Recently it has become clear that bureaucratic clique methods have been used by Comrade Roger to: 1. Prevent views on unity being heard in Birmingham. 2. Remove the Y[outh] C[ommittee] editorial board to Manchester. These manoevres (sic) constitute a violation of healthy democracy ... Those who have protested most loudly about democratic centralism and group discipline have not even bothered to carry out the decisions of their own group. For instance, Comrade Roger was instructed by the London Group to write regularly for the SR and not dish up old Information Digest articles. I must say that these instructions have been violated, have not been carried out [emphasis in the original]. Where is the democratic centralism here? Comrade Roger is repeating all the same mistakes he made last year. We now have half the Fourth International with us, he said that last year. We also had 60 comrades last year. Such moonshine stories are based on absolutely no evidence ... The Tito parties are Comrade Roger’s latest fad. These groups, he said, may go over to our position ...” [7]

This refers to the time, after his break with the Cominform, when Tito established sympathetic groups in Western Europe. Of course, none of them came anywhere near a Trotskyist group, despite the fact that Tito was assiduously courted by the FI. Pablo wrote an open letter to the Yugoslav Party starting, “Dear Comrades, We who have always supported the Yugoslav revolution ...” and Healy kept a big picture of Tito on his office wall. Given Cliff’s position on the East European states, it is odd that he thought that state capitalism would prove an attractive theory to Tito’s followers, but then he was never one to let a theory stand in the way of a new recruit. Tito’s International lasted no longer than it took to establish favourable terms with the Western governments.

For all the spirited manner of his response, Ellis Hillman’s expulsion was confirmed. Some years later, but before I read the documents, I asked Cliff why Ellis had been expelled. “For telling lies,” he replied, with all the ring of truth in his voice. Fortunately for Cliff, nobody else thought that was not necessarily an expellable offense.

In 1952, Cliff was allowed back into Britain, Labour MP John McGovern [8] having intervened on his behalf. This gave a considerable boost to the organisation. Not only was he older and vastly more experienced in revolutionary politics than his comrades, but he also displayed that firm assurance and air of certainty that is so characteristic of sect leaders from Clapham High Street to Waco, Texas. About this time the traditional democratic centralist organisational forms began to disappear, flaking off like the rust on an unused car. This, however, was not as a result of one of Cliff’s infamous “stick bending” exercises, just a different form for a different audience. If this gave rise to a certain laissez faire attitude in organisational matters that is not necessarily to the bad, so long as it is not presented later as proof of a cunningly worked out plan.

For many of the groups, the maintenance of “Leninist” forms of organisation are a kind of play acting. It does not help in their activity in the working class, because there usually is none, but its elaborate system of committees does fill their time nicely and affords them an opportunity to abuse one another with names from the rogues gallery of Bolshevik history. Top of the hit parade in this context is the accusation that an opponent is performing the strike-breaking role of Kamenev and Zinoviev in 1917. I have heard this accusation several times. Indeed, it has been applied to myself on two occasions; once by Gerry Healy and later by Chris Harman. I intend no amalgam here; Healy was funnier but Harman had a lot more hair – I always thought he had a passing resemblance to Zinoviev. Healy did not look a bit like Kamenev, though, more like Babe’s much older brother.

For the SR Group, organised Trotskyism, nationally and internationally, was basically irrelevant to their experience. What had once seemed to be so important and attractive, like affiliation to the Fourth International, was almost forgotten – rather like the snapshots of one’s youth; ridiculous clothes, weird haircut, definitely callow and a fit subject for ribald jokes. That organisational and political separation was the prelude to the SRG relinquishing the forms of organisation that the orthodox still cling to so tenaciously and call “democratic centralism”. That a small group of socialists operating in conditions of legality requires all the paraphernalia of Central Committees, Political Bureaux, Control Commissions etc is that species of substitutionism which imagines that if you have Lenin’s forms you are able to give them Lenin’s content. Not true, as any objective observer of the SWP will tell you.

In September 1953, Mike Kidron arrived from Israel. Prior to this he had no history in the Trotskyist movement. His only organised political life, up to 1953, was membership in the Johannesburg branch of Hashomer Hatzair. This, he says, was largely for social reasons, but he became anti-stalinist when he was ill in 1946, unable to move or read. Some CP members visited him to read lengthy extracts from the History of the CPSU(B) Short Course. This, the spiritual equivalent of a fortnight in the basement of the Lubyanka with Comrade Yagoda, turned him irrevocably against Stalinism. He arrived in Israel in 1946, a couple of weeks before Cliff, who was married to Kidron’s sister Chanie Rosenburg, left for Britain. In that time Cliff gave him his own short course introductory lecture, delivered in one lump and lasting two weeks, with only brief interludes for food and ablutions and even less time for sleep.

For the next ten years, Kidron set a great deal of the style and a measure of the political agenda for the SR group. His lack of a Trotskyist background turned out to be an advantage, in that he had little inclination to take anything as holy writ, even the work of T Cliff, and he fitted well into the looser organisation that the SRG had become. Beside his membership of the SR Group, Kidron was also, as Chanie’s brother, a fully paid up member of the family. To many this gave the not entirely mistaken impression that to be in on the decision making you had to be a relation. Despite the low membership, this still excluded the overwhelming majority of the group and was deeply offensive to some. [9] For all that the intellectual input had been considerably increased by the arrival of Kidron, the advance of the group was very slow. In the first five or six years of its existence, the SRG barely maintained the membership it had started with in 1950.

