The History of British Trotskyism to 1949

by Martin Upham



Trotskyists were present in the ILP in significant numbers for three years, Those who followed Trotsky’s advice to join the party were the least experienced of his followers in revolutionary activity. There was little prospect of converting the whole party into a following of the International Left Opposition and the Trotskyists were always weaker than the various advocates of joining the CPGB. After two years of working within the ILP, the Trotskyists ceased to advocate critical support for the Labour Party in the belief that the ILP was the only truly anti-war party. This hope was falsified and they left the ILP, as individuals and small groups throughout 1936.

Ten branches supported the Trotskyist line at the January 1934 conference of the London ILP. This represented the influence of thirty members of the secret Bolshevik-Leninist fraction which had been established [1], but not of those CL Minority members who were to join the ILP. [2] A handful of the fraction had some training in the Communist Party behind them, but many had known only the ILP. [3] The task they faced required great sophistication; they brought to it only part of what was in any case one of the weakest and least tested national sections of the International Left Opposition. They had to pioneer a trail. that the French, Belgians and Americans were to follow in the next two years. [4] Nor had they, in Trotsky’s view, started well. He fretted over the delay which occurred early in the year before there was a full entry into the ILP The Minority was holding back because of inhibitions over the continued activity of the Majority under the name Communist League. Trotsky urged it not to delay over practical considerations, but to repudiate the League and justify its split by energetic work in the ILP. [5] It finally took his advice and wrote to Brockway to ask if it could join as a group. When this was refused it announced the “liquidation” of the Communist League and those still outside the ILP joined as individuals. [6]

ILP interest in Trotsky had grown after disaffiliation. No party leader was ever a Trotskyist, despite accusations from the CPGB But the party did publish and review Trotsky [7], and the imprint of his thought is apparent on Brockway and other leaders. For his part, Trotsky used the ILP’s interest in him and the friendly relations he had developed with some leaders to put his analysis before the party membership. Throughout the presence of the Opposition in the ILP his prestige and thought were, arguably, its strongest weapons. [8]

Trotsky attributed the decline of the ILP after disaffiliation, a step he supported, to its decision to face not the masses but the CPGB [9] Being formless itself, representing no distinct idea, the ILP, was certainly in no condition to reform the Comintern. He was particularly savage with ILP oscillations between the internationals. [10] The ILP should stop seeking a formless unity for which there was no political basis. Otherwise it faced extinction.

Within the ILP communist influence was strong and grew up to 1934. The CPGB sought at first a united front with the ILP to be, followed by actual unity. [11] Up to sometime in 1933, the Revolutionary Policy Committee, while favouring a united communist party, still made criticisms of the communists. [12] In the next twelve months this began to change. The leaders of the CPGB, were sensitive to Trotskyist influence in the ILP [13] and to a certain extent had to engage in a rare debate with it in the party press. [14] The most rapid success achieved by the Communists was in the ILP Guild of Youth which declared for the Young Communist International at its Norwich conference in 1934. [15] But it was the party itself which was most promising to the CPGB.

The Revolutionary Policy Committee was to become an outpost for the communists. At first, however, it preserved its independence. RPC leaders hoped initially that the ILP would outstrip the CPGB as the revolutionary party of British Workers [16], and that was the motivation behind the drive to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. [17] In this period, with several of Trotsky’s supporters working within it, the RPC was, if anything, nearer to the Right Opposition of Heinrich Brandler than to the CPGB. [18] After the 1933 Derby conference of the ILP, the RPC began to aim at a united communist party. This objective was not shared by the Trotskyists on the Committee, four of whom resigned. [19] The RPC faltered, and then after Spring 1934 resumed activity steering closely towards the CPGB. It was noticeable that the party’s attitude towards the RPC underwent a change. [20] In December 1933 it was warning of Trotskyist influence in the RPC [21] and it set up the Affiliation Committee with the aim of rallying all those who were steering towards the CPGB. [22] After this hopes in the RPC were renewed and Cullen – plus to a lesser extent Jack Gaster – became a direct communist spokesman. [23]

It is impossible to make sense of Trotskyist behaviour within the ILP without allowing for the effects of communist policy. The ILP as a whole was drawn towards the CPGB because it apparently embodied the Russian Revolution and Marxist authority. Close cooperation in a united front was another matter and revolts in Glasgow, Wales and Lancashire were all traceable to association with the communists. The Trotskyists noted this, and some of them were to strive to appear as a loyal opposition within the ILP. And some ILP leaders, notably Brockway, found Trotsky’s thought a useful proof that King Street did not possess a monopoly of revolutionary wisdom.

The 1934 conference of the ILP at York was a disappointment to the CPGB and an encouragement to the Trotskyists. Trotskyists in the Holborn and Finsbury, South Norwood, Clapham and Islington branches all came together after the London divisional conference at the beginning of the year and formed a Bolshevik-Leninist faction. They called for an organisation which could advance a clear revolutionary line as an alternative to that emanating from the RPC and the NAC. [24]

It was clear that in the present state of the ILP there might be a response to such a stand even from those who did not consider themselves Trotskyists. At York, in the debate on international affiliation, the communist motion was rejected almost four to one and the RPC motion (putting conditions on affiliation to the Comintern) by nearly two to one. The Trotskyist motion called for direct support for the Fourth International and fell 20:137. The encouragement to be derived from this vote lay in comparing it with the thirty four votes cast for direct Comintern affiliation as advanced by CPGB, supporters. Moreover, when conference was invited expressly to condemn affiliation to the Fourth International. It declined to do so by 107:64.

This was an uncomfortable jolt for the CPGB. [25] Among the Trotskyists there was some elation. They had been led to believe that the ILP must come over to the Fourth International or collapse, a prognosis which determined that entering it must prove a short-term venture. Instead the ILP had vacillated on the Fourth International and survived communist encroachment. D.D. Harber concluded that it had been wrong to anticipate the party’s early demise, that a definite field of work remained open for Trotskyists. He counselled setting the target of a majority by the next ILP conference or even forcing an extraordinary conference if support grew sufficiently fast. The communists, he believed, would now withdraw. The Bolshevik-Leninists ought to support the NAC if it took disciplinary measures against communists and after that make the centrist NAC itself the main target of criticism. [26]

Harber deceived himself and others about the possibilities in the ILP. Communist withdrawal was eighteen months off; so was disciplinary action, and when it arrived it was not aimed only at the communists. There was also a tension among the Trotskyists as to the node of organisation they needed to achieve their ambitious end. They were able to use single ILP branches as activity and publishing centres, and would continue to do so. [27] Should they coalesce in a form to which others who were not Trotskyists, but supported particular Bolshevik-Leninist policies might be attracted? The idea seems to have been Harber’s [28], and his also was the belief that within the larger organisation the Bolshevik-Leninist fraction should be retained. In the Autumn of 1934 the larger organisation was established under the name of the Marxist Group in the ILP, and it began to publish a bulletin. But Group members were still protagonists, albeit critical ones, of the ILP, and they continued to sell the eclectic New Leader. [29] By this time Trotskyism was a recognised force in the ILP. It was the protagonist of a policy against war, of a mass united front and for the Fourth International. Like the RPC, whose principal antagonist it was, Trotskyism was strongest in London. Indeed Trotskyist influence in the provincial ILP can be seen only from 1935. In London the paper membership claimed by the Marxist Group, at seventy, was in excess of that of a year earlier, but the active membership was not much grown. [30] It was claimed that no new ILP members were recruited to Trotskyism after the CL Minority joined the party. [31]

The four London branches under Trotskyist control convened a meeting on 3 November to establish the Marxist Group. Sixty ILPers attended and vowed to transform the ILP into a “revolutionary party”. [32] This represented a new departure from the original aim of accumulating basic cadres. Having committed themselves to the ILP however, they had to turn it towards the Labour Party and trade unions: at present the ILP, under the RPC influence, was in their view engaged in “spasmodic anarchist stunts”. The concrete meaning of this lay first in a drive to make the ILP, work systematically in trade unions, and second, in an attempt to commit it to critical electoral support for the Labour Party except where the ILP itself had a greater following. Close attention to the trade unions was advocated by Bert Matlow [33], Sid Kemp [34] and Ernie Patterson [35], all members of the Clapham ILP. Bill Duncan of Islington, proposed that the ILP “support social democracy in order to destroy it” in elections [36], though his view was challenged by Max Nicholls who thought it possible there would be no more elections. [37]

At the Winter 1934 London divisional conference of the ILP the Marxist Group had behind it sixty or seventy followers, though the active number was less. The RPC, however, had ceased to be amorphous and remained strong in the division. It was powerful enough to take disciplinary action against six Marxist Group members. [38] The two currents clashed on the meaning of the united front and on other issues where the RPC reflected communist policy. [39] Matlow also attacked the division’s international resolution as “loose phrases strung together; the stock-in-trade of pseudo-revolutionaries”. [40]

Despite the presence at the forefront of the Marxist Group of Matlow, who was at this time close to international thinking, Trotsky was not impressed with the progress made. A full entry by the British Section in the summer of 1933 would, he thought, have changed the ILP. As it was he tended not to offer tactical advice to the Marxist Group for some time, though he was interested in entrism elsewhere. [41] Within the International Communist League debate on “entrism” began to shift to a discussion on the fate of the Ligue Communist for whom Trotsky was advocating joining the SFIO. Trotsky urged that all sections actively participate in the debate over the French turn, and some of his followers took his advice to the point of splitting with the movement. No British seem to have attended the crucial extended plenum of the ICL, convened on 14-16 October, however; there the leadership of the international movement resolved that new parties could not be built on abstract formulas but in actual circumstances. These included the emergence of parties breaking free of social democracy yet retaining their independence due to the “total loss” of attraction by the Comintern. [42]

From early 1935 the Marxist Group could have steered a course out of the ILP. While it had not greatly grown, the party itself was in decline. [43] Whatever attractions there were in the ILP were now rivalled by developments in the Labour Party whose younger members, like those of the SFIO, were now showing signs of life. The communists while turning the RPC back towards the ILP were already paying attention to developments in the Labour League of Youth, showing again that flexibility of tactics in which they were to outstrip the Trotskyists throughout the decade. [44] Some time early in 1935 Harber and Kirby slipped out of the ILP and began to work in the League of Youth and the Socialist League. [45] But the recruitment which had taken place in the ILP [46], together with the knowledge of Trotsky’s lengthy polemic with party leaders, was a powerful force pulling the Marxist Group back. Some time in the spring of 1935, the inner Bolshevik-Leninist fraction dissolved leaving only the Marxist Group. [47] And the Marxist Group’s existence was premissed on the belief that the ILP could be convinced of a revolutionary line. [48]

The Marxist Group issued a call for the like-minded to contact it in anticipation of the Derby conference of the party [49], due at Easter 1935. This may have been the means by which it broke out of London for the first time.

