The History of British Trotskyism to 1949

by Martin Upham


(1938 – 1944)

Workers International League seemed to have poor prospects at the end of 1938 with all other Fourth Internationalists grouped in one body. Yet it survived, put a regular press on the streets and became the pivot of a limited regroupment. WIL moved from its original interpretation of entry work to a position in 1941 outside all parties. This, with its ability and flair, won it industrial support from 1942 on. It intervened in all major industrial disputes from this time and was more successful than any other party in its attempt to fill the vacuum left by the communists, who had become advocates of increased production. While WIL’s achievements and influence were exaggerated, they were tangible, and culminated in a celebrated court case which brought them national publicity.

Debating in 1939 with CLR James, Trotsky attributed the failure of Fourth Internationalists in Britain to lack of ability, inflexibility and the long domination of bourgeois thought. He urged continuation of the policy of critical support for the Labour Party but sought an independent paper which might make needed attacks on ILP leaders. [1] Trotsky took no public position on the formation of Workers International League, though its leaders had written to him. It later claimed that it turned its back on the past, seeking a break with tradition. Certainly it made new recruits to Trotskyism, but it also rallied a number of those who were disenchanted with the other groups. This was a conscious policy proclaimed in the first issue of WIN. [2] It did not retain all of those whom it drew to itself in the first few months of its life [3], and others were expelled for “Molinierism”. [4] But it gained members from the RSP and the RWL as well as from non-Trotskyist formations like the ILP Guild of Youth. [5]

WIL failed to convene a national conference for the first five years of its life, though meetings of the London membership were held. It grew steadily, first around the original leadership of Ralph Lee and Haston assisted by Grant [6] but many recruited after the split from Militant gained leading positions. [7] Sometime in 1940, Ralph Lee, the dominant influence in WIL at least until 1939, returned to South Africa [8] and was succeeded as General Secretary by Haston. Illness incapacitated other WIL leaders for a time, but they were able to avoid conscription and thus kept a centre in being. [9]

WIL put a consistent press on the streets throughout this time. WIN appeared regularly, and from 1939 WIL members increasingly contributed articles, displacing the emphasis on foreign contributions. [10] In September 1938 WIL launched a monthly agitational paper, Youth for Socialism [11], to supplement its activities in the Labour League of Youth. Youth for Socialism was a lively newspaper, given to exuberant abuse of communists and their fellow-travellers in the youth movement. It seems unlikely, however, that WIL supplanted the MLL before that body was proscribed in 1940. [12] WIL had practically no one working full time, but it was more visible than the RSL because of its policy of putting its press on streets. [13] Its energetic reaction to the outbreak of war included – as well as the transference of its controlling centre to Ireland – the publication for seven months of a daily handout, Workers Diary. [14]

WIL’s belief in the autumn of 1940 was that revolution or near-revolution would shake every belligerent country. [15] In anticipation it showed the flexibility for which Trotsky had yearned. The electoral truce between the major parties had cleared the way for minor parties to oppose their candidates at by-elections. Healy may have advocated support for Pollitt in the Silvertown contest of February 1940. [16] The next month WIL openly supported anti-war candidates as the only outlet for those who wished to support revolutionary socialism. [17] Youth for Socialism was shortly put on the list of papers League of Youth members might not sell. [18] WIL remained within the Labour Party however, though its emphasis on sales always gave it the opportunity to approach those outside. A Labour Party presence was justified by reference to the arguments of Lenin and Trotsky and the early stage of WIL’s development. [19] Yet the organisation was watching developments in industry and warned that it would not hesitate to alter tactics if faced with a change in the “objective situation”. [20] It was still calling for “Labour to Power” and would continue to do so even after leaving the party. [21] But it flatly rejected the MLL tactic as applied either before or after proscription. [22]

WIL began to move out of the Labour Party in the spring of 1941, though the manner of its going was confused and protracted. [23] It was complete by September, by which date a major shift in communist policy had occurred which could only reinforce the argument for independence. Negatively, the Labour Party no longer offered the prescribed high-level of political life, debilitated as it was by the effects of conscription, air raids and the absence of regular elections. Positively there were the first signs of stirring in industry in this second year of war. To its critics the WIL turn was empiricist, an opportunist adjustment to circumstances. But it is noticeable that WIL continued to call for a Labour Government, which had not been the policy of the first RSL or the Marxist Group after 1936. [24] Plans were made for a WIL conference in 1941, but it seems not to have met. But WIL regarded itself as programmatically the true representative of the Fourth International in Britain and demanded that this be recognised by the conferral of official status. [25] It actively projected itself as a Trotskyist party and met with a good deal more success in this respect than the more inhibited RSL. [26]

It was the second wartime change in communist policy which gave Workers International League its chance. Communist policy in 1939-41 was not supported by Trotskyists, who saw it as a popular front campaign in disguise. [27] But while there is doubt about the success of the CPGB in this phase [28] it is certain that it sustained a militant opposition to the Government. What was more, the party dominated the national shop stewards movement by strong representation on its National Council. [29] The People’s Convention itself had impressive backing on paper and the possibility of a broad movement developing must have been one motive behind Morrison’s decision to suspend publication of The Daily Worker. [30] At this time communists and their followers could see no difference between the Chamberlain and Churchill administrations [31] and spoke the undiluted language of class war, often to the point of exaggeration. [32]

Trotskyist attempts to intervene in the People’s Convention met with no noticeable success. [33] But WIL did fear that it would make. headway and believed the result would be to isolate the revolutionary vanguard from the mass of workers who still backed Labour. [34] Under the new dispensation of growing independence WIL was rallying some support from dissident Trotskyists [35], though it could only hope to operate on the fringes of such a movement as the Convention. But with Hitler’s invasion of Russia on 22 June 1941, the entire British political environment altered, especially in the labour movement. Most important was the alteration in communist policy for industry to one which made increased output the top priority. [36] The communists had to operate underground in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the United States, the CPUSA, like the Comintern itself, was to be dissolved. The CPGB escaped that fate, but at the price of public contortions in policy. It put itself at the head of an opposition movement and used, with some skill, the opportunity provided when Labour shared office with the “Old Gang” from May 1940. But there was no serious groundswell of industrial discontent during the first two years of the war and the communists had therefore been in opposition at a time when objective circumstances were at their most unfavourable.

There was no great originality in WIL’s policy for industry, only in the political conditions in which it was applied. The principal Trotskyist text on the subject was Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, which Trotsky wrote towards the end of his life. Trotsky argued that under late capitalism, trade union leaders tended to draw towards the state. [37] The closer they approached the state, the less democratic they became. Instability of trade union leaders mirrored that of the capitalist state itself. At its Founding Congress, the Fourth International had adopted a Transitional Programme which argued that even minor and partial demands could not be conceded, that to achieve them required a struggle against the system itself. Trotsky observed that union leaders worked closely with popular front governments in France and Spain and thought that they were in Britain (especially in foreign policy), “obedient agents of the Conservative Party”. [38] If trade unions did not surrender their independence the “labour aristocrats” at their head would be driven away and the job done by fascists. [39] This thesis was developed by the RSL and WIL in the years before 1940. [40] That year itself brought abundant empirical confirmation with the formation of coalition government and the appointment of Ernest Bevin to the Ministry of Labour. [41] In his wake, “the higher trades unionists became ultimately wedded to the present system”, and began to feel their fate was bound up with it. [42] With electoral opposition removed, pressure increased on those prepared to maintain traditional conflict-based industrial relations for the duration. If it was true that unions tended to fuse with the state, then strikes were strikes against the state. By 1941 all strikes were, technically, illegal [43], though this was for a time of little importance in view of the infrequency with which they occurred. [44] Britain’s national resources were conscripted without great difficulty and at an accelerating rate from the summer of that year. [45]

WIL flatly opposed compulsory methods in industry [46], but there was a limited market in the middle of war for such complaints. More common than resentment was a belief that civil measures necessary for effective prosecution of the war ought to be universally and fairly applied. [47] Yet the desire to win the war did not entail the suspension of class attitudes on the shop floor. [48] These persisted and from 1941 could not find a traditional outlet.. With the official trade union machinery enmeshed in the Ministry of Labour apparatus, and the communists hostile to interruptions in production from June 1941, opportunity beckoned to the WIL. It had some success in autumn 1941. During a dispute at the Nottingham ROF factory, a consultative committee emerged on which WIL gained influence through a leading steward, Jack Pemberton, and through which it was able to make itself known elsewhere in the Group. [49] WIL also made progress in the London engineering industry, notably at De Havillands and Napiers in North West London. [50] There chance brought some of its members together with Trotskyist veterans and ILPers, now trying themselves to establish a trade union presence. Trotskyism and the ILP found themselves allies against the CPGB at local and national events. [51] Trotskyism made no early headway among shop stewards at the national level [52] but it started to make its mark at local shop stewards” conferences. [53] Trotskyism also worked through the ILP in the pits of Scotland and Cumberland, and here it was RSL members rather than those of the WIL who gained the benefit. [54]

After June 1941 the CPGB added its shrill voice to official advice against stoppages. Its view was that winning the war and helping Russia were objectives which overrode other principles. [55] Increasingly it smeared those who were prepared to support strikes as witting or unwitting friends of Hitler. The party was vulnerable to those like the ILP and the Trotskyists who sought to displace it, though its policy was not the simply class-collaborationism that they liked to believe. [56] Once the pressure of a threatening war situation was lifted, non-political workers were liable to voice what might seem like Trotskyist views. [57] The wartime conjuncture led the CPGB to mount more attacks on the Trotskyists than ever before, while the imputation of links with Hitler was now more damaging than ever:

“Remember that the Trotskyists are no longer part of the working class movement”. [58]

It is doubtful if Trotskyists had any great impact on the wartime flow of production; this was not, in any case, their intention. Communist attacks may have been motivated, not by the threat to output, but by unease at possible erosion of their industrial base. Though the charges of links with Nazism were absurd, they might yet have stuck had it not been for spiralling industrial discontent from 1942 onwards. The charge should have been lethal, but WIL replied with gusto, recalling the contortions of communist policy in recent years. It claimed that the CPGB had rebounded from advocating peace in Hitler’s interests to demanding war in Churchill’s. [59] As to the charge of hostility to the Soviet Union, it was argued by Trotskyists that the most secure ally for Russia would be a Britain in the hands of the workers. [60] Nor did Trotskyists of any British faction advocate any kind of sabotage. [61]

WIL by 1942 was a small but solid organisation. It had established a definite national framework, more independent of London than any of its predecessors. [62] It now found itself the target of attacks in Tory papers which played their part in making WIL’s lively paper, Socialist Appeal well known. This paper established itself in 1942 as the main Trotskyist vehicle [63], helped chiefly by being the badge of WIL’s energetic intervention in industry which was now being organised by the Tyneside engineer Roy Tearse. [64] Industrial developments during the year made WIL more and more optimistic. The communist drive for Joint Production Committees would fail. [65] Opportunities within the factories were “unlimited” as frustrations with traditional trade union machinery would lead to new factory, regional and national committees. [66] It was the confinement of strikes to localities which, with communist influence, had prevented “a general strike on the Clydeside, at least (sic) among the shipbuilding workers”. [67]

Something of a breakthrough was provided for WIL in early 1942 when it convened a meeting, over forty strong, of members and sympathisers involved in industrial work. The WIL executive was informed of interventions at ROF factories in Enfield and Nottingham [68], among miners in the North-East [69] and Liverpool dockers. [70] WIL played no part in the Betteshanger dispute, where Kent miners successfully defied the law. [71] But it did approach striking Yorkshire miners in the summer of 1942. There was widespread discontent among them [72] and when WIL members were noticed at the pits they were denounced by Yorkshire Miners Association leaders and the national press. [73] WIL produced a typically ebullient reply which promised a £5 reward for those who could find truth in the accusations against them! [74] It also felt justified in taking the more serious step of establishing an industrial committee, which in 1942 began to publish a periodical Industrial News. [75]

There were even minor exchanges in the House of Commons that summer about the impact of WIL literature in industry [76], but they revealed great confidence among ministers that the Trotskyists could do little harm. [77]

By late 1942 WIL had concluded that an alternative organising centre for trade unionists in struggle was needed. It approached the ILP and the Anarchists with a view to arranging united action on the industrial field. [78] Similar desires had been voiced for some time by the ILP itself [79] and WIL and the ILP already had joint activities underway. [80] In February 1943 a Militant Miners Group was established to link up workers in the pits [81], and that same month in London a committee for Co-ordination of Militant Trade Union Activity was formed by members of a variety of unions. [82] Meetings with ILP and Trotskyist speakers were set on foot and ILP interest in trade union work grew. [83] In Scotland the name Clyde Workers Committee was appropriated by a new body on 15 May 1943, which was led by expelled communists, some of whom had been recruited to WIL. [84] They were also motivated by the need to coordinate industrial militants and they convened a meeting in Glasgow on 5/6 June 1943 to which all bodies with similar aims were invited.

