The History of British Trotskyism to 1949

by Martin Upham


1944 – 1947

At the end of the war the structure of international Trotskyism was rebuilt. As in the 1930s, its chief presence was in Europe, where the British were the only Trotskyists who had maintained unbroken legal activity throughout the war. In 1944-7 it was the British who proved the most flexible Trotskyist interpreters of postwar political and economic phenomena in Europe, many of which had not been anticipated in the seminal Transitional Programme of 1938. However, international leadership remained in the hands of thinkers unable to break with pre-war ideological categories, and against whom neither the RCP nor other critics were able to assemble a majority. This was the case before and after the return of the World Trotskyist Centre to Paris. For its part, the RCP during these three years failed to compile a rounded alternative analysis to the official viewpoint of the Fourth International.

War destroyed the fragile structure of European Trotskyism. Some national sections were underground or in exile even before 1939. The outbreak of hostilities led to transference of the international centre to the United States. By 1940 the only Trotskyists in Europe operating legally were, to their initial surprise, the British. This is not to argue that activity did not take place in Occupied Europe. The fissiparous French, working at first under exceptionally difficult conditions [1], maintained publication of journals [2] and were prime movers in convening the international gatherings of August 1943 and February 1944. Across Europe, there were other groups working in clandestinity but until these gatherings met they were isolated. [3] The August 1943 meeting brought representatives from five countries to Paris and established a provisional European Secretariat. [4] That of February 1944, again in Paris, had a similarly broad base and elected an executive as well as a secretariat. [5] This was the European structure of Trotskyism at D-Day, which was to bring in its train renewed legality. The IEC elected at the Emergency World Conference of May 1940 barely functioned during the war. It was isolated from the heart of the world movement, which was Europe, and suffered from being dominated by the Socialist Workers Party although, technically, that body could not take part. [6] Its only functioning limb was an International Secretariat divided within itself [7] and regarded, by the RCP at least, as an outpost of the SWP. [8] WIL and the RSL had both been in contact with the International Secretariat through correspondence and occasional visits. [9]After the RCP was launched there was a sharp clash with the IS over recognition for the new Manifesto Group in Italy which was broadly, but not precisely, identified with the current Trotskyist programme. [10] The RCP, with other sections, argued for friendliness as well as firmness with emergent European sections. [11] IS handling of the Italians fuelled general discontent with it. [12] The RCP called for the transference of the World Centre back to Europe while harbouring some misgivings about what the sections on the Continent represented. [13] It also voiced disquiet about the involvement of the IS in party affairs via the backing it provided for the British Minority. [14] In the last months of 1945 the IS seems to have disintegrated from within [15] and lost much standing outside. [16] The body elected by the 1946 conference of the Fourth International – the first representative gathering since 1946 – was quite different in personnel.

The European Executive Committee became a more solid body during 1945 [17], though it did not have to defend its ideas at an international conference until the following year. Like the SWP it nurtured expectations of extreme and immediate crisis: there would be a “relatively rapid” movement to workers’ power or a turn to fascism, a January 1945 resolution of the EEC, declared. [18] Even the slightest demand would, in its view, put a strain on the regimes of Europe. RCP distaste for the American-based IS did not imply any great confidence in the leaders of European Trotskyism. Pierre Frank, who had passed much of the war in Britain, was one of those who did not enjoy good relations with the British, but was a leading member of the Executive Committee. In 1945 he clashed with the RCP, several times over French and European matters, and was one of those who argued that pre-war statements of the Fourth International had a timeless value. [19] The RCP felt that he and others avoided specifics in the guiding resolutions they produced and relied too greatly on attitudes struck in a different era. When the European Secretariat produced its key resolution in anticipation of the imminent conference of the International, the RCP central committee determined in February 1946 to seek a lengthy series of changes. [20] Their drift was that stabilisation and not crisis was the immediate character of affairs in Europe [21] and that democracy would be maintained [22]; that there should be self-criticism of earlier Trotskyist statements on European diplomatic threats [23] and that there should be an unequivocal call for the withdrawal of the Red Army as well as other occupying forces. [24] The Central Committee also put itself on record that the European Secretariat had no revolutionary perspectives for China and underestimated that country’s ability to win national independence. When the Minority moved a resolution condemning Morrow it was voted down nine to two.

The Founding Congress of the Fourth International had given certain international responsibilities to the British. CLR James had a strong interest in colonial questions and had secured agreement that his country should devise a colonial programme and an international colonial bureau. [25] Nothing seems to have come of this and James was, in any case, removed from the IEC within two years. But Workers International League took a special interest in the fate of other sections, notably the Indians [26] and the Irish. [27] Both WIL and RSL members in the armed forces used the opportunity to make contact in foreign lands. [28] In 1944, before D-Day, the most impressive Trotskyist organisation in Europe was surely the RCP although it could obviously take no part in the elementary rebuilding taking place on the mainland. The RCP, like the WIL before it, had played a role in holding together the semblance of an international network and it was, of course, at a peak of influence in its own country. Its absence from the deliberations of the Trotskyists on the mainland contributed to their incomprehension of changes which followed the Allied invasion of Europe. The political thought of the RCP and the Europeans never converged.

