Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 1

Statement to the Militant Group
on Provocation and Sectarianism

THE FIRST question at issue was roughly: how to deal with provocative rumours coming from outside. This main question has, in my opinion, not been discussed because from the very start it was obscured by other subsidiary issues and events.

First among those events was the general behaviour at the first GMM [General Members’ Meeting]. It is at least indisputable from the minutes that this meeting was hectic and stormy and that the majority of comrades were taken off their balance in such a way that the tempers ran high and the meeting became highly emotional. However, certain serious things were disclosed, of which I wish to draw attention particularly to:

  1. The admission that the provocation had spread from the recipient to at least six to eight other people.
  2. Cde DDH [Denzil Dean Harber] is found, from the minutes, to contradict himself openly on precisely this point.
  3. Cde ESJ [Eric Starkey Jackson] is found to have written Comrade RL [Raphael Lee] a plain lie.

Now it is possible to excuse DDH owing to the fact of the heated meeting, but in that case of course RL must also be excused his supposed demagogy, that is, if any impartiality whatsoever is to be claimed. But comrades do not seem to have understood the extremely grave admission by ESJ. To send a lie to another EC [Executive Committee] member in the official capacity of secretary is, in my opinion, categorically un-Bolshevik, and unpleasantly close to the methods of Stalinism. Until this question is resolved I, personally, must plead guilty to a continued distrust of the leadership of the Militant group.

It is the events after the first GMM that really constitute the exacerbating of the situation:

  1. The appeal to the constitution against the vote of the GMM. Now, although this was technically correct, it appeared at once as though comrades DDH & Co thereby were not really attempting to restore the Group to unity on the specific issue (how to deal with provocation), but were attempting to confuse the issue by calling in question the GMM itself.
  2. This appraisal of the situation was considerably strengthened by the disbandment of the EC elected at the GMM consequent on the appeal to the constitution, and the return of Cdes DDH and ESJ into office, because DDH and ESJ have sufficient intelligence to think of several ways of getting round this situation, without returning themselves on to the EC and Secretariat, while the internal state of the Group was at such tension. Because it was precisely this event that convinced the Paddington comrades (in their estimation) that comrades DDH & Co were wangling the straight original issue to the extreme confusion of the provincial and other comrades.
  3. Their conviction was even further strengthened by Cde ESJ’s discovery that the EC is a higher body than the GMM from which it derives, and must be so precisely in order to save the GMM from hysteria. This really brought the GMM into contempt, and at once raised the question in our minds whether it was any use discussing the situation in the GMM at all. If the result of one GMM was that a certain vote was annulled within two weeks, surely any similar vote could be annulled after any further GMM. So that by the second GMM the issue was no longer a question of how to deal with provocation, but a constitutional one as well, and represented a colossal red herring, provoked apparently by the supposed ‘probationary members’. But from Cde DDH’s letter to Cde BH [Betty Hamilton] it is clear that he was actually prepared to play the ‘injured’ innocent, and the question of the original provocation is referred to as ‘In what respect was there disharmony between RL and other members of the EC?’ – nothing serious at all, you see – the only question is RL’s supposed demagogy, etc, etc. In my opinion, this is irresponsibility of a deliberate order.

The question of the minutes:

  1. Why are GMM minutes to be declared correct or incorrect by an EC? And then by an EC which declared itself unconstitutional? What a further muddle and confusion! Is this going to be cleared up?
  2. It was not really a question of whether Cde RL said ‘white crawling worms’ or ‘red worms’. The real question that needed asking was why were these expressions picked out of Cde RL’s statements, and given prominence? I am personally reminded of Stalinist recordings of Trotskyist speeches. There was no attempt whatsoever made by Cdes DDH & Co to save the growing split despite all their appeals to their own loyalty. In my opinion the GMM minutes were very dangerous documents that materially assisted in falsifying the issue, which became that of RL’s demagogy and not Cdes DDH and ESJ’s negligence. By this stage the issue had been reversed and the consequences plain for all to see.

There now appeared two important letters:

  1. Cde CVG [Charlie Van Gelderen], admitting the nature of the original provocation, appealed to the Group to resist its consequences, over two months after he himself had passed on the poison.
  2. Cde MW [Mary Whitakker] and two others admitted that they cannot be relied on to vote on principle. This letter more than any other makes moonshine of the whole appeals to the ‘only revolutionary group’. It is also the key to the situation that on questions of fact relating to the events of the first GMM, the voting at the second went solidly by the two factions, for and against. People’s memories become revolutionised in ‘the only revolutionary group’.

It was quite clear to everyone that by the second GMM the die was cast. The Paddington group failed in their duty to force a discussion on the whole elaborate issue, uncovering gradually, and at last, the whole original problem: how to deal with provocation. They gave up the unequal fight and walked out. At once the majority confirmed the Paddington opinion of them. They deferred the original issue for a month, and proceeded to initiate censure and expulsion against the original sufferer of the provocation and his associates. The commencement of the proceedings to elect an EC were eminently revealing, and not being able to contain my disgust, I left.

The motion of Cde DDH in committee to stigmatise Cde RL through the international movement as ‘an element alien to BL [Bolshevik Leninism]’, in my opinion, only confirms the Paddington estimate. The original question of DDH’s own negligence is now absolutely buried in a mass of complications, and Paddington must now defend themselves to the IS [International Secretariat], only thereby further splitting the British movement.

I, who have seen the same business carried on with CLRJ [James] and the MG [Marxist Group], and with Groves and the ML [Marxist League], believe that, whether politically correct or not, this behaviour of the Militant Group through its EC is inimical to the British movement, and is perpetuating feud and temperamental jealousies. I am not prepared to be a party to it, and intend to look around, therefore, for means to assist, in what small way I can, the production of general Fourth International propaganda, especially with regard to the ‘International Offensive Against Stalinism’. The failure to take our proper British part in this offensive is the consequence of our sectarian outlook to each other. The time has come to break with animosities over the same tactic, and to that end I propose the following charge relating to the original question:

Charge: That Cdes ESJ, DDH, CVG in particular (and MW, MJ [Margaret Johns], JG [John Goffe], SB [Sid Bone?], PJB [John Archer] and TK as recipients of the rumours) failed to deal properly with a case of provocation, and by their subsequent lack of frankness in the affair forced members to a split.

Consequence: That the Group decide what measures should be taken against any or all of the above Cdes, bearing in mind that Fred Zeller was expelled recently for ‘failure to unmask’ some probably similar situation, to which offence he himself had pleaded guilty.

(For) Michael Tippett

8 January 1938

Updated by ETOL: 30.9.2011