There was a danger that a new coordinating body might remain suspended in mid-air: there had so far been few spontaneous attempts to by-pass established industrial organisations, and the protagonists here were all politically motivated. Yet a definite vacuum existed, and the meeting of June 5/6 decided to establish a National Confederation of Workers Committees on a programme which endorsed the aims of the Clyde Workers Committee. [85] This left it with vague intentions which possibly reflected the polyglot composition of the meeting. WIL, represented there by Jack Haston, was unhappy that perspectives had not been clarified and anxious that this should be put right soon. [86] But the ILP had its own definite programme, drawn up by its Industrial Committee [87], although it could in industry sound very much like the Trotskyists themselves at times. [88] WIL’s own industrial policy was far more detailed, based on trade union control of the circumstances produced by war, for example by shop steward control of transfers of labour [89], but it put chief importance on the search by workers for a broader form of organisation which could coordinate struggles. [90] In early November 1943 the Coordinating Committee took the name of the Militant Workers Federation. Before that Roy Tearse was appointed as its organiser. A more definite programme was outlined and local presences developed. [91] In the internal contest within the MWF, WIL achieved an ascendancy over the ILP. [92] From WIL’s point of view the Federation was, of course, a source of contacts which it milked with some success. The MWF’s best chance was to displace the National Council of Shop Stewards as a focus for militant discontent. It was not a body of conscious revolutionaries however: many of its supporters were unpolitical factory activists looking for support outside their locality. Despite this, two seductive assumptions – that peace would bring a slump, and that the MWF would benefit from rising militancy – were commonly made. [93]

The timing of the MWF could not be faulted. Industry was more troubled from autumn 1943 to D-Day than it had been for many years. At Vickers’ Barrow shipyard, discontent had been festering since 1942 over a pay award, and in September 1943 a strike by 9,000 workers shut down the entire yard for eighteen days. Government guidelines may have inhibited a settlement, and state intervention remained a possibility throughout the dispute. Bevin rumbled from the platform – but did not act. [94] The Barrow district committee of the AEU was affiliated to the Militant Workers Federation, but the union’s leaders, and notably Tanner, were staunch upholders of Bevin’s no strike policy. When the district committee, after initial hesitations, endorsed the strike and tried to organise support, it was suspended by head office. [95] In the yard there were communist members.of the union, two of whom were members of the strike committee. For their opposition they were expelled and The Daily Worker ran strong criticism of the strike committee. [96] Socialist Appeal and The New Leader gave strong support to the dispute however, and the MWF spread news of it, developed contacts and raised cash. [97] Most tangibly the strike committee worked with Tearse and he spent most of the dispute in Barrow. It is little wonder that The Daily Worker correspondent saw Barrow as “the cockpit of Trotskyist agitation.” [98] The strikers showed great determination and defied a tribunal to achieve a substantial victory.

Barrow had been a great success for WIL, though it recognised that its commitment to the strikers” cause, rather than its political programme, had won it support. There were strong grounds for optimistic generalisation: only later did it become clear that the Barrow strike had been the only successful major dispute of the war. But WIL at the time wrote of “a sharp discontent and radicalisation ... transforming the outlook of the British working class”. [99] The movement had passed beyond local disputes and was steering towards national developments of an increasingly political character, it charged. Yet optimism was tempered with caution: disgruntlement had not yet hardened into a struggle to change the leadership? the MWF might be engulfed by strike before it solidified. [100] Yet WIL and the MWF had basked in national publicity and with increasing confidence approached leading convenors and stewards, Tearse moved to Glasgow at the end of 1943 and met a friendly response from militants on the Clyde. [101] WIL with some ILP members was beginning to assemble a fraction in the building trade that was to gain great influence after the war [102], and there were hopeful signs of inter-factional coordination by Trotskyists in engineering. [103]

WIL itself had every reason to look back on 1943 with considerable satisfaction. It had established a national identity and gained vital experience. In March of that year Socialist Appeal had started to publish a mid-monthly supplement – in effect it became a fortnightly paper. Its income was enough to sustain a high level of publicity [104]: Socialist Appeal leaflets supplemented its interventions in all major disputes. [105] It had eclipsed the RSL and was moving towards a fusion of British Trotskyists which it would dominate. WIL considered it of some significance that its enemies saw it as the chief representative of Trotskyism: this seemed to apply right and left. [106] This achievement had been made possible by a unique wartime political conjuncture of which it was only one beneficiary. Its cheerful willingness to break the tacit industrial truce was a parallel with the disruption of the electoral truce by the ILP and Common Wealth. [107]

Of course, CW supported the war – a fact differently interpreted by Trotskyism and communism. [108] The ILP’s platform was a pacifist one but it came close during the war to winning seats in England for the last time in its life. WIL, the smallest of the three and the least known, also recognised the opportunity and gained support, not necessarily for its programme, but for its cheerful willingness to break the consensus. WIL recognised the possibilities early on, and its success in 1943 and 1944 arose from confidently following its own forecasts of industrial unrest and a social shift towards radicalism. [109] It forecast the turn of dissident parties to the Labour Party [110] and that that party would be the main beneficiary of social discontent. [111] From its position outside the Labour Party WIL maintained a fraction within, in anticipation of a re-entry it never entirely ruled out. [112]

WIL reached a pinnacle of industrial influence and national publicity in 1944. Its opportunity arose because this was the worst year for strikes since 1932. [113] The months before D-Day saw simultaneous movements in engineering and the coalfields, Britain’s first wartime experience of such a conjuncture. [114] There was a link between the two in the form of Bevin’s programme for boosting manpower in the pits. But when Trotskyists became involved in the resisting this there seemed to be plenty of grounds for conspiracy theory. Measures to ensure voluntary topping up of the mines workforce proved insufficient [115], and when the ballot scheme was introduced [116] it encountered more resistance than any other measure of industrial conscription. The “Bevin Boys” were young but their names entered the ballot only when they reached national service age. One in ten was selected by ballot to work in the pits and no less than 40% of them appealed. [117] There was political encouragement for those who sought to resist [118], but the decisive factor in making this a national issue was the decision of engineering apprentices on the Tyne to organise collective resistance. A Tyneside Apprentices Guild founded in the second week of December 1943 gathered 15,000 members despite official union discouragement. Its purpose was to fight the ballot scheme as applied to shipyard apprentices. [119]

Local WIL Leaders were in contact with the apprentices from an early stage and established a rapport with the more political among them. [120] But the apprentices were able themselves to organise and spread an impressive strike movement. They were very far from being the Trotskyist tools of popular legend, though in a friendless world they had to find allies where they could. They were willing to listen to advice but did not always to take it, particularly when it was cautious. [121] The strike itself was caused by discontent at the apprentices” inability to prevent conscription to the pits entering the shipyards. [122] March, the first month of the strike, was relatively quiet in publicity, though it was the month when the Trotskyists with splendid timing fused to form the Revolutionary Communist Party: April was different as Tory papers vied with The Daily Worker in a hunt for the “hidden hand” of Trotskyism behind the apprentices movement. [123] It was the Labour Left and the ILP, who scorned the idea that Trotskyists could lead the apprentices by the nose. [124] Government concern at the unrest among miners led the Lord President’s Committee of the War Cabinet to discuss subversive influences on 5 April 1944 and what powers of prosecution were available to stem them. Memoranda drawn up following this meeting show the Home Secretary and Minister for Home Security was sceptical. [125] Gwilym Lloyd George, the Minister of Fuel and Power was more alarmist. He had noted the attacks made by Socialist Appeal and Militant Scottish Miner on trade union leaders. [126] The TUC, gave public expression to its concern the day the Lord President’s Committee met. [127] A second meeting of the Committee concluded that some legislative action should be taken. [128]

Meanwhile the Government decided to charge four RCP leaders with conspiracy and acts in furtherance of a strike in contravention of existing legislation: the Trades Disputes Act (1927). [129] This was a step of gross political insensitivity [130], which added spice to the reaction. By an extraordinary conjuncture the ILP annual conference was meeting in Newcastle, the storm centre, on the weekend of the arrests. James Maxton MP supported by John McGovern MP, proposed an emergency motion to the conference denouncing the prosecutions as a frame up, a diversion from incompetent control of the mines and a product of communist influence [131], and conference unanimously condemned the arrests and in camera hearings of Newcastle Crown Court. The ILP reaction was an important factor in spreading protest against the prosecutions, while the RCP noted that an act aimed against the trade union movement was being used against Trotskyism.

“This attack is a complete vindication of our whole perspective. It is a positive demonstration that we are in the van of the Labour movement; that the next period is ours.” [132]

After nearly five years of war, the sort of state action pre-war Trotskyism had foreseen came about. The RCP took the arrests as a signal to canvass vigorously for support. [133] When the War Cabinet came to discuss the industrial influence of Trotskyism it was surprisingly well-informed. [134] Advice given to the Cabinet leant against attributing great importance to Trotskyism [135], but on 17 April Bevin outflanked his earlier critics by introducing in the House of Commons an addition to the Defence Regulations, Order in Council I A (a). I A (a) gave the government powers, additional to those it already possessed, to act on disputes in essential industries by imposing a fine of £500 or a prison sentence of up to five years. Bevin had taken new powers without exhausting the old [136], and he had done it by extra-Parliamentary consultation rather than by vote. [137] He had travelled some way in the decade since his proud declaration to the Labour conference:

“I do not like emergency powers, even when they are operated by my friends”. [138]

The strong government line in April may have been a compound of anxiety to placate loyal TUC leaders who felt threatened [139], pre-D-Day nerves, and sensitivity to the situation in the pits, currently wracked with discontent. [140] Bevin’s own case for the arrests was that he was faced with acts in furtherance of strikes, i.e. political acts. [141] The RCP struggled to evaluate what his measures meant: there might be no more, there might be further arrests, or there might be outright suppression. [142] Whatever happened maximum open activity must be maintained, its members were told. [143] This was the only sensible conclusion open to the Trotskyist movement, now offered the opportunity to escape from years of obscurity and isolation:

“Far from going underground the capitalist class have put us on the map, and we must seize this favourable opportunity to conduct the widest possible forms of propaganda and recruiting.” [144]

On 24 April 1944, a provisional defence committee was formed in London [145] with a remit to provide legal aid for those arrested and others who might be, to support them and their dependants, and to pick out the class character of the measures. Two days later the committee was strengthened with the addition of a number of MPs and others who had been associated with Trotskyism. [146] After it gained further adherents the defence committee renamed itself the Anti-Labour Laws Victims Defence Committee [147], and held its inaugural meeting on 9 May with Reg Groves in the chair. An enthusiastic campaign was pushed into all corners of the country, usually by means of public meetings where prominent politicians were balanced with an RCP member:

“On the Defence Committee, the British Trotskyists, for the first time, have a platform together with the established left reformist and centrist leaders of the Labour Movement. This fact has the effect of positively integrating Trotskyism as part of the Labour Movement in the eyes of the advanced workers.” [148]

The RCP spoke of a “limited united front”, though invitations by Sastry to the Labour and Communist Parties to join the Committee were unsurprisingly rejected. No communists took part, and all Labour MPs acted in a personal capacity. As for the trade unions, a limited success was scored through support gained from local branches [149] though there was strong national opposition to I A (a). [150] Given a new opportunity the RCP reorientated itself to speak to a larger audience and called on its members to adopt a more positive attitude towards the Labour left. [151] Yet however flexible the RCP might be, there could never be a bridge between its aims in the campaign and those of MPs They could not be expected to justify the party’s political beliefs and were motivated either by a desire to defend the accused or to fight the attack on trade union rights.

