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The New International, July 1944


The New International in England


From The New International, Vol. X No. 7, July 1944, pp. 235–237.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In modern times the Anglo-Saxon countries have not been distinguished for theory. In the seventeenth century, Hobbes and Locke in Britain were among the greatest philosophers in Europe: In the eighteenth century, the torch passed to France, while the British perfected the empiricism which corresponded to their material prosperity. The German bourgeoisie, laboring in a Europe which had economically left them far behind, produced the magnificent idealist philosophy. Britain contented itself with the prosaic Bentham and the philosophy of common sense, the greatest good of the greatest number.

This distrust of theory, the veneration of “muddling through,” is now deeply rooted in British thought. In the days when Marxism occupied the attention of all the greatest scholars of Europe, the British produced nothing. Bolshevism was introduced by the Communist International after the Russian Revolution. It fell on stony ground. One candle, however, burnt in the empiricist gloom. That was The Labour Monthly. Under the editorship of R. Palme Dutt this theoretical journal did a wonderful work. True, it bore the Anglo-Saxon stamp. Historical materialism, Marxian economics and, for many years, dialectical materialism, were absent from its pages; but Dutt’s Notes of the Month, a Marxist analysis of contemporary topics, and his deep respect for Marxist theory, trained a whole generation of young Marxists.

By 1934, however, Dutt was on the way down, and within a year the policy of the Popular Front had completed the corruption of The Labour Monthly. It was just at this period, however, that the British public turned to Marxism. This is one of the most extraordinary phenomena in the intellectual history of Britain and has never been adequately reported, far less evaluated. Two things contributed to it. One was the completion of the first Five Year Plan contrasted with the bankruptcy of British capitalism, and indeed of capitalism all over the world. This was celebrated by Soviet Communism, a New Civilization? by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. They placed their great reputations and powers of compilation at the service of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The second factor was the exposure of British imperialism by the Hoare-Laval plan. The British public reacted violently against this shameless imperialist immorality. The Stalinists, on the alert, formed an alliance with the great publishing firm of Israel Gollancz. Together they organized the Left Book Club. Before long the club had 40,000 members, reading a skillful combination of Marxist classics and Stalinist Popular Front propaganda. Harold Laski, John Strachey and J.B.S. Haldane, perhaps the three best known, if the not most gifted intellectuals in Britain, were at the head of the movement, and with the Webbs, Gollancz, and many others seemed to be carrying all before them.

Fighting the Stalinists

Nothing, absolutely nothing, stood in the way of this corruption of Marxism except The New International, the publications of Pioneer Publishers, and an infinitesimally small group of Trotskyists. It is almost unbelievable what this group, led by The New International, managed to do. It fought pitched theoretical battles against the Stalinists and was never overwhelmed. In Britain the practice of democracy among the people is very strong. The workers do not stand for beating up and throwing out opponents. At great mass meetings organized by the Stalinists, with the Hon. D.N. Pritt, MP, KC, John Strachey, Pat Sloan, Page Arnot, Andrew Rothstein and other Stalinist luminaries as the main speakers, the small band of Trotskyists would attend and take the floor. C.L.R. James, Harry Wicks, Gerry Bradley, Graves, Ted Grant, Bert Matlow, Henry Sara and various others used to put the Trotskyist case. And the Trotskyist case was learned from The New International. The biggest meeting the Stalinists ever held on the Moscow Trials with D.N. Pritt and Pat Sloan as chief speakers and Gollancz in the chair, broke up in disorder under the fire of James and other Trotskyists. Labour Party organizations often invited both Stalinist and Trotskyist speakers to debate. One entire number of the Internal Bulletin of the Left Book Club was devoted to this question of the Trotskyists. It is difficult to believe that all the Trotskyists in Britain at that time in all probability did not number one hundred.

The Independent Labour Party started a journal called Controversy in which all opinions were to be welcome. Issue after issue was filled with the Stalinist-Trotskyist debate, the Trotskyists putting forward the arguments learned in The New International and holding their own.

The theoretical leaders of the Independent Labour Party, as they felt the increasing pressure of the Stalinists, leaned more heavily on The New International. True, they twisted and distorted its doctrines to suit their own centrist purposes, but it was from this journal that they got their main arguments. There was nothing else to get arguments from.

