The History of British Trotskyism to 1949

by Martin Upham


(1929–NOVEMBER 1931)

An organised Trotskyist group emerged in Britain late in 1931 stimulated by dissatisfaction with communist performance and growing awareness of Trotsky’s critique. The British Section of the Left Opposition emerged from the Communist Party, although there were others in Britain interested in Trotsky’s ideas. It crystallized relatively late, without great impact, and conditioned by the Communist Party from which it sprang.

The first meeting of the International Left Opposition gathered in Paris on 6 April 1930 without British participation. [1] Later in the year, however, Trotsky wrote of the “very promising ties established with Britain”. [2] In 1930 and 1931 the embryonic International had contact with three dissatisfied groups on the British left.

The first group included independent Marxists who were dissatisfied with the CPGB Among these was Dick Beech [3], with whom American Trotskyists corresponded as early as 1930. Beech knew a number of leading Continental communists who had come over to the Opposition. These acquaintances he shared with Jack Tanner [4], also formerly a party member. Others who were known to the Opposition included the photographer Clare Sheridan, then a close friend of Ivor Montagu, Flower, a Daily Telegraph journalist [5], and Ellen Wilkinson. [6] Pierre Naville, leader of one of the two French Opposition factions visited Britain in 1930 for talks with Beech. [7]

Beech, Tanner and Wilkinson all were trade unionists who had been Communist Party members. Ivor Montagu, who had remained a communist, but was not a trade unionist, had friendly relations with Trotsky at least up to the end of 1931 [8], when he was seen as “a very good comrade”. Also within the CPGB in 1931 were the middle class Freda Utley and the working class Margaret McCarthy, both of whom had witnessed in Russia the effect of the rout of the Left Opposition and silently favoured Trotsky’s views. [9] These names, or some of them, might have added lustre to the Opposition, but none of them joined it.

The second cluster of contacts consisted of those in the ILP and outside it, who had not been in the Communist Party and thought revolutionary politics had to make a new start. Sometime in 1929 and 1930, the Marxist League was formed, an independent revolutionary propaganda group. It was not large. Its leading figures were Frank Ridley [10], Chandu Ram [11] and Hugo Dewar [12], the organiser of the League. The League, as such, stayed independent of all parties and spent its time selling literature and holding open air meetings in Hyde Park, Tottenham Court Road and elsewhere. [13] In 1930 and 1931 it had contact with the Trotskyist Communist League of America. The CLA, to which Trotsky looked to help stimulate a British Opposition, invited Ridley to send reports to The Militant. The League sold this paper, together with American Trotskyist pamphlets, at its public activities.

In 1931 Ridley and Ram expounded the view that events were moving to a crisis in Britain. The National Government was the first stage of British fascism, which a reformist ILP (still within the Labour Party) and a sectarian CPGB were inadequate to resist. “It is socialism or starvation, communism or chaos”, argued Ridley. [14] There was little role for trade unions, since there was no scope for reform. [15] What was needed was a new party and a new (Fourth) International. In Autumn 1931, Ridley and Ram formulated theses on Britain. The country was at a transitional stage between democracy and fascism, ruled now by an “anti-parliamentary” government. Trade unions were ’imperialist organizations”, doomed to disappear now that the era of superprofits had gone. The Comintern should be entirely rejected, and with it the Communist Party of Great Britain. [16]

Trotsky was unimpressed. He expected an Opposition current to develop from within the CPGB When it did it would stand on the shoulders of Bolshevik experience. Ridley and Ram advanced theses for a Fourth International but they had made no struggle against Stalinist control of the Communist Party. “It would be very sad if the critical members of the official British Communist Party would imagine that the opinions of Ridley and Ram represent the opinions of the Left Opposition.” [17]

It would not do to declare the historical role of the Labour Party and the trade unions at an end. Nor was it possible to abstain even from a weakened communist party. If the few hundred Left Oppositionists remain on the sidelines they will become transformed into a powerless, lamentable sect. If, however, they participate in the internal ideological struggle of the party of which they remain an integral part despite all expulsions, they will win an enormous influence in the proletarian kernel of the party. [18]

Trotsky was speaking here of Germany, but he believed that in Britain also the Opposition would have to earn support by fighting false Comintern policies from within. An opposition which emerged that way would be more firm than one which drew facile, abstract conclusions, however willing it might be to engage in correspondence. [19] Ram expounded his and Ridley’s views at an Autumn meeting of the International Secretariat in Paris, [20] but found no support there or among the American Trotskyists.

