THE TROTSKYIST MOVEMENT
The following document (found at KV4/56 in the PRO) on the activities of the Trotskyists during the war is later than the Cabinet document and should be compared and contrasted with it. It is in two folders, one summarising experience with internees and enemy aliens and the second with Communists and Trotskyists. There are 52 pages devoted to the Communists and 6 pages to the Trotskyists. This probably accurately reflects the relative time and attention devoted to the two tendencies. The tone is very different from Morrisons Home Office Report and reflects police and secret service agendas rather than political ones. The gross over-estimate of the size of the RCP (double what it had at its peak) should be noted in the final paragraph on the movements history as well as the suggestion that it had influence in the mines which was never the case. The date in the final History paragraph looks as if it should be 1945 rather than 1943 and so is probably a typographical error while in paragraph 4 the Proletarian Military Policy is misunderstood not surprisingly.
A “HOW” is a Home Office Warrant which allows opening of mail and tapping of phones. It has to be signed by the Home Secretary. “MS” is M Section, the somewhat “semi-detached” agent-running organisation run by C H Maxwell Knight. Knight was the former Director of Intelligence of the British Fascists. (There are grounds for thinking that Maxwell Knight tipped off the traitor William Joyce [Lord Haw-Haw] at the beginning of the war so that he was able to get to Germany. Dave Turner has more information on this.) Under the 1989 Security Service Act, Home Office Warrants can also cover burglary (in which case they are called “property warrants”) though until the Act was passed it was strictly illegal for MI5 to break in anywhere - but, of course, they still did it (“while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way”, Peter Wright Spycatcher, William Heinemann Australia, Richmond, Victoria 1987, p.54).
Ted Crawford, November 1999
THE TROTSKYIST MOVEMENT
In 1939 the Trotskyist movement in Great Britain consisted of several small and disorganised groups. The official section of the Fourth International was the Revolutionary Socialist League, a cluster of theorists working in the Labour Party. The only other grouping of any significance was the Workers International League, an independent body founded in 1938 by two South Africans, Raphael and Mildred LEE. Raphael LEE left England before the outbreak of War, consigning the leadership of the Workers' International League to his wife and James Ritchie HASTON, a young Trotskyist of some years' standing. They controlled a membership of under fifty and their monthly paper, Workers' International News, printed 1,000 copies.
In the late summer of 1939 several of the leaders including HASTON and Cyril NOSEDA, publisher of Workers International News, went to Eire partly to make contact with the Irish Trotskyists and partly to avoid military service and the repressive measures which they expected to be taken against their organisation. They returned to England some months later travelling on papers procured in Eire by false representation of identity. They obtained National Registration Identity cards and Ration books in the names of J.F. GLOSTER and J.F. SMITH, and were not recognised and prosecuted until June and August 1941. Until well into 1942 the WIL continued to regard itself as a semi-legal body, and its leaders relied on assumed names, rapid changes of address, and generally furtive behaviour in order to conceal their doings.
During this period they were occupied in forming a programme, training a leadership and organising the rank and file. Until this process was well advanced, no outward activity could be attempted. The danger of premature action was shown by the Sheffield conspiracy case of August 1940 in which four members were prosecuted for stealing blank medical grade cards in order to help their associates to avoid military service. One man was discharged but the others served terms of imprisonment. It is worth noting that the culprits were reprimanded by the leadership for indiscretion and indiscipline.
The war crises of 1940 compelled the Workers' International League to adopt the much disputed Military Policy of James Cannon. This admits the necessity for workers to defend their native land from attack provided the defence is operated under their control. It departs from the traditional Marxist-Leninist policy of revolutionary defeatism and has caused bitter theoretical quarrels both in this country and in the United States of America. Party members now joined the Forces instead of trying to evade service.
This modification did not affect the general tone of the WILs attacks on the government nor its opposition to the “imperialist” war. Passages in the July 1940 number of its paper Youth for Socialism caused the Ministry of Information to forward the Paper to the Home Office for possible action under DR2c. There was considered to be grounds for action, but on account of the very limited circulation of the paper (2,000 copies), no measures were taken.
The period of consolidation ended in the summer of 1941, and by the time of German attack on the USSR the League was ready with - “a fighting programme to mobilise the masses for the struggle against fascism, whether of the German or the British variety, and for the defence of the Soviet Union”. The main point of this was the placing in power of a Labour government. The Trotskyists held that the Labour leaders had sold themselves to the capitalists and would no longer provide a militant leadership. But to convince the masses of this, they held it necessary to have a Labour Government in power so that its alleged failures could be made the subject of propaganda. Then, it was hoped, the people would turn towards Trotskyism, which claimed to supply the only surviving militant policy for the proletariat. The rest of the programme aimed at control by the workers of all national services and of production - in fact the full Marxist programme. It was taken for granted that revolution was the only means of achieving workers control, but as England was not yet ripe for it, the Transitional Programme of “Labour to Power” had to be adopted first.
1942 was notable for the first National Conference of the movement. A constitution was adopted, comprising a Central Committee, a Political Bureau, and a District organisation on classical communist lines. The “basic documents of the Fourth International” and the Transitional Programme were formally adopted as the foundations of policy.
