The History of British Trotskyism to 1949

by Martin Upham


(THE RCP 1944 – 1947)

The Revolutionary Communist Party was born chiefly out of WIL’s wartime success. It was launched on a wave of optimism that was confounded by the disintegration of the coalition and the political consequences of Labour’s election victory in 1945. The RCP resisted Labour’s centripetal attraction longer than other parties which had flourished in the war. It remained in independence,. intervening wherever it could in industrial disputes. By 1947 it was faced with a period of economic growth which would make further progress difficult; that same year the International Executive split it in two to facilitate the passage of an entrist Minority into the Labour Party.

The RCP expected big things to occur at the end of the war. In the early 1940s WIL had predicted that fascism would follow a British victory. [1] It was certain that peace, as in 1919, would bring with it an economic catastrophe. “A terrible crisis of unemployment” was inevitable. [2] So, every gain the workers could make in wartime against this day would be a bonus. [3] The general belief of the RCP was that militancy would increase in response to economic decline and an employers” offensive. There was a question mark over how far the MWF would play a pivotal role [4], and how far the national shop stewards movement would come to lead it. Socialist Appeal advanced propaganda for a strong trade union movement and warned against breakaways. [5] Unions must be “fighting organs of the working class”, the front line of resistance as Britain moved from being a creditor to a debtor nation and the impetus of arms production died. [6] Maintaining union organisation would, argued the party, be a priority. There was a tremor of redundancies late in 1944 which the party thought was the beginning of a slump. It precipitated internal controversy over what slogans were appropriate to the phase the economy was passing through. In October 1944 Socialist Appeal called for “no one to be sacked until work is found”. [7] This view was taken up by a minority in the party which had first crystallized around a belief that it should join the ILP The party leaders however preferred a policy of non-trade unionists being first to lose their jobs in a period of mass redundancy. [8] A sharp discussion was closed by the RCP central committee at its first meeting after the 1945 annual conference. [9] Even then there was a strong belief that unemployment of .three million was inevitable. The MWF declared its intention to transcend functioning as a coordinating unit and become “a mighty delegates movement embracing factory committees across the land”. [10] Economic revival was to blight the expectations expressed in a conference resolution:

“The problem of reducing costs and wages to ‘competitive’ levels will immediately present itself for urgent solution to the ruling class. In addition, the problem will involve dislocations of industry, mass ‘redundancy’ and transfers of labour.” [11]

The year between the Fusion and 1945 conferences saw no major industrial unrest to follow the movements in engineering and the pits of the first half of 1944. This left the MWF in a vacuum. But expectation of industrial developments was the strongest argument for keeping the RCP out of the Labour Party, and the 1945 conference appointed a National Industrial Committee of Tearse and nine others. The dockers’ strikes, when they began in the autumn of 1945, seemed to the party to be the start of the much-heralded industrial wave. [12] They occurred almost every year until the end of the decade, with that of autumn 1945 the most serious – and therefore the most misleading – from which to extrapolate to other industries. [13] The docks strikes came not only at the right time, but also in a form which suited the RCP: unofficial committees rapidly flowered and looked for support. [14] This was felt to be the result of the trend marked by the party in wartime: when leaders fused with the state, as they did in peace under Labour, every dispute threw up a new industrial leadership. [15] The party was disturbed to find a lack of sympathy for the dockers [16] among the other groups of workers and was in two minds as to what the strike meant. [17] It also found itself the subject of denunciation which recalled its experiences of April 1944 on the part of elected dockers’ leaders [18] as well as union officials. [19] The 1945 conference revealed a twenty per cent increase in membership [20], which was sizeable but not in accord with the expectations of the previous year. Yet this conference also marked the last moment at which the Majority and Minority, as well as the leaders of the International, were unanimously optimistic about RCP prospects. [21]

But 1945-6 revealed that the dockers’ strikes, while they were to continue until 1950, were the end rather than the beginning of large-scale industrial action. The 1946 RCP conference was told that the National Industrial Committee had been unable to meet regularly due to lack of finance. [22] It seems improbable that this would have happened had there been more industrial unrest. The nearest thing to an exception was the movement which developed among building workers between 1945 and 1947. In 1945 the RCP had two builders among its members; a year later builders were “the most mature and strongest industrial faction in the party”, among their number the chairmen of the Glasgow and London campaign committees. [23] Trotskyists – not all of them RCP members – were in the van of rank and file agitation which convened impressive London demonstrations. [24] Yet by 1947, with the original aim of the agitation unfulfilled [25], there were strong internal pressures for dissolution of the Builders Campaign Committee which the party had established. [26] Other disputes in which the RCP involved itself in the post-war years were those of the London Transport workers. [27] Glasgow binmen [28] and at the Savoy Hotel. [29]

In 1945 the party had set itself the target of 1,000 members by its next conference, but it failed even to maintain membership. In 1946 the party was, however, reported to be “overwhelmingly proletarian in composition”. [30] But this could not disguise the collapse of expectations. Not only had there been fewer disputes, but where these had occurred party influence tended to outstrip recruitment. Part of the reason was that a group of workers which was engaged in a strike, while it threw up rank and file committees, did not turn to the MWF This was true of the dockers’ and builders’ movements, and the MWF was by autumn 1946, reduced to keeping in touch with those engineers, formerly its backbone, now dispersed throughout industry. [31] By 1947 the MWF had only a nominal existence. [32] As for the party, it retained a strong cadre of industrial militants, but the high percentage of engineers among them indicates how far this rested upon the wartime successes of WIL. [33] Strikes had been more localised and shorter than expected. Employers, thought the party, were on the defensive and prepared to grant concessions. What was more, strikes had involved not the heavy battalions but “backward and formerly inert sections of the workers”. [34] There was not a general disposition on the part of the working class to support embattled groups. [35] On the eve of the split at the 1947 conference, the RCP claimed to have intervened in every important industrial dispute in the year, but its expectation of-large scale clashes failed to materialise. [36] For Trotskyism to survive at all in industry by 1947 required great flexibility. Even then success was not guaranteed. The RCP was capable of manoeuvring with skill: it put a favourable construction on the vigilance committees which emerged during the Fuel Crisis [37], and detected the new wine in the old bottle of Joint Production Committees demand by the AEU. [38] But there was, unmistakably, a ceiling to industrial unrest which no amount of drive could transcend.

As the British Section of the Fourth International, the RCP was the official representative of Trotskyism in the country. It ran a campaign at the time of the Nuremburg Trials of Nazi War Criminals intended to explode the allegations of links with Trotsky made in Moscow between 1936 and 1938. [39] A good deal of the energy and unity of purpose so lacking at that time in Britain was in evidence [40] but no tangible reward resulted. Haston’s view that Stalinism was now, unlike the 1930s on the defensive, may have been sanguine [41] but the RCP did manage to assemble a useful paper committee behind its objectives. [42] The need to attend to affairs within the CPGB was a secondary argument deployed by RCP leaders for continued independence, but no great impact on the communists was achieved during these immediate post-war years. [43] More scope was provided by the National Council of Labour Colleges which had provided a non-Stalinist platform for WIL in wartime. [44] After the war the attention paid to the NCLC by the RCP and Trotskyists outside its ranks increased. [45]

The key RCP, branches carrying the frenetic activity of the party in these years were often less than a dozen strong. The Tyneside branch had thirteen members at the time of the 1944 crisis and was not significantly larger later. [46] The Southall branch, which enjoyed good relations with the ILP and numbered among its members a leading railway militant, Sydney Bidwell, had about nine members. [47] Liverpool in 1946 had three locals and its own district committee. [48] Yet nearby Manchester had no branch until that year. When the new branch was established in the city it grew to one of the largest in the party, with a strong industrial base. But, as a microcosm of the party as a whole it fell apart by 1948 through factionalism and the impression created by Labour’s progress. [49] It was clear at the 1946 conference that the RCP was marking time. Membership, at 360-70 had fallen. [50] The party had retained a national framework, and in London membership and sales of Socialist Appeal were rising. [51] At a peak the party had twelve professionals [52], but after the 1946 conference the apparatus started to be pruned under pressure of the need to economise. [53] Mid-monthly supplements to Socialist Appeal began to appear irregularly and WIN, which had almost always been published monthly, became bi-monthly. The May 1947 issue of this journal appeared two months late and duplicated. There were further symptoms of decline as 1947 wore on.