When the national conference convened, the Marxist Group launched its most forceful attack so far. In several debates it was chief rival to the RPC as a critic of the National Administrative Council. Matlow again it was who flayed the leadership for its vague policy statement on the crisis of capitalism. A full Trotskyist critique was set out in a series of amendments from Clapham, Holborn and Finsbury, and Finchley and Hendon, which he moved. Supported by Robinson and Marzillier (Islington) he clashed with both the NAC and Cullen of the RPC in his view that Russia’s trading policy tended to ease the capitalist crisis. Cullen’s speech was more of an attack on Matlow than a positive presentation of the amendments of the London Division, which the RPC controlled. [50] While neither the RPC nor the Marxist Group met with success in this debate, that did not necessarily imply total isolation. Robertson [51] failed by only one vote to carry an editorial board for the New Leader, a proposition which must have weakened Brockway’s grip.

But the tireless Matlow found no support from beyond the Group when he turned to the Method of the ILP. An even longer list of amendments moved by him included the name of the East Liverpool branch, a first swallow hinting at a summer of influence outside the capital. [52] Matlow took his stand on the need for systematic trade union work, compared with which street recruitment was of no value. Smith for the NAC was able to secure the defeat of all amendments with the argument that Matlow sought to concentrate on industrial activity to the exclusion of all other work.

As in industrial policy, so on electoral policy, the Marxist Group found itself not on the ultra-left but urging the ILP back into the labour movement mainstream. Marzillier argued for critical support for Labour candidates in the forthcoming election and advanced the slogan of a third Labour Government. The ILP, he suggested, would have to go through this struggle with the workers while working for disillusionment with “boss-class democracy”. This was too much for an old timer like Joseph Southall, and Robert Smillie of the Guild of Youth weighed in for the platform with the observation that critical support would mean the ILP sharing responsibility for the failure of the next Labour Government.

In the Danger of War debate, after Jennie Lee had clashed with Jon Kimche over allegations of vagueness in the NAC statement, Robertson and Robinson argued the classic Trotskyist analysis of the USSR. Robertson also challenged the long-standing partiality of the ILP for a general strike against war, which would not, he declared, be possible without cleaving to a new international.

The NAC had made no reference to the Fourth International in its international statement, a point Matlow seized upon. Gaster for the RPC observed that a Fourth International was indeed the logical end even of the NAC’s present connections with the left socialist parties. But the NAC knew where it stood, and C.A. Smith reminded the conference that it was the ILP itself which was the principal stumbling block to the Fourth International within the London Bureau. [53]

The Marxist Group intervention at the 1935 Derby conference of the ILP was a high point of Trotskyist penetration. It had managed to deploy its limited strength to best advantage at the conference by means of frequent speeches from its few delegates and a phalanx of identifiable Trotskyist resolutions on each subject. None of its positions was passed by conference, but it had attained status almost as a balancing force to the RPC This was Brockway’s view [54]: it suited him to contrast the “revolutionary socialist” view with communism and Trotskyism, both of which doctrines were supported only by factions resembling each other in their call for association of the ILP and the Labour Party. [55] The Communist Party also weighed up the Trotskyists against the RPC. While the Trotskyists never secured more than ten votes for their block amendments, they appeared to the communists to be boosted by the leadership of the ILP:

It is quite clear that a large section of the leadership is striving desperately to take the ILP back to reactionary reformism, and to this end are prepared to make an unprincipled – even if unavowed alliance – alliance with any elements – even the Trotskyists (sic) – who will aid them in the calumniation of the Soviet Union, the Communist International and the CPGB, and in breaking off the united front which even in its present limited form has already achieved so much in cementing the workers in their struggles. [56]

But Derby had also been a successful holding operation for the NAC. RPC support never passed forty votes against the backing of two-thirds of conference for the leadership. Cullen failed in his bid to be elected to the NAC. For the Marxist Group things were worse still: its best vote count was ten. The NAC felt strong enough to assert itself in the youth field and it was possible the measures against factionalism in the party might follow. [57] The Marxist Group line was to support measures against the RPC because that body was based outside the ILP. When Aplin, London Divisional Organiser, charged Cullen, Gaster and Hawkins with preparing a split, Joe Pawsey, editor of the Bulletin supported him:

“We must have no weakness, no hesitation to rid the ILP, of anti-working class elements.” [58]

At this point, in mid-summer 1935, the Marxist Group was still the clearest advocate within the ILP of a true united front with the Labour Party and electoral support [59], though the communist line, and therefore that of the RPC was now changing in that direction too. [60] But instead of following the logic of critical support for Labour into transferring its faction to the Labour Party it now adopted a kind of ILP patriotism and prolonged its stay.

This reversal was brought about by the crisis after the Italo-Abyssinian war and its impact on British politics. The corollary of the united front advocated by national communist parties from 1934 was the Comintern policy of League sanctions against fascist Italy to restrain it from a colonial war. This was the line of the CPGB and also, after its 1935 conference, of the Labour Party. But the ILP, and the Socialist League, while firmly against Mussolini’s colonial adventure, were conscious of the threat of war, sought to advance an independent view and advocated therefore a policy of workers’ sanctions against Italy. [61]

The policy of workers” sanctions was strongly urged by Brockway in The New Leader. When he echoed Lenin’s denunciation of the League of Nations as a “thieves kitchen” in which he would have no part, he was advancing a policy with which Trotsky agreed. [62] The view of the Fourth International was, uniquely, being advanced in Britain with authority on the main political question of the day. It was a great opportunity for the Marxist Group, strengthened by the confusion into which the RPC was thrown. [63] Within the Group, the best chance fell to C.L.R. James, now chairman of the Finchley ILP, the most prominent black in the party, indeed in British politics. [64] The party promoted him to the status of leading spokesman [65] and he used his status to advocate setting aside the League of Nations report and fighting not only Mussolini but also “the other robbers and oppressors, French and British Imperialism”. [66] He had a slightly individual approach to the issue, [67] and this together with his savage handling of communist inconsistencies probably increased his appeal to ILP leaders.

The question of workers’ sanctions introduced confusion into the RPC, and switched the Marxist Group into reverse gear. In the RPC Jack Gaster broke ranks and came out for Brockway’s policy on the League of Nations. [68] The Marxist Group had resolved on 20 October to oppose League sanctions and to call on ILP branches to motivate their response to the coming general election by reference to the imminence of war. War would destroy workers” freedom, sanctions led to war, Labour favoured sanctions and so the progressive features of its platform were now defunct: “Critical support cannot be implemented in the forthcoming election.” [69]

Opposition to war, the united front and the Fourth International had been the planks of the Marxist Group platform. One stand of the ILP had sufficed to overturn them. The Marxist Group argued for ILPers to be adopted wherever possible in the coming general election, that only anti-sanctions Labour candidates should get support, and indeed that if the pro-sanctions party kept control of the Labour Party the ILP should oppose all its candidates, demanding a general strike and direct recruitment. Workers’ sanctions had reversed roles in the ILP: the Marxist Group which had advocated ILP-Labour unity against RPC-CPGB sectarianism now found itself a recruiting sergeant for the ILP. And yet, while the conformity of the workers’ sanctions policy to Leninist principles cannot be challenged, the gloss put on it by the Marxist Group was sheer revolutionary posturing. Labour’s ability to issue a call for a general strike against war was in doubt [70]: how much more so was that of the ILP, which had no trade union influence at all?

The Trotskyists were supposed to have a militantly anti-pacifist line. And yet in 1935, and again in 1939, many British Trotskyists found themselves effectively endorsing pacifism by their argument that policy on war was the touchstone of all policy:

“The imminence of war must force us to concentrate our attack on the LP support of a war which will sweep away all democratic liberties The only basis for advocating critical support does not therefore exist.” [71]

For the Marxist Group the task was how to build “our” revolutionary party. A special conference of the ILP must be convened: it must aim to fight for power. This of course was not entrism but one hundred per cent commitment to the ILP Trotsky allowing that The New Leader had carried the best articles in the labour press on the crisis, advised that there was more to a revolutionary party than writing good articles. [72] There were dissenters in Britain too. Robinson charged that the new Marxist Group policy sprang from a misunderstanding of the united front:

“The ILP can adopt more progressive demands than the Labour Party bureaucracy, but this does not dispense with the need for a united front with the Labour Party.” [73]

Policies for workers were fine but Marxist Group and ILP policy cut them off from the workers. These workers did not make a distinction between Labour’s membership and its leaders. Robertson tried to puncture illusions about the ILP, pointing out that the NAC retained pacifist pretensions such as over the refusal of military service, in its letter to ILP branches of October 20. He also put Trotsky’s analysis of the ILP position before the party membership. [74]

But Robertson and Robinson were in a minority. The Group drew close to the NAC for six crucial months during which time Trotskyist forces in the ILP would have been valuable reinforcements for their comrades elsewhere. When five Group members voiced criticisms at an FSU meeting, the London division of the ILP, under RPC leadership, suspended them. Matlow was kept off the divisional speakers’ list. Another member was barred as organiser for a London area though nominated by his federation. When the party NAC intervened and rescinded the suspension, the Marxist Group triumphantly taunted the RPC for disloyalty: “let them join the party whose policy they are trying to carry out – the CPGB”.

