Statement from the BL Group
This is the full text of the document referred to by John Archer on p.70 of Revolutionary History, Vol.6 No.2/3. It was only possible there to give a short commentary.
Statement to the Bureau for the Fourth International
from the BL Group in the Labour Party
regarding the fulfilment of the Geneva Resolution
in the Question of the Unity of the British Groups.
Our group accepted the Geneva conference resolution in its entirety and endeavoured to put it into practice. Special attention has been paid by us to the question of unity, and great efforts have been made by us to unite the three groups in this country on the basis of the Geneva Conference resolution. The following have been the results:
1. The Marxist League. From the formation of our group in Feb. 1936 up to the time of the Geneva Conference our group made repeated offers of unity to the Marxist League, but always met with a refusal. We were not even able to obtain a joint meeting of the members of both groups to discuss the matter. After the Geneva Conference we again approached the Marxist League with renewed offers of unity. A further rebuff was the result. The IS wrote to the Marxist League requesting them to cease raising formalistic objections to unity and we then wrote again renewing our offer. We have since had no reply. Copies of all the above correspondence are in the hands of the IS.
At the National Conference of all Bolshevik-Leninists in Great Britain, held on October 11, 1936, the Marxist League was represented by only three comrades, whose statements made it quite clear that their group had no intention of fusing with any other group in the near future. At this same national conference the Marxist League, although itself working inside the Labour Party, made every effort to prevent the Marxist Group leaving the ILP and entering the Labour Party (See its statement to the MG National Conference on Oct. 10th).
A Co-ordinating Committee between the three groups was set up at the October 11th conference. Two meetings of this committee were held shortly after the conference and a representative of the Marxist League was present at each of these, but the role of this comrade was confined to stirring up factional disputes and no effective co- operation took place. Since that time there has been no meeting of this Co-ordinating Committee.
Meanwhile the Marxist League, so far as it can be said to function as an organisation, grows ever more opportunistic, and the policy out forward by its members differs a little from that of the Socialist League. Though most of its members are in the Labour League of Youth, it does not support our fight there and refuses to sell our paper - the Youth Militant. On the contrary, it supports Socialist Youth (which its controlled through the Socialist League), a paper putting forward the centrist policy of the Socialist League and giving no clear lead to the youth.
Further the Marxist League organised the distribution of the English edition of the POUM bulletin, and thus actually supports the opportunistic policy of that party.
It must be remembered that the Marxist League is very small in numbers (about 20 active) and is mainly confined to certain parts of South London. It can in no way be considered a Bolshevik-Leninist organisation, but consists mainly of the personal following of Groves and Dewar, who have steadily degenerated politically since the split in the English section in December 1933, and who attempt to shield their opportunism behind the name of Cde. Trotsky and the prestige of the international organisation.
We consider that experience has amply shown that no unity can be obtained with the Marxist League.
2. The Marxist Group. The degeneration of the Marxist Group is well known to the Bureau of the Fourth International, and is described in the declaration made by the Bureau on the 13th December. The BL Group in the Labour Party expresses its entire agreement with the criticisms of the actions of the MG contained in this declaration. But the situation has now become even worse. The open meeting calling for the new party was held on December 16, despite the declaration of the Bureau. Moreover, although it had been agreed that the journal Fight was a joint publication between our group and the MG, the MG have used their majority on the Editorial Board to publish the second number in the name of the MG, and to advocate in it the new line of the MG. This not only renders our further co-operation on the paper impossible (and this despite the great efforts which we made to set it on its feet) but also greatly endangers our position inside the Labour Party, since the first number which was published in the name of the British Bolshevik-Leninists was sold by us to our contacts inside the Labour Party.
It is obvious therefore that the London MG is determined to persevere in its new course and is not deterred by the fact that it is acting contrary to the wishes not only of our international organisation but also to the majority of the British Bolshevik- Leninists.