The Tyneside arrests of April 1944, coming less than a month after the Fusion Conference, helped to bind the party together and confirm a sense of destiny. But though the old factionalism between the RSL and WIL was conscientiously set aside new internal differences were present from the outset. An “entrist faction” was formed at once [54] with the aim of steering the RCP into the Labour Party. It was a mixture of different Trotskyist experiences which at first gathered only a small following. [55] For a time some of its followers proposed that greater emphasis should be placed on fraction work within the ILP. [56] Party leaders still judged that anticipated revolutionary upheavals would bring a great accession of strength to the ILP but pleaded that their forces for work within it were few. [57] The RCP attitude towards reaffiliation of the ILP to the Labour Party was identical with the view taken by the WIL during the earlier discussions of 1938-9. ILP separation from the Labour Party, In the RCP view, was sectarian: revolutionaries in the ILP ought to support reaffiliation whatever the terms the Labour Party might demand. [58] Reaffiliation would break the ILP between revolutionaries and others and be the quickest way to remove a false revolutionary alternative. This was not the view of Wicks, Dewar and the others who had persisted with the ILP in wartime: Trotskyism, now as in 1938-9, split two ways. Reaffiliation was carried by the ILP but to general surprise the Labour Party rebuffed it. [59] Simultaneously with its discussions with the Labour Party however, the ILP leadership acted against the RCP, supporters within its North-East region and elsewhere. [60] Interest in the ILP within the RCP was maintained at least until June 1945. [61] It seems possible that the IS entertained hopes of a united Trotskyist faction in the ILP. [62] This never materialised and the Wicks-Dewar faction persisted with the ILP during its rapid peacetime decline. [63] RCP attention to the ILP fell away sharply after the 1945 election [64], though the Minority who expounded the need for Labour Party entry continued for a time to be interested in the ILP as part of their tactical proposition.

During 1944 pressures mounted within the Labour Party against the coalition which culminated in a December call for a break. [65] Yet the Churchill government survived until after VE Day, so when a by-election was declared in Neath in January 1945 the electoral truce still prevailed. The RCP resolved to challenge it as the ILP and Common Wealth had been doing for some years. [66] The party ran a vigorous and well-received campaign. Jock Haston, its candidate, addressed large meetings in the town and was given a sympathetic hearing at the pithead. [67] Six full time organisers were moved in, under the direction of John Lawrence and Heaton Lee and paper sales were high. [68] The RCP had a memorable clash with the local communists, who were supporting the Labour candidate, NCLC organiser D.J. Williams. [69] But the decision of the nationalists to stand a candidate blurred the issue and, more significantly, polling day was delayed and fell a week after the end of the war in Europe. [70] Haston came a poor third [71] though the RCP considered the success of its intervention should be measured more broadly than by votes alone. [72]

1,781 votes, even for revolutionary socialism, were a douche for the more ambitious spirits. [73] A year earlier the RCP had planned to put up many candidates in the forthcoming general election. [74] It now found that sympathy for its policies would not easily be transformed into votes. When the coalition broke the RCP could only welcome it: as soon as Neath was out of the way it campaigned on a policy of “Labour to Power” [75]: a few weeks after fighting him, party members campaigned for D:J. Williams in the General Election. In 1944 it had no expectation of a Labour landslide [76], though as the months passed Socialist Appeal sounded confident. The massive Labour victory declared on 26 July 1945 effectively spelled ruin for all parties which had benefited from the electoral truce. [77] Even before that discussion had boiled up within the RCP about possible entry into the Labour Party. The Entrist Faction (or Minority as it was commonly known) argued that the “open tactic” could be justified only by the special circumstances of the war. It had plenty of evidence to argue from with the collapse of third parties and the recovery of Labour Party membership. [78] Healy called for entry into the Labour Party in June 1945. [79] RCP leaders resisted the entrist proposal. Not only a rupture of the coalition, but a definite swing to the radical left through the Labour Party would, in their view, have to be in evidence. It seemed that whereas there was a popular radical mood, the Labour Party was moving rightward. The RCP, they insisted, must expect for the immediate future to recruit from the vanguard of the working class, and these people had “by-passed the Labour Party stage”. [80] They had some proof for their case in the stagnation of the party’s Labour Party fraction. [81] Finally they argued powerfully that the sacrifice of independence could be made only in exchange for concrete gains. [82] The 1945 RCP conference upheld their views. [83] Later that year the RCP put up two of its own candidates in municipal elections. [84]

The party was not completely preoccupied with factional disputes over entry into the Labour Party, but its preoccupation with this debate tended to grow. [85] There was an unsuccessful attempt to close the discussion following the rejection by the 1945 Congress of the views of Healy and Goffe [86], which itself was an endorsement of the view taken in March 1944. [87] Former protagonists of entry – major figure from the defunct RSL – did not, for the most part, pursue the idea. [88] Harber, still a member of the Central Committee, insisted now that no principles were involved and that the short term and long term perspectives should not be telescoped. [89] In view of the history of the discussion, this view was significant. The Minority however had behind it an International Secretariat which was strongly convinced that entry was vital [90], and the discussion continued without interruption into 1946. Party leaders pointed to inconsistent Minority views [91], but built up the strength of the party fraction within the Labour Party. [92] Minority writers now projected their argument more sharply. [93] They called for complete entry into the Labour Party, which they presented as “mass work”. Their thesis was powerfully backed by the International. At its 1946 conference the International determined on an independent presence for its sections in Continental Europe [94], but this was not intended to apply to Britain. [95] It became difficult to distinguish the arguments of the Minority from those of the International since the Minority defended not only its view of entry but its economic analysis too. There was little originality in the case of the Minority which derived from Trotsky what it did not take from its comrades abroad. [96] Its economic belief, like that of the International, was that a severe crisis was imminent. It was this aspect of its thought that was rejected by Harber and also by van Gelderen, who initially supported entrism on his return to Britain that year. [97] The RCP leaders now forced to recognise that they were a “Majority”, and therefore a faction, in their own party, agreed that if economic disaster did loom the case for entry would be “immeasurably strengthened”. [98] Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the Minority could have held on and become a permanent feature of the RCP if that party as a whole had not been stagnating. But the organisational report to the 1946 RCP conference indicated that it was at best marking time. When the Majority explained this by reference to economic conditions, which were not such as to create a radical mood, the Minority saw that explanation as fatalism and renewed its case for entry in order to break free of isolation. [99] Nevertheless, the RCP conference, in August, reaffirmed a principal emphasis on open work. [100]

The RCP leaders had not ceased to believe in the approach of a crisis, but they considered its arrival would be delayed. [101] The results of war, they argued, had been disastrous, but were screened by the fusion of finance capital with the state and American loans. The party clung to a long term perspective of decline but had to diagnose accurately the immediate conjuncture: it now began to recognise that it had previously telescoped not only its political but also its economic perspective [102], and insisted that small unofficial industrial disputes offered it the best chance for growth in membership. But while the RCP adjusted to a world quite different from expectation, the Paris-based International now intervened to challenge its interpretation of the whole British environment. It found the RCP distinction between long-term crisis and immediate revival “rather schematic”, predicted a crisis of overproduction and declared that if a revival occurred it would be unstable. [103] But the IS also believed it detected incipient mass radicalisation, “a deep movement of opposition to the reactionary policy of the Labour Government”, and put its full weight behind entry as the means whereby the RCP might capitalise upon it. [104]

In responding the RCP was inhibited by the forecasts of the Transitional Programme. It had to cover its flank against accusations of belief in a capitalist future [105], but it felt able to insist that Britain’s economic difficulties were attributable to underproduction. There was, it insisted, an upswing: trade was growing, unemployment was low, consumption was at a peacetime peak. [106] It would last “not longer than a few years at most” since antiquated British capitalism would prove unable to take advantage of its opportunities, but while it did, there would be no polarisation of class forces. The IS might insist that there was a “furious offensive” against living standards but “there is, in fact, more purchasing power in the pockets of the workers and the capitalists alike than ever before”. [107] It is noticeable that both sides felt the need to underpin political prognosis with evidence of economic recovery or decline.

From a clash in economic prognosis, the British and the IS built an extension of their different views on tactics. The International saw the rapid expansion of Labour Party membership and insisted that this indicated the direction of the masses. Entry would not immediately bring gains: first there would be a period of shared political experiences during which the RCP, in the Labour Party, would advance and gain support for the Transitional Programme of 1938. Outside the Labour Party the RCP was isolated. Resisting the sweep of the masses towards the Labour Party was placing its future in jeopardy. [108] “The fate of the party as a whole is at stake.” [109] The RCP leaders, argued the International, were far too deeply embedded in their own interpretation of what Trotsky had said about entrism before the war. [110] It advised them to fix their sights upon a different objective:

“the present situation sets new objects for entry: the setting into motion of the entire awakened British working class along the path of revolutionary action, this time within the framework of the Labour Party itself.” [111]

The RCP reply to this was sharp in tone [112] and broad in content. Having challenged the economic outlook of international leaders the party turned to their Labour Party views and concluded “innovations on entry reveal pressure of reformism”. The RCP would adhere to independence. It was not it believed, cut off from the Labour Party in view of that party’s loose structure. Nor did it follow that all political activity on the part of workers was expressed through the party. Acknowledgment of proletarian loyalty to the Labour Party did not suffice as a complete tactical guide. [113] Labour’s revival itself was felt to be only superficially impressive, a fact not readily appreciated from Paris. [114] The RCP firmly believed that radicalisation in Britain would first inevitably create a centrist current, that no tactical dexterity would avoid this, and that it would in any case occur through a deterioration in economic circumstances. [115] When this materialised there would be stirrings not over foreign policy but over bread and butter issues. Before then any Trotskyist current within the Labour Party, once it gathered strength, would be suppressed by the official apparatus. [116] The Minority in Britain which supported the IS view was “a tendency moving to the right and reflecting the pressure of reformism in the RCP”. The Minority, charged party leaders, sought a short cut to reverse the huge disparity, between the RCP and the Labour Party. But no long-term entry tactic could in fact resolve Trotskyism’s British problem. A propaganda presence would have to be retained until the workers were no longer prepared to extend to Labour the benefit of the doubt. There was a hint in the document of doubt about whether the traditional split perspective still held [117] but the RCP rested mainly on a balance sheet of entrism derived from the WIL. [118]