This was what now happened: sixty three RPC members withdrew to join the CPGB [75], demoralised by failure. [76] Other RPC members remained within the ILP but seem to have achieved minimal impact. [77] The RPC walk out occurred at a special London divisional conference of October 26-27. There the Marxist Group scored success with the passage of a Holborn motion condemning peace councils and one from Clapham attacking Soviet patriotism. Generally, however, decisions of the conference were not clear cut. The debate on electoral policy split communists and Trotskyists. Gaster joined Aplin, the chairman of the London ILP on the Marxist Group platform; Hilda Lane, who supported the Robinson line, voted with Cullen and the RPC for critical support. [78] The Group backed Aplin’s nomination for the chairman’s post and called on the party to realise that it, and not the CPGB, had the future of the working class in its hands. [79] Outside London, Marxist Group influence in the Liverpool Federation had been strong enough to secure a special conference of the Lancashire division. Yet against protests from Marxist Grouper Reg Collins of East Liverpool, the conference was confined to a discussion on war. But Don James, another Group member, successfully seconded an amendment to a motion by Hicks of Stockport calling for revolutionary propaganda to be carried into the army [80], moved a further amendment urging the need to prepare for going underground, and called for work for the Fourth International. [81] He still failed to carry-the Marxist Group line against a divisional council resolution which urged critical support for Labour. [82]

C.L.R. James used his prominence over Abyssinia to launch himself into domestic issues. He predicted a mass swing to the left, a bourgeoisie that would act against Parliament and turn to fascism. [83] He was patronised by the leadership and Marxist Groupers could be found in a number of provincial areas. [84] Yet the secession of the RPC, far from clearing the way for the Group, merely opened the path for the NAC to put its own house in order. The annual London divisional conference rejected the Marxist Group critique of the London Bureau by three to one and passed by almost two to one an instruction to the NAC to disband all unofficial groups. [85]

From now until the Keighley conference, due at Easter 1936, there was a period of high activity for the Marxist Group. It aimed to sustain the revolutionary line over Abyssinia, which was now under attack from some ILP leaders who had remained pacifists. Abroad the International Secretariat was faced with a Marxist Group still in the ILP more than two years after it had been urged in for a short stay. The Group’s tendency to blur differences with Brockway and some ILP leaders was not shared by Trotsky who, in a series of writings, now again paid close attention to party affairs. [86] Some IS members were not as critical of the ILP as Trotsky, however, and there was some conflict as he now urged the Group to draw its ILP, experiment to an end.

Trotsky’s view was that the ILP still did not represent a clear alternative. It had split from the Labour Party primarily to maintain the independence of its MPs; its critique of Labour’s right wing leadership was hollow. If valid there was a duty incumbent on the ILP to enter the Labour Party and advocate a Marxist alternative. As for ILP electoral policy, Trotsky flatly opposed the line of the Marxist Group. Eight million Labour voters had not, he suggested, seen through Morrison and Clynes as Marxists had and it was therefore better to put them in power where their limitations would be apparent. ILP policy amounted to a partial boycott of Parliament when the party was in no position to overthrow it. Meanwhile it was still flirting with the CPGB, which had all the defects of the Labour Party with none of the advantages.

Trotsky was now urging close attention to the Labour Party, but the situation within the IS was now more complex than it had been in 1933 when ILP entry had first been mooted. The two IS secretaries now were Sneevliet, a Dutch signatory of the Declaration of Four, who was to part with it in revulsion from the French turn and Schmidt, an SAP leader and former London Bureau comrade of Brockway. Schmidt visited England in January to meet the Marxist Group and other Fourth Internationalists and Trotsky watched his dealings with some disquiet. [87] Schmidt advised staying in the ILP for a further period, and for a short time Trotsky did not advocate a break. [88] For some Marxist Groupers, however, there was no point in remaining in the ILP and in February they began to withdraw to join Harber in the League of Youth.

Others redoubled their efforts contrasting the Group with the “disloyal” RPC [89] and a drive on the Yorkshire Party [90] led to that division’s conference rejecting a ban on groups.

Trotsky continued to debate with the ILP ever more sharply. He argued the irrelevance of it considering its relationship with Labour, while it failed to build a revolutionary policy. While this continued, leadership would pass elsewhere, perhaps by means of the Right Wing employing left phraseology. Above all, there was a chance for the Stalinists, the most dangerous “radical phrasemongers” of all:

“The members of the CPGB are now on their bellies before the Labour Party – but this makes it all the easier for them to crawl inside.” [91]

Once within the Labour Party the communists’ revolutionary aura would allow them to pose as the left: only a clear and courageous ILP policy could prevent it. Trotsky delivered a prescient warning about the critical position of the Labour League of Youth; “Do not only build fractions – seek to enter”, he urged. The young were at once more easily confused by, yet suspicious of, attempts to drive them to a new war.” They would listen more easily to the Fourth International if it was there to speak to them. “The British Section will recruit its first cadres from the 30,000 young workers in the Labour League of Youth.” [92]

The ILP as a whole should sever its bogus united front with the communists but preserve the right to internal fractions. The success or failure of these clearly depended on leadership quality. He applauded the purging of communists as a sign that the ILP meant business. Until that was sure, such organisational measures might equally be used against the Marxist Group. But the main question was the international one: if it was honest the ILP would now come out in favour of the Fourth before its London Bureau fell apart.

On the eve of the Keighley conference, Robertson published another article by Trotsky from the Clapham ILP. [93] The interview carried a strong attack on the London Bureau which Brockway countered. [94] Trotsky had concluded that the idea of turning the ILP into a revolutionary party “must now be described as utopian”, and was talking – ambiguously – of “an independent perspective for the revolutionary party”. [95] His arguments for critical support had convinced at least the Marxist Group, which called for it at the Keighley conference, without success. [96] This lead to a series of defeats on the Parliamentary Reports [97] and on the establishment of fractions in the unions and the Labour Party. [98]

The setpiece conference debate occurred over Abyssinia. Brockway had indeed been ploughing a lonely furrow over workers” sanctions, and his line in The New Leader had been reversed by the National Council. [99] C.L.R. James, the party member most identified with this position, moved reference back, arguing that fighting capitalism at home was not some sort of alternative to this international stand. If the working class had taken industrial action to support Abyssinia, it must have led immediately to a conflict with the British bosses. Brockway justified his line with reference to the Derby decisions, and was supported from a far wider constituency than the Marxist Group was able to provide. McGovern summed up along neutralist lines, but was unable to prevent reference back by one vote. It may have been distaste for the Marxist Group which led conference to give to a Lancashire resolution endorsing the original New Leader line a bigger majority of thirteen.

But there was a warning sign when, in the private session, Aplin was able to carry overwhelmingly the banning of groups, against the opposition of Matlow and Goffe. Ominously they received no vocal support from the floor.

And the true significance of ILP policy was about to be revealed. The following day, Maxton and other party leaders resigned their positions because they could not accept the conference decision on workers’ sanctions. Alarmed, Brockway reopened the vote and this time the NAC stance was endorsed by ninety three to thirty nine: This was the critical moment. The chief reason for a continued Marxist Group presence had vanished. At least one participant believed it should have walked out of the ILP there and then. [100] Instead the Marxist Group persisted with the debate on the International but found little reward. Brockway, unrepentant, spurned a united revolutionary international formed from the small groups adhering to Trotsky, which would “from the heights of Oslo, form a new International”. This did not prevent Drew, a Hackney delegate, jeering at the NAC’s Bureau as “Trotskyism without a Trotsky” [101], but pleas by Matlow and James were overridden: conference knew the difference between Drew’s accusation and the real thing.

Trotsky’s reply to Brockway showed him at his most vituperative. [102] An inability to see more in the war than a struggle between two dictators displayed “the moral ompotence of pacifism”. But it was the reversal of the vote which incensed Trotsky most: Maxton, “putting the revolver of an ultimatum at the breast of the conference”, was no less dictatorial than Haile Selassie or Mussolini; and Brockway’s incorrigible centrism was illustrated by the higher value he put on Maxton’s chairmanship than on a principal policy plank. “That”, observed Trotsky, “is the fate of centrism – to consider the incidental seriously and the serious thing incidental.” He concluded that the ILP cause was hopeless and that the thirty nine firm delegates must seek ways of building a truly revolutionary party. [103]

Disagreements over what was the best next step after Keighley shattered the Marxist Group. It split three ways: those who thought that the ILP phase might usefully be prolonged; those who felt an independent organisation might now be launched with success; and those who, after Trotsky, believed the time was now ripe for entering the Labour Party.

Cooper, Pawsey, Ballard and Marzillier advocated the first option. Unity was the issue of the hour. The turn of the CPGB from sectarian opposition to the united front to unity at any price was permitting Citrine and others to use their slogans in order to sell an anti-working class policy. It was but a short step to conceding communist affiliation to the Labour Party, argued Cooper et. al. Trotskyism should oppose CPGB affiliation to the Labour Party on the grounds that it would create a powerful opportunist front [104]: correct propaganda about real unity would expose the communist drift as a betrayal. While the Marxist Group itself might eventually desire affiliation, it could only be on a principled basis and it would arise from present preparations.

Cooper and his colleagues believed mass work to be the task of the hour; their construction of mass work was involvement in the unions, factories and co-ops. Trade Unions ranked first in importance, and from them would be won the most active Fourth Internationalists. Even a short spell in the Labour Party (the only kind they would countenance) was permissible only within this framework. Gains in the Labour Party would be directed to the unions, so that a ready basis would be prepared for the political split from the Labour Party. The one part of the party where the “Bolshevik-Leninists” were obliged to work was the Labour League of Youth. But notwithstanding these ruminations about prospects in the Labour Party, Cooper felt the Group must continue in the ILP with a short term split perspective. A national campaign should aim at splitting off the best elements from the ILP leadership, (Cooper showed prudence in not filling in any names at this point). Failing an intervening crisis, the Group should leave at the next ILP conference. As for the “consolidated” Bolshevik-Leninist forces, if there was a chance of returning to the Labour Party, it would be impossible to ignore the presence there of others claiming to stand for the Fourth International. Cooper and his comrades stood for the amalgamation of all Bolshevik-Leninists at the time of the Marxist Group’s rupture with the ILP provided there was an agreement on a short-term Labour Party perspective and adequate provision for organising mass work. If the Marxist Group chose an immediate walk-out from the ILP, Cooper proposed an organisational break so that those who believed ILP work might still be fruitful could continue. The rest could join the other Bolshevik-Leninists in the Labour Party. Thus was the seed sown in December 1933, beginning to sprout weeds.

