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Workers’ International News, May 1941


ILP Easter Conference
Observations and Lessons


From Workers’ International News, Vol.4 No.5, May 1941, pp.6-10.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The ILP held its 49th Annual Conference at Nelson during the Easter weekend. 91 delegates representing 88 branches took part in the Conference deliberations. In comparison with the Nottingham Conference of the previous year, there was a definite improvement in the composition of the delegates which must be noted by the revolutionary left. While the entire left wing of the last conference has moved out of the party and largely disintegrated, it is noticeable that a new, fresh left wing is emerging from recent recruits to the party. While most of these younger elements have been recruited as conscientious objectors, a large number are undoubtedly attracted to the ILP because they are seeking a revolutionary alternative to the present imperialist chaos.

Exit C.A. Smith

The opening speech of C.A. Smith, retiring Chairman, is of great significance, since he stated that the NAC supported his general theoretical conclusions. It was ruled by Smith on the suggestion of the Standing Orders Committee that this speech could not be referred to from the floor of the conference. A bureaucratic decision worthy of Transport House or King Street.

Under the pressure of Nazi victories, the left intellectuals of the Strachey, Orwell, Gollancz calibre have long expressed themselves as supporters of the Churchill regime as the method of defeating a Nazi victory. Smith, however, has attempted to retain a pretence of revolutionary integrity, whilst covering his capitulation with theoretical sophistry.

The best workers in the ILP have long been aware that Smith’s “theorising” has been but a cloak for his passage to the camp of imperialism. But the section of the NAC report headed Russia gives evidence that his poisonous scepticism has definitely poisoned the other leading elements of the ILP

This section states:

“The NAC has decided to appoint a Commission to investigate Nazism, the present regime in Russia, and Imperialism – their similarities and differences – and to issue a report for discussion by the Party.”

Never having a serious attitude to questions of Marxist theory, the leadership of the ILP have staggered from one blunder to another. When the Fourth internationalists, headed by Trotsky were warning the workers of the degeneration which was taking place in Russia and the treacherous role of the Stalinist regime in strangling the revolution in all countries of the world, the leaders of the ILP refused to listen to our warning or to give it publicity. They covered up the rotten fangs of the GPU murder machine while it entrenched itself in all sections of the international labour movement. These were the hey-days of the popularity of the Soviet Union and ILP-Stalinist “Unity” masquerades.

Frightened, however, by Stalin’s incursions into Poland and Finland, they are prepared to sweep the class basis of the Workers’ State aside and identify the regime with that existing in Nazi Germany, incapable a seeing a contradiction between what remains of the October conquests and the vile Stalinist bureaucracy.

It would be interesting to know what the findings of the commission will be; whether it will study the theoretical writings of Trotsky on this question, and whether it would be possible for a Fourth-internationalist to appear before this Commission to defend the Soviet Union from the reactionary attacks of a new crop of gangrenous sceptics who suffer from Smith’s disease.

The identification of the Soviet Union and the Nazi and Fascist states is no new discovery of Dr. Smith. This tendency has been evidenced in embryo since the first days of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and was the theory of the German ultra-left Willie Urbahns. It was afterwards developed by Bruno R. (one time Italian Fourth-internationalist); by Boris Souvarine, and, more recently by the leader of the Minority group expelled from the American SWP – James Burnham. [1] In each case, acceptance of this theory has been but a stage to the political dustbin or to the service of the bourgeoisie. It would be fatal for the rank and :file of the ILP to allow this position to exist without being contested and rooted out of the party. The remnants of October must be defended, while the Stalinist bureaucracy is ruthlessly combatted.

Parliamentarianism, Pacifism, and the Labour Party

The resolutions and discussions on the Labour Party and activity of the Parliamentary Group were shot through with sectarianism, opportunist confusion, and nauseating pacifism. While correctly characterising the action of the Labour Leaders as a treacherous betrayal of working class interests, the first, resolution, which was carried, stopped there and had no alternative lead to offer the critical Labour supporters. The second resolution proposed affiliation to the Labour Party and was rejected. In pressing their case the Nelson Branch delegates did so in a very confused, and indeed, opportunist manner, which revealed that they were influenced by purely local, fraternal considerations, and not at ail by aims of revolutionary tactics. But if the proponents of affiliation were confused, the sectarian cretinism of the opposition was amazing: “If we enter the Labour Party we will be held responsible for the treachery of the Labour leaders, and in any case they will not allow the ILP to affiliate” was their plea.

Of course, comrades, the Labour Leaders would in all probability reject the affiliation of the ILP To refuse to press for affiliation, however, is to abdicate the leadership of Labour Party members and supporters to the Attlees and Morrisons.