While war continued in Europe, Trotskyist thinking stayed close to the forecasts of the Transitional Programme. The Italian Revolution was interpreted by the British and the infant European Secretariat as the harbinger of great events. WIL predicted instability and the impossibility of a democratic era following the war. [29] The Europeans went further and anticipated a rapid collapse of Stalin’s regime either as the result of world revolution or military intervention by the west. [30] The SWP, to increasing disquiet within its own ranks, predicted more or less immediate revolution. [31] As the months passed however, it emerged that there was a different emphasis in these predictions of crisis. The British anticipated progress for the workers’ movement while the Europeans and the SWP emphasised the power of the state and the military and forecast repression. [32]

The RCP grew restive at the failure of the IS to provide theses which would guide the European Trotskyists as Nazi hegemony crumbled. At the time of the Normandy invasion it advanced its own view of the likely course of events. [33] When the next few months brought forth no guidance from the United States, it went further and took up a position on the national question. [34] This entailed criticism of liberation movements, a perspective of democracy in Europe and reaffirmation of resistance to the ideas of the IKD, a German emigré group resident in London. [35] Both the RCP’s D-Day view and its thesis on the national question were criticised by minorities within. [36] By the end of 1944 the RCP position was that there should be independent workers’ formations within the resistance, that they could not be absorbed since history had not been rolled back to the point where only democratic tasks lay ahead. The basic slogans of the Transitional Programme were, the party held, still valid, but there was also a place for “transitional democratic slogans” to arouse the masses. [37] The proletariat would not aim at bourgeois democracy in postwar Europe but bourgeois democracy was what it would get, at least for a time. The RCP predicted counter-revolution in a democratic form [38], but like other European sections [39] was militantly opposed to making a democratic orientation the main emphasis of Fourth International propaganda. [40]

But while there was fairly general agreement that fascism had not levelled all differences, there were distinct emphases in the British and European presentations. The RCP was convinced that the bourgeoisie would lean on “Stalino-reformist agents” and that this would constitute not a democratic revolution but a preventative democratic counter-revolution. [41] A swing to the left was impending [42]: popular indignation at Nazism would bubble over, it thought, into a struggle for economic and social rights. There was little basis on which reaction might develop, but since the proletariat did not yet support revolutionary parties it could not realise its full strength. A period of ideological confusion must follow with “Kerensky” or popular front governments pushed to the fore. That was why the tactical orientation of the Trotskyist forces was of vital importance in the period opening up. [43]

As in the West, so in the East. Trotsky had predicted that Stalinist Russia could not survive the war. [44] Not only did this prove false but the Soviet borders effectively expanded to embrace half of Europe , courtesy of the Red Army. WIL, whose perspectives were to dominate the RCP, had shared this perspective. [45] The RCP attempted to explain Soviet survival and military success with conditional formulae. The Red Army crushed Nazism but also delayed workers’ revolution. Its troops were, however, open to fraternal appeals. The fate of the Soviet bureaucracy remained undecided. One workers’ victory in an important European country would, it believed, “sound the death knell of the Soviet bureaucracy”. Even before that there might be internal conflicts in Russia and it was on these, rather than military intervention, that imperialism relied. The RCP believed therefore that the position of the Soviets was strong, that they were a beneficiary from the shift in the relationship of European social forces in favour of the working class. [46] Soviet power was, for the moment, unchallengeable and the Allies would be “forced to tolerate a deal with it”.

A dozen national sections attended the international conference of April 1946, convened in Paris. [47] The conference had before it the key resolution, The New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the Fourth International, discussed by the RCP, central committee two months earlier. [48] It declared the “last possibilities of a relatively stable equilibrium” in the economy destroyed. A third world war loomed, it argued, given unprecedentedly united bourgeois opposition to the USSR, which only the intervention of workers’ revolution could now save. There was no self-criticism in the resolution [49], nor any serious explanation of why given the alleged character of the epoch the FI was so small. [50] The nearest attempt was the argument that defeatism and failure to grasp the phase politics were passing through inhibited growth. [51] Faced with this, and mindful of the central committee discussion, RCP delegates concentrated on projecting three theses: that relative recovery within general decline was taking place; that recognition of counterrevolution within a democratic form should govern tactics of the sections; that Soviet defence, backing for the revolution in Europe against Stalinism, and a clear call for the withdrawal of all occupying armies were essential. [52] They drew up a resolution expressing these reservations and abstained in the vote which approved the main resolution. [53] They stood out for tolerance of minorities within the FI with whom they did not necessarily agree and were themselves the. most persistent critics of the International’s leaders. [54] A crucial election for the International Executive, that was in the end to split the RCP, returned the British delegates Grant and Haston, but there was no British member of the new IS. [55] A fairly sharp division set in within this IEC from its first meeting of June 1946 onwards. The World Congress did not meet until June 1948, by which time the pattern of the post-war Fourth International was set.