There was in fact a laughable disparity between the imposing list of tasks drawn up by Cooper and the size – even the potential – of the Marxist Group. In one document he proposed the drafting of all available forces into the Labour League of Youth, that Marxist Group members be the most active ILPers, the building up of the ILPs skeletal fractions in the unions, and, altogether, “concentrated, ceaseless, wholehearted activity”. It seems unlikely that Marxist Group membership exceeded fifty at the time of the Keighley conference: the Cooper document gives the impression that he had an audience of thousands.

The second group gathered around C.L.R. James, for whom some sort of party position remained open even after Keighley. He was still able to write to The New Leader. [105] He was in touch with publishers and was to be the first British Trotskyist to make a substantial theoretical contribution. But James’s energies had been sparked by the ILP, line on Abyssinia: now, as Trotsky had observed, the serious was trivial. Without an anti-imperialist stance the ILP was a meaningless arena. Yet the Labour Party was more repellent still.

A document of this period [106] has survived, which may have expressed James’s own views. It analysed the Communist and Labour Parties and found the only movements of note among the ILP left and the Labour League of Youth. “Of political groupings the ILP, alone moves towards a correct revolutionary line.” The author conjured up the fantasy of expulsions from the Labour Party, with the victims moving towards the ILP – the reverse of what was actually happening. In the Labour Party, Trotskyists (“theoretically equipped workers”) would be used by the bureaucracy against the communists. Rather than repeat there the experience of being used by Maxton it was better to stay aloof. The author proposed no single party commitment but Fourth International Groups which would bisect partisan boundaries. This grandiose perspective flowed from a gross overstatement of Marxist Group strength. The author believed it was one-third of the active London ILP membership and an important influence in the North-West. He reeled off an impressive list of branches that the ILP could not afford to lose: this in turn meant that the Marxist Group could do anything it liked. Such a struggle could not be waged in the Labour Party, the officialdom of which was much more entrenched. Objections to joining it were: that unlike the French socialist party it was at a low level of political life; that the fight within it would be on organisational and not political grounds; that Group members would become embroiled in routine non-political activity; that Labour Party work easily led to neglect of the unions; that the Group would be too weak to prevent a mass exodus of the best militants from Labour – the cream might pass the group by; that Labour Party entry would be misunderstood by the “leftward masses” as a move to the right or dishonest; finally, that membership could easily lead to opportunism, along which road Groves and Harber were considered to be travelling already.

These were objections in principle to membership of the Labour Party: they would apply at any time. The whole drift of Trotsky’s argument in the thirties was that this sort of ideological baggage was too crushing a burden to be carried by the small groups who followed him. A sense of proportion was entirely absent. Who were these “leftward masses” who would misconstrue a move to the Labour Party by the Marxist Group? Certainly not the ILP, now shrunk to a fifth of its former size. Nor the CPGB whose members were opposed to Trotskyism wherever it surfaced. And the Labour Party “masses” would surely not be repelled because Trotskyists joined their party; it marked a step towards them, not away. Indeed it was the right wing, not the left, who sought to keep revolutionaries out.

A lingering love for the ILP pervaded these lines. Their author proposed a split at the next conference, in the event that the party failed to adopt a minimum programme. Leaving the ILP intact, he argued, would be to permit the continued existence of a dangerous rump. Abandoning a smashed ILP would mean carrying a large body of sympathisers.

The third strand of the rope comprised those who were for entering the Labour Party, and joining Harber who was already there. They had the inestimable advantage of support from Trotsky himself, who ridiculed any “independent” posturing. The Marxist Group was so tiny that its policies were barely noticeable in any case. “A few hundred comrades is not a revolutionary party.” [107] Their job was to oppose reformism within the mass parties. Debating whether or not to support communist affiliation was an irrelevant luxury while one was isolated from the mass party. And the mass party was the Labour Party. Clinging to the ILP was ridiculous. Its best members would leave in any case, and the time spent on them might be passed more profitably with the hundreds of potential Labour Party recruits. [108] “We are” observed Trotsky, “too generous with out time”.

Trotsky advised the group to pick an issue that would have a wide impact and break with the ILP on that. Not the dispute over fraction rights in the party but “a political issue comprehensible to the broad mass of workers”: the committal of it to the Fourth International thesis perhaps, or even ILP affiliation to the Labour Party.

Trotsky impatiently flicked aside any hairsplitting about methods of joining the Labour Party. Whether as a faction or as individuals the important thing was to get in. Once there the Bolshevik-Leninists would establish themselves by their attacks on centrism, not by their critique of the leadership. That, like raising the banner of the Fourth International, could wait until their footing in the Labour Party was more sure.

Of course, re-entry into the Labour Party brought again to the surface relations with others aligning themselves to the Fourth International. Trotsky stood for unity. He urged that every effort be made to merge with Groves and Dewar in order to utilize the Red Flag, now appearing again after an eighteen month silence. Resistance to unity by Groves and Dewar would result in their members joining the Marxist Group, now in the Labour Party. Failure to obtain access to the Red Flag might mean a new Marxist Group paper in the Labour Party, or the launching of a “Lenin Club” independent of all parties which would also have a paper. But again, in the case of the Lenin Club, Trotsky insisted that it must be an organisation for all Bolshevik Leninists.

Harber and CLR James attended a conference of the ICL on July 29-31 1936 at “Geneva” [109] with two observers. [110] Conference discussed Britain and concluded that the existence of three groups was a luxury since no “apparent political divergencies” divided them. [111] Geneva was not neutral on the tactical issue however. It passed a resolution regretting the absence of the Marxist League, and its failure to submit a political statement, and insisted that the Marxist Group once and for all transfer its interests from the ILP to the Labour Party and the League of Youth. The ILP, declared the resolution, was not a good base from which to conduct the trade union work proposed by Cooper, and it set up an impenetrable barrier between the Bolshevik-Leninists and the mass youth movement: “It is necessary to understand not only when it is fruitful for the revolutionary Marxist to enter a reformist or centrist organisation, but also when it is imperative that they leave it and implant their movement and ideas in other milieu”.

A surprising concession was made in the resolution to the Marxist Group which was virtually invited to launch a journal, The Fourth International [112] the reception of which by the ILP would speedily convince them to leave. But a caveat was attached even here in the form of a warning of the dangers of the Group being without a clear perspective for so long.

Back in the ILP a party plebiscite had confirmed the second decision of Keighley on workers’ sanctions. This drew a definite ceiling on the growth potential of the Marxist Group. Within the Group support was growing for pulling out. [113] Passage of the Geneva resolution and the pace of events in Britain led to the first national meeting of British Bolshevik-Leninists being convened for 11 October. [114] The day before, a Marxist Group gathering met to debate further its internal differences. At the Marxist Group meeting, C.L.R. James proposed that all Bolshevik-Leninists should join in one independent central organisation. Since this would still be small, faction work would be undertaken, but loyalty would be to the centre for whose sake recruitment would be made. This centre would issue the independent journal of the Fourth International. [115]

Cooper and his allies claimed an equal commitment to unification. Unlike James they set their tactical proposals in a political perspective. It was a pre-war period and, moreover, one in which the proletariat had regained its confidence internationally. The Bolshevik-Leninists’ task was therefore to wield a mass influence with minimum restraint on speech and action. Militancy was at present expressed largely on the industrial plane; its political reflection was pale, except in the Labour League of Youth, which “offers great opportunities for the Bolshevik-Leninist group to gain the leadership”. The Socialist League was a petit-bourgeois trend in which the Trotskyist position need be stated no more. The CPGB, was prepared “to crawl still further” towards the union bureaucracy to achieve Labour Party affiliation. The ILP appeared revolutionary by comparison with the Labour and Communist Parties, but was disintegrating organisationally and drifting towards political futility: there was a danger that its membership would, by stages, be stampeded into the popular front. Here was the kernel of the Cooper case. He believed the ILP, was a hindrance to the development of Trotskyism, but its decline did not necessarily mean extinction. Simply pulling out might allow the best elements to rally round the leadership leaving a potentially dangerous centrist party like the German USPD, or the POUM in Spain. [116]

“Any split-perspective must be aimed at the decisive smashing of this party. In the process of splitting the best elements must be won against the leadership and for a mass exit.” [117]

For Cooper great freedom of action was still possible in the ILP, whereas Labour Party activities could only be generally left. It was the unions and the Co-ops which offered the chance to pursue political demands. Cooper reiterated his conclusions drawn earlier in the year: work should be centrally coordinated; all available forces should work in the unions; all available forces should also be drafted into the Labour League of Youth, but Labour Party involvement should be of a short term character preliminary to launching an open revolutionary party. As for the Marxist Group in the ILP, all its members must work for “a short term split perspective”. Those who did not feel they could do so should leave and join the other Bolshevik-Leninists in the Labour Party.

The third position was that advanced by Collins, whose interview with Trotsky on tactics in Britain had been circulated during the summer. [118] He had been denied minority representation at the joint conference due to take place the next day, despite the preponderance of the full Marxist Group vote.

Collins’s paper was a precis of Trotsky’s replies to his interview. He only added that the Marxist Group’s theoretic acceptance of the need one day to leave the ILP was avoiding the issue. An umbilical cord tied them to the ILP. Meanwhile European revolutionary developments were preparing a similar pattern in Britain, and the communists were meeting with great success in their unity campaign and penetration of the Labour League of Youth. No justification remained for staying within the ILP, which was not a mass party but a small propaganda machine. There was no longer even the excuse that the ILP line was the most nearly correct of all parties, since Maxton was beginning to slide towards a popular front. The urgent need was for a break with the ILP within a few weeks.

In this discussion on 10 October, it rapidly became clear that James was proposing a complete reshuffling of members between the groups. Essentially he and Cooper rejected Labour Party entry whether for immediate independence or for an extended stay in the ILP; they were united in their opposition to the view expressed by Trotsky and by the International Secretariat, which James had heard at Geneva.

Those broadly on this side of the argument questioned Trotsky’s grasp of the organisational structure of the labour movement in Britain. Had he had greater authority among British Bolshevik-Leninists the discussion might have been constructively resolved. As it was all sorts of discontents surfaced. Liverpool (Don James), Islington (Collins) and Glasgow were not prepared to stay in the ILP any longer. Matlow, now in the Labour Party, was quoted to the effect that the Marxist Group had become integrated in the ILP Don James observed that internal life had ceased within the group: no bulletin had appeared since before Keighley, when the group should have been preparing to split.