In 1947 the Internal Bulletin of the RCP reflected the Majority case more fully than before. Van Gelderen now reversed his view of the previous year and even outdistanced longstanding protagonists of independence. [119] The Minority in the RCP [120] were unable to break new ground [121] but the debilitating effect of this internal conflict began to be evident in the views of those who were not protagonists. [122] Majority thinking was not hidebound. Both Hunter and Grant acknowledged that politics since 1945 had followed an unforeseen path. Hunter recognised that Labour was implementing its programme. This, he believed was because it corresponded to capitalism’s contemporary needs – a coincidence which explained the lack of resistance from capitalism to nationalisation. [123] Grant, later in the year, contrasted the Opposition to its home policy suffered by the 1929-31 Labour government to that on foreign policy experienced by Attlee. [124] Hunter predicted that nationalisation would not reach beyond iron and steel [125]; Grant foresaw a passive experience of Labour in Power, that there would be “relatively stable economic and political relations”, and that there would be no mass revolt until the next slump. Even before this, RCP leaders were preparing their members for political lull and little progress in building the party. [126]

With the 1947 party conference approaching all contributions to the debate were winched up. [127] The RCP was in opposition to the policies of the leaders of World Trotskyism on virtually all points where they had developed their own views rather than having relied on Trotsky’s pre-war writings. [128] The gulf was reflected within the British party, where the Minority defended all views of the International Secretariat and was establishing a discrete existence. [129] There was no doubt that the RCP was failing to progress [130], let alone fulfil the heady expectations of 1944. Both protagonists had explanations to hand: the Majority in factionalism; the Minority in refusal to enter the Labour Party. [131] Interventions by Pablo, the International Secretary, from 1947 assumed a threatening tone, calling on an authority their author lacked in Britain. [132] In the July Internal Bulletin, Haston published in full his correspondence with the IS, a step which served to reveal the distance between the sides. Pablo’s contribution effectively threatened that if the RCP did not take the right decision the International Secretariat would split the party [133], and countered the British leaders’ presentation of requirements for entry with some of his own which read as if composed a posteriori. His formulation compounded the differences over entrism and economic analysis. [134]

The Minority was faced with its own failure to convince the party membership: seemingly it was confined in perpetuity to 20% of conference delegates. [135] This was the context in which, like the International, it threatened to split the British party. [136] Now as in 1933 there was a constitutional case for arguing that democratic centralism had world not national parameters, but the prestige and achievement of the RCP was far above that of the Communist League, whereas the standing of international bodies was much reduced. Undaunted, the Minority now began to drive the argument back in time, explaining the clash by reference to long standing differences between the former WIL and international leaders [137], and even to the social composition of the RCP leadership. [138] Had the charges carried conviction it would still have been necessary to explain why these middle class types had behind them an essentially proletarian party. [139] The industrial perspective these leaders held out to the 1947 annual conference was “a continued process of considerable ebb and flow”. They warned especially of the penetration of factories by the CPGB, but hoped that the similarity of communist and Labour ideas would discredit the former. [140] Best prospects for the party were still felt to be in industry and in the CPGB. [141] There was no doubt, however, that the party was now in decline. [142]

The conference itself, meeting on the August Bank Holiday of 1947, broke no new ground on the Labour Party question. How could it when one part of, if not the whole, British Trotskyist movement had been arguing over entry for a decade and a half? The arguments were wearily rehearsed: the outcome predictable. What made the 1947 conference different from those of previous years was the clear warning that it would not be allowed the last word. [143] In view of the political composition of the IEC this could mean only one thing. The stand of the Minority and the IS indicated that they would not recognise a national majority vote. [144] This might be justified by the belief that the IS urgently needed to see its convictions converted into reality: yet it was denying that very right to the RCP Majority. [145] It was left effectively with the alternative of walking out of the Fourth International or acquiescing in a split. As it was led by founder members of WIL, it had to suffer more than its share of splitting accusations though these reached the point of provoking many others. [146] But to the IS, whatever the feelings of the British, the RCP was now a living reproach. The IS would retie the historical knot. “False prestige” of the RCP leaders was coming before anything else, declared Pablo. It was a relic of the old WIL contempt for the International, he added. Clearly, it still rankled that the wrong horse had been backed in 1938. [147]

Despite accusations of considering a split, the RCP leaders did not break discipline. All they could do in the face of certain defeat was protest at the use of an organisational club to resolve a political dispute. Haston was unable to head off a resolution at the September 1947 plenum of the IEC for separating the British party, and had to acquiesce in the least odious of the alternatives before him. [148] A special conference of the RCP was convened on 11 October for the purpose of implementing the IEC decision in favour of entry into the Labour Party by the Minority. A Majority declaration urged, for the record, reconsideration of the IEC decision. [149] While this was upheld, the conference had then to distribute RCP property between the factions. Most of it fell to the Majority, though the Minority had on 1 October acquired Militant. [150] From 1 November there were again two Trotskyist organisations in Britain.

The RCP was split by the International Secretariat at the very moment when hardening communist policy created the possibility of growing industrial unrest, usually seen as an argument for independence. [151] It has been argued that the communist turn away from the Labour Party left a vacuum which the Minority filled with Socialist Outlook. [152] But the Minority/IS argument had been that entry was needed to pre-empt Stalinist penetration. The Minority was accused by the Majority of entering the Labour Party with no perspective. [153] The official historian of the Fourth International frankly allows that the tactic was consciously intended to be different from the raiding parties of the 1930s. [154] The IS action can be understood only within the broad context of general RCP criticisms of it. By splitting the RCP the IS emasculated a firm and powerful critic whose arguments it had failed to shake. No great compensation materialised in the shape of rapid progress by the Minority. [155] In 1933 Trotsky and the entire leadership of the International Left Opposition urged the tiny and unknown Communist League into the ILP as a matter of urgency. Yet they discouraged a split and condemned the Minority (whom they supported politically) for carrying one out. [156] Matters stood quite differently in 1947. Although it had largely stood still since 1945, the RCP was well known to active militants in Britain and had a reputation won by WIL’s wartime industrial interventions. Its leadership had proved its ability over a period of time and could point to almost a decade of well organised Trotskyist activity in Britain. Who of the International Secretariat could make a comparable claim? Under the circumstances it might be considered remarkable that the IS was able to secure its objective. This can be explained only by the distaste of the RCP for walking out of the Fourth International despite the low esteem in which it held that body’s leaders, and the existence within the British party of a Minority faction which acted as an uncritical outpost of the IS and, increasingly, embroiled the whole party in an internal war. Finally it must be said that none of this could have come to pass if the RCP had been forging ahead in the years after 1945. [157] As it was, unforseen economic expansion and the radical programme of the Labour government in its first two years confounded all forecasts. No tactical adjustments could set right objective conditions which were quite unfavourable to progress for Trotskyism in Britain.



1. “Victory for British imperialism would not lead to an overthrow of fascism (even in Germany) but to the establishment ultimately of fascism in Britain as well” (WIL, Military Policy – or Confusion?, 20 March 1941, H.P., D.,T.H. Sa, 8). “The inevitable tendency of British Capitalism after the war will be toward not any high-minded war against disease, poverty, want or anything of the sort, but towards fascism. Nothing else is open to them if they are to live” (A. Scott, “Anglo American Relations”, WIN (Jan. 1943), 5).

2. Socialist Appeal, Mid.-Sept. 1943.

3. RCP leaders even cautioned their members against expecting favourable wartime conditions to carry on (Statement of the Political Bureau on Redundancy, Internal Bulletin, 14 Dec. 1944).

4. At the Fusion Conference the Left Fraction argued unsuccessfully against using the MWF. Trotskyists should, it argued, work within the shop stewards movement until expelled. Only then would a separate movement be justified (A Policy for Industry, [March?] 1944 , H.P., D.J.H. 14c/8m). In November 1944 however the RCP affirmed its industrial perspectives. At the conference its main fear had been that events would overtake the MWF before it was ready. One central committee member, “A.R.” (Reilly?) moved an amendment to a resolution before the November central committee. doubting the future importance of the Federation (Central Committee Report Issued By The General Secretary [of its 10/11 November 1944 meeting], H.P., D.J.H. 12/8) .

5. The next year it warned the dockers that breakaways “would play into the hands of the Donovans and Deakins” (Socialist Appeal, Nov. 1945).

6. Socialist Appeal, mid-July 1944.

7. In an article by Bob Allen, Vic Simms developed an industrial programme a few weeks later when he suggested that transfers should be controlled by shop stewards’ committees, and that there should be a forty hour week and a guaranteed minimum, not dole, for those without work (Socialist Appeal, Nov. 1944).