Trotsky participated in a discussion in Turkey at which Marxist League ideas were aired. [21] The call to launch a Fourth International was not being made only in Britain. [22] And the belief that the situation was at crisis point reflected the views not of isolated individuals alone, but also of the CPGB, whose influence Trotsky believed he detected. [23] Those communists who were questioning this very exaggeration of the prospects for fascism by their party were disturbed at the views of Ridley and Ram and were reassured by the Americans.

“It was the unanimous decision of the International Secretariat that at present there is not an organisation in England that represents the International Left Opposition nor its International Secretariat.” [24]

This was thumbs down for the Marxist League. Hugo Dewar withdrew, dissenting from its view of trade unions [25] and prepared in practice to undertake the struggle Trotsky proposed. He joined the ILP in Clapham and then moved to the Tooting local of the CPGB [26] The Marxist League continued in being, and on 1 January 1932 launched a short-lived journal, The New Man. [27] Ridley later rejected the Fourth International when the International Left Opposition decided to launch it. [28]

It was from disgruntled members of the CPGB that the British Section of the Left Opposition was finally to be launched. Any dissatisfaction these future Trotskyists felt before 1930 however, was with the CPGB as it was before the eleventh (special) party congress of November-December 1929, at which leadership was transferred to a new more intransigent group. [29]

The Opposition was a London affair. Reg Groves [30], Stewart Purkis [31] and Billy Williams [32] had read Where Is Britain Going? and The Lessons of October before the General Strike. They worked together as members of the Clearing House Branch of the Railway Clerks Association in Poplar and were part of the influx of new recruits into the Communist Party immediately after the General Strike. [33]

By 1929 Groves and Purkis had worked their way up to the London District Committee, Groves serving as Assistant Organizer for most of 1929. Groves was a young turk pushing the party towards the new line being urged by the Comintern, though he was the only CPGB member invited to the Lenin School who refused to go. He had rejected the TGWU as a company union, and called for the political levy not to be paid in the GMWU. [34] He urged an end to the “old method” and called for a new leadership on the eve of the special congress. [35] Purkis wrote for the party press in industrial matters, [36] and was active with Williams in the St. Pancras local.

Henry Sara (1886-1953), the same age as Purkis, was moderately well known in the party. He was a former SLP member and wartime conscientious objector, who had not joined the CPGB at its foundation, but came into it following a trip to Russia. [37] He gave lantern lectures on his tour [38], had a taste, like Groves, for nineteenth century history and, uniquely among the future founder members of the British Section, he had participated in theoretical discussions in the party press. [39] He wrote with independent convictions, authority and, occasionally, an academic air. [40] In 1929, he stood as parliamentary candidate in the General Election for Tottenham South, an area where he was well known.

The fifth key personality from the early cadre of British Trotskyism was Harry Wicks [41], another railwayman, who had first encountered Opposition ideas at YCL classes in Battersea given by Arthur Reade and attended the aggregate of 17 January 1925. Wicks was part of the strong organization which the CPGB had built in Battersea in the 1920s, at the apex of which stood Shapurji Saklatvala a communist Member of Parliament. In 1927 Wicks, unlike Groves, accepted an invitation to join the Lenin School in Moscow. [42] He stayed there until 1930, attended the Sixth World Congress of the Comintern in 1928 and witnessed the final rout of the Opposition. He also met George Weston, a West London craftsman who backed Trotsky. Wicks returned in 1930 to find the CPGB isolated and its Battersea base in ruins. [43]