Harber, like Matlow, was already in the Labour Party, and attended this preliminary meeting as a fraternal delegate. He claimed that the fecundity of the Labour Party was illustrated by the growth of his LLOY group in London from six to sixty since February 1936. Twelve were old Bolshevik-Leninists, thirteen from the Marble Arch group [119] and the rest new recruits. But those who had stayed in the ILP rested on a majority in the Group. A Don James amendment to C.L.R. James’s resolution, putting the Geneva resolution position was lost eight to thirteen, and C.L.R. was also proof against an amendment to his statement from Cooper calling for a continued commitment to the ILP. This fell ten to thirteen. James’s original resolution was passed eleven to ten, and Cooper’s full statement was also carried in amended form, thirteen to eight. This left the Marxist Group in rejection of Trotsky’s view and the urgings of the International, with James’s resolution as the basis on which it would approach the other two groups the following day.

11 October saw the first broad gathering of the Trotskyists since December 1933. Thirty nine Marxist Group delegates were present and twenty six from the Labour Party group (the “Bolshevik-Leninists”, those largely in the Labour League of Youth). The Marxist League sent three delegates and there were “fraternal delegates and unattached comrades” in attendance as well. The Marxist League’s attitude was that the widest possible diffusion of Bolshevik-Leninists was desirable. This view was no surprise, being essentially a restatement of the Communist League, majority view. The League believed itself free of blame for the division of forces in Britain but also held that some degree of cooperation might now be achieved. To the Marxist League the present discussion oscillated between false parameters. Taking “a purely formal decision” between the reformist Labour Party and the centrist ILP did not raise the Bolshevik-Leninists’ status in the eyes of the advanced workers. Rather than appear like splitters the Marxist Group ought to set out its programme and seek to win the ILP to it. Agitation around the demand for the Fourth International might be a bridge across which local Labour parties could become involved. Abandoning the ILP for the Labour Party because it did not support a Fourth International was asking to become a laughing stock.

The League went further: it believed the time for exclusive work in the Labour Party was coming to an end. Growing collaboration of the Labour Party with the government would drive the workers leftward [120], possibly in the direction of a new revolutionary party comprising the left, the League of Youth, and the ILP. To achieve this there was required simultaneous pressure from within the Labour Party and the ILP. A concerted drive by the Bolshevik-Leninists would bring the creation of the new revolutionary section nearer.

The Marxist Group was governed by its decisions of the previous day. It would work towards unity along the lines proposed in some detail by C.L.R. James, but it would simultaneously intensify its ILP activities in order to speed up perspectives.

After the Marxist Group, the Bolshevik-Leninists in the Labour Party represented the most sizeable force. Essentially they were a fusion of Roma Dewar, and her associates who had published the Youth Militant [121], and those members of the Marxist Group who had already joined the Labour Party. They reported sixty members in London, forty of whom were in the Labour League of Youth, plus small groups in Norwich and Sheffield. [122] Sales of Youth Militant had more than trebled from their March total of 250. The Bolshevik-Leninists clearly believed their own rapid growth in 1936 stemmed from the opportunities offered by the Labour Party. Part of the strength of this group was that it stood on the Geneva resolution. It was able to complain that its attempts to fuse with Groves had been unavailing; a joint EC with the Marxist Group had functioned however and guided common activities such as trade union work and agitation over the Moscow Trials. [123] The Bolshevik-Leninists now went further, and offered to co-operate on the basis of the James resolution from the Marxist Group.

The three groups, as represented at the meeting agreed to appoint two representatives each to form a central coordinating committee. The CCC would oversee each faction’s journal and keep them as supplements rather than competitors; it would produce a regular bulletin; it would draw up joint plans and theses to be presented to separate aggregates and a delegate conference.

While the national meeting went on to discuss Spain and the Trials, unity was felt by all concerned to be the main achievement. They were cruelly deceived. After the meeting the Bolshevik-Leninists in the Labour Party reflected belatedly on why the Marxist Group had passed the Cooper paper with its ILP perspective. They decided to reject organisational fusion until there was some definite agreement on tactics; they also condemned the Marxist League for still being unprepared to enter an immediate fusion. The Bolshevik-Leninists declared themselves ready for fusion with any Fourth International Group which could reach agreement on tactics on the basis of the Geneva resolution. Since it was precisely the Geneva resolution which divided the groups, this was disingenuous.

While the Bolshevik-Leninists pulled away from the Marxist Group, the Group itself changed. On 15 November C.L.R. James, with the support of Ballard (who earlier had backed Cooper) convinced the Group to break free of the ILP. [124] There should be, it resolved, an independent organisation of the Fourth International in Britain. Factions might be permissible, but they would be subordinate to the main task of establishing a separate identity. There was to be an immediate split from the ILP with the aim of launching the Fourth International. [125] On 21 November the Group informed the Bureau for the Fourth International of its decision, and set about: preparing the next issue of Fight! as an independent paper.

The Marxist Group’s rapid shift did not please the Bureau. At a 13 December meeting it declared the decision for “independence” invalid: it rested solely on a sixteen to six decision of the London group to reverse a vote taken only four weeks earlier; there was no fundamental discussion involving all members; no balance sheet had been drawn up. The decision of James and his comrades to opt for leaving the ILP tacitly confirmed the Geneva resolution. The Bureau still found it reprehensible since no honest accounting of the ILP experience had been made, and particularly since James’s continued presence in the party had contributed to the decay within the group which was now advanced as a reason for leaving. Departing in this way started the independent group on false premises: “instead of repairing the damage you will greatly increase it”.

James’s predicted numerical reinforcement had not materialised. Cooper’s anticipated mass withdrawal had not occurred. The Marxist Group had, in six months, recruited no-one and lost half its members. No member of the ILP was likely to follow such a group into isolation; some might well opt for the nascent Labour left however. [126]

And there was a further ground for criticism. The impromptu split from the ILP would not only have negative impact, but it would also obstruct the fusion of all groups deemed a necessity by the Geneva-conference. James rejected fusion. The Bolshevik Leninists were growing rapidly with a principal aim “to inoculate British youth against the Stalinist plague”, that is, to prevent a repetition of the events in Spain or Belgium. Fusion would strengthen the serum; but fusion was now impossible.

Meanwhile important developments were unfolding within the Labour Party, where a left analogous to that of the French and Belgian Socialist Parties was crystallizing:

“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.” [127]

The Bureau impatiently swept away James’s pretensions. The split of this left wing away from Labour would not lead to it falling in behind the tiny Marxist Group: “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.” [128]

The Marxist Group offer to help the Bolshevik-Leninists in the Labour Party was in reality no help, declared the Bureau. The Labour Party Fourth Internationalists were “severe opponents of this over-hasty independence” which could only harm them by contagion. And in any case practical experience argued against the feasibility of such joint operations.

The Marxist Group was, concluded the Bureau, most likely to cultivate sectarian and opportunist tendencies within itself which would fasten on personal clique politics. It was already “full of personal bitterness”, unlike the Fourth Internationalists in the Labour League of Youth. In practical terms therefore the Bureau called for a new decision by the Marxist Group recognising the opinions of these who had voted with their feet by joining the Labour Party. There should be a constituent conference of all of those who recognised the authority of the Geneva conference to create a single homogenous organisation. The majority view of the English Bolshevik-Leninists must prevail: anything less than a majority would not automatically enjoy relations with the Secretariat.

Before the view of the Bureau reached Britain, the Marxist Group had taken irrevocable steps. The second issue of Fight! was not the product of cooperation with the other factions but a plain appeal for an independent presence. On 16 December the first open meeting of the Group declared itself as an independent party for the Fourth International.

Some years later Trotsky reflected on the Marxist Group experience:

It seems to me that our comrades who entered the ILP had the same experience with the ILP, that our American comrades made with the Socialist Party. But not all our comrades entered the ILP, and they developed an opportunistic policy so far as I could observe and that is why their experience in the ILP, was not so good. The ILP remained almost as it was before, while the Socialist Party is now empty. [129]

And yet the American Trotskyists came out of the Socialist Party much strengthened and ready to form the SWP. The Marxist Group made progress for nearly two years and no serious accusations of opportunism could be levelled before autumn 1935. Nor was the ILP largely unchanged: by 1936 it was a shrunken shell and replaced as an alternative to Labour by the Communist Party. [130] But the Marxist Group failed in the objective of winning the whole ILP and even in the lesser one of splitting a large portion away. Nor can the limited success of the CPGB be attributed to Trotskyist intervention. The best that can be claimed is that Trotskyism did not become extinct, that the existence of an alternative Marxist critique was maintained which the communists sometimes had to challenge. But the chaos in the Marxist Group during 1936 demonstrated again the preoccupation of Trotskyists with internal and secondary tactical disputes while great events were taking place.



1. A.B. Doncaster et al. to the International Secretariat, ICL, [April? 1939], HP, yJH 5/2.

2. See below. H.N. Brailsford thought a hundred Trotskyists had joined the party (A. Weisbord to Sara, 22 Oct. 1934, Warwick MSS 15/3/1/60). This is a not uncommon overestimate of the membership of a revolutionary group anal may also reflect the extent to which ILPers and Trotskyists shared ideas.

3. This seems to be true of Max Nicholls (who later moved to Glasgow), Bert Matlow, Arthur Cooper, Tony Doncaster, John Archer (known in internal documents of the Trotskyist movement as “Barclay” or P.J.B.) and Hilda Lane. Lane had in June 1932, as Chairman of the ILP Women’s Committee, led the walk-out from the Labour Women’s Conference. Harber and Graham had briefly been in the CPGB. Allen, and C.L.R. James (q.v.), whom they were soon to meet, were foreign.

4. “Boring from within” a Social Democratic party became known in Trotskyist circles as entrism. Before that following a prolonged debate in the middle of which the French Trotskyists entered the SFIO, it became known as the “French turn”. The arguments deployed by Trotsky in favour of the French turn in 1934 were all anticipated in his writings proposing entry by the Communist League into the ILP. It is singular that the official historian of the Fourth International should ignore the British experience and speak of the French turn being “subsequently extended” to other countries. (P. Frank, The Fourth International, 1979, 52-4.)