The Order came before the House of Commons on 28 April. Bevan moved a prayer that it be annulled and thus initiated the only occasion when the House debated the impact of Trotskyism. [152] Bevan ridiculed the suggestion that miners were brought out on strike by Trotskyists [153] and accused Bevin of whipping up a scare in order to achieve easy passage of the Order. He defended the rights of the House and railed against imprisonment without trial. [154] Kirkwood, Bevan’s seconder, followed him in scorn for the idea that Trotskyists could cause stoppages, and defended strikes as safety valves of society. [155] No supporters of the government took the floor and John McGovern and Sir Richard Acland had the chance to follow the main argument of the critics. [156] D.N. Pritt also spoke, and in the course of a remarkable contribution argued that Bevin should not have brought in a new Order when he already had adequate statutory powers. [157] Neil MacLean put perhaps the most pertinent question to the Minister: if there were so many instigators of unrest, why had the House heard only of four arrests and not hundreds? [158] But logic and oratorical skills were impotent against a well-drilled government majority, and the annulment fell with only twenty three votes behind it. [159] Outside parliament as well as inside there was a disposition to ridicule the government’s action by the labour movement [160] though not by the communists. [161] Supporters of the Order justified it by the claim that the Minister’s present powers made it impossible for him to act against deliberate provocation. [162] The RCP leaders understood this attack and adjusted to meet it. [163] The four RCP members were detained in Newcastle from the time of their arrest in early April until the hearing at Newcastle on 18-22 May [164], when they were given bail. The court heard solicitors for the prosecution and the defence and also testimony from Bill Davy and other apprentices. Dr. Charlesworth, for the prosecution, disclaimed any intention to try the accused for their political opinions but still quoted from the apprentices” literature [165], yet his account of Trotskyist assistance seemed to concede part of the defence’s case. [166] Rutledge, for the defence, stuck closely to his brief and the witnesses – with one exception – backed him in blaming Bevin for the strike. [167] This was a dress-rehearsal for the trial itself, held at Newcastle Crown Court on 13 June before Judge Cassels. [168] The RCP defendants had to face two charges under the Trades Disputes Act and had engaged Derek Curtis-Bennett KC to appear on their behalf. [169] Davy was again put in the box as were other apprentices, and their evidence was to force acquittal on the conspiracy charges. [170] The defendants used their chance to the full to explain their general interest in working class problems, not just in strikes. Heaton Lee argued that a conspiracy was impossible. Roy Tearse explained that the MWF had a policy of coordinating struggles. Lee added that Davy had not been a Trotskyist at the time of the strike, only becoming convinced later. Haston’s advice to the apprentices, as told to the Court, was skilful but at times ingenuous. [171] The defence case concluded with the appearance of Tom Trewartha, chairman of the Barrow Strike Committee, who corroborated Tearse’s presentation of MWF activity [172], and the summoning of Ernest Bevin himself, who testified about the application of the ballot scheme to the apprentices. [173] Judge Cassels summed up for more than three hours and, in a passage which was to draw the attention of the Court of Criminal Appeal, virtually directed the jury to bring in a guilty verdict on the charge that the accused had acted in furtherance of an illegal strike. [174] This they did, but acquitted all four on the various conspiracy charges. [175] Cassels sentenced Lee and Tearse to twelve months apiece, Haston to six and directed that Ann Keen be released at once. [176] Inconsistencies were to be picked out by the Court of Appeal and must be traceable in part to this being a unique prosecution under the 1927 Act. [177] Cassels” interpretation of the “in furtherance” formula had established a precedent which might have wide application. [178] Under the circumstances it is remarkable that the National Council of Civil Liberties took no serious interest in the case. [179]

Wide potential application of the “in furtherance” provision of the 1927 Act, under Cassels’ precedent, boosted the ALLVDC’s activities. Old Trotskyists rallied round [180] and meetings were held around the country to demand the release of the incarcerated three. [181] An important trade union campaign built up over I A (a) and a powerful challenge was posed to TUC endorsement. [182] The 1927 Act was a symbol and it had been used against the RCP. Order I A (a) was an unspecific threat. Yet I A (a) was never used and even the apprentices were not charged. [183] The decision to act against the Trotskyists was certainly not motivated by wild government misjudgment of RCP strength. [184] Among the communists there was considerably more concern. [185] Lee, Tearse and Haston remained in Durham Jail for two and a half months. On 24 August 1944 Judge Wrottesley of the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that their acts could not have been in furtherance of a strike since they had preceded it. [186] They were set at liberty but had been removed from activity for a crucial phase of the war. Cassels’ controversial ruling still stood however. [187]

The International was euphoric about RCP success during the apprentices” dispute. [188] The RCP itself was more balanced yet optimistic between the Trial and. the Appeal. [189] After the Appeal there was a period of victory rallies. [190] But the Defence Committee had been the party’s main field of work for some months [191] and with the successful Appeal this phase of activity came to an end. The MWF, which had since the arrests operated with restraint, did not take off, and in the end the anticipated wave of industrial unrest failed to materialise. The arrests and the introduction of I A (a) played their part in straining relations both within the Labour Party and the TUC however. They contributed to bringing nearer that moment when there would be a rupture in the wartime coalition: that fact in itself meant a change, as Morrison foresaw, in the circumstances which had allowed the Trotskyists to gain ground. In 1943, before the trial, Grant claimed that WIL had ceased to be “an entirely insignificant sect” because of its role in industry. WIL and the RCP played their hand to the full [192], but their opportunities were limited and ended with the war. As for the Trades Disputes Act and Order I A (a), the one was repealed by the Attlee government in 1946 without ever being used again as a basis for prosecution, and the other was never used at all and lapsed, of necessity, when the war ended. [193]



1. Trotsky’s wide ranging discussion with James is reproduced as On the History of the Left Opposition and Fighting Against the Stream, April 1939, Writings: (1938-9), 61-2, 63-5. The reference to an independent paper may have been intended for Workers Fight, the open journal of the unified RSL, but by this date it would have been more appropriate to Workers International News. This full text was published in SWP (USA), Internal Bulletin, 20 Dec. 1939 (Writings: (1938-39), 150n.

2. WIL wrote to inform Trotsky that it had bought a small printing press, which it used to produce Workers International News. He replied praising this as a revolutionary step (interview with E. Grant, Jan. 1973). No correspondence between WIL and Trotsky has been located, though Trotsky did remark, in a French connection, that an unprincipled split might lead to post hoc justifications (Letters to the POI Central Committee, 19 July 1939, Writings Supplement (1934-40), 826). Pablo, a post-war secretary of the Fourth International, later claimed that Trotsky had condemned WIL (It Is High Time To Find A Solution, [July 1947], RCP Internal Bulletin, n.p., H.P.).

3. Hilary Sumner-Boyd withdrew from collaboration with Ralph Lee after the second issue of WIN (see Chapter VIII). Michael Tippett, to whom the WIN project had appealed (see Statement of M.T., 8 March 1938) now ceased to be involved with Trotskyism. In 1940 he became Director of Music at Morley College, and in June 1943 was sentenced to three months imprisonment as a conscientious objector.

4. In 1940 WIL expelled Betty Hamilton who with Pierre Frank (then in London exile) was advancing the syndicalist propositions of Raymond Molinier’s PCI (D.F., The Lack of Democracy Within the Group and Reasons” and [WIL] Reply of the EC to Comrade D.F., 12 Oct. 1940, Internal Bulletin, n.d., H.P.). Raymond Molinier was the leader of one faction of the French Trotskyists who contributed to a seven year split in France. His influence was also felt to be at work in the East London branch of the RSL, which had produced a critical document What Is Wrong With Our Organisation?, and in Camberwell, where a statement There must be no compromise had been issued ([RSL], Circular Newsletter, 21 Aug. 1940). The RSL considered WIL as a whole to resemble Molinierism in its aspiration to a mass appeal and desire to expound popular principles. Nor was the accusation new, since it had been levelled by J.P. Cannon in 1938 (see Chapter VIII).

5. WIL recruited twelve RWL members in 1940, but retained only six (see Chapter IX; Anon., letter to the WIL central committee, 1940 H.P.). Ralph Lee and Haston visited the Edinburgh branch of the RSP, and convinced some of its members. WIL also expelled from its ranks two sympathisers who had moved towards the Leninist League, a Glasgow and Coventry faction which, like Hugo Oehler in the USA, stood for an independent existence and factory work (D.F., and WIL EC, op. cit.). The Leninist League, blocked from the Peace and Unity conference, maintained activity at least until the middle of the war. It published material from the Revolutionary Workers League of Chicago, an anti-Trotskyist party.

6. E. (Ted) Grant (1914- ) had as a young man been one of the first South African Trotskyists to come to Britain. He had been a member of the Marxist and Militant Groups. He was posted to the Pioneer Corps but fractured his skull before joining up and was discharged. Another South African, Ann Keen, joined WIL sometime in 1938 as part of its London organisation (interview with Ann Finkel [Keen], 30 July 1974). Gerry Healy, though a founder member, was a controversial figure. He resigned in 1938 when not consulted over a decision to print Youth for Socialism (q.v.). While in Ireland he joined the Irish Labour Party in opposition to WIL. He was allowed to rejoin WIL but in 1940 resigned again following criticism of federalising amendments he had proposed to the WIL constitution. Healy’s organising abilities were widely recognised, however, and he occupied important positions in the League throughout most of its life.

7. Half of its October 1940 executive was comprised of members with less than two years standing. Nor were the editors of WIN or Youth for Socialism foundation members.

8. No reason has been ascertained for Lee’s departure nor have details of his subsequent career been discovered. Lee is referred to in Haston’s 1945 correspondence with South African Trotskyists.

9. Grant was able to stay out of the forces because of a skull injury. Haston had a stomach ailment, but also changed identities, for which offence he was arrested. Andrew Scott simply did not respond to call up and worked full time for WIL for some years. When he finally reported and told a truthful story to account for his non-appearance no action was taken against him (Interview with J. Haston, 13 July 1973).

10. WIN still regularly published Trotsky, a task no other faction of the 1930s regularly achieved. WIL claimed that it published every important document of the FI to 1941. The RSL challenged that WIN’s emphasis on foreign articles left it “in the realm of the abstract”, a charge which would bolster its view that WIL had no reason to exist (BSFI, Statement on relations with the Workers International League, 4 Dec. 1939, H.P., 13a/18, 3-4).

11. Youth for Socialism bore the imprint of G. Healy from September 1938. In August 1939 Healy’s name was replaced by W. Clarke, and in September 1939 by B. French. In June 1940 the name D. Gray appeared and continued until May 1941 when the last issue appeared over the name Harold Atkinson (q.v.).

12. At the 1939 LLOY conference WIL had about five delegates to fifteen of the MLL At the party conference held that year in Southport, WIL had no delegates to the MLL’s three (B.S.F.I,. ibid., 4).

13. The RSL argued that this was “by no means the most important” kind of revolutionary activity and that WIL had an advantage over it by virtue of its freedom from international commitments (ibid., 4).

14. Workers Diary appeared daily from 22 September 1939 to 8 April 1940 (A. Penn, op. cit., 157). Copies have survived in private possession but had not been located at the time of completion of the substantive draft of this thesis.

15. “The economic blockade not only of Europe but of Britain too will become increasingly effective and this will mark the beginning of wholesale social convulsions. Long before the nations can complete their mutual destruction, the political and social structure of every country will be subjected to the severest test” (Britain Holds Out, WIN, Oct. 1940, 7).

16. RSL, The Electoral Tactics of the Workers Vanguard (1940), 2. Pollitt’s 966 votes, while six times larger than the Fascist candidate polled, were swamped by a Labour total fifteen times larger.

17. The Ballot Box Tes”, WIN, March 1940, 6-8. WIL advocated critical support for anti-war candidates, preferably the ILP rather than the CPGB, though it regarded their programme as “a vote for Hitler”.

18. It was, presumably, WIL’s electoral line which provoked this ban. However, the paper had consistently attacked the Labour officialdom which ran the League of Youth and, notably, Huddlestone, the party Youth Officer, although it had tended to lose the character of a youth paper. It had also evinced an undisguised interest in the youth sections of other parties such as the CPGB and ILP.

19. “We are still in the most elementary stages of preparing the party and consequently it is to the politically conscious and organised workers to whom we must turn our faces” (Reply of the EC to Comrade D.F., 12 Oct. 1940, Internal Bulletin, [1940], H.P., D.J.H. 14A/1, 8).

20. In October 1940 WIL had ILP and CPGB fractions but believed main forces should be concentrated at the main point of attack, viz. the Labour Party. Factory work at this point was treated by WIL with especial scorn: it had not yielded a single recruit. One possibility visualised which might change the “objective situation” was the emergence of a mass communist opposition, the appearance of which would “depend entirely on the future orientation of Stalin’s foreign policy” (ibid., 8-9). Factory work had been proposed by another WIL member in Anon., For A New Course, 26 Oct. 1940, H.P., D.J.H. 5/3.