In 1930 the separate dissatisfaction of these five with the party became evident. Early in the year, Groves presented a series of complaints on the style and content of The Daily Worker launched on 1 January. [44] He began to contribute an information column, Workers Notebook, but editing of this caused disagreements as well. [45] Links between Groves and Purkis were reinforced through this clash [46] and also through an abortive attempt by Groves to join the Marx-Engels Institute that summer. [47] Meanwhile Sara, and to a lesser extent Purkis, clashed with the official line over two issues of theory. It was the year of Bukharin’s ouster from the presidency of the Comintern. Sara, not intimidated, supported Bukharin’s views on the effects of imperialism on competition at home and claimed, moreover, that Lenin endorsed them. [48] Purkis was implicated in passing, in the conflict between the party and Freda Utley over whether the working class of its own effort might achieve socialist consciousness. [49] Groves and Sara, members of the party agitprop committee, were by 1931 beginning like J.T. Murphy, another committee member, to make systematic criticisms of the party. [50]

Years later, Stuart Purkis recalled “we came together in 1930, brought together by agreement on the need for propaganda for the United Front”. [51] The marrying of disparate discontents into a Trotskyist critique occurred during 1931. Groves and Sara had seen the American Militant in London radical bookshops [52] and read Trotsky’s Autobiography, My Life (1930). Trotsky’s article Germany: the key to the international situation [53] had also been widely noted, the first English presentation of his case for a United Front of the mass parties of the German workers against fascism. By 1931 the Communist League of America had behind it three years experience in running an Opposition group against a more ferocious Communist Party than the British one, but in a more open political situation. [54] One of its responsibilities was to stimulate the creation of a sister group in Britain. When Groves contacted it about the regularity of supplies of Militant to Britain a correspondence began in which the CLA, tried to capitalise on its opportunity. [55]

For the Americans, Arne Swabeck [56] argued forcefully for the establishment of an Opposition group within the CPGB which would advance Trotsky’s critique of Comintern policy. [57] Groves was not convinced that discontent with the CPGB necessarily implied an alignment with Trotsky. Swabeck sought a fraction within the CPGB where a cadre might be built around criticism of the party line.

“Is it the desire of the Left Opposition to make any split? We believe we must say decidedly: No”. [58] To the British, who had not, in any case, “assimilated the litany of organised Trotskyism” [59], the prospects for making this critique and staying party members, appeared far less auspicious.

The British view diverged from that pressed upon them by the CLA. Groves and the others appear in 1930-2 as guardians of the new line proposed by the Comintern and its supporters at the special congress. They had played no part in the development of the ILO critique. [60] Unlike the CLA, they held that the party should not control the Minority Movement and that professional revolutionaries should not run the party. In the next year, they were to counterpose factory work to trade union work and thus make a mistake the CLA had been careful to avoid. [61] Following the August crisis, Groves foresaw a new 1926. He proposed Councils of Action and preparation for a new General Strike, fearful that the Left, as in that year, would again make the running in view of the failure of the Daily Worker to make the party’s role clear. [62]

The critics were now an identifiable entity. The “Balham Group” existed from some time in the later months of 1931 [63], though most of its members had been working in South-West London before that. From the end of 1930, Wicks, now returned to Battersea, was cooperating with them. Faced with the economies programme of the National Government, the Balham Group approached local ILPers, notably the Clapham branch, for joint resistance activities. This was a limited local united front and one tangible gain was Hugo Dewar, who split with the Marxist League and, effectively, followed Trotsky’s advice by coming over to the Tooting Communist local from the Clapham ILP.

In the Autumn of 1931, the Americans began to force the pace. They had noted that these South London communists, for all their reservations, were more solid in their support than the other British contacts. The proposal for a CLA leader to visit England for a lengthy spell had been under discussion earlier in the year. [64] In September Swabeck called on Groves to begin a definite group in Britain, albeit cautiously, and proposed a gathering of all CLA contacts to meet Albert Glotzer, who was about to visit Britain. [65] Glotzer [66], in fact, went first to Turkey, where he met Trotsky, and wrote again to Groves. In October another letter from America promised that Max Shachtman also would visit Britain. [67]

In November a meeting was convened in the flat of Flower at which Groves, Sara, Purkis and Wicks [68] agreed to establish a British Section of the Left Opposition. [69] Shachtman urged the need for someone to be sacrificed in order to dramatize the existence of the group, but both Americans argued against a split. There was unease at Shachtman’s suggestion, but agreement on the need to restore inner party democracy, reduce Russian influence and return to basic principles. It was later asserted that the Americans’ anxiety to establish a group overrode the achievement of political unity, that organisational steps were taken, but that the group remained a circle of friends. [70]

The plan was for Shachtman to visit Montagu, Ellen Wilkinson and perhaps others. [71] Nothing tangible emerged from this. A British Section constructed more widely from those with whom Trotsky and others were in contact, might have been a very impressive body indeed. [72] What actually crystallized was a tiny body which, like the young CPGB was entirely working class and had only made a limited critique of Comintern theory.