5. The Minority had written to the IS, on 5 January and to Trotsky on 7 January. Trotsky’s reply of 23 January indicated that the Minority had complained of the continued links between the Majority and the International, had criticised an IS draft of a declaration disclaiming the League, had dismissed the Majority as incorrigible and asserted the existence of differences in Britain other than those on the merits of joining the ILP. Trotsky advised,

“At this moment you should forget the existence of the majority of the section, enter the ILP and develop energetic activity. Then all the difficulties will be solved by themselves.” (Differences With The British Minority, Writings: Supplement (1934-40), 442-3.)

6. The New Leader, 23 March 1934. Brockway reported that former CL members would be allowed in as members if they respected party policy and the ILP constitution. As for the Fourth International, this would be discussed at the forthcoming conference, (The New Leader, 23 March 1934). The CL Majority wrote to Brockway that it still existed but no confirmation of this was printed, (Interview with R. Groves, 23 April 2980). The statement misled Dowse (op. cit., 192).

7. It was the ILP which published his Copenhagen lecture on the Russian Revolution, albeit with an introduction by Maxton, which Trotsky challenged, (Trotsky on Maxton, The New Leader, 25 Aug. 1933). See also the interview with him, Can Comintern be reformed?) (The New Leader, 13 Oct. 1933). Joseph Kruk, in his review of The History of the Russian Revolution for the ILP praised the book’s “studied Marxist objectiveness” and lamented Trotsky’s exile as “the greatest of revolutionary tragedies” (The New Leader, 8 July 1932, 20 Jan. 1933).

8. On his return to the editorial chair, Brockway expressed the hope that all shades of opinion might flourish in the Independent Labour Party, welcomed the discussion on Trotskyism and thought it would be a disaster only if a split resulted (The New Leader, 29 Dec. 1933) .

9. Cardinal Questions facing the ILP, 5 Jan. 1934, Writings (1933-34), 186-90.

10. Having broken with the Labour Party, and therefore with the Labour and Socialist International (LSI), the ILP grouped around itself other ex-social democratic parties in the International Labour Community (IAG), later to be known as the International Revolutionary Bureau of Socialist Unity (IRBSU) or London Bureau. This was a repetition, on a lower plane, of developments in the early 1920s, and the Trotskyists, borrowing Lenin’s scornful appellation of the time, referred to the London Bureau as the “two and a half” international. Trotsky pointed out that through the IAG, the ILP was aligned with the Norwegian Labour Party (moving towards the Second International) and with the SAP (of Germany) and the OSP (of Holland) which were moving towards the Fourth International, while in Britain it was holding discussions with the CPGB, i.e. the Third International.

11.CPGB influence in the ILP had a lengthy provenance. In the late 1920s the Young Communist League had hoped to poach Guild of Youth members and precipitate that organisation’s collapse (W. Rust, The Derby Conference of the ILP Guild of Youth, Inprecorr, Vol.8, No.31, 7 June 1928, 579). Five years later Pollitt prodded the YCL along the path which would give its sympathisers a Guild majority the following year (The Tasks of the Congress of the YCL of Great Britain, Inprecorr, Vol.13, No.26, 14 June 1933, 584). The CPGB, was uneasy at the RPC slogan of a “United Communist Party” though it sought unity in action. Its treatment of the ILP was generally combined with attacks on those who opposed this course, whom it portrayed as an amalgam of Right-Wingers and Trotskyists. (J.R. Campbell, New Opportunist Arguments Against the Communist International, Inprecorr, Vol.13, No.33, 28 July 1933, 730-1). An extreme of CPGB worry and distaste for the ILP is shown in Gerhard, The Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain, (Communist International, 15 March 1932, 155-64).

12. The RPC up to 1933 published a paper entitled Revolt, no copies of which have been located. But its relations with the CPGB as late as the York Conference of the ILP may be gauged from the fierce criticism it suffered at that time from Pat Devine, (Annual Conference of the ILP, Inprecorr, Vol.14, No.24, 20 April 1934, 614-5).

13. Pollitt told the Thirteenth Plenum of the ECCI of “the Trotskyist Group of petty-bourgeois and student elements without any mass influence or connections”, he had watched at the Derby ILP, conference of 1933 (On the United Front in Great Britain, Inprecorr, Vol.14, No.5, 30 Jan. 1934, 129-39). Pollitt’s fears led him to exaggerate by putting the Trotskyists on a par with the NAC and Elijah Sandham’s supporters. Gallacher showed that criticisms of communist hostility to a united front were beginning to hurt when he warned that the inevitabilism of some of his comrades was giving openings to “Trotskyists and other counter-revolutionaries”, (On the United Front in Great Britain, Inprecorr. Vol.14, No.18, 19 March 1934, 463) See also Inprecorr, Vol.14, No.25, 23 April 1934, 646).

14. Notably in Controversy, the internal discussion journal launched in 1933 under the editorship of C.A. Smith. Controversy began publication with a Trotsky article raising CPGB suspicions that it was intended to obstruct closer relations between the parties.

15. On the National Committee there were many opposed to a close association with the CPGB, but no Trotskyists. Guilders had met young Trotskyists however at a gathering of youth sections of parties which had attended the August 1933 Paris conference, convened in Laren on 24 Feb. 1934. (For the Laren conference, reconvened in Brussels on 28 Feb., see Writings: Supplement (1934-40), 893-5.)

Following the Norwich vote, Guild representatives travelled to Paris with John McGovern MP to meet the delegates of the Young Communist International. They were urged to abstain from a “new splitting international” organised by the Trotskyists, indeed, this was a condition for joining the YCL. The watchful McGovern refused to believe that Trotsky was a counter-revolutionary, (Young Workers Advance 1934, the agreed verbatim report of the Paris negotiations of May 5/6 1934. The ILP finally intervened to prevent the passage of the Guild into a YCL merger.

16. Associated with the RPC at this time was Dr C.A. Smith, who had met Trotsky, a pacifist who had fought Dulwich and the New Forest, the second as one of the last ILP candidates approved by the Labour Party. Smith’s path was to cross with that of Trotskyism many times during the 1930s. Leaders of the RPC were C.K. Cullen, (q.v.) and Jack Gaster, a Jewish solicitor and son of a famous rabbi. Brockway worked closely with the Committee for a time. ILP leaders knew of the RPC machine before disaffiliation but were inhibited from acting against it by Maxton’s “supreme tolerance”, (J. Paton, Left Turn, 1936, 392; see also R. Dowse, op. cit., 180, though he makes no international parallels and tends to treat the RPC as monolithic).

17. Dr. C.K. Cullen, an East London doctor and former NUWM activist, elected unopposed as first chairman of the RPC in March 1932, wrote of the reference back of an insufficiently revolutionary NAC motion at the 1932 annual conference:

“This was carried by a good majority. No mention of the reason for the reference back was made in the Daily Worker. Why, I wonder? (Or perhaps I don’t.)

Can it be that the Daily Worker really does fear that the ILP is becoming revolutionary after all? An innocent would think than a revolutionary party would welcome the accession of another big group to the revolutionary movement even if it hadn’t reached the 100 per cent purist revolutionary outlook on tactics.” (Daily Worker, 11 April 1932)

18. Supporters of Brandler had speedily taken over the SAP, a small German party evolving like the ILP away from Social Democracy. In the United States, Jay Lovestone, ousted from the leadership of the CPUSA with similar policies to Brandler and Bukharin, represented for a time, a parallel trend. For the American Revolutionary Policy Committee, see D. Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States, Princeton 1967, 164-5, 172, 178.

19.H, Edwards and J. Pawsey, The Organic Development of the Marxist Group, Marxist Group Bulletin, 4, April 1935, 3. Edwards, Pawsey and Matlow were three of those who resigned, to be drawn increasingly towards Trotsky’s analysis of the failure of communism in Germany. This ILP loyalty was to be an important factor for the future of Trotskyism.

20.In March 1933 Labour Monthly had warned “the rank and file of the ILP must look past Maxton and Gaster if they-wish to find the true path” (quoted in R. Dowse, op. cit., 187). The 1935 Derby conference saw the CPGB writing of the RPC in friendly fashion, (R. Bishop, The ILP Conference, Inprecorr, Vol.15, No.18, 27 April 1935, 479-80).

21.See remarks of W. Rust in On the United Front in Great Britain, Inprecorr, Vol.14, No.15, 5 March 1934, 381-2. To this period belong the nominations by Gaster of Brockway to replace Paton as national secretary of the ILP, and the phase when the RPC “innocently imagined that if it could take over the ILP it would supersede the CPGB as the British Section of the Comintern”,(R. Dowse, op. cit., 253; B. Pimlott, Labour and the Left in the 1930s, Cambridge 1977, 79).

22. The ILP Affiliation Committee arose from communist dissatisfaction at RPC inability to answer attacks by ILP party leaders. For its manifesto see the Daily Worker, 16 Dec. 1933, and for its policy see E. Whalley, Towards the ILP Easter Conference – Trends in the ILP, Labour Monthly, March 1934, 90-6. The CPGB seems to have hoped that the Derby 1933 conference vote, against an NAC recommendation, for ILP–communist cooperation would speedily be followed by unity, but this was not an immediate perspective of the RPC (H. Pollitt, loc. cit., 135).

23.The Marxist League and the RPC were not the only formations which attempted to rival the CPGB from the left while eschewing Trotskyism. Richard Rees and J. Middleton Murry turned the literary journal The New Adelphi into an ethical Marxist magazine. From 1931-2 a debate on communism was held in its pages. Murry resigned the editorial chair, joined the ILP, campaigned for disaffiliation and debated from the left with the CPGB. Among those who assisted him was F.A. Ridley, (Marxism, History and a Fourth International, The New Adelphi, May 1932, 494-502), who may have seen it as a replacement for The New Man. The Daily Worker refused articles from Murry. In 1934 Murry left the ILP with Elijah Sandham to form the Independent Socialist Party and the political bent of The New Adelphi declined from this date. (See: The New Adelphi, passim; R. Dowse, Left in the Centre, 1966, 188-9; B. Pimlott, Labour and the Left in the 1930s, Cambridge 1977, 221-2).