Negotiations were then opened by the International Secretariat of the Fourth International for the union of the Workers' International League with the Revolutionary Socialist League with a view to establishing a single British Trotskyist section under the discipline of the International. An American seaman representative was sent to England to report. The difficulties, personal and doctrinal, were many, and it was not until 1944 with the assistance of another American “observer” that the fusion was completed. At a conference in March 1944 the new British Section emerged under the name of “Revolutionary Communist Party”. HASTON was elected General Secretary, Millie LEE organising Secretary, and Edward GRANT editor of Socialist Appeal (formerly Youth for Socialism).
Considerable importance was attached by the WIL to strikes, which they regarded is being the principal weapon of the proletariat and the beet means of preparing a revolutionary situation. They therefore endeavoured to make contact with strikers in as many parts of the country as their limited forces could reach.
In 1941 the first moves were made in the industrial world. In August 4,000 women employed at Rolls Royce, Glasgow went on strike in sympathy with a WIL member who was discharged on account of his political activities in the factory. At the Dalmuir ordnance factory in October a strike broke out following the transfer of the factory from Government to private control; a conference of Ordnance Factory Shop Stewards was called at Nottingham as a result of which the ROP Consultative Committee was set up. Two WIL stewards were elected to the controlling positions and the committee continued under Trotskyist influence for the two years or so of its existence. It only achieved a very limited influence. In 1943 WIL interference was discovered in the Yorkshire bus strike (May), the RCP Barnbow strike (June) and Rolls Royce Glasgow (July).
The Betteshanger colliery strike in December 1941 was the first of the mining stoppages in which WIL influence was brought to bear. HASTON visited the district, made contacts among the strikers by selling Trotskyist literature, and afterwards wrote up the story in Socialist Appeal. They used similar methods in a number of other coal strikes throughout 1942. The mining industry they regarded as a particularly fruitful field for work owing to the chronic unrest existing in the industry. A storm in a teacup blew up in 1942 when the Yorkshire Miners agent in a somewhat exaggerated protest gave them publicity in the national press.
By this time the Workers' International League found its old method of canvassing at the scenes of strikes to be too primitive, and the machinery of the ROF Co-ordinating Committee was used to put forward a more ambitious plan. At a conference of militant shop stewards summoned in Glasgow by two Trotskyist convenors a provisional ”Committee for Co-ordinating Trade Union activity” was set up (June 1943). The WIL won effective control of this body and placed one of its undercover members, Roy TEARSE in the post of secretary, hoping to draw to itself the leadership of the local committees of militant workers which were springing up in some industrial areas. The strike at Vickers Armstrongs, Barrow, in September provided the first occasion for action. TEARSE made contact with the men's leaders and undoubtedly exercised some influence on the progress of the strike. Useful publicity was also given to the existence of the committee which had been re-named Militant Workers' Federation.
In January 1944 apprentices working in the Tyneside shipyards organised themselves into a Tyne Apprentices' Guild in order to oppose the mining ballot scheme. The boys' leader was strongly under the influence of the WIL organiser in Newcastle, Heaton LEE, and received constant advice and help from him. Having this direct contact, the WIL did not need to rely on the Militant Workers Federation. TEARSE gave his instructions direct to LEE and LEE to the boys through his protégé DAVY. In March a strike of some thousands of boys was declared.
Searches under DR39A were carried out at the Trotskyist headquarters in London, the Militant Workers' Federation headquarters in Nottingham, and the houses of TEARSE, LEE and DAVY in Glasgow and Newcastle. On the evidence found, proceedings were started against TEARSE, LEE, Ann KEEN (his mistress) and Jock HASTON under the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927. DAVY appeared as a witness for the Crown. The four were sentenced to imprisonment for one year (TEARSE and LEE), thirteen days (KEEN) and six months (HASTON), but on Appeal the sentences were quashed on a point of law.
The Revolutionary Communist Party (now so called) started Defence Committees on behalf of the accused and by working in co-operation with the ILP and other left wing organisations, improved its claim to recognition as a party of the Left. It also gained some prestige from the arrest of its leaders. The legal expenses of the trial and appeal were raised with some difficulty, but after the release of the prisoners the main object of the committees was removed and they collapsed.
The arrest of TEARSE and the coming into force of D.R.l.AA put an end to the open activities of the Militant Workers' Federation and the summer of the Second Front proved to be unpropitious for industrial agitation. The somewhat spectacular progress of the Revolutionary Communist Party in industry came to a standstill. Many discussions were held on the future of the Militant Workers' Federation and of industrial work generally, but the time was not ripe for action and the future could not be usefully forecast. The party turned to purely political issues, the chief being its post-war relations with the ILP at home and with the Fourth International abroad. Party members in the Forces, were instructed to seek out the Trotskyist groups in Belgium and France, and to establish an exchange of information between them and the RCP leaders. The same method was used in Italy, and also in Egypt, India and Ceylon.