The bulk of the organised workers still support their traditional organisation – the Labour Party; they are undoubtedly critical of the present actions of their leaders however, and could easily be influenced by a skilful approach with a correct policy. These workers are confused by the split in the labour movement; but there is a growing feeling among them for a crystallisation towards the left. By proposing affiliation, the ILP could expose the Labour leaders as the real splitters and disintegrators of the labour movement; by demanding that they break the party truce and take power for the (establishment of socialism, it would be possible to more sharply expose the reactionary role which they are playing in the Government of the bourgeoisie. This would expose them to a wider strata of workers and raise that independent class spirit which is necessary if the workers are to go forward to the seizure of power.

When questioned, Maxton admitted that he had “fobbed” Attlee off with a parliamentary evasion when Attlee asked him what his attitude would be if Hitler refused the peace conference which the ILP group were proposing. This parliamentary trick played into Attlee’s hands and was used by the Churchill propagandists. It was the logical result of the negative and pacifist policy which pervades the whole ILP leadership.

But if Maxton had proposed that the Labour Leaders break with Churchill and take power on a socialist programme, Attlee would have been on the spot, instead of Maxton. The ILP would then be prepared to support the war against Nazi domination – but the character of the war world have changed and it would have become a genuine struggle for socialist liberation. This would have been a clarion call to the British workers. The weapon of a Hitler victory could have been struck from Attlee’s hands if Maxton had shown that such a policy, and only such a policy would dynamite Hitler’s support in Germany and free the German workers to turn and rend the Nazi machine to pieces. At the same time the European workers under the lash of a crushing military machine would rise up and rally to the side of the British revolutionary workers.

Conscription and Revolutionary Work in the Army

As with the Labour Party, so the same negative attitude with the questions of conscription and work in the army:

“A considerable number of members of the party have been conscientious objectors. The NAC has emphasised that the decision on this question must be left to the individual.”

The only resolutions on the army were of a purely fraternal character.

While millions of young workers are being drawn into the war machine, and thousands of young socialists are demanding to know what directives to give, the says: you must make your own decision, we have no policy. It would be difficult to express bankruptcy in a sharper and more sickening form. It is a criminal evasion of responsibility on the part of the ILP to remain silent on these issues. It is the elementary duty of the young revolutionary worker to go with his generation and class to experience their hardships and influence them in a revolutionary direction. He must fight for the interests of the worker in uniform as he fights for those interests in the factory. Exposing the class interests of the officers who command, he must teach the workers that these officers cannot be trusted to fight for the interests of the working class; and that under similar circumstances they would sell out as their class brothers did in France. He would explain to the worker-soldiers the necessity to elect their own officers who would genuinely seek to destroy reaction in whatever form it appeared. Trained, organised, and equipped by the capitalist class with the most ruthless weapons of modern war, these workers will play the decisive role in the inevitable struggles of the working class which will result from this foul slaughter in imperialist interests. These struggles will aim at the emancipation of the working class through the seizure of power. By refusing to conduct a struggle for influence and control of the army and armed forces, the ILP is renunciating in advance the leadership of the coming struggles.

The Basic NAC Resolution

The main discussion took place around the basic resolution proposed by Fenner Brockway for the NAC All the amendments to this were of a minor character and did not fundamentally change the resolution which was passed with a few verbal alterations.

With the introduction of the resolution, there is little that the revolutionary worker could not agree with, in spite of the ambiguous phrasing: opposition to the war; to the Government who are conducting it; to the aims of the ruling class, etc., etc. It is when we are confronted with the proposals for achieving the “Workers’ Government” which will end the war in the interests of the masses, that the Trotskyists part company with the ILP Under the section headed Aims of the ILP, we are informed that

“The ILP positively proposes Socialism instead of Capitalism; a World Federation or free peoples instead of national sovereignty and alien imperialist rule over the subject peoples; the realisation of these aims by international action.”

Now every class conscious worker wants socialism instead of capitalism, he would accept the second point, despite its looseness of phrasing, but he is entitled to ask: what exactly does the realisation of these aims by international action mean? Will it be the type of action Maxton and his fellow parliamentarians have called for: the international action of good companions?

It is by these high sounding phrases that the leadership of the ILP cover up their refusal to face up to the situation and give a clear lead to the working class. Nowhere in the whole document, or in the speech of Brockway, is the idea of revolution expressed, that the working class will only come to power by revolutionary struggle. Does Brockway believe that this “Workers’ Government” will come into being by bye-election; by Churchill abdicating power to Maxton and McGovern; by the capitalist class picking up its marbles and going home?

The ILP leadership are notorious for their ignorance and scepticism of Marxist theory. They have constantly attacked the Fourth Internationalists (without ever having entered into a serious political discussion) as “splitters”, as “groups of individuals who are not realists.” But their attack has been sharpest, precisely when we ask this question:

“How do you think the working class will come to power? What action do you propose to prepare the way for the seizure of power?”