8. The Minority argued that a “nons first” policy reinforced a division between trade unionists and others when the working class as a whole was faced with a political fight (F. Emmett and G. Healy, The Party’s Policy on Redundancy, [1944?], Internal Bulletin, H.P., D.J.H. 11/66). If sackings were inevitable that did not force the party to participate in putting people on the streets (F. Emmett and G. Healy, The Transitional Programme and Redundancy, Internal Bulletin, Feb. 1945, H.P., D.J.H. 15/B/20). The Majority case was that some redundancy was inevitable and that “nons first” was not a solution but a tactical response to them. In a period of retreats vital positions had to be held. The closed shop gave power over hiring which could also be extended to firing (Statement of the Political Bureau on Redundancy, Internal Bulletin, H.P., 14 Dec., 1944). The Majority also insisted that there was no contradiction between a perspective of trade union advance and minimal demands for trade union defence (H. Atkinson, The Discussion on Redundancy. Defence of Marxism against Infantile Leftism, Internal Bulletin, April 1945).

9. “Redundancy, the beginning of mass unemployment, has reared its head on an ever increasing scale. Employers celebrated VE Day by sacking thousands of workers” (The Aims and Objects of the Militant Workers’ Federation, [1945], H.P., D.J.H. 4/46).

10. The discussion on “Nons” and redundancy was a major internal preoccupation of the RCP between the annual conference of 1944 and 1945. See the bound volume of Internal Bulletins in the Haston Papers: I.B.’s 1945 Nons and redundancy.

11. The Perspectives in Britain, 6 June 1945, H.P., D.J.H 12/26b, 3.

12. See Socialist Appeal (Mid-Oct. 1945). But the paper part explained the strikes as “the aftermath of the strain and privation suffered by the workers”.

13. 1,100,000 working days were lost in a six week stoppage that spread from Birkenhead to all major ports. Large strikes on the docks now became the rule rather than the exception.

14. ”Wherever a strike occurred in a port in the post-war period the ephemeral or semi-permanent unofficial port-workers’ committee which organised it would despatch envoys to other ports to appeal for support. The envoys became accomplished in the art of strike spreading and rarely failed to secure an extension of the strike” (V.L. Allen, Trade Union Leadership, 1957, 198).

A link between RCP industrial and political independence was forged in October 1945 when C. (Mazo) Martinson, a party docker, stood for the Mersey Ward Bootle in a council election and polled 148 votes, just over 10% of those polled (Socialist Appeal, 5 Nov. 1944). But Martinson was the occasion of an attack by the Liverpool strike committee on the RCP when he was accused of representing himself as a delegate from his native city at a London dockers’ meeting. For the text of the telegram of complaint sent from the Liverpool committee, see The Times, 12 Oct. 1945.

15. Dockers had fiercely criticised the leaders of the TGWU and the party concluded that “the labour and trade union bureaucrats” had been exposed in the eyes of the vanguard (WIN, Nov. 1945, 36-8). The dockers, it thought, were “on the road to building a leadership conscious of its tasks”: a permanent rank and file movement to struggle from within against the leadership was needed (Socialist Appeal, Nov. 1945). The RCP also believed there had been resignations from CPGB members among the dockers during the Daily Worker’s original coolness towards their cause.

16. In 1945 and subsequently, the Emergency Powers Act and troops were used during docks strikes without rousing any great indignation. The RCP’s special alarm was due to discovery of hostility among those miners with whom it was in contact.

17. RCPers in Liverpool thought that the docks strike meant the new era had actually arrived: it criticised the London organisation for the way it had intervened (Liverpool District Committee, The RCP and the Dockers’ Struggle, 22 Nov. 1945, H.P., D.J.H. 12/41. See also J. Deane, Reply to the Liverpool Document on the Docks Strike, H.P., D.J.H. 12/41). V.L. Allen found the strike “an excellent example of the inscrutability of dockers’ behaviour” since the rank and file Dockers Charter stated aims already essentially present in union claims to the employers (op. cit., 195). The 1947 national docks scheme provided a fall-back wage and thus offered a step away from casualised labour. This seems to have had the effect of tilting the occasion of docks disputes away from pay issues (E. Wigham, op. cit., 103).

18. The National Docks Group Committee drew attention to the activity of “unofficial elements” in the TGWU and declared:

There is definite evidence that the present stoppage has been seized upon by people connected with certain political organisations who had ready-prepared machinery at their disposal for encouraging and maintaining strike action. We think our members should know this and discard these people and make up our minds to use the constitutional machinery at their disposal. (The Times, 13 Oct. 1944)

19. Arthur Deakin, who was about to succeed Bevin as General Secretary of the TGWU, elaborated Trotskyist preparations for the strike, instancing the hiring of loud-speakers, vans and halls.

20. At this second annual conference, held on 4/5/6 August 1945, there were thirty six delegates. Representation was on the basis of one delegate for ten members, with small branches combining to elect their delegates. It was believed that membership was around 300, with the increase largely comprised of those formerly in the CPGB or in no party, though gains were still being made from the ILP (Socialist Appeal, Mid-Aug. 1945.

21. RCP leaders spoke at this time of “by-passing the Popular Front stage” and of a critical mood on which Trotskyism might build. Socialist Appeal sales, at 12,000 were said to be restrained only by paper controls and not by the market.

22. Party Organiser, Sept. 1946, 8.

23. ibid., 8.

24. Up to 1946, the Glasgow Building Workers Campaign Committee published a small duplicated sheet, The Builders Bulletin. In 1946 the party launched a supplement, The Builders Appeal, which sustained a circulation of 700 in its seven issues between the 1946 and 1947 party conferences (Organisational Report of the RCP, RCP Conference Documents, 1947, 4). The London and Glasgow committees made a strong intervention at the large building workers’ demonstration in Hyde Park on 31 August 1946. On the platform were Jock Milligan, a party member, and Alf Loughton, a comrade of the group of Wicks and Dewar in the ILP. The Trotskyist platform was 3/- an hour for craftsmen and 2/9 for labourers; a guaranteed 40 hours at the 44 hour rate; two weeks paid holiday and pay for bank holidays; a national building workers’ ballot for one union; all building by direct labour; opposition to P.B.R. or the attuning of wages to production; and the nationalisation of the building industry and land without compensation (Mass Meeting Broadsheet, H.P., D.J.H. 11/2).

25. Brothers: Stand Firm For 3/- Per Hour, 119473, H.P., D.J.H. 11/3.

26. R.B., Appraisal of Struggle in the Past Period, 5 Jan. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 12/74.

27. In the London Transport Strike the party considered it had made a strong intervention, which received press coverage. It produced a Socialist Appeal Transport Strike Bulletin: Unity is strength, [Jan. 1947] , H.P., D.J.H.r E/ 16.

28. The party had “excellent relations” with the strike committee of the Glasgow binmen, for whom they provided typing and duplicating assistance. In return the committee reproduced a Socialist Appeal article as a strike leaflet (Organisational Report of the RCP, RCP Conference Documents, 1947, 4).

29. The Savoy Hotel staff sought recognition for their union, the GMWU. The RCP had a member, Marion Lunt, working there and its coverage of the dispute led to a libel action against Socialist Appeal. On 14 April 1948, the Master in Chambers found against the paper.

30. 75% of those eligible to join were in trade unions, 220 out of about 270. But 10% of the party’s members were housewives and it had sixty members in the forces (Membership Report, 1946).

31. Party Organiser, Sept. 1946, 9.

32. R. Tearse, Reply to R.B., 5 Jan. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 12/74.

33. In 1947, on the eve of the split, the party reported eight convenors, fifty seven branch officials or committee members, nine district committee members, three area committee members and thirty six shop stewards. There were sixty trades council delegates serving on thirty five trades councils. In each case there was a strong presence of AEU members; (Organisational Report of the RCP, loc. cit., 4).

34. This was not accurate. While the number of strikes in 1950 at 1,339, was just over half that in 1945 and the number of working days less than half, the number of strikes in coal mining was large (E. Wigham, op. cit., 102).

35. The government’s ability to break the London Transport strike without causing an outcry was the subject of a dispute between the International Secretariat and the RCP (Pablo, A Turn Towards the Labour Party Masses is Becoming ever more Urgent, Jan. 1947 postcript, H.P., D.J.H. 12/75; C. van Gelderen, Why I Now Oppose Entry, Internal Bulletin, March 1947, H.P., 1).

36. There were 10,000 stoppages in January 1945-autumn 1950, nearly all of them illegal, but not a single striker was ever prosecuted under Order 1305 although it was in force throughout (E. Wigham, op. cit., 104).

37. Vigilance Committees appeared in 1947 as a check on employers who squandered fuel. The RCP held that they reflected high class consciousness, “Soviet forms of organisation based on the factories” and called on its members to participate (Emergency Resolution on the Fuel Crisis, [1947?], H.P.).

38. See also P. Sedgwick, The Fight for Workers’ Control, International Socialism, no.3, 1960, 22; RCP Conference Documents, 1947, H.P.

