On the tasks of the British Bolshevik-Leninists

The first International Conference of the Fourth International, was actually held in Paris, from July 29-31, 1936. It was usually referred to as the “Geneva” Pre-Conference, for security reasons. More material from this conference can be read in Documents of the Fourth International. The Formative Years (1933-40), Pathfinder Press 1973, edited by Will Reisner.

James attended as a delegate from the Marxist Group, with Bert Matlow as an observer. The Bolshevik-Leninist Group in the Labour Party was represented by Denzil Dean Harber, with Charlie Van Gelderen attending as an observer. The Marxist League was invited but was not present.

More material on the British groups and the “Geneva” conference can be found in Against the Stream. A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain 1924-38 by Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, and in John Archer’s PhD Thesis Trotskyism in Britain 1931-37 (Central London Polytechnic, 1979).

Resolution on the Tasks of the British Bolshevik-Leninists,
unanimously agreed by the “Geneva” Pre-Conference,
July 29-31, 1936

The Geneva Conference considers it an extremely urgent necessity to effect with the least possible delay the unification of the three English groups which at present are working on the basis of the fundamental principles and programme of the Fourth International. Clearly on this question of fusion, no group can demand that another dissolve itself and that its members join the first group individually. In the opinion of the Conference, the continued existence side by side of the three groups weakens the effectiveness of our movement, by the fact that, without there being apparent differences of principle, they are separate from one another and often work for opposed ends, thus preventing the development of the progress of the Fourth International in Britain. The Conference sees no principled reason for such a division of the forces and demands a fusion on a democratic basis which will make possible the establishment of a section of the Fourth International in this country.

The conference regrets the absence of a representative of the Groves group and the fact that it had not sent a document to the Conference. The Conference invites them to give their approval in principle to the official documents which have come out of the Conference.

The Conference is further of the opinion that the experience of the Bolshevik-Leninists within the ILP must be brought to an end, and that this group which at this moment is working within that organisation must shift its field of work in the direction of the mass organisations, especially towards the Labour Party and the Labour League of Youth. It is true that the Bolshevik-Leninists in the ILP can do trade union work, but they could do it much more effectively if in the eyes of the workers they were not associated with the bankrupt ILP. Their membership of the ILP rises like an impenetrable wall between the Bolshevik-Leninists and the mass movement of the youth, the potential reservoir of revolutionaries, from which the British Section of the Fourth International will draw the greater part of its cadres ” as well as the base of the Labour Party. It is necessary to know, not only the moment at which it is profitable for revolutionary Marxists to enter a reformist or centrist organisation, but also the moment when it is imperative to leave it, and to implant their movement and their ideas in another milieu. The ILP today is nothing but a centrist sect in decline; further work within it can only condemn our forces to mark time and vegetate in a restricted area. The Labour Party, the Trade Unions and in particular the reformist organisation of the youth offer much greater possibilities to strengthen our movement and speed the growth of the section of the Fourth International in Britain.

The Conference recommends to the group which is working in the ILP at this time to act in this way. If the Marxist Group decides to make a new experience (with the journal Fourth International) it will without any doubt reach the conclusion that no further development of the Bolshevik-Leninist forces is possible in the ILP. But there is the danger that this experience involves a loss of time which would be damaging, because it would signify that the Marxist Group would remain without a real or clear perspective for a long period of time. The concrete methods of effecting the departure from the ILP and entry into the Labour Party and the Labour Party's youth organisation, as well as the unification of the forces of the Fourth International in Britain within the Labour Party, must be left to the English comrades to work out. The Conference instructs the International Secretariat and the General Council to follow the development in Britain with the greatest attention and to supply to the British Comrades all the help they can, in accordance with the line proposed by this resolution

July 31, 1936

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Updated by ETOL: 18.10.2003