The political differences separating the RCP from the new IS and IEC and which dominated their relations over the eighteen months separating the international conference from the British split, may be conveniently grouped into three: the stage reached by the European economy, the strength or weakness of Western European governments, and the ability of the Soviets to survive. The 1946 RCP conference adjusted the party’s economic outlook for Europe to embrace an indefinite period of stability ahead. [56] There was no meeting of minds with the International which, the RCP believed, saw it as sharing Morrow’s views on this subject. [57] The party argued that generalised statements about crisis were of little practical value in the short term, disputed that Europe was suffering a classic crisis of overproduction and denied that there would be a spontaneous collapse. [58] In late 1946 the RCP developed the thesis of economic revival: first (in a curiously Keynesian passage) capitalism would not allow Eastern Europe to outstrip the West; second, since the crisis had been one of under not overproduction, a cyclical upswing must follow. [59] If the FI refused to acknowledge the facts it would be discredited. Nor, in the RCP view, was an upswing necessarily to be feared by revolutionaries. It boosted confidence and combativity within the working class. [60]

One of the countries on which the RCP/IS dispute tended to focus was France, the world centre of Trotskyist operations after April 1946. Grant and Frank had clashed in 1945 over the constitutional referendum held in the autumn of that year. [61] Frank could abide no attempts to undermine the pre-war characterization of the French government as a bonapartist regime and continued to believe in 1946 that the changes which had occurred had not altered its fundamental character. [62] Frank’s general view was that there were no democratic regimes in Europe. Grant countered that Frank’s identification of political and economic developments was crude. [63] Repressive apparatus was retained by all regimes and its existence, therefore, proved nothing. In 1940, the IS had identified Petain and de Gaulle, but the analogy had been palpably false for some time. [64] Reaction might occur, but there was no mass support for it and one did not throw in the towel before the bout. [65]

The 1946 RCP conference upheld the view expounded by Grant, that what were being manifested in Europe were “unstable bourgeois democratic regimes” where capitalism was obliged by the strength of the workers’ parties to rule through them and not by decree. [66] But the economic and political perspectives of the leading bodies of the Fourth International were effectively one. In 1946 and 1947 the IS insisted that in France there was a ceiling on production which it would be impossible to exceed. [67] It denied that the failure of revolution to follow hard on the heels of war meant that stabilisation was taking place [68] and its confidence was not dented by the arrival of U.S. loans. The March 1947 plenum of the IEC complacently reviewed earlier documents and the unwillingness of FI leaders to acknowledge their past errors angered the British. [69] That autumn the guiding resolution for the coming World Congress affirmed the theses of 1946. Capitalism was “incapable of restoring the world market and a balanced development of world trade”. “Increased disequilibrium” would extend the period (largely imaginary) of convulsions and crises. [70]

Perhaps the most difficult phenomenon for post-war Trotskyism to comprehend was that of Russia and Eastern Europe. It was a monster with three heads. What attitude should be adopted to the advance of the Red Army? What were the implications of post-war Soviet survival? What was the social character of the new states of Eastern Europe? Healy, the RCP Minority leader, had in February 1946 supported the call for Red Army withdrawal from occupied territories [71]; two months later he reversed this position. [72] RCP leaders suspected the International of equivocation on this issue and a clear call for withdrawal was made only in June 1946. [73]

But responding to the Red Army was only a minor feature of a larger problem. Writing in 1936 Trotsky had declared that failing socialist revolution elsewhere in Europe, Stalin’s regime must be deposed in a war. [74] Alongside this prediction rested Trotsky’s description of the Soviets as a transitional regime, where planning and the state monopoly of foreign trade had survived but the country was in the grip of a bureaucratic apparatus. On this analysis rested the willingness of most Trotskyists to call for Soviet defence during the war. Soviet survival ought to have called for a full appraisal by the Trotskyists. There were in fact three reactions to it: the supporters of Shachtman continued to believe that capitalism had been restored in Russia; a few sections, and most notably the RCP, belatedly undertook a lengthy examination of economic and political processes there; the majority, led by the IS and supported by the British minority, took refuge from reality by trying to stay as near as they could to Trotsky’s predictions.

The views of Shachtman et al. had provoked a major crisis in the International and especially in the Socialist Workers Party. After the 1940 defection of the IEC to Shachtman’s Workers Party, most Trotskyists remained firm behind Trotsky’s holding formula. By 1946 however, there was a small state capitalist group in the RCP [75], and that same year Morrow and Jeffries were led by their frustration in the SWP to join Shachtman’s party. The British believed that the law of value still prevailed in Russia, and that once the country’s output had saturated the home market it would start to suffer crises of overproduction. [76] At the 1946 RCP conference the Majority and Minority put up a joint spokesman to answer the only Shachtmanite among the delegates. But while Shachtman’s position was consistent, the RCP was fluid, aware that it could not rest content on pre-war formulae. In July 1946 the Central Committee declared that theory must now be measured against social conditions in Russia. [77] After hesitation the party affirmed that capitalism had not been restored there but began to talk of the-country heading towards capitalism. The 1946 party conference somewhat uneasily asserted that in Russia the capitalist state existed without a capitalist class, but continued to see a positive side in state planning. [78] The RCP also insisted that Russia had emerged from the war stronger not weaker, a view the IS felt quite unable to accept. [79]

The RCP minority projected Russia as caught in an economic impasse [80]: faced with a capitalist world and under bureaucratic management it would not fulfil the terms of its own five year plan. But the Minority also rested largely on the pre-war analysis. [81] To the IS Russia was economically weakened by the destruction of its Western industrial regions and faced the prospect of war since “the imperialists have posed the settling of accounts with the USSR as their most pressing task”. [82]