39. Haston requested of Attlee that the British Prosecutor probe the alleged Nazi-Sedov link and that the RCP be allowed a watching brief and the right to question some of the accused. He also wrote to Shawcross, and directly demanded that Vyshinsky, the Soviet prosecutor who had also prosecuted in Moscow, prove Trotsky’s connection with the Nazis (J. Haston to Attlee, 23 Dec. 1945; to Shawcross and to the Russian prosecutor, 4 Jan. 1946, H.P., D.J.H. 15A/21). A copy of the Vyshinsky letter went to the Daily Worker.

40. A model resolution was drawn up for labour movement meetings (H.P., D.J.H. 15B/53), 50,000 leaflets distributed, a pamphlet written (but not published), and much space given over in Socialist Appeal (Report for Three Months, Feb.-April 1946).

41. Unlike the RCP, the Socialist Workers Party was reluctant to act and the main thrust of a half-hearted campaign in America was provided by the Workers Party with whom Al Goldman, Trotsky’s attorney, and Natalya Trotsky had links. Haston told J.P. Cannon on 1 June 1946 that an offensive campaign by the RCP had “completely silenced the British Stalinists”. For Haston’s correspondence with the SWP and other Americans see H.P., D.J.H. 15A/21.

42. The most prominent name on the list of intellectuals who lent their name was H.G. Wells, who had withheld his support at the time of the Moscow Trials.

43. The party issued the broadsheets Back to Lenin (Nov. 1945), An Open Letter to all Communist Party members (Feb. 1947), Cominform is not a workers international (Oct. 1947), and Open letter to members of the Communist Party and YCL (Nov. 1947) (H.P., D.J.H. 15E/i, 17, 19, 21).

44. In 1942 WIL ran NCLC classes in Shepherds Bush and Coventry and moved its speakers onto the programme elsewhere. Trotskyist infiltration of the NCLC was denounced by the communists (W. Wainwright, Clear Out Hitler’s Agents:! (1942), 15).

45. Sara had become Southern London Area Organiser for the NCLC and .lectured against Vansittartism in January 1944. He and Maitland contributed to The Plebs in 1944 and 1945. Some NCLC officials including J.P.M. Millar and George Phippen may have looked to Trotskyists to offset communist influence. Phippen certainly created a congenial political environment in Southall, where the Trotskyists were strong (George Phippen, in J. Bellamy and J. Saville (eds.), Dictionary of Labour Biography, Vol.5 (1979) 179-81). After he broke with Trotskyism, Haston obtained a full time position with the NCLC.

46. In 1946 Tyneside suffered a major crisis with the resignation of Minority supporters T. Dan Smith, Jack Jones and George Benn. Tearse led a Central Commission investigation into the way the branch, under the leadership of Dave Binah, was run. His report proved yet another occasion of Majority/Minority disagreement (H.P., D.J.H. 15B/82, July 1947).

47. Interview with S. Bidwell (Jan. 1973). Southall was one of the branches which undertook fraternisation with German Prisoners of War, a key feature in the RCP’s international programme. Bill Clemitson, another party member, was arrested in 1946 for distributing literature to German prisoners at a POW camp.

48. The party Control Commission had to investigate a case in Liverpool as well (Statement of the Control Commission on the Liverpool case and related correspondence, July 1947, D.J.H. 15B/82).

49. Publishing correspondence (New York), 2, special supplement, 27 Nov. 1954.

50. Membership losses were 112 between August 1945 and September 1946 (Against the Politics of Stagnation, Internal Bulletin, 1947 Conference Number, 1).

51. 36 voting members at the 1946 conference represented 29 branches: ten in London, thirteen in the provinces, four in Scotland and two in Wales. Membership in London, the centre of the factional struggle had risen by 30% and paper sales by 70%.

52. There were twelve full-time and one part-time worker in November 1944.

53. See below.

54. Interview with J. Goffe (July 1974).

55. The core of the Minority was Healy, already estranged from the old WIL leadership which now dominated the Political Bureau of the RCP; Goffe, variously of the Centre or the Right (Trotskyist) Opposition of the RSL, and (later) Lawrence, himself leader of the Right. They had the support of Sherry Mangan, a Time Life journalist based first in London and later in Paris. Mangan, who functioned in Europe under the names “Phelan” or “Patrick O’Daniel” was a member of the SWP and later of the International Secretariat. Other followers of the entrist faction were Fred Emmett, an AEU member who taught crafts in Stockwell, Sam Goldberg, Ben Elsbury and Hilda Pratt (Interview with J. Goffe; A. Richardson, op. cit.).

56. D. Finch and B. Shaw, Our Perspectives in the ILP, 9 Aug. 1944, H.P., D.J.H. 15A/3. Finch and Shaw rejected entry into the ILP but they believed fraction work there was of greatest importance after industrial work. They charged that ILP work was being downgraded, notably by the taking out of Bill Hunter, its convenor, to supervise trade union activities. Paradoxically they also forecast the rapid disappearance of the ILP.

57. “But the ILP remains an important obstacle in the path of the Fourth International. Events will not resolve themselves as simply as the comrades imagine. Far from the ILP disappearing at the “first breath of revolution”, even the beginning of mass radicalisation will see an enormous increase and influence in the membership for this organisation.” (Political Bureau, Perspectives in the ILP, [1944?], H.P., D.J.H. 15A/3)

58. “However, even if the terms are harsh, they would in any case be accepted by the ILP leadership. The ILP leaders are preparing to repeat on a new historical scale the experience of 1920-23. The lefts should analyse carefully this experience. But from the point of view of building the left wing, they should support the re-entry, however onerous the terms. The revolutionary wing will enter the Labour Party with a different aim than the leadership.” (Political Bureau, The ILP Fraction and Affiliation to the Labour Party, [late 1944?], H.P., D.J.H. 15B 17.

59. RCP members in the ILP continued, as in 1944, to back reaffiliation. See also P. Thwaites, op. cit., 38.

60. T. Dan Smith, North-East divisional representative on the ILP National Administrative Council, was expelled in May 1945 along with two other members of the RCP fraction. Herbie Bell, another Trotskyist, resigned in sympathy with them. In London Betty Russell was also expelled. The open adherence of the North-Eastern faction was reported in Socialist Appeal for June 1945. See also P. Thwaites, op. cit., 139-40.

61. Grant argued that the ILP was in no position to make conditions about the Labour Party breaking the coalition. If it decided to reaffiliate then continued coalition was irrelevant (The ILP, at the Crossroads, WIN, April 1945, 5). J.B. Stuart (the political name of Sam Gordon, who had become administrative secretary of the IEC when it underwent its 1940 reorganisation) sought a way to reconcile “the good sides” of the two parties. An approach by the RCP to the ILP would dispel illusions:

“That is why the next task of the RCP is a main orientation to the ILP That is why fusion with the Left Wing in the ILP is the main tactic in the immediate period.” (J.B. Stuart, The RCP and the ILP Left Wing, Internal Bulletin, June 1945, 1)

62. The RCP was criticised for making reaffiliation the benchmark of its approach to the ILP (ibid.). Some kind of contact between Dewar and the IS existed until at least 1946: Dewar told the ILP’s 1946 conference that he had discussed with it the RCP view of the ILP, and the Nuremburg Trial. After RCP complaints, the IS denied that any official contact had taken place. (Political Bureau to the IS, 9 May 1946; IS to the Political Bureau, 20 May 1946, H.P.)

63. In 1946 Wicks and Dewar combined with pacifists in the ILP to defeat reaffiliation at the party’s annual conference. When a by-election was called for 25 June at Battersea North, the London divisional ILP, with little encouragement from national level, put Dewar up as candidate. Dewar polled only 1.5% of the vote. This was a traumatic blow for the London ILP (Interview with H. Wicks Nov. 1979). After this Dewar mainly devoted himself to writing. He wrote Assassins at Large (1951) and Communist Politics in Britain (1976) as well as a pamphlet at the time of the Hungarian crisis of 1957 and various articles. Wicks continued as an antagonist of the CPGB on the Battersea and London trades councils.

64. The last RCP polemic with the ILP was published in early 1946 when Hunter argued that it was at a dead end and called on all revolutionaries to rally to Trotskyism (W. Hunter, The ILP and the Revolutionary Party, WIN, Feb.-March 1946, 141-50). In April 1946 the RCP recorded that it still had severe differences with the ILP left.

65. Reg. Groves was part of the Victory for Socialism movement which helped to crystallize discontent. He was co-organiser of the conference of anti-coalition local parties and trades councils organised in Birmingham on 9/10 September 1944.

66. See Socialist Appeal for January 1945.

67. The RCP held seventy meetings up to polling day, ranging from impromptu pithead gatherings to open air rallies in Neath with audiences between 300 and 500 and finally to two indoor forums at Gwyn Hall with 750 and 1500 in attendance, the last for an eve-of-poll debate with the CPGB (J. Lawrence, Report on the Neath Campaign, 13 June 1945, H.P., D.J.H. 15A/21,3).

68. Thirty other party members took their holidays in Neath though this was in part an admission of local weakness. 7,500 special election issues of Socialist Appeal were sold and 2,000 of each fortnightly issue of the campaign. 30,000 leaflets were distributed (J. Lawrence, ibid.).