It is arguable that the Balham Group was a product mainly of domestic discontents. The prime movers were fairly well known to each other, they had a common industrial background, and many were concentrated in South London. Inevitably they were a group held together by personal as well as political ties. The political ties centred on dissatisfaction with the performance of the CPGB, first before the imposition of the new line at Leeds and after. But the Balham Group reacted to the impasse of the CPGB in its own way. By 1931, it is argued, it was closer to the “class against class” line than the party itself. [73] It rejected the catastrophism of Ridley and Ram, as had the CLA, yet it shared the belief that communist growth was imminent. But just as communist theory had in the CPGB of the 1920s largely been imposed from without, the new Oppositionists themselves were confronted with a mass of doctrine which they were expected to digest. Some of it, like the argument for the United Front, appealed at once, and those parts of Trotsky’s critique, of which the Group were aware, acted as a yeast on its development. Balham’s interests in Trotyskyism were not abnormal [74] but the immediate future was to reveal a mutual lack of confidence between it and the international movement.



1. This meeting, known as the preliminary conference of the ILO, elected a provisional International Secretariat and agreed to establish an International Bulletin. Representatives from France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Hungary, the United States, Czechoslovakia and a French Jewish Group attended. Groups in Russia, China, Austria, Mexico, Argentina and Greece endorsed the steps taken. (L. Trotsky, A Big Step Forward. Unification of the Left Opposition, April 1930, Writings 1930, 187-90, 419-20n.) There is a critical discussion of the early ILO in I. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, 57-60.

2. How the I.L.O. is Doing, 1930, Writings: 1930, 304.

3. Dick Beech was a former Wobbly who had in 1920 accompanied the British delegation to the first congress of the Comintern. He ran a book society which, inter alia, circulated Trotskyist material. He had contributed articles to the Militant of the Communist League of America. Beech corresponded with Trotsky up to the end of 1931 and helped the Trotskyist movement subsequently from time to time. He later became president of the Chemical Workers Union.

4. Jack Tanner was a foundation member of the CPGB, national committee member of the AEU, and a leading spokesman of the Minority Movement in the 1920s. He left the Communist Party and rose as a right wing spokesman to the presidency of his union.

5. Interview with Harry Wicks, 30 Nov. 1979.

6. Trotsky gave Shachtman a letter of introduction to her the following year. (L. Trotsky, To Help in Britain, 9 Nov. 1931, Writings Supplement (1929-33), 99)

7. Interview with Harry Wicks, 30 Nov. 1979.

8. Trotsky sounded him out about a new edition of Where is Britain Going? in that year. L. Trotsky to Shachtman, To Help in Britain, Writings: Supplement (1929-33).

9. Nov. 1931, 99. Both women watched the demotions and dismissals for political reasons which took place in Russia with incomprehension, a legacy perhaps of the lack of knowledge in the CPGB of the debate in the Russian Party. Freda Utley might have openly joined Trotsky in 1931 but was dissuaded by Bertrand Russell, with whom she was staying. (F. Utley, Lost Illusions, X1949), 11, 57;; M. McCarthy, Generation in Revolt, 1953, passim.)

10. F.A. Ridley (1897-) was a writer, secularist and historian who had left the ILP in 1930.

11. Chandu Ram (d. 1932) was an Indian law student and member of the London branch of the Indian National Congress.

12. Hugo Dewar ( -1980) joined the ILP around 1929.

13. R. Stephenson (ed.), The Early Years of the British Left Opposition, 1979.

14. F.A. Ridley, A Communist Party – The Problem of the Revolution in England, The Militant (NY), 31 Oct. 1931, quoted in R. Stephenson, op. cit.