21. Labour to Power, ILP chairman supports the war, WIN, Aug. 1940, 10-13.

22. The RSL reminded Lee and his comrades that they had not objected to the MLL tactic when they had been members of the Militant Group in 1937.

23. An undated document of the first half of 1941 put the WIL leaders” views to all locals. It foresaw a Labour Party split, with the Left and ILP joining together, and predicted a harbinger in the shape of a turn to factory committees. But while ILP and CPGB fractions would be needed, full strength had to be applied at the points of attack: the Labour Party and the unions (Statement On Policy and Perspectives, [Feb.-June 1941?], H.P.). Yet WI 1 dated its turn to open work from March 1941 in Preparing For Power (WIN, special issue, Sept. 1942, 20). In June 1941 Youth for Socialism was transformed into the broader Socialist Appeal, which declared it supported the “policy of Workers International News (Trotskyist)” and advertised meetings of WIL (Fourth International). In September Workers International News appeared openly as the organ of Workers International League. From January 1942 Socialist Appeal appeared openly as an FI paper.

24. WIL also stated that it would still issue this call even if Trotskyism had a mass following, drawing on precedent in the form of the Bolshevik slogan “All Power to the Soviets” (WIL , Reply to the Political Statement of the Revolutionary Socialist League, 1941, H.P., D.J.H. 5/7, 4).

25. The July 1941 issue of WIN carried what it claimed was the manifesto of the Fourth International in Britain. This claim, when repeated on letterheads and elsewhere enraged the RSL It was based on its record, its advocacy of the FI programme and that of the RSL since 1938. Evidence later advanced included the quality and consistency of the WIL press and the part it had played in establishing an Irish Section (WIL, For Discussion. To the International Secretariat of the Fourth International, [1941?] and Reply to Lou Cooper. The Bolshevik attitude to unity ... and splits, H.P., 11 Sept. 1943).

26. WIL held Trotsky Memorial meetings in London and Birmingham during August 1940, the month of his death, and demonstrated outside the Russian Embassy. The RSL initially resolved not to combine with other Trotskyists because this would risk its Labour Party presence: in the end it held a meeting in London and Glasgow with ILP speakers as well as its own. Each organisation held a Russian Revolution anniversary meeting on 7 November 1941. According to WIL there were 200 in attendance at its own meeting (which sent a resolution to Ambassador Maisky calling for the victory of the Red Army but opposing Stalin) but only twenty seven at that of the RSL (“D. Gray” to secretary, RSL, 31 Dec. 1941, Har. P., F7). The RSL objected to WIL holding its meeting under the auspices of the Fourth International (RSL to WIL, 7 Oct. 1941, in Report On Negotiations With The WIL, [Jan.? 1942], 4).

27. The “People’s” Convention”, WIN, Dec. 1940, 6.

28. In spring 1940 the communists performed poorly in by-elections and convened a Labour Monthly conference on 25 February, whose representation is difficult to assess. The People’s Convention movement from July 1940 did win support, particularly during the following year, though some of its claims may have been exaggerated (A. Rothstein, Harry Pollitt, BSSLH, Spring 1977, 20; M. Johnstone, Harry Pollitt, BSSLH, Autumn 1977, 24-7). The Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, believed that the party itself had not grown (J. Hinton, Killing the People’s Convention, BSSLH, Autumn 1979, 27).

29. While the party lost support among the intelligentsia, most dramatically displayed in V. Gollancz (ed.), The Betrayal of the Left (1941), it had a militant line for its factory members. In 1940 the party’s central committee advised “if this industrial truce policy were to succeed, then the British workers, the pioneers of trade unionism, are faced with the danger of losing all their safeguards and having virtual slavery thrust upon them” (CPGB, The Trade Unions and the War, 1940, 10). Party influence on the shop stewards movement was revealed at the national conference of 6-7 April 1940 and that of the following year. E. Trory (Imperialist War, 1977, 157-65) gives an uncritical account of this phase of communist policy. See also R.T. Buchanan, The Shop Steward Movement 1935-47, Journal of the Scottish Labour History Society, Feb. 1978, 34-55.

30. Morrison banned The Daily Worker and The Week in January 1941, rather late in the day and clearly alarmed by the People’s Convention. The Daily Worker had already been punished for libelling union leaders the previous year (T.U.C., Union Leaders Vindicated, 1940).

31. Pritt wrote of the government:

“Its origins are pretty clear. It is surely the lineal descendant and residuary legatee of the class-government which conducted and ‘won’ the last war, made the treaty of Versailles, intervened in Russia in the name of crushing the new-born and fortunately indestructible socialist country, acquiesced in the rape of Manchuria, Abyssinia, Austria, Albania and Czechoslovakia ...” (Labour Monthly, Jan. 1941, 16-17.)

32. J.R. Campbell wrote of “Labour in chains”, “the straight jacket on shop stewards” and “compulsion in the workshop”. Joint committees were, he declared, an attempt to weaken shop stewards’ committees, their appearance, with other developments, marking “a decisive clearing of the ground for an advance to Fascism”. (Workers and the British Totalitarians, Labour Monthly, March 1941, 131-9.)

33. Sydney Bidwell’s NUR branch in Southall tabled five amendments only to have them rejected by the Standing Orders Committee (B. Farnborough, loc. cit., 27). Healy may have been a delegate. The Convention adopted a programme including the raising of living standards, adequate ARP, restoration of civil rights, emergency takeover of big business and the banks, self -determination for the colonies, friendship with the USSR, a people’s government representative of the working class and a people’s peace based on self-determination of all peoples. For resolutions passed by the Convention see Labour Monthly, Feb. 1941, 93-5. Motivation of those who supported it is discussed by J. Hinton, loc. cit., 27-32. See also the general discussion by A. Calder, The People’s War, 1971, 281-4.

34. People’s Convention. And Now ..., WIN, Feb. 1941, 7.

35. G. Weston, whose relationship with Trotskyism spanned almost a decade and a half, came over with several industrial workers to WIL. Weston was an important figure at De Havillands’ Hendon factory. As an independent group WIL attracted Arthur Cooper, who was thought to have as many as twenty young workers around him in-the Socialist Workers Group. (RSL, EC Minutes, 5 Jan. 1942, Har. P.)

36. J. Owen, How to Increase War Production, Labour Monthly, Sept. 1941, 391-5. See also William Rust’s case for lifting the ban on The Daily Worker (The Daily Worker and the National Front, Labour Monthly, Aug. 1941, 368). All the demands of the Convention except for friendship with the USSR, were dropped as immediate objectives. As Pritt observed “much of the Convention’s programme was no longer fully applicable to the situation” (From Right to Left, 1965, 285-6). However, his The Fall of the French Republic with its suggestion that the British government, like the French, was moving towards the suppression of liberties, was published in October 1941 though written before Russia entered the war. Hinton comments that the People’s Convention, which six days after Hitler’s attack had reaffirmed its call for a People’s Government and a People’s Peace, was by July 1941 looking “through victory to a People’s Peace” (loc. cit., 29n).

37. “By transforming the trade unions into organs of the state, fascism invents nothing new; it merely draws to their ultimate conclusion the tendencies inherent in imperialism” (L. Trotsky, Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, 1966, 6).

38. But the Founding Congress sternly opposed “sectarian” attempts to build or preserve small “revolutionary” unions, as a second edition of the party (which) signify in actuality the renouncing of the struggle for the leadership of the working class” (The Transitional Programme, Documents, 186) .

39. ibid., 11. For the positive side of trade union collaboration with government, see A. Marwick, Britain in the Century of Total War, 1968, especially 288.

40. Of minor unofficial industrial disputes before the war Grant wrote that the bourgeoisie “issued a warning to the Union bureaucracy that unless they restored control, unless they could keep their men in check, then they would have to resort to other methods” (Our Tasks in the Coming Revolution, WIN, Jan. 1944, 10).

41. Trotsky had commented that “labour aristocrats”, who were taken on by governments to sell an unpopular policy invariably occupied the posts of Labour and the Interior. Herbert Morrison was appointed Home Secretary when Labour joined the Government.

42. Mass Observation, People in Production, 1942, 251.

43. In July 1941 Bevin introduced the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order, No. 1305. Order 1305 set up a National Arbitration Tribunal whose awards were enforceable by law. It prohibited strikes and lockouts unless reported to the minister and not referred for settlement within twenty-one days. In fact there were 109 prosecutions of workers under the Order in wartime as against two of employers. One of the effects was to deepen the prewar trend towards official strikes (E. Wigham, Strikes and the Government, 1893-1974 (1976), 93).

44. E. Wigham (op. cit., 74) points out that official national disputes were absent for nearly thirty years after the General Strike. While small unofficial strikes were, as Grant had noted, rising in number during the 1930s, the number of days lost thereby did not rise.

45. At 32,000, the number of compulsory orders issued between July 1941 and June 1942 was more than ten times as many as had been issued since war began (A. Bullock, The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin, Vol.2, Minister of Labour 1940-1945, 1967, 141). This represented a major revision of views by Bevin who had, earlier, argued that compulsion would cut output (ibid., 45-6).

46. “Industrial conscription must be ruthlessly fought because it is a measure directed against the working class as a whole, a measure to lower men’s wages by the introduction of cheap labour, to eliminate labour competition which forces up wages, a measure to utilise the badly organised state of women to smash down the standard of present working conditions”, Youth for Socialism 1, April 1941.

47. The conscription of women, for example, against which Youth for Socialism had written and which might have been an emotive issue, provoked no outburst (A. Calder, op. cit., 309).

48. The urge to beat the temporary enemy, the Axis, and the urge to beat the traditional enemy (the employer), mingle and muddle. When the situation looks as if we are bound to beat the Axis anyway – an idea the Government have for long inspired – the impulse to have a round with the traditional enemy creeps up. When things look bad, this impulse goes down again. But when things are more than normally bad, it goes down so far it comes out at the bottom. It is a barometer of the urgency of effort in war industry. (Mass Observation, People in Production, 1942, 246.) In fact 1940 was the only year of the war when the number of days lost through strikes fell below one million and the number of men involved in them fell below 300,000 (A. Calder, op. cit., 299).

49. When the consultative committee was formed during the dispute, WIL supported its absorption into the AEU machinery, perhaps foreseeing a chance to carry influence into the union. The Dalmuir (Glasgow) Works was the only factory in the ROF Group that WIL controlled. It convinced leading communist stewards like Alex Reoch who were prepared to debate with it (Interview with R. Tearse, Nov. 1973). The WIL executive heard on 22 April 1942 of strike action at the Nottingham ROF against compulsory transfers.

50. There was a Napiers’ steward in the Battersea ILP branch which included Wicks, Dewar, and their supporters. In the factory a fierce battle was fought between supporters of the communists’ engineering paper, The New Propeller, and followers of the newly launched ILP journal, The Shop Steward. The ILP and Trotskyists had some success in 1942 in keeping the credentials of one AEU steward who opposed communist policy. At De Havillands, Bill Hunter, who remained an ILP member till 1945 (when he represented Chiswick at the party’s annual conference) was at work. George Weston, the veteran Trotskyist was factory convenor. Directed there were Alf Loughton, a bricklayer and 1930s associate of the Marxist League, and Roy Tearse (q.v.). Gerry Healy worked at the nearby Park Royal works.

51. The ILP used this wartime opportunity to make its most serious drive into the factories. Wicks and Dewar joined the party’s industrial committee which brought out a small printed journal The Shop Steward (Interview with H. Wicks, 30 Nov. 1979). In 1942 the ILP appointed Walter Padley to head its industrial drive.

52. Trotskyists and others who opposed the CPGB line made a limited intervention at a production conference convened by the Shop Stewards Council on 19 October 1941, but their main motion was disbarred from discussion (Militant, Nov. 1941).

53. In October 1941 fifty De Havilland stewards passed a second front resolution but appended to it calls for trade union officers to accompany the BEF and for a joint Cabinet-aircraft shop stewards conference (ibid.). This eclectic resolution illustrated the sea saw balance of power in the factory.

54. In Scotland, Hugh Brannan, a young member of the RSL’s Left Fraction, campaigned against the Essential Work Order. Tom Stephenson, a leading Cumberland miner, who was an ILPer but not a Trotskyist, campaigned with him against Bevin’s measures for industry. Their views can be followed in The New Leader, passim. See also P.J. Thwaites, op. cit., 136-7. Trotskyism and the ILP also overlapped in the Welsh mines, through Bob Condon, who wrote for The New Leader and joined the Revolutionary Communist Party at the end of the war.