69. Williams, the author of Capitalist Combination in the Coal Industry (1924), had once had some sympathy for Trotsky, if not Trotskyism.

70. Voting was on 15 May 1945, eight days before Labour actually pulled out of the coalition.

71. Haston polled 1,781 votes against more than 6,000 for the Nationalist and 30,847 for Williams. On a turnout of 58% Haston amassed 4.6% of the poll. Work on the Neath by-election by Mr. B.J. Ripley and Mr. J. McHugh of Manchester Polytechnic is currently (Sept. 1980) in progress.

72. From no members in Neath before the election, the RCP built a branch of six in the town and one of ten nearby. Sales of Socialist Appeal were reported, rather soon, to have “stabilised” at 1,000 (J. Lawrence, Report on the Neath Campaign, 3).

73. John Lawrence in his report noted that a Save the Deposit campaign had not been a success and advised caution in future ventures. RCP canvassers also encountered many Neath people who sympathised with them but were determined to vote Labour (Interview with E. Grant, Jan. 1973).

74. “Where possible we will put our own candidates as against those of the Labour Party, as well as of other parties” (Electoral Policy, adopted by the Central Committee, July 1944, 3, H.P., D.J.H. 12/6).

75. The RCP also called, in an unreal passage, for a united front of working class parties, including Common Wealth. Its argument was the old entrist one of sharing the experience of putting Labour in Power (Labour to Power in the General Election, statement of the RCP Political Bureau, printed in Socialist Appeal for June 1945).

76. See Electoral Policy. At this point, before the coalition was broken, the party speculated on writing “End the Coalition” across the ballot paper or even urging abstention, except where there was an ILP candidate to vote for. It also considered the possibility of a snap jingo election which would lead to a short-lived Tory government.

77. There is a discussion of the common fate of Common Wealth, the ILP and the RCP in D.L. Prynn, Common Wealth – A British “Third Party” of the 1940s, J.C.H., Vol.7, No.1-2 (1972), 178-9. Prynn’s suggestion of common work between the three parties seems fanciful however. See also A. Calder, The Common Wealth Party, 1942-45, Vol.1, 186-95, 315-17 and P. Thwaites, op. cit., 185. C.A. Smith was a physical link between the ILP’s reaffiliation discussions of 1938-9 and the crisis within Common Wealth, of which he was now a leader, provoked by the approach of the 1945 General Election.

78. From 1943 there was a rise in the total individual membership of the party. 1945 membership was practically double that of the previous year (LPCR). The CPGB, which could not be bracketed with the anti-truce parties, also felt Labour’s gravitational pull, and had sought affiliation as early as 1943 even though its membership total was booming.

79. On Our Tasks and Perspectives, Internal Bulletin (30 June 1945). The Glasgow branch had found there was a response for attacks on Churchill from a soapbox but less interest in meetings organised under the auspices of the RCP (Interview with J. Goffe, July 1974). J. Walters (Some Notes on British Trotskyist History, Marxist Studies, 2, 3, 1962-3, 45) dates the dispute over entry from the 1945 election, but Healy’s contribution preceded the declaration of results.

80. “Entry” and the Revolutionary Party, Political Bureau reply to the discussion, 1945 Conference Discussion (20 July 1945). The RCP leaders argued that the emergence of a “healthy” centrist current would compel the attention of all revolutionaries, but whatever the value of entrism in the past, this moment had not arrived.

81. In the eighteen months to July 1945 the RCP’s Labour Party members had failed to make even one recruit (ibid., 31).

82. This argument was in 1945 more powerful than it had been a decade earlier in view of the fame of Socialist Appeal relative to that of pre-war Trotskyist journals. Trotsky had even in 1936 considered the retention of an independent press while urging entry into the Labour Party.

83. Just after the conference, in September 1945, the Left Fraction, a reluctant partner to the 1944 fusion was expelled for indiscipline. It had refused to surrender control of Militant Miner but its other infraction was refusal to pull out two Labour Party members for open work. An appeal by the Fraction to the IS received no reply (Left Fraction, Brief Notes on the History of the Left Fraction, 1960, 3). It continued within the Labour Party, publishing a duplicated paper Voice of Labour (A. Richardson, Some Notes for a Biblography of British Trotskyism, 1979, 20). See also 1945 RCP Conference resolution on the Left Fraction, 4 Aug. 1945; W.D., T.M., J.L.R., Open letter to the membership, [5 Aug. 1945?]; and Left Fraction, A reply to the letter of the Secretary of the RCP to members of the Left Fraction, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/30b, 31, 34a.

84. C. Martinson stood in the Mersey Ward of Bootle (see above), and H. Bell, formerly an ILP official, stood in the Buddle Ward of Wallsend on a Revolutionary Communist Ticket.

85. The internal documents of the party contained many contributions on the subject but this can be misleading. Party members had the right to have documents reproduced within twenty one days (interview with J. Haston, July 1973); and the Minority levelled criticisms a good deal more often than the Majority answered them.

86. The Minority protested against closure, and it was recognised that circumstances, notably the arrival of Labour in government, were changing. The discussion was therefore extended to the end of 1945. This would only have barred formal contributions to the Internal Bulletin and could not of itself reverse deeply held convictions; in 1946 even this restriction proved ineffective.

87. The Labour Party question has been the subject of discussion within the British Trotskyist movement for more than ten years. That is a long time even to discuss so important a tactical question as entry into the Labour Party. The subject was one of the principal questions in dispute between the RSL and the WIL prior to the Fusion Conference of 1944. That conference decided the issue. (M. Lee, On the Limitation of the Discussion on “Entry”, [Dec. 1945/Jan. 1946?], H.P., D.J.H. 15B/45, 2).

88. Leigh Davis ceased activity in 1944 (see above). Margaret Johns had become inactive while living in Glasgow in the middle of the war. After the war she was persuaded to rejoin the party and was for a time a member of its Thames Valley branch (Interview with M. Johns, Nov. 1973). Van Gelderen, another former RSL leader, opposed entry after initial hesitation.

89. Harber shared with Lee, Grant and Haston the insistence that entry demanded a centrist current, participation in which (on a short term basis), would make surrender of an established open press worthwhile. Faced by Minority interest in the I.L.P., Harber wrote pseudonymously:

“.... granting (as they know I do) the assumption that we shall eventually have to enter the Labour Party, how can we in the meantime best build up our forces for entry ...” (P. Dixon, The 1945 Congress of the RCP – A Reply to Comrades Goffe and Healy, 23 Nov. 1945, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/40, 9).

90. See below.

91. They charged it with advocating liquidation of the I.L.P. as the priority task, then preparation for entry and then total entry (C.C. Majority, Reply to the Minority Statement, 9 Feb. 1946, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/48, 2).

92. Militant a duplicated paper around which the faction was intended to operate was made into a printed publication in mid-1946, a bold step for the RCP which was beginning to experience difficulties in the production of Socialist Appeal. RCP leaders charged that the Minority had failed to contribute any articles to Militant up to February 1946 (ibid.). No copies of this Militant have been located, but see A. Penn, op. cit., 163 for an issue with an Edinburgh imprint. She also discovered a publication Workers Weekly issued from the same city in the party’s name on 9 December 1944.

93. The establishment of a definite Minority dedicated to winning the RCP for total entry was declared in Minority Statement to the Central Committee of 9/10 Feb. 1946, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/48, 1.

94. “In a general way, the road for the construction of our parties, particularly in Continental Europe, leads at present through the combination of our independent work, guaranteed by our organisational and political autonomy, with patient, systematic and sustained fraction work in reformist, centrist and Stalinist organisations” (The New Imperialist Peace [IS document of the April 1946 pre-conference of the Fourth International], WIN, Nov.-Dec. 1946, 307). The RCP attempted to amend this resolution, arguing that entry could not be rejected a priori for Europe “in the coming period” ... (WIN, Nov.-Dec. 1946, 328).

95. At the first plenum of the new International Executive Committee in June 1946, the main resolution on entry was carried with only the British opposed. They put a counter resolution which fell with five votes in support, including that of the French majority and the Spanish delegate.

96. This is exemplified by Minority warnings about communist penetration:

“If we fail to rally our forces to wage this struggle (that within the Labour Party), we are merely handing over the leadership in the next immediate period to the Stalinists, who are undoubtedly our strongest opponents” (Finch, Goffe, Healy, Lawrence, The Turn to Mass Work, RCP Internal Bulletin, 17 July 1946, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/59, 9).

97. Van Gelderen backed entry on individual grounds. He believed that contemporary industrial movements would later be reflected in the Labour Party and that an authoritative presence there had to be established in anticipation. The actual moment of entry, he suggested, could only be determined empirically and he implied a longer period within the Labour Party than the RCP leaders, with their short term concept of entry, had envisaged (C. van Gelderen, Towards Entry – A Contribution towards the pre-conference discussion, RCP Internal Bulletin, [August? 1946], H.P., 10).