The turning point, although it did not seem so at the time, was the events of 1956, the Anglo French – Israeli Suez adventure and, more importantly, Kruschev’s secret speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU (B), followed by the Russian invasion of Hungary. Hungarian Revolution These were world shattering events. The burden of Kruschev’s speech, with its partial denunciation of the crimes of Stalin and not much about Stalinism, had sufficient of the appearance of a liberal turn for the Hungarian CP reformers, led by Imre Nagy, to remove the more obnoxious Stalinists, such as Rakosi and Gero, and slacken the most burdensome aspects of the regime. For a brief time it seemed that they would get away with it, but the criminal adventures of Eden and his chums at Suez provided just the smokescreen the Russians needed to invade Hungary, put down the rebellion, execute Nagy and install their own puppets.

The repercussions of the Kruschev speech and the Hungarian revolution hit the Western Communist Parties like a well aimed brick to the vitals. Not least of those in pain was the CPGB. For years the British party had been able to stifle all critical voices in its ranks but this discussion was quite beyond their power to control. Peter Fryer, who had been the Daily Worker correspondent in Hungary, gave full, eloquent and angry evidence. His criticisms were more sympathetically received when it was learned that his reports on Hungary, written from that country, were being spiked and replaced by “reports” by the Daily Worker editor, JR Campbell, from Moscow.

The furore in the Communist Party was unprecedented. Aggregate meetings up and down the country were highly critical. Leaders such as Pollitt and Dutt, who were accustomed to uncritical adulation at party gatherings, were roundly condemned. Dissident members attended meetings in their hundreds to be addressed by Isaac Deutscher who expatiated at length on the crimes of Stalin and the value of marxism in general and Trotsky in particular. EP Thompson and John Saville produced a highly critical theoretical magazine, called the Reasoner, within the party (the New Reasoner after they were expelled) and while it was anti-Trotskyist it was located within a Marxist-humanist framework.

At this remove, it is difficult to realise the trauma experienced by CP members when they came to realise that Stalin’s feet of clay extended up to his hairline. From omniscience to putrescence in the time (several hours) that it took Kruschev to delineate the ex-“father of socialism’s” less attractive traits, is just a little too quick for those weaned on the importance of loving Stalin. For the best of the CP members, the most pressing question was: are the crimes of Stalin inherent in Marxism and its application?

This was the sort of question that the Trotskyist movement was uniquely well qualified to answer. Its whole propaganda phase, it had never got beyond it, was an attempt to revalidate Marxism in the face of Stalinist barbarity. Each of the groups, in their own way, attempted to capitalise on the concerns of CP members. Cliff produced his pamphlet, Russia from Stalin to Kruschev. It has to be said that it is not a very good pamphlet, spending too much space on Kruschev’s intention to take on both the form and the content of Stalin’s rule which, in any case, did not happen. It failed to explain Stalin or Stalinism and gives the appearance of hasty preparation, together with uncertainty about how to influence CP members. The pamphlet’s high point comes very early, on what would normally be the dedication page. Cliff reproduces a stanza by one Znamya, published in 1946, in honour of Stalin:

I would have compared him to a white mountain – but the mountain has a summit.
I would have compared him to the depths of the sea – but the sea has a bottom.

One hopes, for Znamya’s sake, that Stalin never realised this was just another bum joke in English.

Healy, with his own printing press and access to the American SWP’s Trotsky opus, The Revolution Betrayed, was rather better prepared and more surefooted. He produced a lengthy pamphlet by Peter Fryer, My Case Against Expulsion, and another reproducing the full text of Kruschev’s speech with a commentary. Concentrating on history and leaning heavily on Trotsky’s detailed critique, he was far better able to convince CP members that there was a Marxist life after the party. In 1955, there were fewer than 100 members of the Club. By 1956 there were 150 and by 1957 there were more than 400, the increase coming almost exclusively from the CP This is no great number, it is true, but among them were some very talented people – John Daniels, Brian Behan, Tom Kemp, Brian Pearce, Alasdair MacIntyre, Cliff Slaughter, Frank Girling, Peter Fryer and quite a few others.

Against this the SR Group could count just the one recruit. Dudley Edwards was an engineering worker who retained a powerful affection for The British Road to Socialism, the CPGB’s programme, first produced in 1952, with the personal endorsement of JV Stalin. It was not much but I suppose it was something.



1. Socialist Review, Vol.2. No.1, p.12

2. Socialist Review, Vol.2, No.2.

3. Workers Liberty, No.18, Feb. 1995.

4. A group in America led by JR Johnson (CLR James) and Freddy Forrest (Raya Dunayevskaya).

5. The IKD were a German Trotskyist group who produced a theory of retrogression which suggested that the decline of capitalism was such that socialism was impossible, with barbarism a distinct possibility. Funnily enough, though the IKD believed Russia to be state capitalist they were initially supported by Shachtman but were vigorously opposed by the Johnson-Forrest Tendency.

6. The Nature of the Stalinist Parties by Ellis Hillman SR Group Internal Document.

7. Letter to the Secretariat by Ellis Hillman, Sept. 1951

8. John McGovern was for some years one of the Clydeside group of ILP MPs, in the 1930s. he visited Palestine and met Cliff there. He subsequently rejoined the Labour Party. His last progressive act was organising Cliff’s readmission to these shores. He later worked tirelessly for Moral Rearmament.

9. See James D Young in A Taste of Honey, published by the ISG 1995.

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Last updated on 31.1.2003