15. “Therefore, when capitalism reaches that stage of decay when no further reforms are possible – and that stage is here now (witness the coal-mining industry) – the “raison d’etre” of trade unionism is gone. The end of trade unions as known at present is within sight”, (D.E.W. [Dr. Worrall?], Trade Unions and Revolution, The New Man, 1 Jan. 1932, 5).

16. The theses perished with other of Ridley’s papers during the blitz, but Trotsky quotes from them in his reply, Tasks of the Left Opposition in Britain and India, 7 November 1931, Writings (1930-31), 337-43. For factual data on the Marxist League, see A. Richardson, Some Notes for a Bibliography of British Trotskyism, dupl. (1979?), no pag.

17. Tasks of the Left Opposition in Britain and India. Some uncritical remarks on unsuccessful theses, 7 Nov. 1931, Writings (1930-31), 342.

18. ibid., 342.

19. L. Trotsky, Better to seek the Solid, 30 Nov. 1931, Writings Supplement (1929-33), 101-2.

20. Held in or before October 1931. (A. Glotzer to R. Groves, 27 Oct. 1931.) Here and on other occasions Ram used the pseudonym “Aggravaila” or “Aggar Wala”.

21. A. Glotzer to R. Groves, 27 Oct. 1931. Minutes were forwarded to all English contacts of the ILO.

22. I. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, 43-4.

23. L. Trotsky to M. Shachtman, What Is Fascism?, 15 Nov. 1931, Writings: Supplement (1929-33), 99-101. In 1929 the CPGB adopted a resolution that social fascism (i.e. the Labour government) was preparing the way for fascism, that the crisis was sharpening, and that “militancy and solidarity similar to the great days of the General Strike are being displayed”. Stimulated by the protracted social crisis in Germany, Trotsky was at this time developing his analysis of the conditions under which fascism might grow. In England, Fascism was not ruled out, but would grow only with difficulty because of the social weight of the country’s proletariat.

24. A Glotzer to R. Groves, 27 Oct. 1931. “Several fundamental questions”, Glotzer told Groves, divided the I.S, from the Marxist League and “the other groups in England”. Arne Swabeck conceded Groves’s complaints about Ridley’s article in The Militant, (A. Swabeck to R. Groves, 6 Nov. 1931), and told him that the CLA had been compelled to excise from Ridley’s article the view that the 1931 general election was the last Britain would have, (A. Swabeck to R. Groves, 24 Nov. 1931).

25. H. Dewar to P. Thwaites, 24 Sept. 1975, lent to author by Mr. Thwaites.

26. R. Groves, The Balham Group, 1974, 61.

27. A.M.R. Penn, (A Bibliography of the British Trotskyist Press, University of Warwick M.A., 1979, 22), was unable to locate any copies of The New Man. But Vol.1, No.1, 1 Jan. 1932 has survived and is located in the Watson collection of the University of Stirling. It was intended to publish the journal, which had eight pages, fortnightly. This issue contains articles by Ridley, D.E.W., [Dr. Worrall?] and “Caius Gracchus”. It continued the catastrophic theses of the League and offered to provide leadership of a revolutionary character, but made no call for a Fourth International.

28. See Below.

29. “One or two individuals were already moving towards an Oppositional position by 1929”, writes Hugo Dewar, (Communist Politics in Britain, 1976, 150). Reg Groves only appeared as a critic of the group now controlling the party in February 1930, however, though the London membership did have some independence of the Comintern supporters. (R. Groves, op. cit., 21-2; H. Wicks, loc. cit., 27-8.)

30. Reg Groves, (1908- ) joined the ILP as a youth in 1924.

31. (1885-1969).

32. E.S. ’Billy” Williams, (d. 1963).

33. R. Groves, op. cit., 12-16.

34. “Mondism” and our Industrial Party, Communist Review, July 1929, 409-14.

35. Like Murphy, he demanded a struggle against the “Right danger”, (Our Party and the New Period, Communist Review, Nov. 1929, 604-9). Groves was also corresponding with Dutt,(op. cit., 23). The interest Groves was to show in working class history was already in evidence in his Labour Monthly articles on Chartism.