But it was the “glacis” of Eastern European states which provided the greatest conundrum. It was all very well to repeat, as Finch had, the arguments of The Revolution Betrayed, but were the nationalisations in Eastern Europe bourgeois or proletarian? If bourgeois, where was the capitalist class which benefited? And did this permit Marxists to call for them to be defended as they called for Soviet nationalisation to be defended? If these were “proletarian” nationalisations how was it that a degenerate bureaucracy in Russia had, through invasion, destroyed capitalism? Could capitalism be overthrown other than through the agency of the Fourth International, which considered itself the only party of world revolution? The leaders of the Fourth International retreated from these insistent questions behind a wall of repetitious slogans and arid dogma. The RCP conceded that the East European states were “new and amazingly complicated social phenomena” [83], but did not regard this as an excuse for evasiveness. It called on the IS to initiate a discussion throughout the International on the new regimes and began a discussion in Britain. Meanwhile, the RCP position was that public ownership (statification) had to be defended [84], and at least one Minority writer conceded the principle. [85] But when the IS attempted to meet the challenge it equivocated. The nationalisation in the East was quantitatively, but not qualitatively different from that in the West, it suggested. [86] Capitalism still ruled in these states: the Soviet bureaucracy could not achieve the revolution. Its aim was assimilation into the USSR. [87] The only possible resolution of the dilemma – declaring the “glacis” to be deformed from the outset – was not faced. But the more ideologically vulnerable the IS became the more strictly it dealt with those who differed from it. The RCP found itself in the always unsatisfactory position of defending the place within the Fourth International of those with whom it disagreed [88], particularly as it was in 1946 and 1947 perhaps the most trenchant critic of those ideas in whose name discipline was being imposed. [89] The RCP did not, however, back the sharp challenge of 1947 to the proposed constitutional arrangements for the World Congress intended for the following year. [90]

The RCP cannot survive an examination of its theoretical record in 1944-47 without facing criticism. It failed to be bold enough in casting ideological baggage overboard. But this would have required a very radical critique and perhaps a willingness to break with the Fourth International. The leaders of that body were intellectually ill-equipped [91] to deal with a post-war political and economic environment so much at variance with their expectations. To consummate a full and radical inquiry in their company was scarcely possible, but breaking with them would have been a large step the RCP was not ready to take.



1. When the Germans occupied France Trotsky’s books, unlike Stalin’s were banned. (G. Nollau, International Communism and World Revolution, 1961, 199-200)

2. From August 1940 the French published seventy three issues of La Verité: nineteen duplicated and fifty four printed.

3. They were also, “for the most part ... changed from top to bottom, and their leaderships almost wholly replenished by youthful elements” (P. Frank, op. cit., 62).

4. French, Belgian, Greek, Spanish and German delegates attended in the hope or organising a conference of European sections. Following this meeting two duplicated issues of Quatrième Internationale were published and the journal appeared in printed format from January 1944 (R.J. Alexander, Trotskyism in Latin America, Stanford, U.S.A., 1973, 13.).

5. Delegates from five countries attended, including representatives of three French sections, two Spanish factions and a Greek emigré living in Paris.

6. The Voorhuis Act (1940) forbade labour organisations in the United States to affiliate to an international. The SWP formally withdrew from the FI and appeared henceforth as the “New Zealand” section in internal documents.

7. The IS was reorganised on several occasions between 1943 and 1946. From March 1944 its effective members were E.R. Frank and Daniel Logan, an SWP member and political ally of Felix Morrow. Frank was a supporter of Cannon’s leadership of the SWP, of which regime Logan, like Morrow, was increasingly a critic. Three years later Natalia Trotsky, George Munis and Benjamin Peret deplored the wartime record:

“The IS and the IEC, which had been designated at the emergency conference of 1940 had only a vegetative political existence and led an almost non-existent organic activity during the whole war, the functioning of these bodies having been paralysed by personal and political struggles in the atmosphere of the American section.” (The Fourth International in Danger, 27 June 1947, 7, H.P., D.J.H. 12/79)

8. RCP leaders also saw their own Minority as a fraction of the SWP in Britain (CC Minutes, 1 Sept. 1945). There was a parallel political development by van Gelderen, a supporter of the economic view of the British majority and Felix Morrow: see van Gelderen’s letter of 22, 23 March 1945 to the RCP and his 15 March 1945 letter to the SWP complaining of the “third periodism” of an article in Fourth International. For the emergence within the RCP of a Minority convinced of the need to enter the Labour Party, see Chapter XIII.

9. WIL was in touch with the IS throughout the war and of course had been visited by J.B. Stuart, Lou Cooper and others of the SWP. Grant visited the SWP in December 1943 (A.M. Wald, James T. Farrell: the revolutionary socialist years, New York 1978, photo facing p.84).

10. The Manifesto Group applied for affiliation to the FI after being contacted by van Gelderen, among others. On 2 January 1944 the IS rejected the Group on the grounds that it disagreed with Trotsky’s tentative position on Russia and stood for the FI (implying such a body did not yet exist). In Trotskyism and the European Revolution (Militant (NY), 13 May 1944) the IS sharply criticised the Group and, in the view of one Italian leader, invited other sections to break off relations with it.

11. The RCP wrote that the Group represented “the first concrete signs of an internationalist Trotskyist tendency in Italy” (To the IS from the RCP, 20 May 1944; see also From the IS to the RCP, 20 May 1944, H.P.). The Spanish Trotskyists, currently in Mexican exile projected the IS as an SWP front and reminded it that the Russian question was not closed. Correspondence between the IS and the Spaniards, as well as the Italians’ letters of adherence are in For the Information of the Members, May 1945, H.P., D., J.H. 12/23.

