Declaration on the English Marxist Group
This is the full text of the document referred to by John Archer on p.69 of Revolutionary History Vol.6 No.2/3. It was only possible there to give a short comment in a footnote.
Declaration of the International Bureau
for the Fourth International
on the subject of the English Marxist Group
The Bureau for the Fourth International, at its meeting of December 13, took note of the letter of the Executive Committee of the Marxist Group of November 21 to the IS, in which it announces the decision of the majority of the London group of the Marxist Group to leave the ILP as quickly as possible and to found an independent organisation.
1. The Bureau for IV International must take note that this important turn is in contradiction to the decisions of the conference which was held four week previously, and that it rests solely on the basis of the decision of the majority of the London Group (16 to 6). The Executive Committee of the Marxist Group ought to have called a new conference on this subject, preceded by a report and a discussion of a fundamental character involving all the members. Since this elementary rule of democratic centralism is not observed, the Bureau for the IVth International cannot recognise that the decision taken is valid.
2. Every important political turn requires that the leadership of the organisation as a whole must submit a clear and true balance-sheet of the past policy. The leadership of the Marxist Group has, however, not carried out this duty. There have been three different opinions in conflict in the past:
a) One part of the Marxist Group has supported the tactic established by the resolution of the Geneva Conference:
“The conference is therefore of the opinion that the experience of the Bolshevik-Leninists within the ILP ought to be terminated, and that the group which at the present time is working in this organisation ought to transfer its field of work towards the mass organisations, especially towards the Labour Party and the Labour League of Youth.”
b) The Cooper tendency has outlined the perspective of staying in the ILP until a split permits a “mass withdrawal”. It would consider that the ILP still is a good field of work because it “still offers a large liberty of speech and action to the BLs and the possibility to organise mass work...” “Since there are no decisive reasons or necessary circumstances, or crises in the ILP, we should prepare for the next annual conference (Easter) as the final point of the struggle”.
c) The James tendency proposed to form an independent organisation of all the British BLs as a sort of organisation following fraction work in alien organisations (ILP and LP):
“Since the numerical force which would probably result from this fusion is not sufficient to form an independent BL party, the Marxist Group considers that the independent group must carry on fraction work in the different political parties, with the sole object of gaining sufficient forces to form an independent Bolshevik- Leninist party” ... “in view also of the specific position in the various localities, the Marxist Group considers it inadmissible that all its members should be invited to leave the ILP at once, or within a fixed period.”
The James tendency, just like that of Cooper, places all its hopes in the creation of a new journal (The Fourth International, later Fight), while the Geneva resolution shows the danger which ignoring its decision would involve, in view of the complete lack of a political perspective. Four weeks after the October Conference, the Executive Committee of the Marxist Group saw itself obliged to declare for leaving the ILP and recognising the correctness of the Geneva Resolution. Nonetheless, it does not say one word about how its own perspectives have been shown to be false. On the contrary, it does not point to the responsibility which it bears for having stayed too long in the ILP, but it attacks in general though in a disguised fashion the tactic of entry into alien organisations. It quotes the passage from an article by Trotsky where he says that a party (but not a little propaganda group) must have complete organisational independence, and it adds that the experience of the BLs since summer 1934 proves the correctness of those words. This shows nothing but that, in opinion of the authors of the resolution, the policy of the Bolshevik Leninist groups - which precisely were only propaganda groups and not parties - was false. And they draw from this the following conclusion for the Marxist Group.
“In the light of what is said above, and of the fact that its influence in the ILP has been compromised during the last two months of fractional struggle, when activity has consequently been weakened, and its perspective of gaining more supporters in today very small, the group decides to form an independent organisation as soon as possible.”
Not a word is said about the degeneration which has taken place during the last few months - and that is the sole reason for it - because they did not separate themselves soon enough from the rotting corpse of the ILP.
If they write in another passage of the same resolution that it is permissible to work within centrist-reformist organisations, they give by that a proof that the supporters of the resolution do not defend their opinion in a consistent fashion and that they are tangled up in their own contradictions.
