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Workers’ International News, June 1939


What Next for the ILP?


From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.6, June 1939, p.3-4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


During the Easter holidays the ILP held its Annual Conference at Scarborough. This was the culminating event of a series of internal crises lasting over a period of nearly ten years. The main issues under discussion were: the attitude of the ILP parliamentary group during the Munich crisis and the question of affiliation to the Labour Party. So engrossed was the conference with these two issues that, during the whole three days it did not find time to discuss either Mussolini’s rape of Albania, the activities of the IRA, one of the most important factors in the anti-imperialist struggle at the present time, or even the section of the National Administrative Council’s report which dealt with its international activities through the London Bureau of Revolutionary Socialist Unity. By not repudiating the attitude of its MPs on the Munich issue at this conference, the ILP has declared to the outside world, its political bankruptcy as a party. After the first discussion on this issue the conference degenerated into a complete farce, nobody caring what happened.

Since it disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 1932 the ILP has attempted to travel along two roads, the road of pacifist-reformism and the road of social revolution. At certain periods, due to the tireless activities of its most advanced members, it has appeared in the role of the revolutionary party for a while, but such successes as have been achieved in that direction have been laid in ruins by the reactionary pacifist attitude of its leaders at every period of crisis. The attitude of Maxton and McGovern at the outbreak of the Italo-Abyssinian war, the failure of its leaders to demand from the British workers support for the POUM in Spain, McGovern’s support of the Palestine Mandate, the disgusting debacle of Maxton wishing Chamberlain “God speed” to Munich in September and on his return congratulating him, together with McGovern, for “preventing” war, Campbell Stephen’s advocacy of sharing out the colonies amongst the rival imperialist robbers, which he described in the House of Commons as a return to the policy of Jesus Christ. Such disgusting betrayal of socialist principles and the failure of the rank and file membership of the ILP to take any action against its leaders, are the milestones on the road to disaster.

What will be the consequences of this failure on the part of the ILP membership to face up squarely to its self proclaimed task of leading the class struggle in this country? Its failure to make a bold stand against its leadership and even to make a decision either for or against affiliation to the Labour Party, at the Scarborough conference, is already having effect. The parliamentary group is already split, Buchanan has declared his intention of accepting nomination as a Labour Party candidate, Campbell Stephen and McGovern are likely to follow suit in the near future. The militant members, who have been vainly striving to transform the ILP into a revolutionary organisation, now completely disillusioned, are attempting to organise themselves with a view to entering the Labour Party apart from the ILP, whilst C.A. Smith, the new Chairman, and one or two others in the leadership are completely opposed to Labour Party affiliation.

All these tendencies are an inevitable result of the heterogeneous composition and consequent lack of policy and programme of the ILP Confusion reigns supreme. It must not be allowed to continue. There must be no splits amongst the rank and file.

The left wing of the ILP, having at last arrived at the position of realising the necessity of building a new revolutionary party from the broad mass movement, must not, by splitting the ILP, doom itself to failure from the beginning. The militants and potential revolutionaries at present in the Labour Party and particularly in the youth movement can be gained for revolutionary socialism by a clear and determined leadership operating in the ILP within the Labour Party. This necessitates two things: firstly that the ILP must enter the Labour Party intact if it is to be of any use from an organisational standpoint and secondly that the lead must be given, not by the present politically bankrupt leadership, but by the revolutionaries already in the ILP together with those whom it will draw into its ranks on its entry into the Labour Party, united on a programme of working class demands, which must lead to the inevitable destruction of the existing capitalist order of society and its replacement by workers’ rule. Such a programme, if it is to receive mass support, without which it will, of course, be useless and futile, must be suited to the needs of the working class at the present time.

Deep economic depression now threatens the masses with starvation and is only being staved off by colossal preparation for a world imperialist war which has now become not only a dangerous probability but absolutely inevitable. It only remains for the line-up to be finally settled and then at any moment a spark can ignite the gigantic ammunition dump upon which we are sitting. The Labour Party leadership and the Stalinist popular-fronters, whilst serving different paymasters and superficially differing in their policies, are at one in their traitorous objective of collaboration with the ruling class in order to lead the masses to slaughter in defence of their imperialist masters’ profits, when the rival predatory powers finally come to grips, and to canalise the militancy of the masses which must inevitably arise from the worsening of their conditions during the intervening period.

The immediate task of the revolutionaries is to fight the ruling class and their allies, the Labour and Popular Front leadership. This can only be done on a clear and positive programme. Foremost among the demands must be: a job and a decent wage for every worker, by sharing out the work on the basis of a sliding scale of hours with a fixed maximum of 40 hours a week and a sliding scale of wages to combat the rising cost of living with a fixed minimum calculated to give the workers a decent standard of life; open up the idle factories under workers’ control whilst unemployment remains; the expropriation of war funds to maintain the unemployed, the aged and the disabled at a decent standard of life. These are the day-to-day issues. On the broader field, we must stern the advance of fascism by organising workers’ defence corps; organise resistance to military and industrial conscription on a class basis; demand the publication of all secret treaties and agreements – an end to secret diplomacy.

United on such a programme, it will be possible for the revolutionaries to expose the treachery of the present leadership of the working class and to rally around them sufficient numbers of class-conscious workers to enable a positive lead to be given to the organised and the unorganised masses. That is the task which faces us to-day. It can be greatly facilitated by the early entry of the ILP into the Labour Party as a body and will only be hampered by useless splits and the entry of isolated groups and individuals with no organisation around which the revolutionaries can orient themselves. Therefore, the perspectives for the ILP militants must be, not the splitting of the party and the entry into the Labour Party of only a part of its left wing, but to maintain such unity as still exists among the rank and file members and the early entry of the ILP as a body. If a section of the leadership are barred from such a course by “ideals” or “ethical conceptions,” then there can be no place for them in the revolutionary vanguard of the working class; they can only lapse into obscurity. The genuine socialists will be at their posts, within the broad mass movement, and carrying forward the real work.

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