12. The exclusion of the Italians had occasioned a clash between Frank, who favoured it, and Logan. The Spaniards thought IS intransigence likely to lead to the Italians lining up with Shachtman and called for a World Congress to be convened before any further exclusions took place.

13. The RCP political bureau called for a European Bureau, with a decisive vote to the British in view of the Europeans’ lack of basis, to be established in London. The party’s central committee endorsed this call on 11 November 1944 with Betty Hamilton and David James abstaining. News of the European conference must have been known at least as early as the April-May 1944 issue of Quatrième Internationale. The RCP call met with no success.

14. The RCP claimed that the IS did not always deal with its leaders but maintained contact with “selected members in the Party”, and also complained of the circulation in the International Bulletin of a misleading account of the Fusion Conference. In autumn 1945 the RCP central committee resolved, after an angry discussion, “to raise the whole matter of informal contacts at the highest level” (CC Minutes, 1 Sept. 1945).

15. Following a row over the disposal of funds Logan wrote to the IEC and EEC calling for the latter to assume the duties of an international centre. He remarked that the RCP, “is not represented on either committee although it is one of our strongest sections” (D. Logan, To the IEC and the EEC, 20 Oct. 1945, Internal Bulletin, [1945?], H.P.).

16. Munis backed Logan’s proposal (G. Munis, To the IEC and the EEC, 9 Nov. 1945, ibid.). The RCP political bureau informed its Central Committee in December 1945 that a “grave situation” existed in the IS and the committee resolved to support the proposed transfer:

“Europe today is the centre of political life, and the EEC, is the most representative body in the International.” (P.B. report to RCP CC, 1/2 Dec. 1945; J. Haston to Logan, 10 Dec. 1945, H.P.)

17. It held four plenums during 1945. By the end of the year representation had built up to eight sections and the European Secretariat was in touch with Italians, Irish and Danes.

18. “An ‘interim’ era of a relatively prolonged duration up to the decisive triumph, either of the socialist revolution or once again that of fascism is proving to be impossible.” (Fourth International (NY), June 1945, 1i2.)

19. In challenging an assessment of the political character of the French government by Grant, Frank countered by arguing that the Bolshevik-Leninists had since 6 February 1934 declared the French regime to be “bonapartist” in character (P. Frank, Father Loriquet, History of PCI and POI. 1940-44, Internal Bulletin, 1 Dec. 1945, H.P.).

20. Harold Atkinson’s criticism that the ES resolution was defective in generalisation and economic analysis was upheld with only James abstaining (Special CC. 9/10 Feb. 1946, H.P.).

21. Tearse proposed the inclusion of a passage on partial stabilisation, while Haston argued stabilisation was already taking place, albeit within a general framework of decline. James added that the chief factor for stabilisation was US loans. Haston’s view was adopted with Healy and Goffe abstaining (ibid.).

22. It was Lawrence who abstained support for an amendment claiming that the USA was compelled to rely, in Europe, on bourgeois-democratic methods.

23. Harber’s rejection of any possibility that the USSR might collapse this way was resoundingly carried.

24. There was some Minority confusion over this matter. Lawrence moved the need for a clear position on the Red Army. In the division, Goffe voted against but Healy voted with the Majority to help carry Lawrence’s proposal eleven to one. (ibid., 5).

25. Documents, 302.

26. Discussion documents on India prepared by WIL and the Bolshevik Leninists of India were published in WIN in 1942 and 1943. Ajit Roy, a lawyer from Bombay, was a member of WIL’s central committee.

27. The Irish section was established by WIL early in the war at the time of the attempt to set up an alternative centre in exile.

28. Most assiduous in this respect was van Gelderen who contacted Trotskyists in Italy.

29. “A victory for British and American imperialism cannot herald a new blossoming of bourgeois democracy on the Continent of Europe” (E. Grant, Italian Revolution – and the tasks of the British Workers, WIN, Aug. 1943, 3). Grant argued that there would however be no army – except the Americans at first – which would be prepared to suppress revolutionary movements. The WIL Central Committee told its 1943 conference of its belief that the social basis for reaction had evaporated, but that Trotskyist weakness would allow social democracy and Stalinism to be the first beneficiaries of a shift to the left (A New Stage in History and the Tasks of the Working Class, WIN, Sept. 1943, 4).

30. The Transformation of the Imperialist War into Civil War, Fourth International, March 1945, 82. Here it was claimed that the Fourth International constituted “the essential base of the European Revolution”. The other key factors weighed by the Europeans were the advance of the Red Army, and the prospect of revolution in Germany.

31. The SWP scorned “shallow observers and would-be Marxists (who) had predicted a new organic era of capitalist stabilisation and development, and a new flowering of bourgeois democracy” (The Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist Movement, Fourth International (NY), Dec. 1944, 358). By this was meant the views of Felix Morrow and others who had from October 1943 challenged, cautiously at first, the party’s simple-minded application of the Transitional Programme to post-war developments in Europe.