36. He contributed to Labour Monthly on railway and Minority Movement problems on occasions in 1929 and 1930. He also obscurely challenged Dutt’s interpretation of the 1929 general election result, (Workers” Weekly, 23 Nov. 1929). He was expelled from the RCA for political activities and was joint editor, with Billy Williams, of The Jogger, a cyclostyled rank and file party bulletin.

37. For Henry Sara see R. Groves, op. cit., 19-20; R. Challinor, The Origins of British Bolshevism, 197), 142.

38. Sunday Worker, 11 Oct. 1925.

39. See The Class War, Communist Review, April 1926, 538-42. In 1927 Sara attended the Hankow conference of the CCCP in company with Tom Mann, on whose friendship he would still be able to call after breaking with CPGB (H. Sara to C.A. Smith, 14 Sept. 1937, Warwick MSS. 15/4/1/27).

40. Compare his Further Jottings on R.W. Postgate, (The Communist, (May 1928), 290-6) with Harold Heslop’s attempt the previous month to dismember the eclectic ex-communist.

41. Harry Wicks (1907- ) joined the party in 1921 with most of the Daily Herald League and helped form the Battersea YCL, and joined its national executive in 1926. (R. Groves, op. cit., 34-5).

42. R. Groves (op. cit., 19) argues the Lenin School had a harmful effect. A contrary view is put by S. Macintyre in Marxism in Britain, 1917-1933, 44.

43. This created a strong impression. Interview with H. Wicks, 30 Nov. 1979.

44. He proposed that the paper be reduced in size, that its articles be more educational, that more argument and less stridency be apparent in its pages. He was told in reply that reference resources were weak and that it was the application of policy, not policy itself, that was at fault. (R. Groves to Secretariat, 26 Feb. 1930; Daily Worker editorial board to Groves, 24 March 1930).

45. He resented alteration of his text without consultation and threatened to suspend the column (R. Groves to Secretariat, 22 April, 14 May, 30 May 1930). The Secretariat supported the Editorial Board in seeking a full text that it could defend (W. Rust to Groves, 1 June 1930; Secretariat to Groves (4), 8 July 1930).

46. Purkis had backed him against editorial changes (Secretariat to Groves, 8 July 1930).

47. Groves requested of David Riazanov, director of the Institute and biographer of Marx and Engels, paid work in London on its behalf. Riazanov countered with the offer of a post with the English Cabinet of the Institute in Moscow. Groves accepted but was barred by the British Party. (D. Riazanov to Groves, 30 March 1930; R. Groves to Riazanov, 13 April 1930; draft by S. Purkis of letter to Riazanov explaining the block, Warwick MSS.). Later Jane Degras filled a vacancy at the Institute (Interview with Harry Wicks, 30 Nov. 1979).

48. He carried the controversy on Bukharin from The Daily Worker into the theoretical press. See his review of The Economic Theory of the Leisure Class, (Communist Review, Feb. 1930, 84-8) for which he was criticised by Rathbone and the Politbureau. For a discussion of CPGB reactions to Bukharin’s disgrace, see S. Macintyre, op. cit., 179-80

49. The Theoretician of “Left” sectarianism and Spontaneity, Communist Review, Jan. 193), 11-19. Groves relates the views of Utley and Purkis in The Balham Group, 30-1. For a discussion of Utley’s views and the impact on the party of the late availability in English of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? 1902, see N. Wood, Communism and British Intellectuals, 1959, 167-71 and S. Macintyre, op. cit., passim.

50. Interview with Harry Wicks, 30 Nov. 1979.

51. The Red Flag, Jan. 1937.

52. R. Groves, op. cit., 48, explains that he saw Militant and Labor Action for the first time at Henderson’s bookshop in March 1931.

53. Twentieth Century, (May 1931).

54. J.P. Cannon and M. Spector led about 100 communists out of the CPUSA of Jay Lovestone in late 1928, to which were added some intellectuals influenced by Max Eastman. The catalyst in the political evolution of Cannon and Spector from critics to Oppositionists had been the smuggling out of the Sixth World Congress, which they attended as delegates, of Trotsky’s critique of The Draft Programme of the Comintern. (J.P. Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism, New York 1972, for the early CLA see J.A. Bobbins, The Birth of American Trotskyism, 1927-1929, U.S.A., 1973, C.A. Myers, The Prophet’s Army. Trotskyists in America, 1928-1941, Westport, Conn., 1977, 27-38)

55. R. Groves, op. cit., 46-7.

56. Arne Swabeck was a founder member of the CPUSA who became secretary of the CLA in 1932 and was a delegate to the Paris conference of the ILO, in Paris, February 1933.