55. The Communist Party has been in the forefront of the fight to combat these shortcomings, to overcome every obstacle – whether of craft prejudice, trade union sectionalism or conservatism, suspicion of and opposition to necessary changes, such as the widest introduction of women in industry, or a narrow view of the workers” interests, or slackness – which stands in the way of maximum production. The decisive question for the increase of war production is the question of labour productivity, which depends above all on the effort, initiative and cooperation of every worker. (CPGB, An Urgent Memorandum on Production, 1942, 6)

A local pamphlet called for speed ups and an end to absenteeism at Corby steelworks, as well as an increase in output of at least 15% (Corby For Victory, [Corby 1942?]).

56. The CPGB argued that democracy at work and high output went hand in hand. Unions ought not to cooperate to the extent of handing employers an advantage over the community. Unions had to defend the standards of transferees to make this option an attractive one. A 1942 policy resolution of the party urged greater power to workshop organisations, periodic election of officials, election of district officers by the membership, annual policy conferences of the unions and the withdrawal of the “Black” Circular (CPGB, Trade Union Policy in the War against Fascism, 1942). – The Circular was in fact withdrawn by the TUC’s Southport Congress in 1943.



Many workers, trade unionists and Labour Party members, unthinkingly express views which sound Trotskyist. Don’t confuse these honest but muddled opinions with genuine Trotskyism.

The real Trotskyist is a bitter enemy of Stalin, and the other trusted leaders of the Soviet Union. That’s his fingerprint, whatever else he may say. And that’s how you can spot him. As for the people who are genuinely confused, your job is to explain. Explain. Explain. Get them to read this booklet. If they haven’t time, explain what is in it to them. (W. Wainwright, Clear Out Hitler’s Agents, 1942, 15.)

D. Childs (loc. cit., 248) suggests communist influence was not important in fomenting strikes before 1941 or preventing them later. D.N. Pritt claimed however that “left to themselves, many workers of no strong political consciousness would have struck from time to time against the innumerable irritations to which they were exposed, but the communists in the factories were able to make clear the importance of keeping up the flow of vital production for war purposes” (From Right to Left, 1965, 307)

58. W. Wainwright, op. cit. The pamphlet goes on to advise that the Trotskyist be exposed and turned out, and finally treated “as you would an open Nazi”.

59. E. Grant, The Communist Party and the War: Look at their record! (1942). Grant made no concessions to the 1939-41 phase of CPGB policy, arguing that its call for a negotiated peace with Hitler stultified any possibility of it building a mass movement in the factories.

60. All Trotskyist papers referred to the need to defend the USSR. This was a constant theme and quite unmistakeable in all their propaganda. Nor was the slogan in any way dependent on Britain being transformed from a capitalist country into a socialist one.

61. Even the Left Fraction, whose views might be said to have led in that direction did not advocate it. J.R. Campbell, in Trotskyist Saboteurs (1943), showed awareness of James Burnham’s split from the Fourth International. Yet Trotsky himself, disputing with Burnham, had written that in all countries, regardless of alliances, workers must develop the class struggle, though they might use sabotage to help the USSR:

“If England and France tomorrow menace Leningrad or Moscow, the British and French workers should take the most decisive measures in order to hinder the sending of soldiers and military supplies. If Hitler finds himself constrained by the logic of the situation to send Stalin military supplies, the German workers on the contrary, would have no reason in this concrete case to strikes or sabotage. Nobody, I hope, will propose any other solution” (Again and once more on the Nature of the USSR, in In Defence of Marxism, 1966, 36-7).

62. Lawrence told the RSL at the start of 1942 that WIL had sixty London members, twenty three Glasgow members (E.C. Minutes, 5 Jan. 1942, Har. P.). A WIL levy circular of 1942 gives eighteen branches: Kilburn, Shepherds Bush, Southall, East End, South, Edmonton, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Motherwell, Nottingham, Birmingham, Coventry Liverpool and Birkenhead, Burnley, Wolverhampton, Leeds, Northampton and Slough.

63. Lawrence informed the RSL that sales were 10,000 monthly. This may be high, but Haston had convinced the paper controllers that WIN and Youth for Socialism had vast pre-war circulations and until 1943 they were not constrained by paper shortages (Interview with J. Haston, 13 July 1973).

64. Roy Tearse (1919- ) had, as a young ILP member in Newcastle, organised peace meetings in the first year of the war. As a skilled engineer he moved to De Havillands in 1941 to test aero engines. Before he left the factory he rose to the presidency of Edgware 3, a new branch of the AEU. He had met RSL members while in the Tyneside ILP, but it was the active WIL which he joined, while still a party member, in London (Interview with R. Tearse, 28 Nov. 1973).

65. Joint Production Committees began when Jack Tanner, now A.E.U. president, persuaded a reluctant Engineering Employers Federation that they would be the best collaborative device to raise industrial output. The engineers’ example spread to shipyards and engineering (A. Bullock, op. cit., 945).

66. Preparing for Power, WIN, September 1942, 24.

67. ibid., 24. T. Dan Smith, not yet a Trotskyist, gave full coverage in The New Leader to a successful Tyneside shipyard strike in early 1942 where the men had stayed out in defiance of a personal appeal by Harry Pollitt for a return to work.

68. See the broadsheet Socialist Appeal policy for the ROFs, 16 June 1942, designed for an Enfield meeting on workers’ control of production (H.P., D.J.H. 14e/14).

69. The Industrial Organiser [Tearse?] found that a pro-communist mood among miners coexisted with “hostility to the Stalinist strike-breaking”. WIL was well received in several pits and it was reported that a Socialist Appeal committee had replaced the lodge committee at Blackhall. ([WIL], EC Report, 22 April 1942, H.P., D.J.H. 14B/11/l.)

70. Recruitment of dockers had allowed the launch of a Dockers Bulletin ([WIL] CC, 20 June 1942, H.P).

71. Betteshanger was a strong confirmation for WIL’s perspectives of increased industrial militancy and power, “the first really important victory to be won by the workers since the outbreak of war” (Socialist Appeal, Aug. 1942). See also A. Bullock, op. cit., 267-8. This important strike, whose consequences revealed the shift of power towards Labour is not mentioned by R.P. Arnot in his standard The Miners in Crisis and War (1961).

72. The mines were dilapidated even in 1939 and Labour would not propose nationalisation under the terms of the moratorium on controversial issues. Younger men had been conscripted into the forces and in early 1941 there was a “sharp fall” in total production and output per man and wages were comparatively low. There had been therefore an inadequate response to Bevin’s call for former miners to return to the pits, so he applied the Essential Work Order to the industry in May 1941. He registered all who had worked in the pits at any time and it was now that the committee was established which would propose the Bevin Boys scheme. Nevertheless, 160,000 Yorkshire miners struck in May and June 1942.

73. Propaganda in the Coalfields (Morning Post, 15 July 1942) included an interview with Haston and Grant. Joseph Hall, YMA president had charged that young men were being paid £10 a week to tramp the Yorkshire coalfields with Socialist Appeal. See also the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph for the same date.

74. Socialist Appeal, an open letter to the Yorkshire Miners’ Association, 18 July 1942, H.P., D.J.H. 14E/20. See also What Socialist Appeal said. The Minister of Home Security questioned in the House of Commons (April 1942, H.P., D.J.H. 14e/13), an earlier WIL broadsheet. A second open letter appeared in Socialist Appeal for January 1943.

75. See Industrial News, [3?], Aug. 1942 (H.P., D.J.H. 14F/1). This publication may have replaced another entitled Workshop News (A. Penn, op. cit., 61).

76. When questioned in the House by a Tory MP, Morrison showed great scepticism about Joseph Hall’s claims; he also reminded William Gallacher MP, another questioner, that “this organisation is only pursuing the same political policy as he and his own political friends did before the Soviet Union was attacked” (HC Debates, Vol.381, Cols.1330-1, 16 July 1942).

77. Morrison resisted further calls for suppression and disputed the more exotic claims for WIL size and influence. He also went so far as to taunt Gallacher with the suggestion that the CPGB had inspired some of the alarmist stories in the Conservative press (HC Debates, Vol.381, Cols.1493, 1515-16, 21 July 1942).

78. G. Healy, Industrial Militants Need a Programme, Socialist Appeal, Jan. 1943.

79. The New Leader, passim. Padley had offered its pages to industrial workers seeking to coordinate their struggles, and a number of rank and file workers had taken the opportunity to call for a new organisation to do the job undertaken by the National Council of Shop Stewards to June 1941.

80. Hunter, Don McGregor and Tearse had shared an ILP platform in Tooting, and Grant had debated with Padley on apparently equal terms elsewhere.

81. The Glasgow Militant gave way in February 1943 to Militant Scottish Miner, also from Glasgow, and sustained monthly publication until December. In January 1944 it was succeeded by the irregular publication The Militant Miner. Militant Scottish Miner with The New Leader was used by Hugh Brannan of the Lanarkshire coalfield to campaign for reform. Brannan stood for the presidency of the Lanarkshire miners in 1943 against an upholder of the wartime industrial truce. His poll of 7,792 was only 1,400 below that of his opponent.

82. Members of the AEU, TGWU, ETU, NSP, NUR, ASW, AUBTW, AESD, and others attended and Don McGregor of Wood Green ILP was made secretary (The New Leader, 20 Feb. 1943).

83. On 21 February militant trade unionists heard Tearse, McGregor, Bidwell, Jock Milligan (a Trotskyist builder) and Healy speak in London. The New Leader was giving a regular and growing space to industrial policy and the ILP’s 1943 conference voted to oppose industrial collaboration, build a militant shop stewards movement and strive for industrial unionism; it stopped short of making Padley’s position full-time, however (The New Leader, 1 May 1943).

84. They were led by Bob McCrory and Alex Reoch. The committee drew up a seven point programme on which to campaign and resolved to try to embrace all industries in its work. McCrory, Reoch and ten others broke with the CPGB about this time, and nine of them joined WIL. Reoch was a shipyard worker recruited through paper sales, in which the Glasgow local of WIL excelled. McCrory and the others were expelled from the CPGB for association with the ROF consultative committee in defiance of party instructions. WIL claimed that Glasgow area communist shop stewards were equally split between Stalinists and Trotskyists. (Interview with A. Finkel (Keen), July 1974; A Letter from England, Fourth International (ICY), June 1943, 190.)

85. The statement of the NCWC read:

Realising the necessity of a National Organisation in defence of the workers’ interests, this delegate conference representing organised workers from London, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Barrow, the Midlands, Yorkshire and Glasgow, declares that we basically agree with the understated seven points of the “Clyde Workers Committee”.

  1. Co-ordination of all militant T.U. activity.
  2. Annulment of all anti Working Class legislation.
  3. Every shop a closed shop.
  4. Workers control of transfers.
    1. Higher standard of life for all workers.
    2. Better standard of wages and allowances for all workers in the Armed Forces.
  5. Confederation of all Workers Committees (Nat.)
  6. Workers’ control of Industry.

We call on all workers to rally to the fight. (Socialist Appeal, Mid-June 1943.)

86. Haston’s concern centred on the belief of the ILP industrial committee that coordination should be confined to engineering and allied trades. This, he declared, would repeat “all the worst blunders that were committed by .the industrial movement at the end of the last war” (Socialist Appeal, Mid-June 1943). The WIL leaders were very aware of the 1914-18 precedent. Their keynote document, Preparing for Power, had borrowed that title from J.T. Murphy’s account of the movement and engineering stewards in the First War. WIL declared “the conquest of power is the axis of our propaganda”; Murphy had written “it is significant that in all these discussions the central question of the CONQUEST OF POLITICAL POWER by the working class was entirely overlooked” (Preparing for Power, 1972, 159).


  1. Maintain Trade Union practices.
  2. Restore right of works assembly and literature distribution.
  3. Shop Stewards control of deferments, transfers and dismissals.
  4. Equal pay for the job.
  5. Independent T.U.’s and Shop Stewards – NOT whips for the bosses.
  6. For Workers Control of Production. (ILP Industrial Committee, Renew the Wage Demand (1942), 1.)