24. H. Edwards and J. Pawsey, loc. cit., 3.

25. Communists had noted little support for Trotskyism in the ILP during the winter of 1933-34, (J. Shields, The Issue before the ILP Conference, Inprecorr, Vol.14, no.19, 23 March 1934, 487-9). After York the party concluded that ILP oscillation between the two and a half and four internationals had allowed some branches to go over openly to Trotskyism. The ILP was “becoming a breeding ground for open counter-revolutionaries”, (P. Devine, Annual Conference of the ILP, Inprecorr, Vol.14, No.24, 20 April 1934, 615).

26. D.D. Harber, The present position in the ILP and how we should react to it 1934 (Warwick MSS).

27. Action ILP, Leon Trotsky on Centrism, 1934; E. Robertson (q.v.) Holborn and Finsbury ILP, Conversations with Trotsky, Nov. 1935; Islington ILP, L. Trotsky on the ILP Leadership 1936. Leaflets were also produced by Trotskyist-controlled branches from time to time.

28. ibid., 3.

29.When the Islington ILP, published the ICL declaration France is now the key to the situation (Writings: 1933-34, 238-44) as France’s Turn Next: For The Fourth International, it added that a new revolutionary party was not necessary since the ILP, on a Marxist basis, could play that role.

30. A.B. Doncaster et. al. to the International Secretariat, ICL (April? 1935), HP, DJH 5/2. The comparison is between the positions at the time of the 1934 and 1935 winter conferences of the London divisional ILP.

31. ibid.

32. J. Graham, The Meeting of November 3rd, Bulletin of the Marxist Group, 1, 15 Nov. 1934, n.p.

33. Towards A Correct Revolutionary Party, ibid.

34. Kemp, one of the original Clapham ILP, contacts of the Balham Group called for the abandonment of the party policy of unofficial committees and for the unions instead to organise the unemployed and enforce compulsory membership (Our Work in the Trade Unions, Bulletin of the Marxist Group, 2, 1 Dec. 1934, 4).

35. Patterson, a NUDAW member who was to stay with the ILP until the end of the decade had, at the York conference, criticised the London division stand on trade unions and its failure to involve itself in recruitment drives. See also his article Our Leaders, Marxist Group Bulletin, 4, April 1935, 3.

36. Towards a Correct Electoral Policy, Bulletin of the Marxist Group, 2, 1 Dec 1934, 2.

37. Prepare The Fight Against Fascism, ibid., 6-7.

38. J.L. Robinson, Gasterism Mis-States A Policy, Bulletin of the Marxist Group, 3, Jan. 1935, 4.5. John Robinson was a member of the Finchley and Hendon ILP and the author of the most able contributions to the Bulletin.

39. The party itself discerned RPC, Trotskyists and “others” as the recognisable political forces at the conference, The New Leader, 22 Feb. 1935. The RPC had begun a new drive within the party, on Pollitt’s advice, to win it for the Communist International, (J. Mahon, Harry Pollitt, 1976, 203). This left it vulnerable to enquiries as to why, if it considered the ILP so imperfect and the CPGB so sound it stayed with the one and not the other, (J.L. Robinson, ibid.). As for the “others” in London, if they voted together they outnumbered either faction and a Hampstead resolution outlawing unofficial groups from holding office fell at the divisional conference by only four votes, (The New Leader, 22 Feb. 1935).

40. The New Leader, 22 Feb. 1935.

41. Entry, he told the French, was not a principle but an opportunity. Only ICL ideas could resist in the SFIO a disintegration which had occurred in the ILP (The Stalinist And Organic Unity, 19 July 1934, Writings: Supplement (1934-40), 505.)

42. The Present Situation in the Labour Movement and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Leninists, Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, 61-2.

43. One of the interesting features of the first half of the decade is the inverse relationship between the ILP membership and that of the CPGB. In 1931, its last complete year in the Labour Party, the ILP claimed 21,000 members; in 1932, the year of disaffiliation, 16,773. By 1935, this figure had shrunk by almost three quarters helped by sectarianism towards the trade unions, Labour Party and Coops, association with the communists and the act of disaffiliation itself. The CPGB on the other hand claimed 2,724 members in June 1931 and 7,700 in July 1935. Both sets of figures are unreliable, but the trend is clear, (R. Dowse, op. cit., 193; H. Pelling, op. cit., 192).

44. Olive Bell had noted in the summer of 1934 that the Labour Party, like the ILP, was beginning to encounter demands from its youth for organisational independence, (The Leftward Development of the British Youth Movement, Inprecorr, Vol.14, No.33, 8 June 1934, 890-I). That winter T. Harvey praised the “big breakthrough” by the League into united front activity, (Inprecorr, Vol.14, No.59, 24 Nov. 1934, 1590-1).

45. Two young South African Group members, Sid Frost and Ted Grant, seem to have raised the possibility of Labour League of Youth work in Spring 1935, but stayed in the ILP. Harber and Kirby withdrew early in the year, however, though they continued in connection with their erstwhile comrades of the Marxist Group, (AB Doncaster et al., to the International Secretariat, [CL, April? 1935], H.P., D.J.H. 5/2).

46. The most illustrious of those recruited to the Marxist Group was Cyril Lionel Robert James (1901- ), a Trinidadian writer and cricketer who came to England in 1932 as a constitutional radical. That year, while living at Nelson and playing cricket in the Lancashire League, he published chapters of his The Life of Captain Cipriani as a pamphlet under the title The Case for West-Indian Self Government (1932). Neville Cardus offered him a post as a cricket correspondent for The Manchester Guardian, which he kept for some years. For James’s political evolution see Ivor Oxaal, Black Intellectuals Come to Power, 1966, 66-7 passim and James’s own collection of essays, The Future in the Present (1979). See also Brockway’s portrait of James in Inside the Left, 1942, 326.

47. Attempts were made to revive it from time to time, (A.B. Doncaster et. al., ibid.).

48. A declaration of belief in this thesis was part of the membership form, though the Standing Orders (HP, DJH 5/5, n.d.) required copies of minutes and discussion papers to be sent to the International Secretariat.

49. Bulletin of the Marxist Group, Jan. 1935.

50. The New Leader, 26 April 1935.

51. “Robertson” (Earle Birney, 1904- ) was a Canadian journalist and member of the Canadian Workers Party living in England.

52. In the debate on the International Statement of the NAC, support for the Fourth International came from Kingston, another new area.

53. The New Leader, 26 April 1935.

54. Reflections after the ILP Annual Conference, The New Leader, 3 May. 1935.

55. Brockway at this time easily slipped into that third periodism the RPC, like the CPGB, had abandoned. The third Labour Government might come about, he conceded, but the ILP need not help it:

“One might as well say that because Oswald Mosley realises that the failure of a Third Labour Government will give him his chance, that the British Union of Fascists should support the Labour Party at the next election!” (ibid.)

56. R. Bishop, The ILP Conference, Inprecorr, Vol.15, No.18, 27 April 1935, 479. Bishop complained that the RPC seemed abstract theorists because they were, like the Marxist Group, based in London. This may have been an attempt to explain why Cullen had failed to gain an NAC place in elections at the conference.

57. Maximum membership age of the Guild of Youth was cut to twenty one and the Guild subjected to conference decisions. The IBRSU ended cooperation with the Trotskyists following a sharp polemic against it by Trotsky himself (Revolutionary Youth. A Break with the Trotskyists, The New Leader, 30 Aug.1935).

58. Notes of the Month, The Bulletin of the Marxist Group, 5, June 1935, 1-2.

59. F. Marzillier, The United Front Tactic of the ILP On The Electoral Field, ibid. Marzillier argued that the ILP and the CPGB had a futile approach to elections, the former by its absentionism, the latter by stressing only the reactionary side of the Labour Programme.

60. At the Seventh Congress, Dimitrov guided the Comintern to the united front, recognising that experience – notably in France – was pushing it that way. Pollitt did not criticise the change but warned that support for Labour in Britain would be different from that extended to its first two governments (Communist International, 20 Sept. 1935, 899). Changes in the Comintern policy had been brewing for two years, certainly since the spontaneous coalescence of French Socialists and communists against an attempted fascist coup in February 1934. For united front policy see F. Claudin, From Comintern to Cominform (1975), who goes so far as to suggest on pp.124-5 that the Comintern was not dissolved at the time of the Seventh Congress because it was feared the Fourth International might benefit thereby.

61. For Socialist League policy see The Socialist, 1936 passim, and chapter five, below.

62. Trotsky had some reservations, for which see The ILP and the Fourth International: In the middle of the road, Writings: 1935-36, 69. He also later called Brockway’s policy a lucky hit.

63. For Brockway’s policy see The New Leader, passim and Inside the Left, 326. The split in the RPC is described below.

64. James was at this time writing for The Keys, journal of the League for Coloured Peoples, and his prestige among blacks in Britain carried him in 1936 to the editorial chair of International African Opinion, journal of the International African Service Bureau, which George Padmore had founded.

65. With Maxton and Brockway he addressed an audience of 1,200 at the Memorial Hall in early October and from then on was a popular speaker.

66. Is This Worth a War?, The New Leader, 4 Oct. 1935; The Game at Geneva, ibid., 18 Oct. 1935.

67. James thought Litvinov, the Soviet foreign minister, had to observe League policy, (The Workers and Sanctions. Why the ILP and the communists take an opposite view, The New Leader, 25 Oct. 1935). Litvinov’s behaviour was contrasted by James to that of the CPGB which, he claimed, would have supported workers” sanctions a year earlier. The ILP, he asserted implausibly, would remain true to the principles of Lenin.

68. B. Matlow, A Criticism of the London Division’s Statement on the Abyssinian Situation, Marxist Bulletin, Oct. 1935, 4.

69. B. Matlow, ibid.

70. The revulsion of Ernest Bevin and other trade union leaders at the call for industrial action against war by the largely middle-class leadership of the Socialist League was one facet of the reversal of Labour’s policy at its 1935 annual conference, (see R. Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism, 1961, 224-6).