98. W. Hunter, British Perspectives – The Economics of the Discussion, RCP Internal Bulletin, [August?] 1946, 1. H.P. Hunter disputed that any sort of capitalist offensive was taking place and charged that the Minority depicted “a harassed and desperate ruling class with no room for manoeuvres, no room for retreats or compromises”.

99. The RCP’s Labour Party members had grown in number from forty four to sixty six during the year between conferences, a 50% increase which compared very favourably with the overall position (Labour Party Fraction Report, [Sept.? 1946], H.P., D.J.H. 15B/63). However it emerged the following year that this fraction itself supported a majority of the RCP staying out, and that a number of them preferred to sell Socialist Appeal rather than Militant. The Thames Valley branch of the RCP, a thriving Labour Party branch sold more copies of the open paper. Monthly sales of Militant were reported in September 1946 to be 118. In late 1946 the party was speaking of “increased attention” to the Labour Party though it had the Labour League of Youth chiefly in mind (Editorial Notes, WIN, Sept.-Oct. 1946, 261).

100. J.B. Stuart, Report on RCP National Conference, 1946, Internal Bulletin, 1946. H.P. Stuart, a supporter of the Minority, judged the class composition of the two sides to be similar, thus pre-empting an accusation it would level against the leading bodies the following year.

101. ”Because mass unemployment will only begin towards the end of Labour’s term in office ... it is quite likely that not only will the Labour Government see through its term of office, but that we may see a second Labour Government” (Perspectives and Orientation of the RCP, RCP Conference Documents, 1946, H.P., 7).

102. “The inevitable crisis, however, will not be immediate. It will be delayed for a time. The orientation and strategy of the Revolutionary Communist Party is firmly based on the long-term perspective of crisis and decline but its eyes are also wide open to the immediate conjunctural upswing (Editorial Notes, WIN, Sept.-Oct. 1946, 260.)

103. IS, A Turn Towards the Labour Party Masses Is Becoming Ever More Urgent, Jan. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 12/75. In March 1947 the IEC discussed and approved this letter to the RCP by a narrow majority of seven to five (one Italian, one Spanish, one French Majority, two British).

104. The IS quoted Labour Party success in local polls and by-elections and the resolutions being sent into Transport House in opposition to Bevin’s foreign policy, but did not face the contradiction between electoral support and its belief that the government’s policy was reactionary (ibid., 5-6). The opposition within the Labour Party to government policy with its emphasis on a critique of foreign policy is discussed by D. Rubinstein, Socialism and the Labour Party: The Labour Left and Domestic Policy, 1945-1950, in D.E. Martin and D. Rubinstein (eds.), Ideology and the Labour Movement, 1979, 227-57.

105. ”Every capitalist boom in the imperialist epoch is without perspective of achieving real stability” (The Real Situation in Britain – A Reply to the IS, Internal Bulletin, March 1947, H.P.).

106. The RCP’s detailed account of the revival is in loc. cit., 19-23.

107. “The British people were far from starving”, writes David Marquand, “although a casual newspaper reader might have been forgiven for doubting the fact” (Sir Stafford Cripps, in M. Sissons and P. French (eds.), Age of Austerity, 1945-1951, 1964, 186).

108. ”Under these conditions, it is obviously bound to be much more difficult to recruit members from the Labour Party directly to the revolutionary party, than to organise them inside for Trotskyism” (IS, A Turn Towards the Labour Party Masses, 8).

109. ibid., 12.

110. The RCP Political Bureau referred often to the need for entry to be preceded by the emergence of a centrist current within social democracy, moving towards the left and in a period of high political life. They also insisted that entry could be for the short-term only. While they could quote Trotsky in this respect they were on less firm ground with their conditions for entry. The IS argued that “entry of revolutionary organisations has taken place, at different periods that vary greatly in political character and for different purposes”, and gave the example of groups seeking protection against terror and groups seeking their first recruits (ibid., 9).

111. The Real Situation in Britain, 11.

112. “It was with no pleasure that we read your letter addressed to the Central Committee of the RCP but with growing apprehension.” Following this opening sentence the RCP declared the IS orientation, polemical method and conclusions “patently false” and informed it, “we concluded a study of your letter with considerable alarm” (The Real Situation in Britain, 1).

113. “In that event, the Communist Party should never have been formed in Britain nor should the Trotskyist Party. The Trotskyists should have entered the LP and remained there until the masses had completed their experience” (ibid., 30). The example of the dockers was proferred: they were Labour supporters but had not sought to use the Labour Party during their recent strike. The RCP however had found it possible to approach the dockers openly as a representative of the Fourth International.

114. Thus the RCP argued that while paper membership of the Labour Party had risen, activity in many localities had declined as soon as the General Election was over. In traditional areas there had been scarcely any revival. The League of Youth now barely existed and Labour Party publications showed a swing to the right.

115. “The setting into motion of the entire awakened working class will not be achieved by a few hundred (or even a few thousand Trotskyists) no matter how determined, or how well we plan, or how much we might work or wish to achieve this aim – albeit propped up by the inspired directions of the IS” (ibid., 41).

116. This point is specifically applied in the text to the Labour Party faction paper Militant.

117. The very-fact that the Labour Party is in power with such a huge majority, and that the local organisations are not nearly as active as they were even before the outbreak of the war, is one of the factors that makes us hesitant to conclude that the workers will pour into the Labour Party in active masses as a result of the next wave of radicalisation (ibid., 50).

118. This entailed two conclusions: that Trotskyism could grow when there was healthy life and internal struggle in the reformist or centrist organisation it had entered; that when the movement was quiet Trotskyism stagnated, especially if struggles found an outlet outside the Labour Party (ibid., 40).

119. Van Gelderen was editor of Militant and representative of the Labour Party fraction’s steering committee on the Political Bureau. He announced that his years abroad had left him out of touch and that British workers currently looked to unions and factory organisations as “organs of struggle”. Going into the Labour Party, he suggested, “means that for a long time ahead, we transform ourselves into a propaganda group for the sake of winning over the comparatively rare workers who do attend local LP meetings – and these by no means the most advanced” (Why I Now Oppose Entry, Internal Bulletin, March 1947, 2).

120. Van Gelderen had observed that the RCP members in the Labour Party were succumbing in some cases “to the reformist and petty-bourgeois atmosphere and opportunist tendencies are creeping in their articles and activities” (ibid., 2). J. King, a Labour Party fraction leader recruited during the ALLVDC campaign of 1944, delineated the case for placing the major emphasis on independence, from Labour Party structure.

121. CC Minority, Some Comments on the PB reply to the IS letter, Internal Bulletin, April 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 11/29.

122. See A. Walker, The Task of the Party in the Present Period, Internal Bulletin, April 1947, sep. page., 1-3, H.P., D.J.H. 11/29. Walker was a follower of Shachtman. Bob Condon, a Welsh miner Trotskyist, went even further than Shachtman by arguing that technocracy and not capitalism would be the next historic stage after capitalism (The New Order, Internal Bulletin, March 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 11/17).

123. ”Today the Labour Government nationalises industries which form the basis of capitalist economy, and it is undeniable that there has so far been no fundamental opposition from its bourgeoisie” (B. Hunter, The Nationalisation of British Industry, WIN, May 1947, 1).

124. Two Years of Labour in Power, WIN, Oct. 1947, 1-11. D. Rubinstein discusses the role of the Labour Left, urging the government faster along the same road rather than along a different one in Socialism and the Labour Party, loc. cit., 236.

125. Hunter’s argument was that the Labour Government was acting as the most conscious section of the ruling class thus far, so that state interventions could not be interpreted in a progressive light. Nevertheless, he suggested, workers did interpret them that way (The Nationalisation of British Industry, loc. cit., 4-6).

126. “... we anticipated a development of events at a far more rapid tempo than has taken place. On this basis we overestimated the possibilities of growth. This error must be corrected, or it can have serious consequences for the Party by causing a sense of frustration among the cadres in face of a slower tempo of events. The Party must be prepared to face a period, not of rapid and spectacular gains but of slow growth and entrenchment in the propaganda field and in the trade unions and in the industrial arena” (Editorial Notes, WIN, Sept.-Oct. 1946, 261).

127. Patrick O’Daniel (Sherry Mangan) invited the British to moderate their polemical tone in his pompous “A Note on Discussion Methods” (Internal Bulletin, 12 July 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 11/34). Haston wrote a devastating reply, with a witty appendage, In Reply to the Discussion Method of Comrade Daniel (Internal Bulletin, [July 1947?], H.P., D.J.H. 11/36).

128. See Chapter XII.

129. On 14-15 June 1947, the Minority held its own conference and formally constituted itself as the “Entrist Faction”. An International representative attended. Haston complained of poor attendance by Minority members at aggregates and public meetings, and also of a lack of interest in Militant. “The atmosphere of a split already exists”, he complained (J. Haston to IS, 15 July 1947, For Information, H.P., D.J.H. 12/82, 6). He also charged that the Minority, despite its interest in the Labour Party would take no responsibility for the operation of the fraction within it. Van Gelderen, he charged, had “on several occasions” written the entire Militant himself (Internal Bulletin, July 1947). To a charge of being opposed to the decision to print Militant, Healy replied that he and Goffe felt the fraction’s narrow base did not justify it and that low Majority interest in Labour Party work inhibited the development of it in any case. In the pre-conference period Minority contributions started to be styled, “EC Entrist Faction”. For separate Minority interventionsin industry, see R. Tearse and T. Reilly, The Adrema Strike – The Real Issues, Sept. 1947, D.J.H. 12/90, 4.