Winning British Support

For a time a Stalinist fraction and the Trotskyists fought it out inside the ILP itself. The Stalinist fraction had all the powerful organization of the Communist Party behind them. We had nothing but the Fourth International and its representative to us, The New International. It was enough. The pacifist ILP never succumbed to the Stalinists but all through its recent history Maxton and the parliamentarians have been plagued by a left wing which from the start drew its sustenance from The New International.

The high peak of the British Trotskyist propaganda in Britain came with the publication of World Revolution by C.L.R. James. The book was extensively reviewed in the bourgeois press, the Times Literary Supplement, the Manchester Guardian, the New Statesman and Nation giving long reviews. The Stalinists countered with a long article in one of their theoretical journals. Yet as the author of that book has acknowledged, without The New International the book could not have been written at all. It was not a question of influence. The small band of Trotskyists not only educated themselves on the paper. They used it in debate, as a basis for expository or polemical articles. Its opponents had to meet its arguments directly. Better still, they had to contend with its method. It was the grasp of Marxism and the organization of the material which drew and held the attention o£ audiences when a solitary Trotskyist rose to speak at a Stalinist meeting. In a country like Britain, the theoretical grasp, the emphasis on the fundamentals of socialism, the familiarity with the process of development in Russia, the ultimate connection between the degeneration of the revolution and the gyrations of the Comintern, these things made an enormous impression. “At any rate, you Trotskyists know your stuff. You get down to it,” was a frequent remark. We had to. What we learned, we learned under fire. In Britain, in empirical Britain, swept by the Stalinist flood, this meant much. The Stalinists did not have it all their own way. We made ourselves heard. The little band of British Trotskyists were quite incapable of working out these things for themselves. All came from The New International, particularly the needs of the struggle from day to day.

Glasgow is the intellectual center of British labor. The magazine and the old Militant were more widely read in Glasgow than anywhere else. In Edinburgh the paper had its devotees. It was read in South Wales. Its work can best be judged by the following: At its very best, The Labour Monthly, backed by the powerful Stalinist organizations all over the English-speaking world, sold 7,000 copies. The New International at one time sold 4,000. A substantial number of these was sold in Britain.

To those familiar with the history of the Trotskyist movement in Britain, the work done by The New International gives a great lesson. It is doubtful if anywhere such small, inexperienced forces, lacking theoretical tradition and the guidance of personally developed and experienced comrades ever waged so powerful a fight as against the Stalinist machine and the allies it gained during the days of the Left Book Club. It used to be a matter of regret, but also of humor too, that we who were so small and so few, without influence, were able to contest so many positions.

Its Role in the Empire

A word must be said about The New International in the British Empire. Some of the comrades who now comprise the movement in India were trained in Britain on The New International and the powerful party in Ceylon which follows the general line of the Fourth International will testify some day, soon we hope, to what The New International meant to it. The South African comrades who got into personal touch with the British movement told the same story. And the African Bureau, an organization in London representing the Negro peoples all over the world, came under the paper’s influence directly and indirectly.

We were sneered at in those days. The Fourth International was said to be a figment of Trotsky’s imagination. We were called intellectuals who had no connection with the workers; it was said that we were only mouthpieces for Trotsky’s views. So to a large extent we were. What is the result? In Britain today a group of Trotskyists, their leaders trained on The New International and Pioneer publications, are writing new and imperishable pages in the history of the working class movement in Britain. The colonials in India, Ceylon, in West Africa, and the Bureau in Britain oppose the imperialist war, not only in ideas but in action. True, there are differences on Russia. But it is only the ignoramuses and

the short-sighted ones who fail to see that much as Russia dominated the pages of the paper, it was all in the framework of the unity of the international proletariat against both “democratic” and “fascist” imperialisms. That work The New International did, in Britain and the Empire. Those who doubt it should ask Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labor, and Herbert Morrison, Home Secretary of Britain. Even we who were animated in those days only by faith, had little idea of the foundations we were laying.

As the British people experience shock after shock, they will be dragged out of their empiricism and compelled to substitute dialectic for “muddling through.” Properly to evaluate what The New International did in Britain during the past years is to learn precious lessons in the movement of history and to understand how scientific was the faith in which the great Marxists did their work.

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Last updated on 16 December 2015