71. Elections and the Coming War, loc. cit., 6.

72. The ILP and the Fourth International. In the Middle of the Road, 18 Sept. 1935, Writings: 1935-36, 64-9.

73. The Marxist Group’s Third Period, loc. cit., n.p.

74. Writings: 1935-36, 69. Robertson visited Trotsky with Ken Johnson, another Canadian, in Norway in November 1935. On his return he published conversations with Trotsky and Once Again the ILP: An interview with Leon Trotsky, Nov. 1935, from his party branch in Holborn and Finsbury. The second interview is also reprinted in Writings: 1935-36, 69-73.

75. D. McHenry, The Labour Party in Transition, 1931-1938, 1938, quoted in S. Hornby, Left Wing Pressure Groups in the British Labour Movement, 1930-1940 (University of Liverpool M.A. Thesis, 1966, 70). Gaster and Cullen went on to some prominence in the CPGB, Gaster as a member of the London district committee and LCC member for Stepney in 1946. Eric Whalley, of the Affiliation Committee, was killed in Spain 1937.

76. C.K. Cullen, The Revolutionary Policy Committee and the ILP, Inprecorr,Vol.15, no. 59, 9 Nov. 1935, 145, 147-8, and Why We Broke With the ILP, Labour Monthly, (Nov. 1935), 741-6. Cullen blamed the ILP for standing candidates against Labour, but did not recall the identical policy of the CPGB in 1931.

77. Twenty three RPCers remaining in the ILP conferred after the withdrawal of the main body and decided to battle on against Trotskyism and the “semi-Trotskyism” of the NAC (Communist Unity, Dec. 1935, 10). Like Cullen this jump also identified RPC failure with the neglect of organisational for political duties.

78. Marxist Bulletin, 25 Nov. 1935, 2.

79. M. Nicholls, The Dis-United Front, ibid.

80. The amendment was a specific rejection of pacifist refusal to serve. Under a party directive all conscriptable members would join the army.

81. But the Marxist Group did not feel able to sign the Open Letter for the Fourth International, an updated version of the Declaration of Four, issued in July 1935. Trotsky proposed that they should instead state their policy in a letter to ILP leaders, (The Open Letter and the ILP, Autumn 1935, Writings: Supplement (1934-40), 616). For the text of the Open Letter, which argued inter alia that a Labour victory in the general election would precipitate civil war and the consolidation of reaction, see Writings (1935-36), 16-20.

82. Electoral Policy, loc. cit., n.p.

83. “Honest” Stanley in a fix, The New Leader, 27 Dec. 1935; Baldwin’s Next Move, The New Leader, 3 Jan. 1936. Brockway thought James’s view “interesting”, but gave full publicity to a speaker’s tour he made of South Wales mining areas.

84. John and Mary Archer had been in Liverpool, and later in Leeds and Durham respectively; John Goffe (1917- ), an ex public school boy who had been introduced to the Bloomsbury ILP and Marxist Group by Tony Doncaster, now was in Sheffield as a steel industry trainee manager. From this base he visited Guild of Youth and party branches in Yorkshire. Earl Robertson, like James, had spent time in South Wales, and Nicholls and Robinson were in Glasgow.

85. The New Leader, 7 Feb. 1936.

86. The ILP and the Fourth International, 18 Sept. 1935, Writings; (1935-36), 64-9; Once Again the ILP, Nov. 1935, loc. cit., 69-73; on the eve of the conference he returned to the subject with Open Letter to an English Comrade, 3 April 1936, Writings:(1935-36), 73-5.

87. “I would like to underline the fact that Schmidt is tied by a long friendship to the head of the ILP, and that he has perhaps a certain uneasiness, not to say mistrust, towards our friends as “sectarians””, (Schmidt’s Trip to England, 19 Jan. 1936, Writings: Supplement (1934-40), 639)

88. Trotsky had originally drawn up a plan with Robertson and another to issue a manifesto of the Group for signatures prior to a split, (The Dutch Section and the International, Writings: 1935-36, 41).

89. “P.J.B.” (untitled manuscript), 10 (15?) Sept. 1935, H.P.

90. “The RPC disrupted the party not because they were an organised group, but because they were under orders from the CPGB. A Marxist Grouper is first and foremost a loyal and hardworking ILPer”, (J. Goffe) et. al., Letter from M.G. members to (ILP) members, 6 March 1936, H.P.

91. Once Again the ILP. An interview with Leon Trotsky, Nov. 1935, Writings (1935-36), 71.

92. Trotsky also developed the concept of “illegal work” in mass organisations. “You do not enter a reactionary trade union and cry “I am a revolutionist”” (ibid., 72).

93. Open Letter to an English Comrade, 3 April 1936, Writings (1935-36), 73-5. The Clapham edition carried the revealing overprint “For Sale to ILP Members Only and Circulation Within the Party”.

94. Where Trotsky Goes Wrong, The New Leader, 20 March 1936.

95. Remarks For An English Comrade, 8 April 1936, Writings: Supplement 1934-40, 653.

96. A resolution calling for critical support was attacked both by those who wanted a Labour Government and those who did not.

97. Margaret Johns failed to obtain reference back after being rebuked by Maxton.

98. Arthur Ballard it was who called for the ILP to “assist the leftward and moving elements against the reactionary leadership”.

99.The NAC stuck to a pacifist line and believed workers should take no part in the war.

100. Interview with M. Johns, Oct. 1973.

101. The New Leader, 17 April 1936.

b102. On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo, Writings: 1935-36, 22 April 1936, 75-6. As he remarked, he did not live in Oslo, nor was that capital situated on the heights.

103. ibid. See also Our Kinds of Optimism, 27 April 1936, Writings Supplement (1934-40), 684-5.

104. “Once inside the Labour Party, it will grow and become a mighty ally of the “Labour Lieutenants of Capitalism”. There it will be a thousand times more dangerous and difficult to crush.” (Unity and the C.P. affiliation to the LP, Warwick MSS 15/4/1/14, n.d.)

105. Fighting for the Abyssinian Emperor, a letter of July 1936.

106 Bolshevik-Leninists and the ILP, Warwick MSS 15/4/1/7. n.d.

107. Interview by Collins, Summer 1936, Writings: 1935-36, 76.

108. “In any event, the suggestion of a time limit such as the next annual conference of the ILP in April is incomprehensible to me. The European situation is developing so rapidly that history will not wait for the ILP conference.”, ibid.

109. This conference, like that of 1938, was held in a Paris suburb. For security reasons the venue was referred to as “Geneva”.

110. The Marxist League was invited, but failed to attend “for material reasons”. Harber would have participated in the Youth conference with which the main conference concluded on 1 August, and at which a report from England was given. The Youth conference adopted the FI Youth theses and elected a new Youth Bureau of nine.

111. None of the three groups was allowed to be the British Section, yet all three stood for the Fourth International. Conference only devoted a small amount of its time to Britain. For the main theses and resolutions of the conference, see Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, 84-152.

112. This was to appear as Fight, with For the Fourth International beneath the masthead. See below.

113. Leigh Davis and Starkey Jackson argued for a majority of the Group to enter the Labour Party, Socialist League and League of Youth, leaving a small independent organisation outside. Within the Labour Party all Bolshevik-Leninists ought to fuse, publish a paper and set the objective of a short term split (The Role and Tasks of the British Bolshevik-Leninists, Sept. 1936, H.P., D.J.H. 5/3). For awareness that the wisest step would have been a split a Geneva, see Anon., Towards a New Revolutionary Party, [Sept. 1936], HP, DJH 5/1. This author argued for a full and open conference to turn all Trotskyists towards the Labour Party.

114. That weekend the Marxist Group, in collaboration with the other Trotskyist factions launched Fight: For the Fourth International in response to the invitation of the Geneva conference. The first issue of this newspaper sold 1,800 copies.

115. The account which follows is drawn entirely from For Discussion (Internal Bulletin of British Bolshevik-Leninists), 28 Nov. 1936, MSS 15/4/1/15, the only account of the meeting extant.

116. Trotsky had urged the tiny Spanish Bolshevik-Leninist Group to join the leftward moving Socialist Party of Largo Caballero. They rejected his advice, unifying instead with the left nationalist group around Joaquim Maurin to form the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity, (POUM).This party achieved significant support among the working class, notably in Catalonia up to the time of its suppression after the Barcelona events of May 1937. But the absence of Trotskyism from the Socialist Party facilitated a communist entry far more extensive that that carried out in Britain. In 1935, the whole Spanish Socialist Youth, which the previous year had invited the Trotskyists to join them, declared for the Third International. The communists were eventually to become the most powerful political force in the Republic, but the POUM was to disappear. For a contemporary Trotskyist appraisal see F. Morrow, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain (first published New York 1937, 1975 ed.).

117. A. Cooper et al., Tasks of British Bolshevik-Leninists ibid., 7.

118. Trotsky had emphatically supported the thesis, advocated by Matlow, that there should be immediate entry into the Labour Party. Cooper’s views on the matter had, he thought, “no relationship to Marxism at all” (Interview by Collins, Summer 1936, Writings (1935-36), 76-7).

119. A loose association of those prepared to sell Fourth International literature in Central London. See Chapter VII.

120. This idea is developed by Trotsky himself in Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay.

121. See Chapter VII.

122. Total membership was claimed to be around eighty with fifty contacts.

123. See Chapter VI.

124. For Discussion, 28 Nov. 1936, 18.

125. The decision for independence was taken sixteen to six at a meeting of London members of the Group.

126. James had written to Brockway declaring the intention to withdraw and form a separate organisation. Brockway circulated his branches on 5 December 1936 estimating that only thirty members of the ILP would be involved, mostly in London but possibly in Liverpool too. (Jupp, op. cit., 233-4; The New Leader, 11 Dec. 1936).

127. Declaration of the International Bureau For the Fourth International on the subject of the English Marxist Group, 13 Dec. 1936, 4.

128. ibid., 5.

129">129. Fighting Against The Stream (a conversation in Mexico with an English Fourth Internationalist [C.L.R. James], April 1939) Writings 1938-9, 150n.

130. Even in October 1936 however the communists were still concerned about a possible Trotskyist takeover of the ILP. See R.P. Arnot’s fears in London Monthly, quoted in B. Pearce, The British Stalinists and the Moscow Trials, in M. Woodhouse and B. Pearce, op,cit., 225.

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