32. Thus the SWP resolved fifty one to five at its November 1944 convention, against Morrowite opposition, that the “allied imperialists do not desire the revival of European economy to a competitive level”, that post-war socialist or communist governments would be “unstable, shortlived and transitional in character” (Revolutionary Perspectives, ibid., 367-9). Morrow’s argument was that transitional slogans could not be abandoned, that fascism may have planted illusions in bourgeois democracy, that the rival imperialisms at war in Europe were not equally predatory. (Peter Jenkins gives a useful summary of Morrow’s developing views in Where Trotskyism Got Lost (1977). See also the criticisms made by D. Logan, Morrow’s ally (Fourth International [NY], Feb. 1945, 63) of a draft resolution before the SWP national committee. Logan and Morrow argued that ultra-left formulations must be corrected if the theses drawn up in America were to be of any value to European Trotskyists.)

33. This was a political bureau resolution, Second Front and the Tasks of the Working Class (Socialist Appeal, June 1944).

34. Resolution on the National Question in Europe, 11 Nov. 1944, H.P., D.J.H. 12/10a. The resolution was later published in WIN, July-Aug. 1945, 6-7.

35. Walter Held, an IKD leader killed by the Nazis in 1941, first sketched out their ideas in Europe under the Iron Heel (Sept. 1940). The National Question – Three Theses (WIN, April 1943, 9-11) advanced the view that fascism in Europe was a new social epoch and that the Fourth International would not struggle for a Socialist United States of Europe, but for democratic liberties. WIL published the theses with firm criticism.

36. Arthur Cooper opposed any apparent concession to the view that genuine liberation was taking place: the French masses, he believed, were unwitting tools of American imperialism, (“Opposition Minority Position at the Central Committee, July 1944”, H.P., D.J.H. 12/7, 2c, 2). Cooper abstained when the Political Bureau’s resolution came before the Central Committee in November. But the Central Committee decision was criticised also from the right, by “W.G.”, who thought it analysed national oppression insufficiently deeply (Internal Bulletin, Jan. [1945], H.P., D.J.H. 8B/8).

37. Resolution on the National Question in Europe (WIN, July-Aug. 1945, 6-7).

38. It was this belief which separated it from Morrow who did not see democracy in Europe as a cloak for counter-revolution. Compare E. Grant, The Character of the European Revolution, WIN, Oct. 1945, 8-17, with Morrow’s formulations in The First Phase of the Coming European Revolution, Fourth International (NY), Dec. 1944, 369-77.

39. 1944 had brought renewed activity by the IKD. The European sections rejected its views as “the conception of those for whom at night all cats are grey” and imbued with a popular front spirit (Against a Revisionist Tendency, Internal Bulletin, July 1944).

40. Assistance given by WIL and the RCP to the German emigrés of the IKD and other former German communists who moved to Trotskyism following the dissolution of the Comintern did not imply political support. Peter Nicholls, one RCP member, did back the IKD (On the National Question in Europe, Internal Bulletin, 1945, H.P.). The official view, however, was that of Grant, that the IKD had “succumbed to the pressure of the petit-bourgeois reaction”. The European sections appealed to the IS to take a stand on the IKD but stopped short of calling for expulsion (Against a Revisionist Tendency, loc. cit., 5).

41. E. Grant, The Character of the European Revolution, WIN, Oct. 1945, 8-17. In a draft of the resolution on the national question discussed above, it had been written “the fact that the revolution which is approaching in Europe can only be the proletarian revolution does not exclude the possibility that the Allied European bourgeoisie in their struggle against the revolution may not adopt the methods of bourgeois democracy” (National Question, n.d., H.P. D.J.H. 12/10, 5).

42. There was widespread expectation in the FI that the collapse of Nazism would precipitate revolution in Germany. But Germany was also thought likely to be the only exception to strong communist influence within post-war European labour movements.

43. [RCP], European Revolution and the British Working Class, n.d., H.P., D.J.H. 12/18. A March 1945 central committee meeting demanded that the IS issue documents on a number of world developments on which it had not pronounced (Minutes of the CC, 17 March 1945, 3, H.P.).

44. See below.

45. The WIL central committee resolved, in the middle of the war, that:

“The fate of the Soviet Union rests directly on the fate of the new wave of revolutions. Further defeats and a new epoch of reaction would inevitably usher in the bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia.” (WIN, Sept. 1943, 4.)

46. See the 1945 conference resolution, The Changed Relationship of Forces in Europe and the Role of the Fourth International, WIN, Sept. 1945, 1-14). When this resolution was proposed by Grant at the RCP central committee, there were three abstentions: by Cooper who was in general opposition, by Deane who had differences over the assessment of Russia, and by Betty Hamilton who had had insufficient time to study it. Deane and Lawrence failed to obtain a separate vote on the passage dealing with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Minutes of the CC, 17 March 1945).

47. The conference was in the nature of a holding operation, convened by the International Secretariat and the European Secretariat, to draw together the world’s Trotskyists after the war and cast those who had deviated into outer darkness. A full World Congress was not to gather for another two years, although it had been intended to meet earlier. Though sometimes referred to as an international pre-conference, this gathering did all the things a meeting of full status would have done. It was also taken seriously by the police, who raided it and arrested many delegates.

48. The resolution was published in WIN for November-December 1946.

49. The text declared that there had been no mistake in early assessments by the FI of the character of the epoch, only in guessing the tempo of events. “Only the superficial and cowardly petty-bourgeois mind” could think otherwise.

50. Potential was believed to be greater than before the war, with Trotskyists in countries like England and South Africa, where the communists were not strong, having the best chance of all.