In reality, the decomposition of the “majority” group, which in 1933 did not enter the ILP, and the undeniable success of the Marxist Group to winter 1935 prove that the tactical step of entry was entirely correct. But, as the French experience has already taught us, we have to know, not the right time to enter, but the right time to come out. The decomposition, the internal disputes, the passivity, result solely from the prolonged opportunist existence in the ILP, against the advice of the IS, of the Geneva Conference and of Comrade Crux (Trotsky).
3. When you conceal the mistakes of the past months in this way, and when in consequence you start from false premises, you must necessarily reach false conclusions for the future. Instead of repairing the damage, you will greatly increase it. Neither the split from the ILP which Cooper expected, with the possibility of a “mass withdrawal”, nor the numerical reinforcement which, according to the James resolution, would have enabled an independent organisation to be formed, have taken place. On the contrary: for more than six months, the Marxist Group has not gained a single member of the ILP and, on the contrary, it has lost half of its former members. Even though, therefore, these hopes, and with them the conditions for independence, have not been realised, a majority of the London group of the Marxist Group has decided - and that in direct opposition to the resolutions taken four weeks previously - to create an independent organisation. Not a shred of justification for the reasons for this decision is given, but reference is made, simply and in a completely general way, to the “international situation”. There can be no doubt that not a single member of the ILP, even if he sympathises politically with the Marxist Group, will follow him into complete and hopeless isolation; at the same time you could probably always find comrades of the ILP who would join the Labour Party to strengthen the Left Wing which is forming there, despite all the mistakes which have so far been made.
4. The decision of the Marxist Group to create an independent organisation has a result which is all the more disastrous because the fusion of all the groups, which the Geneva Conference characterised as an urgent necessity, will be obstructed by it. The resolution presented by Comrade James states, among other things: “The group understands that in these conditions an organic fusion with other groups is impossible.” But, unlike the Marxist Group, which becomes weaker and weaker because it stays stuck in an opportunist fashion to the ILP, the Bolshevik-Leninist group in the Labour Party League of Youth, formed only in February of this year with six comrades, has developed extremely rapidly. It is today much stronger than the Marxist Group. Activity and optimism flourish there, and everything indicates that despite the enormous difficulties it will grow still more. Its principle task is to inoculate British Youth against the Stalinist plague, in order that what has happened in Spain and in certain regions of Belgium, where the Socialist Youth, left to itself, has fallen totally under the influence of the Communist International, cannot happen in Britain. The decision of the Executive Committee of the Marxist Group, which makes fusion impossible, shows not only an action against the recommendation of the Geneva Conference, but also against the Marxist Group's own declaration which it took at its National Conference of October 10, where it declared that the premise for the formation of an independent party is the fusion of all the BLs.
5. By the decision to create an independent organisation, you also neglect completely to notice the changes in structure which are taking place in the Labour Party itself, and which will increase enormously as a result of the sharpening of the political situation on the Continent. Just as, in its time in France and especially in Belgium, a progressive Left Wing developed in the Socialist Parties, today an analogous process is taking place in the Labour Party. The Edinburgh Conference signifies, in this connection, an important phase in the history of the Labour Party. Let us quote what Stafford Cripps wrote in Controversy, and what is confirmed by other words from Dalton, the leader of the Right:
“The most significant development of at the Conference was without doubt the attitude of the constituency parties. The opposition to the platform ... of the great mass of the delegates from the local organisations of the Labour Party, who voted together against the platform and against the block vote (of the trade unions) on all important questions. All their political feelings were outraged by their continual defeats, and the principal problem which arose from the Conference was that of the democratisation (!) of the Labour Party itself. The indignation was so great that one felt a spontaneous movement of delegates from the localities, which took places on the night of Thursday, where 240 (out of 290 delegates) were present and declared unanimously for setting up an official ad hoc committee which was then set up to bring together the constituency parties so that they could make more effective their demands for wide power.”
