Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

Two false oppositions

The following article, dealing with winding up of the Socialist League, appeared in the 10 August 1937 edition of L’Internationale, the monthly magazine of the Union Communiste in France. As the original English text has been lost, we have retranslated it from the French.

The main document published before the fifth annual Conference of the Socialist League was the resolution of the National Council recommending the dissolution of the League. This resolution protests against the “action of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party which no longer recognises the affiliation of the Socialist League and considers adherence to the Labour Party to be incompatible with that of the League”. Conference was requested, in the sacred name of unity (with the EC of the Labour Party) to dissolve the organisation. The National Council of the League, however, would still be free, to express “the confident hope” that the following annual, Conference of the Labour Party would reverse the decision of its EC. If this was so, then, and only then, would the Socialist League become “reconstructed as a propaganda organisation inside the labour movement”, the term Labour Movement is used as, a synonym, for the Labour Party. An amendment deleting this part of the resolution, which shows clearly that the National Council of the League had no intention of reforming the organisation without the express permission of the Executive of the Labour Party, was, put. down in the course of the Conference and accepted by the National Council. But, however modified, the resolution still left. the rebirth of the, League to the discretion, of the National Council, which had already, decided to leave this task to the Labour Party Conference, which meant, in effect, the EC of the Labour Party.

The participation of the Socialist League in the Unity Campaign with the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party, which provoked the break with the League and the violent expulsion of its members from the Labour Party was motivated by two principal reasons; an overestimation on the part of the leaders of the League, Sir Stafford Cripps & Company, of their influence over the rank and file of the Labour Party and their underestimation of the power of the tops of the Labour Party whom the actions of the League had inconvenienced and who were ready to fight for their existence.

This false opposition, a majority of it petit bourgeois, decided to commit suicide in order not to inconvenience the tops of the Labour Party.

Cripps & Company were taking good care to express their devotion to “unity” (which means an opportunist bloc on chauvinist lines with other parties along with left phrases and slogans), and they promised to continue to work for the Unity Campaign. Having proved that they were ready to submit to the Executive of the Labour Party, this task limited them to passing on unity resolutions to Labour Party Conferences. In reality Cripps & Company intended to keep in existence a left tendency without really leading it to fight the right wing of the Labour bureaucracy and the Stalinists had their aims made easier of organising the leftward-moving masses around a reactionary programme under cover of “left” and democratic slogans.

There was a Trotskyist opposition at the Conference consisting of two groups:

  1. The Marxist League – of nearly 30 members – publishing a monthly organ, The Red Flag. Their representative was Reg Groves, a member of the National Council of the Socialist League.
  2. The Militant Group – of about 40 members – publishing a duplicated organ for sale inside the Labour Party – The Militant – For Revolutionary Socialism appearing monthly. Their representative at the conference was D.D. Harber.

These groups have “tactical” differences with Trotsky but they have never explained publicly in what they consist. There were also “tactical” differences between the two groups. Even though they did not met in the fractional meetings before the Conference the Harber Group supported the resolution put down by a member of the Marxist League.

In this resolution the Trotskyists demanded that the Socialist League continued its existence inside the Labour Party and renounce the Unity campaign. They made no attack against the dissolution of the Socialist League, a dissolution exposing the false nature of the opposition of Cripps & Company.

The Trotskyists did not consider it to be opportune to speak in the presence of militants of the Labour Party about its break with the Socialist League and the dissolution of the latter by Cripps’s adherents nor to denounce the reactionary nature of the Labour Party and expose the pretensions of Cripps to pass himself off as a revolutionary opposition, but judged it preferable instead to consider the affair as the unfortunate consequence of the wrong tactic, which could be rectified by doing what the Executive of the Labour Party demanded of them.

The perspective of a break with the Labour party and the formation of a new Communist party was not presented. Moreover, in their resolution the Trotskyists asked conference to decide “to reconstitute the Socialist League as a revolutionary organisation within the Labour Party”, renewing and spreading the illusion that it is possible for a revolutionary organisation to exist inside the Labour Party. With this opportunist position, which in reality comes round to support for reformism, the Trotskyists in Great Britain are on a level with their colleagues in the United States and elsewhere.