88. “‘But’, you may say, ‘we don’t want pious sentiments; we want planes and guns and production for Russia now:‚ Reflect a moment. Are you getting this from capitalism? How is capitalism running its war? .... You may think you can use capitalism but capitalism is using you, and I say that the only true friend of the Soviet Union is the International Working Class” (J. McNair, Make Britain Socialist Now, 1942, 12-13). The ILP also denounced communists as “strike-breakers” (T. Taylor, Defend Socialism from the Communists, 1942, 3). In 1942, the WIL, perhaps swayed by its own perspectives, was recording that the ILP was “beginning to penetrate the fringes of the trade union movement” (P. Thwaites, The Independent Labour Party, 1938-50, 134).

89. See Appendix

90. A New Stage in History (draft resolution of WIL central committee to 1943 conference), WIN, Sept. 1943, 8.

91.Trade union independence, union democracy, 100% trade unionism, workers” control, and the confiscation of war profits were in the programme (The New Leader, 6 Nov. 1943). The London Group was more definite still raising such demands as soldiers representation on Trades Councils (P. Thwaites, op. cit., 137).

92. Socialist Appeal, in its industrial coverage, refers occasionally to Anarchist influences, and WIL would occasionally debate with Anarchists, but their importance seems to have been slight.

93. Within the RSL, the Left Fraction strongly disputed that the MWF could become a mass force and maintained its view after the RCP was formed in March 1944. The Trotskyists, it argued, should work within the national shop stewards movement until expelled. Only then would a separate movement be justified, A Policy for Industry (submitted to the 1944 Fusion Conference, March 1944, H.P., D.J.H. 14C/m).

94. For this he was criticised in The Times and elsewhere. His key speech at Farnworth on 2 October 1943, where he spoke of the “anti-war people” without specifying that he intended Trotskyists, is discussed by A. Bullock, op. cit., 269. Nevertheless he took the Barrow dispute and troubles on the Clydeside Shipyards and Rolls Royce (Glasgow) seriously enough to have them investigated by MI5. His informants told him communists and Trotskyists only found an echo where grievances already existed (E. Wigham, op. cit., 92).

95. Tanner sent officials to the district committee early in the strike to plead for opposition to it. They were rebuffed and three weeks later the suspension took place.

96. These communists (according to Socialist Appeal) distributed leaflets in opposition to the strike. Jack Owen, The Daily Worker’s correspondent, was hostile to the strike throughout. He suggested that the strikers could have campaigned for an inquiry as an alternative to industrial action. When they stayed out after a tribunal had called for such an inquiry, he blamed the strike committee (The Daily Worker, 27, 29 Sept., and 1 Oct. 1943). The Times pondered all this with some bewilderment:

... but it has to be recorded to the credit of the strike committee that it has endeavoured to keep all politics out of the dispute and make it purely industrial. Only yesterday it expelled two members from the strike committee for alleged political activities. At the same time there has been a somewhat Gilbertian situation in the town. Communist meetings have been held and communist literature circulated in an endeavour to persuade the strikers to return to work. (The Times, 30 Sept. 1943.)

Common Wealth also had a member in the yard. Acland and Loverseed, leaders of CW, visited the yard and offered sympathy but argued for restraint. (A. Calder, The Common Wealth Party, 1942-5, University of Sussex Ph.D. thesis, 2, 1969, 24)

97. The MWF and WIL were well received because the strikers were glad of any support in the face of such an imposing array of enemies. One strike leader claimed that Socialist Appeal alone had put their case (Socialist Appeal, Oct. 1943). In fact The New Leader also explained the dispute sympathetically and savaged the communists with some gusto. It had the advantage over Socialist Appeal of being weekly: see the articles by Padley in the issues for 25 September and 2 October 1943, the second of which contains a strong attack on the CPGB.

98. The CPGB was embarrassed by the role it felt compelled to play in industry and irritated that it received no gratitude from Bevin. On 27 September 1943, JR Campbell charged WIL with seeking a national anti-war engineering strike (The Daily Worker, 27 Sept 1943) and the accusation was extended to embrace the ILP also when the AEU Huddersfield district committee resigned in solidarity with the suspension of its Barrow counterpart. When Bevin coupled his denunciation of the Trotskyists with gibes against the CPGB, in a speech delivered at Farnworth, The Daily Worker for 4 October lamented his inability to distinguish between the friends and foes of fascism. After the strike was concluded, William Rust, the paper’s editor, was sufficiently stung by further attacks from Bevin to address the Minister in an open letter. “The handling of the Barrow strike has not been an easy job for The Daily Worker”, he wrote, “I have had many headaches over it”. Communist loyalty to the truce was remarkable. It was, apparently, without blemish in industry and ruptured electorally only once, when the party supported the successful candidature of the independent socialist Charlie White against an effete pro-Government candidate in West Derbyshire in 1944.

99. In its immediate aftermath Haston noted the solidarity of women with the Barrow strikers, their friendly relations with the local police and mayor and a sympathetic feeling among soldiers and sailors on leave. But he warned that “there is a growing awareness that if the workers do not gain concessions for themselves now, when they have the employers where they want them, they will not be able to gain concessions after the war” (Socialist Appeal, Oct. 1943).

100. Tasks of the Industrial Militants (a resolution adopted by the 1943 conference of WIL), WIN, Oct.-Nov. 1943, 6-9. WIL could take some satisfaction from the confirmation of its forecast that factory committees would be built by militants forced to by-pass the quasi-official shop stewards structure.

101. Tearse was now a WIL professional and still MWF national secretary. A number of convenors, who were not Trotskyists, were prepared to sell Socialist Appeal, raise money and even ask advice of WIL (Interview with R. Tearse, Nov. 1973). Yet WIL made no really large gains in membership despite attention it paid to Albion Motor Works, Singers, John Browns and other Clydeside factories (H. McShane and J. Smith, op. cit., 23b).

102. The MWF line was to oppose Payment By Results in building and civil engineering (J. Milligan, Payment by Results, [1943], H.P., D.J.H. 10/I).

103. South London AEU members who were in the SWG, WIL and dissidents in the RSL met to concert action on 14 March [1943].

104. Income for 1943 was £2,654, a sum which included Millie Lee’s income of £350 and £781 from sales of Socialist Appeal (The Trotskyist Movement in Great Britain, Cabinet Paper W.P. (44), 202, 13 April 1944).

105. See Cortonwood Supplement, Jan. 1943, and Barrow Workers fight for living wage, Sept. 1943, H.P., D.J.H. 14E /21 and 23. The circulation of WIL’s publications in 1943 were 8-10,000 for Socialist Appeal and 2,000 for WIN.

106 The Economic League drew similar parallels between the German Workers’ Challenge radio station and articles in Socialist Appeal. It saw Trotskyism as undermining faith in the government by suggesting there was an Anglo-American conspiracy against the Soviets (Notes and Comments, 9 July 1943). This conflicted with the communist view that Trotskyism sought to undermine Russia, and yet J. Mahon (Hitler’s Agents Exposed, 1943) wrote “so Hitler needs something more than a radio station. This is where the Trotskyists take up the work”. Mahon charged that Trotskyism and the radio station had identical views on the war and both called for a general strike. In fact Socialist Appeal did not once call for a general strike throughout the war. But WIL thought Mahon’s pamphlet the first attempt by the CPGB to deal with the programme of Trotskyism (A Letter from England, Fourth International, June 1943, 190), though that did not stop him dubbing Trotskyism “a special detachment of fascism”, alleging that they were consciously playing Hitler’s game and asking “sooner or later we shall have to deal with them: why not now?”. Mahon also achieved a remarkable exegesis of Socialist Appeal:

“There are somewhere about 22,000 words in each issue. In November one sentence of 24 words might be construed into a criticism of Hitler. The remaining 21,976 words were attacks on Hitler’s enemies” (op. cit., 16).

107. Electoral contests were the raison d’etre of Common Wealth: when the truce ended, it died. Its story is thoroughly told in A. Calder, The Common Wealth Party, 1942-1945, 2 Vols. (University of Sussex Ph.D. thesis, 1967). The remarkable sequence of wartime results is discussed in P. Addison, By-Elections of the Second World War, in C. Cook and J. Ramsden, op. cit., 165-90. It is remarkable that D.L. Prynn in Common Wealth – a British Third Party of the-1940s, JCH, Vol.7, No.1-2, 1972, apparently had not read Calder.

108. The CPGB construed the rise of Common Wealth as a crack in national unity and the appearance of a potential fascist ally. It was forced to withdraw a hostile pamphlet, R.P. Arnot’s What Is Common Wealth? (1943), which stated this thesis. WIL drew encouragement from the adoption of a common ownership platform by J.B. Priestley (who was a precursor of C.W.),and Sir Richard Acland (WIL, Reply to the Political Statement, 2). The flavour of C.W.’s appeal, which had something in common with that of the Militant Socialist International in the less favourable environment of the 1930s can be derived from Acland’s belief early in the war that “only under common ownership can we abolish class distinction, unemployment, inequality and strife. Only under common ownership can we free ourselves from the system which positively encourages every man to seek his own personal advantage here on this earth” (Unser Kampf, 1940, 94).

109. This was the substance of WIL’s rejection of the RSL argument. In 1942 it forecast “more and more the workers will tend to break the bonds with which the Labour leaders have tied them to the fortunes of capital and advance on the road to independent action” (Preparing for Power, Sept. 1942, 22-3). The next summer it noted “within the ranks of the armed forces, among wide strata of the middle classes, a growing clash, a growing ferment and a process of radicalisation has been taking place” (Reply of WIL to the RSL criticism of Preparing for Power, 7 June 1943, H.P., D.J.H. 14B/15, 15).

110. WIL supported CPGB affiliation to the Labour Party on the grounds that the communists were not revolutionary and therefore not entitled to a separate existence (Amendment to Stalinist Resolutions Proposing Affiliations To The Labour Party, [1943?], H.P., D.J.H. 4/13, 2). It preferred that the ILP should also join and believed this would sift both Labour and the ILP between reformists and revolutionaries.

111. Although independent, WIL always advanced the slogans, “End the Truce” and “Labour to Power” (A New Stage in History, WIN, Sept. 1943, 7). But it believed the moment of Labour coming to power would be the moment of “its period of decline, of splitting and breaking up” (E. Grant, Our Tasks in the Coming Revolution, WIN, Jan. 1944, 11).

112. WIL noted 36 divisions calling for a break in the coalition on the 1943 Labour Party Conference agenda. It claimed that there were two which put its own position (A Letter from England, Fourth International (New York), June 1943, 190). Although WIL sent no one into Common Wealth, there were ex-Trotskyists within its ranks (A. Calder, The Common Wealth Party, Vol.1, 193 and Vol.2, 150-1).

113. 2,194 strikes took place during 1944 (E. Wigham, op. cit., 92).

114. The coalfields were generally quiet during the 1914-18 war, though massive unrest occurred in the first years of peace. But in January-March 1944 850,000 days were lost in South Wales, and elsewhere, in strikes against a tribunal award. In March and April more than one million days were lost in strikes over the home coal allowance. Coal mining was responsible for more than two-thirds of the 3,714,000 days lost in the year (ibid., 92). In these circumstances the inverse ratio noted by Mass Observation, between military crisis and industrial unrest broke down. R.P. Arnot, The Miners in Crisis and War (1951) traces the accumulation of discontent in the pits but not the effect of dissident political opinion.

115. Bevin had registered all ex-miners, but only a quarter of them (about 100,000) were fit and willing to return to the mines.

116. A Ministry committee advanced the idea of the ballot scheme in 1942 and Bevin introduced it in December 1943.

117. Five hundred Bevin Boys were actually imprisoned for refusing to do pit work (A. Bullock, op. cit., 260).

118. As early as 29 May 1943 Tom Stephenson of the Cumberland area of the MFGB had asked New Leader readers if the coercion of young surface miners underground should be permitted, and on 31 July-1 August the National Administrative Council of the ILP opposed conscription of sixteen year olds to the mines.

119. Anti-Labour Laws Victims Defence Campaign Circular, 5 May 1944 (Warwick MSS).

120. In January 1944 Bill Davy, a lapsed YCL member and leader of the apprentices, visited London with another apprentice. There he met Haston and Tearse.

121. Their January 1944 statement. “We refuse to carry the burden imposed on the industry by the lust for profit and inefficiency of the coal owners. Since they are directly responsible for the coal crisis, it is against them that compulsion must be directed” may have been influenced by the Trotskyists. And yet the Guild officials resolved on 7 February 1944, having heard Tearse’s advice, to break off relations with the MWF (J.B. Stuart, A Brief Report on England, Fourth International, June 1944, 170). The Trotskyists were to be accused of fomenting a strike but Tearse’s advice had been to explore first all legal channels, enter the unions, and send a deputation to London.