57. A. Swabeck, To Our English Comrades, (n.d., 1931?).

58. A. Swabeck, ibid.

59. S. Macintyre, op. cit., 238.

60. In 1934 Groves wrote of the part he and other London militants had played in attacking the pre-1929 party leadership. They did so partly out of revolt against the previous policy with its merging of the Communist Party in the loose Labour Left and partly because the struggle begun by the London membership against bureaucracy in the party was taken up by the Comintern and used by it, as part of its war with the party’s own Right Wing. It must also be remembered that we know nothing of the struggle going on within the CL and nothing of the policy of the Left Opposition. Reg Groves, (Our Attitude to the Labour Party (draft), Warwick MSS, 2.

61. J.A. Robbins, op. cit., 76.

62. R. Groves to the Secretariat, 25 Aug. 1931; Daily Worker to Groves, 27 Aug. 1931; R. Groves to Editorial Board of Daily Worker 26 Aug. 1931, (Warwick MSS). The party secretariat refused to publish his letters, feeling that “the opening of a party discussion at the present moment is in no way desirable”. The assumption underlying Groves’s argument seems to be that economic developments would stimulate militant movements which Councils of Action would harness, a concept the party, perhaps influenced now by What Is To Be Done?, increasingly rejected, (S. Macintyre, The Balham Group, Bulletin of the Conference of Socialist Economists, B.R. 8-10).

63. Members included Reg and Daisy Groves, Cyril Whiting, Maurice Simmonds, Bill Pyne, Isabel Mussi, Steve Dowdall and Neil Dowdall, a number of whom had been in the party for some time, (R. Groves, The Balham Group, 1974, passim).

64. L. Trotsky to Shachtman, Will Help New Publishing House, 4 April 1931, Writings: Supplement (1929-33), 78-9.

65. A. Swabeck to Groves, 29 Sept. 1931, Warwick MSS.

66. Albert Glotzer (1908- ) was a youth leader of the CLA.

67. A. Swabeck to Groves, 26 Oct. 1931, Warwick MSS.

68. H. Wicks, British Trotskyism in the Thirties, International, No.1, 1976. Groves, op. cit., 49, writes that Billy Williams was present. Also in attendance may have been Weston (alias Morris), who had been with Wicks in Moscow and not allowed back into the party on his return to Britain (Interview with H. Wicks, 30 Nov. 1979).

69. Though the Section seems not to have been recognised as such until the New Year, (R. Groves, (op. cit., 49)).

70. “The foundation meeting of the British Group was lamentably unconcerned with politics. It was marked by a vigorous determination to get an L.O. group set up in Britain at all costs, and also by the absence of any attempt to ensure political unity on the basis of an LO platform.” Statement From Members of the 1931-1933 Committee of the British Group of the Left Opposition, 18 April 1933, 1, Warwick MSS.

71. L. Trotsky to Shachtman, To Help in Britain, 9 Nov. 1931, Writings: Supplement (1929-33), 99. Montagu had to be contacted discreetly, Trotsky advised, in view of his job connections with Russia.

72. The closed section of Trotsky’s archive was opened to the public on 1 January 1980. Folders 165-75 of the archive contain documents and correspondence on Britain (I. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, 530). Attempts to elicit any information about their contents before that date failed, though it is likely that they contain further information on Trotsky’s British contacts at this time.

73. S. Macintyre, The Balham Group, Bulletin of the Conference of Socialist Economists, B.R. 8-10. A good example is Groves’s insistence, during the dispute over Workers” Notebook, that the Congress would be incapable of carrying forward the struggle in India against the British, the very view advanced by the Comintern against the Old Guard in 1928.

74. J. Jupp, The Left in Britain, (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of London, 1956), 229.

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