In January 1945 the Revolutionary Communist Party decided that its political position had sufficiently improved to justify its contesting a Parliamentary election. At Neath there was a move to put forward a militant left wing candidate and it was arranged that this should be Jock HASTON standing openly as a representative of the RCP. Heaton LEE was made his election agent. The Party did not hope for success, but expected to consolidate its position in South Wales and to receive an amount of national publicity which would not otherwise be obtainable. It polled 1,786 votes and forfeited its deposit.
In February 1943 the full members of the Party numbered eight hundred, with an outer circle of two thousand active associates. Twelve full time organisers were employed. All the membership must take an active part in the work and life of the organisation or they are not allowed to retain their membership.
A small amount of work on the Trotskyist movement has been done by F2a as long as this section has formed part of the Security Services. Up to the outbreak of war most of the material in our records consisted of Special Branch reports and the products of occasional Home Office Warrants. The movement was too small and chaotic to form the subject of sustained investigation.
At the outbreak of war the Workers' International League transferred much of its activity to Ireland, and those members who remained here kept quiet. Little information came to notice, and owing to extreme pressure of communist work, few enquiries were initiated about the Trotskyists. In September 1940 many of the more up to date Trotskyist records were destroyed by enemy action; they were later reconstituted with the assistance of Special Branch. Special Branch themselves however had reduced their enquiries to a minimum as they considered as we did that the groups were negligible for the time being.
When the Workers International League settled down to more regular habits, a HOW was taken out on their office at 61 Northdown Street (February 1942). This yielded a great variety of interesting information particularly on industrial activities, recruitment, Armed Forces work and organisational developments. A Censorship watch on the headquarters of the Fourth International in New York and on Irish contacts also produced good results. An agent was introduced by MS into WIL circles in the summer of 1942 and produced results which later proved to more valuable than was realised at the time.
Until 1942 when the Workers International League made its early appearances in industry the provincial Police forces knew little about the Trotskyist movement. In the letters which F2a began to send out to the Provinces in increasing number care was taken to add a paragraph explaining the growing security interest of Trotskyism. As a result many of the more enterprising forces undertook their own regular investigations, and by the end of the war at least five police agents had been placed in the movement. Two of these (Glasgow and Birmingham) produced first class information of general interest. Our own placing of agents was not so successful. MS's man failed in 1943 and it was not until a year later that a second was found, who only lasted a few months. In this connection may be mentioned an interesting attempt by the Revolutionary Communist Party in the autumn of 1944 to run a double-cross agent against Special Branch. The latter had approached an RCP contact who reported the fact to the secret sub-committee of the Political Bureau. They instructed him to accept the proposals of the Special Branch officer and to report to them the kind of questions he was asked. From this they hoped to estimate the amount of information which Special Branch possessed and also to distract them with false information. The plan broke down however through the indiscretion of their go-between who spoke of it to an unauthorised person; it was then considered unsafe to continue.
In the middle of 1943 the activities of the Workers' International League had increased still further, and a memorandum was drawn up in F2a recommending an enlargement of the section's powers to make inquires and record the results. The recommendations which were agreed to by DDG and DDO included a more general use of HOWs, a spell of regular observation by B.6. (which had, not previously been used for Trotskyists), and the establishment of a personal link with the SB officers concerned in Trotskyist work. The historical survey attached to the memorandum was circulated to the Regional Officers, most of whom conveyed the gist of it to the Police.
Early in 1944 the Workers International League (now the Revolutionary Communist Party moved to new offices and asked for the installation of a telephone. A telephone check was taken out which proved to be of great value in revealing some of the inner workings of the organisation. Special facilities were also used which though fitful in working, produced several vitally interesting accounts of future plans and policy which could not possibly have been obtained by other means.
This brief survey will show the remarkable progress of the Trotskyist movement during the war period from being an unimportant handful of talkers to a disciplined body of some size, having programme, finance and organisation and the determination to use them. The investigations conducted by F2a expanded correspondingly.
The investigation of Trotskyism was found to differ considerably from that of the Communist Party in the latter stages of the war. The Revolutionary Communist Party used conspiratorial methods for its more important work. It only became an open organisation at all towards the end of the period. It conducted few public meetings and attached minor importance to them. Its chief work - industrial and international - was carried on clandestinely. Cover organisations such as the Militant Workers' Federation were favoured in industry. As far as possible only trivial correspondence went through the post and cover addresses were resorted to. Initials instead of names were used in all Party documents. Talk on the telephone was guarded. Impending members were closely scrutinised. Communications with Fourth International headquarters were carried on by courier service and by personal visits of seaman delegates. RCP members working in the ILP used pseudonyms.
It followed that the simpler methods of investigation failed to discover any of the important aspects of Trotskyist work, and if used alone would convey a false impression. It was found that close study of the Party's methods over a period of time was necessary if an officer was to interpret at all adequately the material reaching him. Often it could not be interpreted at once and had to be put aside until later developments provided a clue. This meant that the study of Trotskyism demanded a larger proportion of the Section's time and records than the smallness of the organisation seemed at first sight to warrant.
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Updated by ETOL: 18.10.2003