The resolution of the Trotskyists gained 10 votes with 51 against. The dissolution of the organisation was unanimously accepted.

R. Groves informed the Conference that he would continue to work inside the Labour Party and invited those in agreement to meet together after the Conference. After the Conference the Harber and Groves groups met.

Capitulation is something never admitted, whether it be Zinoviev and Kamenev before Stalin, German Social Democracy before Hitler, or simply the sacrifice of the Socialist League to the cause of “unity”.

The reply of the Labour Executive to the obliging dissolution of the Socialist League was a further strengthening of the dictatorship of reformism inside the party.

Twenty four hours after the Conference the Daily Herald, the organ of the labour bureaucracy, warned those who intended to continue to support the organisation and work of the League that fresh measures would be taken against them.

Three weeks after the dissolution of the League the secretary of the Scottish Labour Party sent a circular to all sections asking their delegates to sign an undertaking a) to take no part in the Unity Campaign, b) to accept no proposal for unity in action, c) to accept nothing of like character, and d) to refuse to put itself to any trouble in favour of unity in action (New Leader, 4 June 1937).

“We must struggle for each piece of independence”, Trotsky said before becoming demoralised by the fascist victories and leading the sections of the International Communist League towards the right and into centrist and reformist parties.

But it is not impossible that Trotskyists in Great Britain, following the example of those in France, are going to form an independent organisation (The Marxist Group, which publishes an organ Fight: For the Fourth International, under the leadership of C.L.R. James, a group which includes the greater part of the Trotskyists in the Independent Labour Party, has already preceded them). But unless they recognise their entry into the Socialist League (and the ILP) as an evolution to the right, an abandonment of the Leninist position of the necessity for the independence of the revolutionary organisation caused by demoralisation following the defeats of the proletariat, a demoralisation principally due to a disproportion of petit bourgeois elements in the organisation, and unless they recognise this in all clarity, courageously orientate themselves in complete independence in the first instance towards the proletariat at the point of production, in the factories, the mines, the naval dockyards, and the trade unions, and only in the second instance towards the political parties, they will become no more than a centrist group making a display of “leftist” slogans without mass roots, without real influence.


Since the drafting of the above report the leaders of the Socialist League have decided not to establish a common platform with the Stalinist party and the ILP, confirming our forecast as to their ultimate capitulation before the bureaucracy of the Labour Party. Significantly, neither the ILP nor the Stalinists have taxed them with this capitulation. The Stalinists greeted it with pleasure, and the ILP simply regretted the “tactic” of the Socialist League.

We conclude from the press that the Trotskyists have formed a “Left Socialist Federation” within the Labour Party, to spread the idea of a United Front opposed to the Popular Front on the basis of rejecting imperialist alliances and the activity of the League of policy of active class conquest of power and of socialism.

Yet again it is necessary to analyse this point to reveal the pathetic positions of these people. The need for a United Front springs from the weakness and divisions of the working class. For the revolutionary party it is a compromise, intending to prove to the workers an identification with their interests, and at the same time to demonstrate in action against the exploiting class the true nature of other parties.

Without a revolutionary party, exposing the agents of the bourgeoisie, and those who indirectly support them, there is no United Front; there can only be a bloc of centrist and rightist parties, whose principal object will be to camouflage these parties and help them to mislead the working class, which is what realising the Popular Front means in everyday language.

In not openly establishing this, and in asserting that the United Front is possible without a revolutionary party, the Trotskyists themselves, after their fashion, are supporters of the Popular Front.

Such is the swamp in which are enmeshed those who think that the question of the independence of the revolutionary organisation in the struggle for the revolutionary party reduces itself to a simple “tactical” question.

Ernest Rogers
Leninist League
June 1937

Updated by ETOL: 28.6.2003