130. Between September 1946 and July 1947, the party had a net loss of forty two members (EC Entrist Faction, Against the Politics of Stagnation, Internal Bulletin, 1947 Conference Number, 1, H.P., D.J.H. 11/32, 1).

131. ibid.

132. Pablo (Michel Raptis), It is High Time to Find a Solution, Internal Bulletin, July 1947, 9 H.P.

133. “Let the next Conference of our British comrades solve the problem in this direction and let each of the two tendencies in our British movement make its own experience” (ibid., 12).

134. Pablo’s conditions were:

  1. The existence of a party based on the working class enjoying the confidence of its overwhelming majority and which allows within its ranks a legal or semi-legal revolutionary tendency.
  2. The economic and political conditions of the country, which far from forseeing a capitalist stabilisation, determine an equilibrium more and more unstable of the bourgeoisie, which will accentuate the opposition of the masses to th reformist leadership of the Labour Party and will drive them to seek a more revolutionary situation. (ibid., 11.)

135. In 1946 and 1947 it could muster only seven delegates for total immediate entry against twenty eight for the Majority. It did, however, question the accuracy of representation at RCP conferences, claiming the split among active members was 149:73. This complaint, first made after the annual conference of 1947, lacked moral force.

136. “... we shall suggest to the IEC that it allows temporarily a division of the British section into an open and an entrist group. Such a division would take place within the Fourth International and there would therefore be no return to the pre-1944 division of forces in which one group was inside the F.I. and the other (the WIL) was outside” (E.C. Entrist Faction, Open Letter to the Political Bureau. The crisis in the Revolutionary Communist Party, Internal Bulletin, Special 1947 Conference Number, H.P., D.J.H. 15A/39 1-2) .

137. Healy, the Minority leader had been a founder-member of WIL, but in this presentation to the 1947 conference, his Entrist Faction looked back on wartime activities which had been ”valuable” but fostered illusions that independent activity “could, of itself, build the revolutionary party” (ibid., 4).

138. The suggestion was that two thirds of the Majority representatives on the Political Bureau and the Central Committee were “either petty-bourgeois or intellectuals with no experience of work in the mass movement” (ibid., 7). This assertion conflicted with the observations of Stuart the previous year, as shown on p.432, above. It was not uncommon in the Fourth International to level this kind of charge, but in the 1939-40 separation of the SWP, considered a model guide to conduct during factional disputes, Trotsky, a participant, had been careful to avoid it before Shachtman et al. took a definite splitting course.

139. In 1947, 79% of the RCP membership, excluding forces members, was in unions. The rest were divided equally between those ineligible to join and housewives. 35.3% were in basic industrial unions; 18.9% in industrial service, transport or general unions; 25.2% in white collar or professional unions. Blue collar member ship predominated in the provinces; white collar in London (Organisational Report of the RCP, RCP Conference Documents, 1947, H.P., I-2).

140. RCP Conference Documents, 6.

141. The RCP still expected a mass communist movement to emerge. It noted that the CPGB was giving publicity to Labour Party members leaving to join it and regarded this as a hint that the danger of a large Stalinist faction within the Labour Party was less than it seemed from Paris (The Real Situation in Britain, 34).

142. The bulk of the membership, at 332, had been held, perhaps by the lowering of expectations. But they now supported only eight professionals. The failure of WIN to appear for five months after May 1947 may be attributable to the intense factional conflict: there were abundant internal documents during this time.

143. The IS brought to conference a resolution which stated, “This Conference accepts the decision of the next IEC on the British Question.” Against Minority and International protests, the RCP leaders’ view that this should not be put to the vote was upheld. Both the International Secretariat and the Minority had accused Haston and Grant of canvassing a possible split from the International. No documentary proof of this has been located. That same month Haston claimed that he had appealed to the IS in June to throw its weight against a split and that the Minority had been asked to acquiesce in the decision of the 1947 conference (Majority Central Committee, To the International Executive Committee, 19 Aug. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/86).

144. This also conflicted with Trotsky’s advice to J.P. Cannon during the SWP debate of 1939-40, where the American had been advised while in a minority to work patiently for a majority (In Defence of Marxism, 1966, passim.

145. “The tactic of the Majority bases itself on the orientation of the independent party, but an integral part of that orientation is the operation of a faction inside the Labour Party” (To the International Executive Committee, 5). This document also made the claim that about half of the Labour Party faction supported the Majority view. If the RCP was separated, these members were likely to fall under the sway of the Minority.

146. The Minority proposed, on the eve of the 1947 annual conference, to re-open discussion about WIL’s abstention from the Peace and Unity conference of July 1938. This had been closed at the 1944 Fusion Conference. The move was clearly intended to subvert the key ex-WIL figures who led the RCP. But they countered most effectively with a protest from the RCP central committee against singling out one only of the many splits which pockmarked the history of the Fourth International. This protest, circulated at the annual conference derived its force from being issued over the names of all central committee members who had not been in WIL in 1938, a surprising fifteen out of twenty. Grant, Haston, Healy, Heaton Lee and Millie Lee had been in WIL in 1938. The signatories to the protest (with their 1938 organisation in brackets), were:

K. Westwood (RSL)


F. Ward (RSL)

D. James (RSL)

S. Bidwell (RSL)

D.D. Harber (RSL)

B. Hunter (ILP)

C. van Gelderen (RSL)

H. Atkinson (ILP)

J. Deane

T. Reilly (ILP)

R. Tearse (None)


(Co-opted members)

J. Dowd (None)


A. Roy (RSL)

D. Binah (None)

A. Rosen (RSL)

The remarkable spectrum of support for this declaration confirmed how conscientiously the RSL leaders had put ancient quarrels behind them in 1944 (RCP to the IEC: An Appeal, 19 Aug. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/87).

147. Pablo charged that the RCP leaders sought to gather round themselves all the malcontents within the international and, undeterred by the central committee declaration, quoted the Resolution of the Founding Congress of the International on the Lee Group. He also charged the RCP with preparing a split while accusing others of doing the same (Reply to Comrade Haston: certain reflections are now necessary, Aug. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 15B 88).

148. Initially, the IEC declared itself eight to five “in favour of the entry of the Minority of the RCP into the Labour Party”. Supporting the two British delegates in opposition were one Indian, one French Majority and one Indo-Chinese. Haston had avoided a harder reolution than this but now sought the best deal he could get. With “Jerome” and “Robert” he made a Special Commission which produced a compromise resolution. Under its terms both factions received official recognition and would separately pursue their courses under the guidance of the IS which would convene monthly meetings. The IEC upheld this resolution eleven to one with one abstention (Resolutions and motions of the Fourth Plenum of the IEC, Sept. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/90)

149. Declaration of the majority ... for the special conference, 11 Oct. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/93b.

150. Central Committee resolution to go before the Special Conference, Oct. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 15B/93a. Militant was allowed by the Minority to die, though the 1947 annual conference had been told that it had a print run of 1,000 of which 450 were sold. More than a year later, in December 1948, it launched a new paper, Socialist Outlook.

151. In Bevanism: Labour’s High Tide (1979) M. Jenkins places the end of conditional CPGB support for the Labour government at October 1947, the very month of the RCP split. Jenkins follows Pelling in attributing the docks strikes of 1948 and 1949 to communist attempts to disrupt European recovery (op. cit., 15). D.N. Pritt, in The Labour Government, 1945-51 (1963) dated strong developments on the left from 1948.

152. M. Jenkins, op. cit., 91. Jenkins wrongly presents the 1947 and 1949 entries of the RCP into the Labour Party as one and makes no comment on the presence of Trotskyists in the Labour Party from 1945 (op. cit., 58n, 92-3).

153. Declaration of the majority ..., H.P.

154. P. Frank, The Fourth International (1979), 85. Frank unconvincingly motivates IS advice by Labour’s “close links” with the unions and the emergence of Bevanism. But the “close links” were not new and were in any case an argument for permanent entry. Bevanism moreover should only accurately be dated from the 1950s. For the contemporary left, see M. Jenkins, op. cit.; D. Rubinstein, loc. cit.

155. The subsequent history of the Minority falls outside the scope of this thesis. Some of their activity can be followed in M. Jenkins, op. cit., D. Rubinstein, loc. cit., and LPCR, 1947-9.

156. See above, p.81

157. This thesis, which was acknowledged by the Majority itself was challenged by the state capitalists within the RCP ranks, who argued that it should be an exception to the general decline of all parties outside the Labour Party. They urged the maintenance of independence and the advancement of a practical alternative to the programme of the Labour government (B. Evans and R. Carson, Must the RCP Collapse?, Internal Bulletin, Aug. 1947, H.P., D.J.H. 11/38).

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Updated by ETOL: 14.2.2005