51. See WIN, Nov.-Dec. 1946, 306-7.

52. There were no official minutes of the 1946 conference though Goffe was appointed to take a transcription. The text of this resolution is taken from the report of the international conference given in Report of the National Council Meeting held on 6 April 1946. The abstentions were criticised by Healy who argued that the return of stability was a myth.

53. The resolution, while critical, was intended also to demarcate the RCP from the IKD The RCP, had moved an amendment to a European Secretariat resolution on the IKD, which would have allowed that body to stay within the Fourth International.

54. The Morrowite minority of the SWP, and the PCI minority, voted against a separate resolution criticising the 1944 European conference theses as “mistakes in the evaluation of tempo” and therefore not fundamental, but the RCP again abstained. British delegates were however disturbed at the amalgamation in many speeches delivered by international leaders, of their own views with those of Morrow, the PCI minority and the IKD.

55. The new IEC had two British, two French, one German, one South African and the secretary of the FI (Conference of the Fourth International, April 1946, H.P., D.J.H. 11/22, 3.) Later in 1946, Grant withdrew “for technical reasons” to be replaced by Deane. In January 1947 it was asked that Deane himself be withdrawn because it was felt his industrial experience was needed during the road hauliers strike in Britain (RCP to IEC, 11 Jan. 1947). National sections were expected to provide top level members for the IEC, and to finance their presence in Paris. In October 1947, when the IEC divided the RCP, Deane was finally withdrawn because the party could no longer maintain him in Paris.

56. JB Stuart, the IS delegate to the conference, claimed that the RCP foresaw three or four years of stability in Europe. This Haston denied in his addendum to J.B. Stuart, Report on RCP National Conference, 1946, Internal Bulletin, [1946].

57. A claim made by Grant, who later withdrew.

58. “No matter how devastating the slump, if the workers fail, capitalism will always find a way out of its economic impasse at the cost of the toilers and the preparation of new contradictions.” (RCP amendment to The New Imperialist Peace, WIN, Nov.-Dec. 1946, 324.)

59. The RCP suggested at this point that pre-war output might be surpassed, except in Germany where division and occupation would prevent it.

60. The party wrote of “the harnessing and knitting together of the masses in industry” which might prepare new struggles (ibid., 326).

61. See Grant’s article in Socialist Appeal for mid-November 1945-and, for the referendum, D. Thomson, Democracy in France since 1970, 1969, 232-3. 96.4% of votes effectively rejected the Third Republic for a constituent assembly. The PCI had called in La Verité for a yes vote. The RCP backed it, arguing that this was not recognition of a specific bourgeois constitution, but of a living conflict between bourgeois and workers’ parties. Since no form of workers’ rule presented itself it was, argued the RCP, permissible to favour a democratic republic. (Statement of the Political Bureau on the French Referendum, On The French Referendum, May 1946, 7-8, D.J.H. 15B/54b.) Pierre Frank had favoured a boycott and though defeated on the PCI central committee, received the backing of the IS, which branded the call in La Verité a “typical opportunist deviation of the PCI”. See P. Frank, Father Loriquet (a soubriquet for Grant), 1 Dec. 1945, Internal Bulletin.

62. Frank allowed that post-war bonapartism leaned towards the workers, but insisted that it still possessed “an apparent strength”:

“In the October 21 elections the end of the democratic regime was incontestably demonstrated by the inglorious foundering of the principal formatio0n of the Third Republic, the Radical Party”. (P. Frank, Democracy or Bonapartism in Europe?, WIN, June-July 1946, 215.)

63. “It is a vulgarisation of Marxism – vulgar materialism of the worst sort – to argue that the superstructure of a society is determined immediately by the development of its economy”, (E. Grant, Democracy or Bonapartism in Europe? (A Reply to Pierre Frank), WIN, Aug. 1946, 241-56).

64. Grant allowed that WIL had shared this belief at the time, but claimed that it had been known to be erroneous from 1943.

65. “De Gaulle may yet be a French Franco, but one does not declare the enemy victorious before the decisive battle has begun.” (ibid., 252).

66. Resolution of the RCP conference on the Nature of the Regimes in Europe, WIN,(Sept.-Oct. 1946), 269-70.

67. The RCP claimed this idea had been advanced at the October 1946 plenum (Political Bureau, The Real Situation in Britain – A Reply to the IS, Internal Bulletin, March 1947, 18). O”Daniel challenged this, and made the counter-claim that “Jerome” of the IS had suggested that France on her own would take twenty years to renew her capital equipment (P. O’Daniel, A Note on Discussion Methods, 22 April 1947, Internal Bulletin, 12 July 1947, 3-6). Yet later in the same document O’Daniel wrote:

“It is, in fact, quite conceivable that French production will never, again, in twenty three or any other number of years, break through the level of 100 per cent of comparatively stagnant 1938” (ibid., 6).

68. O’Daniel quoted gloomy forecasts by Ramadier and Lippmann and contrasted them to: impressionistic conclusions drawn from the greater appearance of "normalcy" in 1947 Paris over the grim winter of 1944-45 (or) a sectarian schematism whereby, if the imperialist war were not immediately followed by the successful German revolution, the conclusion must automatically be: stabilisation of the European bourgeoisie. (P. O’Daniel, The Limits of French Economic Revival, Fourth International [NY], Oct. 1947, 252.) This same document gives sectoral ceilings on output from 1938.