122. In February 1944 an apprentice was actually conscripted. On 10-11 February a deputation of apprentices from six centres visited Bevin in London but he refused to see them. They then gave three weeks notice of a strike to begin on 7 March and in the absence of any word from Whitehall came out a week early on 28 February 1944. There were 6,000 strikers on the Tyne, 5,000 on the Clyde and 1,000 in Huddersfield.

123. The Daily Worker reported on 4 April 1944 that a Tyneside apprentice had “exposed the Trotskyists”, that Davy, Tearse and Haston had met and that wild rumours about the ballot were circulating in Newcastle. The next day the paper added to its plea for an end to the strike, a call for miners, currently on strike against the Porter award, also to return to work. After the apprentices called their strike off The Daily Worker for 10 April ran J.R. Campbell’s pamphlet These Trotskyist Saboteurs as an article. Frustration boiled over when the BBC reported RCP activities without explaining the difference between the parties. All of this was a kind of tribute (R. Black, Stalinism in Britain, 1970, 171).

124. For the reactions of MPs, see below. The New Leader was sympathetic to the apprentices and on 8 April ridiculed the notion that “one or two ‘mystery men’ could impose their will upon 26,000 intelligent young workers”.

125. “There is little evidence before me to show that their activities have resulted in the starting of a strike or contributed to any material extent in prolonging a strike.” (Memorandum by the Home Secretary, Use of Regulation 18B against fomenters of strikes, 12 April 1944, Cabinet Papers, CAB71/16, LP (44) 67, 1.)

126. “My task would, I think, be made easier by the imposition of a check on inflammatory propaganda, which, although it may not cause strikes, engenders feeling hostile to the Government, the coalowners and the trade union leaders alike, and encourages the prolongation of strikes once they have begun” (Memorandum by the Minister of Fuel and Power, Distribution of Subversive Propaganda in the Coalfields, 13 April 1944, Cabinet Papers, CAB71/16, LP (44) 68, 2).

127. Ebby Edwards, TUC Chairman, and Sir Walter Citrine, T.U.C. Secretary, issued a statement about “persons and organisations who have been active in fomenting disturbances” (The Times, 6 April 1944).

128. The Lord President’s Committee met to discuss subversion for a second time on 14 April 1944. For its conclusion, see CAB71/15.The Legislation Committee approved a draft regulation, to be published as I A (a), on 17 April 1944.

129. On 5 April 1944, the Harrow Road premises of the RCP were raided by the Special Branch, who took away copies of the Socialist Appeal’s latest issue. Simultaneously, there was a raid on the home of Ann Keen and Heaton Lee in Newcastle and documents relating to the strike were confiscated. There were other raids in Nottingham and Glasgow (The Times, 6 April 1944). On the next day Heaton Lee and Ann Keen were arrested. They appeared on a conspiracy charge on 8 April and were remanded until 26 April (The Times, 10 April). In the early hours of 11 April Roy Tearse was arrested in Glasgow and charged with the same offence (The Times, 12 April). Haston had been sent by the party central committee to organise affairs in the North-East. He had travelled on from there to Edinburgh but, on learning that the police were also seeking him, he gave himself up (Interviews with J. Haston, E. Grant, July, Jan. 1973). These dates were contradicted by ALLVDC, op. cit.

130. The Trades Disputes Act was regarded by the labour movement as Tory revenge for the General Strike. The Labour Party was pledged to repeal it. Lee, Keen, Tearse and Haston were the first people to be charged under its provisions and a mighty propaganda lever was thereby handed to the RCP. It is remarkable that Sir Alan Bullock did not comment in his biography of Bevin on the paradox of a Labour Minister of Labour being the only one in whose term of office there was a prosecution under this Act, yet wrote that Bevin sought repeal of the Act (op. cit., 244).

131. In his peroration, Maxton declared:

“I say this to Ernest Bevin and to the Prime Minister. If they really believe that the ILP and the Trotskyists are associating together in a plot to stir up industrial trouble, don’t let them go after the boys. I am the Parliamentary leader of the ILP. Let them haul me into the Courts and, if I get there before any judge who is fair-minded, the verdict will be ‘not guilty’.” (The New Leader, 15 April 1944)

132. RCP Circular, Following the Arrests, 12 April 1944, n.p. H.P.

133. This had been the intention behind the despatch of Haston to the North. There seems to have been no dissent from the party leaders’ decision to meet the challenge head-on, though E.L. Davis ceased his activities around this time.

134. The War Cabinet met on 19 April 1944 and took note of a four page memorandum by Morrison, concise and largely accurate, with which an appendix, giving personal details of seven RCP leaders, was printed. Morrison coolly analysed the situation which had permitted increasing RCP activity and influence and concluded:

“These advantages are temporary and, unless the Trotskyists can exploit them much more rapidly than at present, it seems unlikely that they will ever rise to a greater position than that of sparring partners to the communists, who would very much like to see the Trotskyists and their small paper suppressed. (Memorandum by the Home Secretary, The Trotskyist Movement in Great Britain, 13 April 1944, Cabinet Papers, CAB66/49, folios 7-9A, W.P. (44) 202, 4.) See Appendix H.

135. Morrison knew that WIL sent speakers to locations of industrial strife, “but hitherto their influence has been almost negligible”. He argued against the use of 18B since it would be difficult to employ it against Trotskyists without also clobbering local strike leaders not opposed to the war. If a miner were to be the subject of an action under 18B, he argued, a widespread strike might result. Morrison was not complacent but felt the great majority of people had no desire to hinder prosecution of the war (Use of Regulation 18B against fomenters of strikes, 3).

136. In addition to the Trades Disputes Act there was available Order 1305 (introduced by Bevin in 1941), which banned strikes and lockouts and bound parties to disputes to accept the rulings of arbitration courts.

137. It emerged in the Commons debate of 28 April 1944 that Bevin had secured the prior approval of I A (a) of the General Council of the TUC as well as that of employers” representatives. Will Lawther, the MFGB president had insisted in a speech that the Trotskyists be taken seriously and called for I A (a) (Tribune, 14 April 1944).

138 This was a riposte to the legalistic revolutionary proposals of the Socialist League (LPCR 1933, 161).

139. Psychologically Bevin himself would have to be numbered among them. Some in the press had attributed his bitterness at Farnworth to injured pride at a loss of influence with the unions (A. Bullock, op. cit., 269-70).

140. M. Foot (Aneurin Bevan, 1 (1966), 386-8) traces Bevin’s public statements of concern against the mining background.

141. Strikers had been arrested on a number of occasions earlier in the war, and nearly 2,000 of them had been convicted on various charges. The April arrests were unique, however, in covering those not on strike but assisting one.

142. These three possibilities were discussed at a central committee of 16/17 April 1944.

143. The Central Committee took a number of decisions: to prepare a second line leadership, to appoint a special committee of three to review problems on a day by day basis, and to conduct the forth coming trial politically, despite the risk of heavier sentences. They had a lawyer, Ajit Roy (an Indian Trotskyist), available, but they resolved to hire a barrister for the trial “and check his background for Stalinist sympathies” (CC Report, 19 April 1944, H.P., D.J.H. 15A/21, l).

144. ibid., 2.

145. Initial members of the committee were Brockway, G. Pittock-Buss, Padley, Bob Turner, M. Kavanagh of the Freedom Association, Grant, and McGregor. V. Sastry of the Federation of Indian Associations was made provisional secretary.

146. Sydney Silverman, Rhys Davies, McGovern, R. Blake and Sorenson were MPs who joined. Maxton was made chairman and W.G. Cove MP treasurer. John McNair, Dick Beech, Arthur Ballard and D. Ballantine were added as well. At a meeting in the House of Commons, only George Harney MP declined to join his fellow members on the committees (ALLVDC, Circular, 5 May 1944, Warwick MSS). John McNair mistakes the dates of Maxton’s interest and that of the ILP as 1943 (James Maxton, the beloved rebel, 1955, 324).

147. Early in May 1944, the most obvious gap in personnel was put right by the adherence of Aneurin Bevan. [ALLVDC,] The Facts of the Case, [June? 1944], reports that two more MPs, Alex Sloan and S.O. Davies, also joined.

148. [RCP] Political Bureau, Political Letter, 24 May 1944, 1. The RCP discovered however that while ILP MPs were wholeheartedly committed to the campaign, the more orthodox Labour MPs were more uneasy at association with Trotskyists. The RCP, believed that whereas Maxton always addressed a meeting if he could Aneurin Bevan, for example, was less determined. All local groups of the ALLVDC were established on RCP initiative ([R.C.P] Political Bureau, Perspective of the Party Work on the ALLVDC, Sept. 1944, 1) .

149. Resolutions against the arrests were passed by Southall NUR, E Trades Council and GMWU, from Paddington NUR; Newcastle Trades Council; Slough ETU and Trades Council; Edmonton Trades Council; Camberwell National Society of Painters; Newark ASLEF; AEU branches in Mitcham, Thornton Heath and the Glasgow district committee, [ALLVDC], The Facts of the Case, [early June?] 1944. This list indicates that it required a Trotskyist presence to mount a trade union campaign in a locality.

150. See below.

151. [Some workers] “are openly hostile to the right wing of the Labour and Trade Union movement. But to destroy their illusions in the ‘lefts’ it is not sufficient that we denounce Bevan as we have done in the past. It is necessary to be explanatory; to go through their experiences with them, calling on Bevan to match his words and gestures with deeds” (Political Letter, issued by the Political Bureau, 24 May 1944, H.P.; D.J.H. 12/3).

152. There had been minor exchanges about WIL, inter alia, on 16 and 21 July 1942, at the time of earlier miners’ strikes (see above).

153. “Are we seriously asked to believe that these solid Yorkshire miners came out on strike because of a number of evilly-disposed Trotskyists?” (HC Debates, Vol.399, Col.1065, 28 April 1944).

154. Holding the Trotskyists without trial and hearing their case in camera was, he charged, “disgraceful, and shows the extent to which public morale had degenerated under the leadership we have at the present time” (HC Debates, Vol.399, Col.1068, 28 April 1944). Perhaps the strongest outcry over Bevan’s biting speech was stimulated by his attacks on what he claimed was an unrepresentative TUC. For this and the debate, see M. Foot, op. cit., 390-402.

155. Kirkwood focussed on Bevin’s refusal to meet the apprentices and told that when he had been warned there would be a strike Bevin had retorted, “we are ready for them”. “The Minister of Labour”, Kirkwood declared, “is a man who has lost his soul” (HC Debates, Vol.399, Col.1076, 28 April 1944).

156. McGovern followed the RCP argument that repression would establish it, not because of its policy but because of the heroism of some of its members (ibid., Cols.1086-92). Acland, amused by the way Pritt and Bevin played up the importance of Trotskyism, told the House the party had 500 members, total weekly expenses of £10 and a fortnightly press circulation of 5,000. “This”, he taunted, “is the size of the organisation which, it is suggested, can bring 130,000 miners out on strike” (ibid., 1092).


Is it really suggested that the whole machinery of the law is powerless? The whole law as it stands at present is not strong enough to deal with this Trotskyist instigation, say the Government. As I have said, I do not minimise this Trotskyist instigation; I think it is serious, and I think it has grown up partly because of the persistent refusal of the Home Secretary to do anything about it. The Home Secretary has two fiddles to play:

Mr. E. Bevin: The hon. and learned member wants 18B?

Mr. Pritt: Not only 18B but also 2D.

The Government, instead of supplying paper for Socialist Appeal, should stop the paper itself. (H.C. Debates, Vol.399, Col.1107, 28 April 1944.)

Bevin told Pritt that he had considered introducing Order I A (a) earlier in the war for use against the CPGB, but had been forestalled when it ceased to believe that the war was imperialist. “The Trotskyists”, he ruminated, “were the ‘wee frees’ who did not accept that”. Pritt, in his autobiography, made no reference to the case.

158. ibid., Cols.1138-9.

159. All ILP and CW members voted for the annulment. The noes totalled 314, which suggests that a bare majority of MPs were present to vote on this prime parliamentary occasion.

160. See PLEB, A Socialist’s War Diary, The Plebs (May 1944), 65; R.S.W. Pollard, Strikes and IAA, The Plebs, Aug. 1944, 98; D.G. MacRae, Organised Labour in War Time, Fabian Quarterly, Jan. 1945, 74.