We believe, and the history of the last 25 years, particularly since the victories of Hitler and the smashing of the European working class movements, has confirmed our correctness, that the working class will only come to power by revolutionary means and that the capitalist state must be completely smashed if the workers are to be victorious; that the Party which aims to lead the working class in that struggle must be clear in its aims on how to seize power. We also believe that this Party must proclaim its aims openly and publicly to prepare the workers for the inevitable clash, and not confine their beliefs to the bedroom. If the ILP is serious about wanting “socialism instead of Capitalism” then it must pose these questions without ambiguity. But it is not accidental that the ILP cannot do this. A large percentage of the Party is composed of pacifists who have joined because the Party caters for their pacifism and not at all because they are revolutionary socialists. The moment the ILP was to make a clear statement of aims and means by which the revolution is placed on the agenda as a perspective, the Party would be cleft from top to bottom.

This was clearly shown in the discussion on the section Against Nazi Victory. No worker could possibly be in favour of a Nazi victory and every worker will be prepared to say so openly. But the main discussion centred around the passage “whilst supporting industrial action in furtherance of class demands, opposes any form of deliberate sabotage calculated to assist Hitler.”

There is no tradition of individual methods of sabotage in Britain and no section of the British labour movement has proposed to assist Hitler by sabotage or by any other means. Why, then was it necessary for Brockway to write this into the resolution? Here the centrist character of the ILP finds full expression, though all the delegates who spoke against this passage expressed the suspicion that it could be used at a certain stage to condemn any industrial or political action which seriously affected the war effort and thus “facilitated defeat”, none was able to pin the NAC and Brockway down. While Smith made it clear (after distorting Lenin) that he preferred British Imperialism to German Imperialism; so also the only two delegates who spoke in favour of the NAC from the floor. Under pressure of further German successes, it was obvious that these delegates would come out in support of the British Government, and that for them this formulation was a safeguard through which they could retreat. In response to a specific question demanding clarification, Brockway stated that what was meant was “individual or group acts of sabotage.” But this lawyer’s trick was exposed by his winding up speech, where he sharply attacked the left-wing delegates, but he made no criticism at all of Smith or the delegates who stated that British imperialism was after all, better than Nazism. This revealed Brockway’s fundamental centrism more sharply than in any previous Conference discussions. Prepared to use revolutionary phrases (with restraint, it is true); prepared to use the lash and the Party apparatus against the left revolutionary wing; but unprepared to make a serious attack against the rightwing capitulators – and all this, of course, in the interests of “comradeship and unity”!

Bankruptcy of the International Marxist Centre

In its international connections, the ILP was forced to affix a minus sign. The ILLA (Lovestonites) had already “gone back on our war policy” – and now it has folded up! For years the various centrist trends which comprised the IMC have been upheld by Brockway and Co., as the apostles of the “future” international. When the “spontaneous movement of the masses” arose, the new international would be founded they proclaimed. Under the cover of “spontaneity” they have discarded the duty of fighting for the organisation of an international party.

“The masses did not face up to their historic task, they did not act in time, consequently, we had no alternative but to accept the lesser evil.”

By throwing their cowardly abdication of leadership onto the shoulders of the masses; they consummate their treachery and cross over to the enemy.

The German SAP; the Dutch RSP; the American ILLA; one after another they have travelled the well-worn path into the bourgeois camp. Pivert of the French PSOP and Gorkin of the Spanish POUM – these are the sole remaining representatives of the International Marxist Centre. But already these two also have one foot in the camp of Uncle Sam. Tomorrow the journey will be complete!

These Philistines once mocked at a mere handful of Trotskyists who fought for the Fourth International; they sneered at our “splitting”, “carping”, “uncomradely attacks” against every social patriotic and pacifist manifestation. We were “too concerned with questions of theory”, “hair-splitting” as they were wont to call it. But history has shattered their rotten facade one by one, while the Fourth International has stood the test. It is precisely because of their light-minded attitude to the tools of the revolution: Marxist theory and Leninist tactics, to their attempt to encompass pacifist, patriotic, and revolutionary trends within the one party, that we can trace their degeneration.

The discussions at the Nelson conference show that the same, trends exist within the leadership and membership of the ILP The one reason why it has not expressed itself more graphically is because the circumstances have not yet arisen which demanded the ILP translate its verbiage into action. When that time comes we can predict the will follow its fellow International Marxist “centrists” into political limbo.

From out of this war – and during the war – tremendous revolutionary struggles of the masses will take place. Either the workers will seize their opportunity and solve the burning contradictions of society by once and for all smashing the capitalist class and seizing power to achieve their socialist freedom, or they will go down to the most crushing of all the defeats.

Latter course is inevitable without the organisation of an international revolutionary party. The Fourth International alone has the seizure of power as its perspective. Its ideas have withstood the shocks of the recent period and have been reinforced.

The task of building the party capable of carrying its banner and hearing its responsibility, is not, and cannot, be easy. But serious comrades within the ILP must find the road to its ranks if we are to succeed in carrying our historic tasks to a victorious conclusion.



1. For full analysis of this theory read The USSR in War by Leon Trotsky.

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