69. Germain (Ernest Mandel), a Belgian economist and member of the IS, insisted that a revival had always been forseen but that the secretariat differed from the RCP by not expecting stabilisation to follow it. Even 1938 production, he argued, would only represent a stagnant plateau. (Mandel’s views were quoted in full [from IEC minutes] by O’Daniel [Mangan] in A Note on Discussion Methods, 12 July 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 15a/36.) For the RCP reply to all this see the fierce polemic, J. Haston, In Reply to the Discussion Method of Comrade O’Daniel, July 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 36.

70. Taken from the draft resolution, World Situation and the Tasks of the Fourth International, Fourth International (NY), Nov.-Dec. 1947, 274-81.

71. See above. p.391

72. At an RCP national council of 6 April 1946 Healy criticised his vote at the Central Committee of 9/10 February and urged that a distinction must be made between the Red Army and imperialist armies (Report of the National Council Meeting held on 6 April 1946, 6).

73. This occurred at the first meeting of the new IEC.

74. “If the war should remain only a war, the defeat of the Soviet Union would be inevitable. In a technical, economic and military sense, imperialism is incomparably more strong. If it is not paralysed by revolution in the West, imperialism will sweep away the regime which issued from the October revolution” (L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, 1967, 227).

75. Among its members were Ann Keen, the business manager of Socialist Appeal, Bob Armstrong (who had moved from Belfast to London), Ann Walker, Rose Carson and David James. Their emergence reflected, in part, contact with the exiled IKD. They seem to have made no strenuous effort to capture the RCP though they may have been urged to do so by Shachtman, who visited them occasionally from 1947. They argued that a new war would be one of plunder on both sides and suffered none of the Minority’s agonies over the role of the Red Army since they did not stand for Soviet Defence. Henry Sara, a non-aligned Labour Party member by the end of the war, “was approached in 1945 by Albert Gates of the Workers Party to act as its British correspondent”.

76. B. Armstrong and M. Merrigan, In Defence of “Revisionism”, 4 Sept. 1946, Internal Bulletin (20 Dec. 1946), 6-15.

77. CC Resolution on the Nature of the Soviet Union, [July? 1946], H.P., D.J.H. 12/58. This was substantially the resolution upheld at the annual conference of the party a few weeks later.

78. This opinion was advanced in a self-critical resolution which also called for an international discussion on the character of the Eastern European states (Resolution of the RCP Conference on the Soviet Union, WIN, Sept.-Oct. 1946, 267-8).

79. Proposed Amendments to the Foregoing Text, WIN, Nov.-Dec. 1946, 316.

80. See H. Finch, In Defence of the Soviet Union, 17 Aug. 1946, H.P., D.J.H. 11/24.

81. Finch drew a distinction between “proletarian nationalisation” and “bourgeois nationalisation” and thus made it impossible for himself to explain events in Eastern Europe. A French Trotskyist who agreed with the RCP that Soviet collapse was unlikely, argued similar categories of “statification”. (B. Thomas, Remarks on the Discussion on Russia in the British Party, 19 Aug. 1946, Internal Bulletin, 11-17, H.P., D.J.H. 11/26).

82. The New Imperialist Peace (April 1946), H.P., D.J.H. 11/22.

83. CC Resolution on the Nature of the Soviet Union, [July? 1946].

84. The example the RCP gave was of Czechoslovakia, where it would also be necessary to support the breaking up of large estates (CC Resolution, [July? 1946], 21).

85. H. Finch, op. cit., 12.

86. Germain argued that public ownership in Eastern Europe did not affect property relations:

The objects are the same: compensation is to be anticipated; the nationalised enterprises continue to be managed like capitalist enterprises, with administrators nominated by the state as the board of directors (and the Shareholders being sure of drawing each year the same dividend, that is to say never making any losses:); workers” control exists only here and there. (Germain, On the Question of the Countries Occupied By The Red Army, an extract from theses he wrote for the IS under the title The USSR on the Morrow of the War, [1946?], H.P., D.J.H. 15B/68, 3.)

87. ibid., 9.

88. At the IEC of June 1946 a resolution on the projected unity in the United States of the SWP and WP, which backed Cannon’s distaste for it, was passed against the votes of the British delegates and a French Minority. A resolution condemning the PCI stance on the French referendum was opposed by the RCP and the French Majority. A general resolution on entry into social-democratic parties at the same IEC revealed the RCP to be in ominous isolation.

89. The RCP’s rivals as chief critic were Morrow and Jeffries of the SWP. When they were expelled from the SWP the British condemned the expulsion but also attacked their subsequent decision to defy an IEC ruling and join the Workers Party. This attitude was struck on van Gelderen’s proposal which was upheld by twelve votes against those of Goffe and Healy (Report of CC Meeting held on 16/17 Feb. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/76).

90. This was posed by Shachtmanites within the Fourth International: N. Trotsky, G. Munis, B. Peret, The Fourth International in Danger, 27 June 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 12/79. The RCP delegates were part of the majority which rejected this view at the September 1947 International Executive Committee.

91. Trotsky’s perspective was regarded by them as “a literal prediction. of the actual course of events” (P. Jenkins, Where Trotskyism Got Lost, 1977, 1). The alternative argument is that Trotskyists were ideologically ill-equipped and this is the line taken by K. Coates with the argument that Trotsky’s catastrophist prognosis caused the “prolonged atrophy” of the Fourth International (Socialists and the Labour Party, R. Miliband and J. Saville [eds.], Socialist Register 1973, 162).

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