Only someone politically blind could fail to see that the Bolshevik-Leninists, protected by the growing opposition coming from the radicalised worker masses demanding democracy in the Party, contains enormous possibilities of development. Further on this point, the following remark by Cripps is equally very important: “Discipline will become impossible because the base of the movement will do what it feels itself call upon to do without regard to the apparatus.” The Marxist Group takes note in its letter that the splitting away of this Left Wing of the Labour Party is inevitable, and that this will join the right-centrists and strengthen them. It draws from this the conclusion that “even purely as a tactical question, an independent organisation, assuring a centre even a little stable and solid is an urgent necessity in England”. But do the authors of this letter believe that a few dozens of isolated Trotskyists will check, from outside, this strong centrist current? It is absurd. It is only in the closest contact with this Left Wing, it is only as active members of this Left Wing, that you will obtain sufficient possibilities of influencing it, to win the revolutionary part of it for Bolshevik-Leninism. From outside, you will be regarded as impotent and hopeless sectarians, who fear contact with the masses, but who want to impose themselves on the masses from outside as sage counsellors. The “tactical” argument, the only one of those who propose the creation of an independent organisation, crumbles from within itself.
6. The proposal of the London group to provide help for the BLs in the Labour Party from outside by “combined work” may be inspired by the best intentions. But the first who should give their opinion of this help should be the comrades who are in the Labour Party themselves. But they are the most severe opponents of this over-hasty independence, and they declare that an independent group outside could only cause them harm, because they would in that case be regarded as agents of an alien organisation, from which an excuse could very easily be got to exclude them prematurely and without political motivation. This could happen, not only at the hands of the National Executive of the Labour Party, but even of the local organisations of the Labour Party which we wish to win. The combined work, in the way it is proposed, has proved itself to be completely impossible in practice itself. In Belgium, theoretically, such a possibility existed, as a result of the existence of the independent Brussels group. But the collaboration with the comrades of the Action Socialiste Revolutionnaire did not take place, and could not take place, for the reasons which have already been set out. Today, after the fusion, the situation is such that at Brussels, where there was the independent group, the Belgian Party is unfortunately still weak, and has not yet overcome its isolation. That is in another argument against independence.
7. Further, the danger exists that an independent group, turning eternally in a vicious circle, will cultivate sectarian and opportunist tendencies in its own ranks. Field in America is an eloquent example of the political impotence which results from these tendencies. The personal struggles carried on, without principles, by Field, Oehler, etc., against our American section, and which the majority of the London group wish to avoid, is, as experience proves, the sole “political” activity of such a group. It is a bad symptom to see the majority of the London group write that “it is a vice of the Trotskyist movement to create differences, to erect them into insurmountable obstacles and to wage a war of words on this basis”. This is the eternal argument of the Fenner Brockways, Schwab, Field and tutti quanti.
Another proof of the same opportunist influence is that they write that our movement has a “bad reputation” because of “fractional struggles” (as a result of impolite formulations: “philistine centrism”). The fractional struggle at certain periods becomes inevitable. The old Bolshevik Party also had a “bad reputation” in this respect. Intrigues none the less, which ought to be avoided, are always the accompaniment of a bad policy. That is why during the last year the struggle within the Marxist Group was full of personal bitterness, while the BLs in the Labour League of Youth were practically free from this.
8. The Bureau for the IVth International, on the basis of what is said above, is convinced that the Marxist Group must as a whole re-examine fundamentally the decision of the London majority, which cannot be binding for the whole national membership. No one will reproach the comrades for having made mistakes in the past, from the moment that they recognise and openly correct those mistakes. But when a new vote is taken, you must also take into account the comrades who, with or without the consent of the leadership of the Marxist Group, have entered the Labour Party, and have expressed their votes in their manner of acting. The best solution in the present circumstances seems to be this. Let all the English BLs who recognise the decisions of the Geneva Conference for the IVth International convene by the democratic method a constituent conference, where according to the principles of democratic centralism they will discuss and decide which road is the best. The conference will create the homogenous and single organisation of the BLs and will in this way meet the demand of the Geneva Conference for a “unification on the base of fundamental principles and the programme of the IVth International”. Any solution which does not correspond to the wishes of the majority of the English BLs can only fail, and constitute a danger for the work of the BLs. The IS would in that case feel itself obliged to reconsider its relations with such a minority.
December 13, 1936
adopted by the Bureau for the IVth International unanimously