It should clearly be realised that the deep internal degeneration has now reached an advanced stage. The following facts are of great significance:
a. The great bulk of the supporters of the new turn are petit-bourgeois in character and their present line expresses their fear of contact with the masses - so far as we are aware only three are of working-class origin (Ballard, Milligan and Westwood).
b. The former leadership of the group (Cooper-Marzillier) are bitterly opposed to the new line (although Cooper voted for it at the Nov 15th meeting) and have refused to leave the ILP. They still, however, remain members of the group, and even of the EC, since the majority being too weak to expel them have allowed them to remain as a “fraction” inside the ILP. The great bulk of the membership of the MG outside London which opposed entering the Labour Party did so upon similar grounds of ILP loyalism and will hence certainly stay in the ILP.
c. Very few of the old experienced comrades now remain in the MG - with but one exception all the remaining comrades of the old minority of the Communist League, who joined the ILP in 1933-34, are either already members of our group or agree with our position and will join us shortly. The general political level of the MG is now very definitely lower than our own.
d. The majority of the group who have taken this new turn consists almost entirely of the personal following of Comrade James, who is himself completely under the ideological influence of the Field group and is in close touch with Crame of the Canadian section of the Field group. It is obvious from the resolution of James passed at the No. 15th meeting of the MG that insofar as they have any political line at all in carrying out their new turn they base themselves in the arguments of Bauer, Oehler, Field etc. The fact that the MG now have principled differences with the policy of our international organisation was admitted by Cde. James in a conversation with Cdes. Harber and Tippet, [ Note by JJP : Subsequently Michael Tippett became a very prominent (and IMHO excellent - listen especially to A Child of Our Time) composer and sought to distance himself from his history in the CP and later the BLG. He became a pacifist and was temporarily imprisoned for opposition to WW2. In the late 1970s was to express support for the “ideas” of prince Charles Windsor. See Appendix 2 of Bornstein & Richardson's Against the Stream for more on Tippett and Trotskyism] when he stated that the reason why they had not expressed these differences in the form of theses was because they feared this would mean expulsion from the international organisation.
In the view of all the above facts we consider that the organisational proposals contained in the declaration of the bureau of December 13th are now out of date and cannot help towards the attainment of unity in the present circumstances. Our group is now probably larger than both the Marxist League and the Marxist Group together and is unanimously in support of the Geneva resolutions. We have ceased to be merely a youth group and are developing work in the adult party. (A new duplicated monthly paper - The Militant - is appearing on 15th Jan.) Moreover, some eighty per cent of the membership of our group is of proletarian origin.
Work has however been held up during the past few months by the efforts we have made to bring the MG and the ML over to our correct position. Nothing has been left undone by us in this respect, but despite all our efforts we have been unable to achieve unity, although nearly all the best elements in the MG have joined us. Far too much of our time of late has been devoted to discussion on relations with other groups instead of getting on with our own work in the Labour Party and the Labour League of Youth.
In view of all the above facts we cannot agree to call another joint national conference with the Marxist Group, since we do not think that it would achieve any useful results. Moreover we are calling a national conference of our own group in February next in order to discuss our own problems and all our energies must be devoted to this.
In the light of all that has been said above we consider that there are no prospects of attaining unity in this country as a result of a merger of the three groups concerned, or of any two of them. Since the Marxist Group and the Marxist League are getting further away from our political position instead of nearer, we consider that the only way in which unity can come about will be through a continuation of the same process as has been taking place in recent months, the absorption by our group of the best elements of the other groups. This process is, however, impeded by the fact that both the other groups have hitherto been able to claim international recognition on the same basis as ourselves. We therefore consider that the time has now some when the Bureau for the Fourth International should state openly that there is only one group in this country which can be considered to be part of the international organisation - our group - and that the other two groups, the MG and the ML, can no longer be considered as sympathetic organisations for the reasons given above and those contained in the statement of the bureau of the 13th Dec. A statement by the bureau of this kind will greatly promote the disintegration of the other groups, which must inevitably follow from their mistakes and from our growth and will thus bring the establishment of a section in this country appreciably nearer.
The Executive Committee, Bolshevik-Leninist Group in the Labour Party
Dec. 29th, 1936