161. The Daily Worker line on I A (a) evolved during April 1944 and by 27 April it was reporting widespread opposition. Unlike other labour movement papers, however, it supported government action under existing powers:

“For example, the Socialist Appeal could have been closed down under Regulation 2D and all matter published by the Trotskyists could have been stopped under Regulation 2C. There is also Regulation 18B, under which a number of Fascists, blood-brothers of the Trotskyists, are still held in detention.” (Government already has power to deal with Trotskyists, The Daily Worker, 13 April 1944.)

WIL had protested against suppression of The Daily Worker: see Lift the Daily Worker ban, [1941?], 3 , H.P., D.J.H. 14E /6. Socialist Appeal was at last beginning to suffer paper difficulties. In 1943 it appeared for a time on narrower sheets than hitherto. The Cabinet in its 1944 discussion noted the paper’s lack of difficulty with newsprint supply (The Trotskyist-Movement in Great Britain, 2).

162. The Times, 19 April 1944.

163. To the RCP it seemed clear that I A (a) was intended to prevent those activities which were the raison d’etre of the MWF: the coordination of policy, action and finance, and the exchange of information. Carrying on as before would be “the worst sort of adventurism”. The central committee therefore switched the direction of the MWF to activity through the trade union machinery and presented the change to the membership as a retreat in good order (Political Letter issued by the Political Bureau, 24 May 1944, 4, H.P., D.J.H. 12/3 .

164. They had been remanded again on 28 April, the day of the Commons debate. The proceedings were held in camera, a fact referred to in the debate by Bevan.

165. Charlesworth presented to the Court three pamphlets, Appeal from the Tyneside Apprentices to the whole Organised Working Class, Apprentices fight the Pit Compulsion Ballot, and Appeal from the Tyneside Apprentices to the Miners. He argued that the apprentices’ advocacy of resistance to the ballot and mines nationalisation was introduced from outside and suggested the leaflets were composed by Lee with Davy’s assistance at Lee’s Newcastle house (Socialist Appeal, June 1944).

166. After he had explained the sub-committees established to run the strike, Charlesworth continued,

“Without them to develop such a scheme, it is very doubtful if the movement among the apprentices would have remained more than a budding movement, or that any strike at all would have occurred, or if it had occurred, would have assumed even such proportions as it did assume.” (Socialist Appeal, June 1944)

167. Davy testified that he had only met Lee and Keen late in December 1943, and declared “there would have been a strike if I had never met any of the accused”. The apprentices had already concluded that nationalisation of the mines would render conscription unnecessary, the provenance of which political idea was an important feature of the prosecution case. The exception was the Blyth apprentice Donnachie, the informant of The Daily Worker. Yet while Donnachie’s evidence differed from that of the other seven apprentices called to the box, he was not opposed to a strike against the scheme, but to making mines nationalisation the issue on which they would come out (ibid.).

168. There is no transcript of this trial, although shorthand writers attended. Socialist Appeal reported verbatim many speeches and exchanges and gave a generally full coverage. The Times published brief reports on each day’s proceedings with few quotations. This account rests on the two papers’ reports. Socialist Appeal claimed that the capitalist press was deliberately playing the trial down in its issue for June 1944.

169. Curtis-Bennett was to prove unsatisfactory through his failure to cooperate with the party aim of treating the trial politically. The party also concluded that he did not even put forward the legal arguments as well as the defendants themselves might have done (Statement to Members from the Political Bureau, 22 June 1944, H.P., D.J.H 12/4, 1). He was not dismissed because it was felt that this would cause “a sensation throughout the country”.

170. Paley Scott, the prosecuting counsel, warned the jury before Davy went into the witness box that he was a reluctant witness. Davy was emphatic as to the role of the accused:

“Our object was to prevent apprentices being conscripted for the mines at any price. That was our view without the intervention of the four accused. None of the defendants ever addressed any public meeting advocating a strike. None of the four even advocated a strike privately” (Socialist Appeal, July 1944).

In April, Morrison had written of the RCP, “the party’s slogan is not ‘Strike’, but ‘Break the coalition: Labour to power’” (The Trotskyist Movement in Great Britain, 3).

171. Haston told that he had advised against lobbying MPs until the apprentices realised how ineffective it would be. Once they saw through such activities they should undertake them for propaganda gains. Haston also told the Court that he had urged the apprentices to declare that they would observe the ballot if the mines were nationalised, but his advice was rejected in both cases (Socialist Appeal, July 1944).

172. Trewartha appeared for the defence by unanimous decision of his district committee of the AEU (Interview with R. Tearse, Nov. 1973). Trewartha compared Tearse’s role on the Tyne with that he had played at Barrow, an important parallel, for the prosecution had projected him as the apprentices’ eminence grise. Socialist Appeal commented on the improbability of this since Tearse, at twenty-five years of age, was only three years older than some of the apprentices. Trewartha, it transpired, had been approached by the police some weeks earlier, to testify for the prosecution (ibid.).

173. Bevin denied that his conversation with Kirkwood had ever taken place: he had not known the apprentices were waiting on him but would not, in any case, have received them. He claimed his job was to meet with official bodies only, whereas the T.A.G. was unofficial. While he had once given exemption from the scheme to the Tyneside lads, changing circumstances of war meant that he had to withdraw it. Millie Lee reported he was “shaking like a leaf” while in the box (Socialist Appeal, July 1944). His appearance there was a singular omission from Lord Bullock’s biography.

174. “It is not necessary that the act in furtherance of an illegal strike should be during the actual time of the strike; it may be an act which could reasonably be regarded, upon the evidence, as an act in preparation for the strike and that the strike was an illegal one” (The Times Law Reports, Vol.171, 11 Nov. 1944, 288-9).

175. Socialist Appeal for July 1944 damned the jury as middle class types with not one worker among them.

176. There was little evidence against Keen, amounting chiefly to the charge that she had typed out a letter and pamphlet under Lee’s and Davy’s direction. She was sentenced to thirteen days, which she had of course already served. Though Haston received a shorter sentence, he had not of course been active on Tyneside. Ebullient to the end, Haston told the judge he hoped to serve his class as well as he (the judge) had served his (Socialist Appeal, July 1944).

177. The word illegal effectively meant political under the Act, and the apprentices’ action qualified by being aimed at coal industry nationalisation.

178. This may have been an extra thrust behind eventual removal. Yet it is surely misleading to project the 1946 repeal by Labour as a linear development and to shake out the contradictions in Bevin’s role:

“As things turned out the unions had to wait for another fifteen years by which time not only did they have a Labour Government with a majority large enough to make easy the fulfillment of the party’s programme, but they had as its most powerful member a man who had been at the centre of the General Strike, Ernest Bevin.” (D.F. MacDonald, The State and the Trade Unions, 1960, 109-110.)

179. H. Pelling (Britain and the Second World War, 1970, 316) alleges that the Council simply did not take up the case of those of whose politics it disapproved. The RCP was convinced the NCCL was under communist influence. Ewart A. Prince, Civil Liberty in Great Britain (University of London Ph.D. thesis, 1950), makes no mention of the case. The Anarchists were another non-communist group to experience NCCL indifference (G. Woodcock, The Crystal Spirit, 1970, 20-3). After the appeal RCP members were urged to keep local committees in being and work for “a real Labour Defence organisation”.

180. Sara made himself available as speaker (H. Pratt, acting secretary, ALLVDC, to Sara; H. Sara to Pratt, 17 June 1944, [Warwick MSS]). Groves chaired meetings in Birmingham and South-West London.

181. Ann Keen was much in demand as the only one of the accused at liberty. She and Millie Lee were offered space from which to run the campaign at the ILP head office, when the RCP centre at Harrow Road was menaced by flying bombs (interview with Ann Finkel [Keen], July 1974). At a 6 August 1944 meeting, chaired by Dick Beech, Ernest Silverman, one of the speakers, told of how he had warned Haston that an appeal might double his sentence and that Haston had replied this did not matter if trade union rights were asserted (The New Leader, 12 Aug. 1944).

182. NUDAW at its annual conference demanded the withdrawal of I A (a) “after hearing its acting general secretary Alfred Burrows ridicule the idea that the Trotskyists might be responsible for the apprentices’ movement. The Scottish TUC and SWMF added their condemnation of I A (a). In the autumn, the Trades Union Congress accepted an invitation to approve of I A (a) and the conduct of the General Council at the time of its introduction by 3,686,000 to 2,802,000. One surprising convert to opposition, in view of his wartime record, was AEU president Jack Tanner.

183. At the May hearing, Bill Davy had told of three consecutive days interrogation he had undergone at Wallsend Police Station. It was suggested to him at the time that he could go to prison, but nothing came of it.

184. Morrison knew the exact London membership (though he exaggerated the national figure). He could make a shrewd evaluation of the RSL, “stultified by internal strife” and devastatingly predicted that the RCP under present leadership was unlikely to submit to dictatorship from the Fourth International. He had seen the 1943 accounts of WIL, and could make a subtle comparison of the communists and the Trotskyists. The strongest probability is that there was an informant within WIL who, by providing documents and knowledgeable opinions, gave Morrison the data from which to draw his perspicacious conclusion:

“These advantages are temporary and, unless the Trotskyists can exploit them much more rapidly than at present, it seems unlikely that they will ever rise to a greater position than that of sparring partners to the communists, who would very much like to see the Trotskyists and their small paper suppressed” (The Trotskyist Movement in Great Britain, 1). This memorandum is produced in full as Appendix H.

185. In the wake of the trial, the CPGB, brought out the last of its wartime attacks on the Trotskyists, J.R. Campbell’s Trotskyist Saboteurs (1944). Campbell’s pamphlet was full of knockabout stuff: all Grant knew of the British working class movement might have been picked up “on back veldt”; Haston’s contribution to the workers’ cause in Edinburgh might be written on the back of a 1d stamp; Roy Tearse was a third rate inefficient shop steward. Yet there was some nervousness in Campbell’s deployment of a quote from “a working woman” who had heard the RCP defence: “what kind of communists are these? They are even against Stalin”. Campbell’s plea for publicity to bring the Trotskyists into the light of day did not compel conviction.

At the end of the war, the CPGB called for removal of the 1927 Act and I A (a) from the statute book (Britain for the People, [1945], 17).

186. Key guidance for the Appeal Court came from a House of Lords ruling that a strike could only be furthered during its course, Conway v. Wade, 1909. Cassels had ignored this in a three hour summing up. But this ruling was inconsistent with acquittal of the four on the conspiracy charge so Wrottesley upheld the Appeal. (The Weekly Notes, 14 Oct. 1944, 200; The Law Times, 11 Nov. 1944, 287-9). The Daily Worker, which had not closely followed the trial did not report the successful Appeal.

187.ALLVDC, A Victory for Labour, 1944.

188. J.B. Stuart’s belief that the Welsh miners had “seen through Bevan and the communists” was quite mad (A Brief Report on England, Fourth International, June 1944, 168).

189. “The fact that they were found not guilty on the conspiracy and incitement charges is a victory for us, particularly in the light of the vicious press campaign directly or indirectly accusing the comrades of instigating and inciting the Tyne Apprentices and other strikes. It completely vindicates our contention that we do not incite or conspire to bring workers out on strike as the capitalist press and the Labour and Stalinist leaders were charging, but that the workers come out on strike only when they have a genuine and legitimate grievance” (Statement to Members from the Political Bureau, 22 June 1944, 1).

190. A large rally was held in Glasgow with some communist stewards on the platform (interview with R. Tearse, Nov. 1973). The RCP could also consider its decision to rely as much as possible on legal and open activity vindicated.

191. Socialist Appeal claimed that soldiers abroad were following the case and quoted a headline from an Eighth Army paper, “Right to Strike is one of the freedoms we are fighting for”.

192. “But the remarkable feature of industrial relations in the Second World War, as compared with twenty five years earlier, is the relatively small proportion of trouble due to strikes, and the almost entire absence of political motivation in the strikes that did take place”! (H. Pelling, Britain and the Second World War, 1970, 250).

193. “Our Party was the instrument through which the ruling class suffered a defeat on this issue. For the first time the limits within which legal work can be conducted have been fixed by the precedent of this trial ...” (RCP Political Bureau, Perspective of the Party Work On The ALLVDC, [July 1944?], H.P., D.J.H. 15B 5, 1).

Welcome Page   |   Upham Menu

Updated by ETOL: 6.4.2004