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J.B. Stuart

A Brief Report on England

(June 1944)

From Fourth International, Vol. 5 No. 6, June 1944, pp. 168–170.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The fusion of the British Trotskyist groups into a single organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party, coincides with a mounting crisis of the British ruling class. This is not a mere coincidence. The most advanced representative of the rising working class grows and gains cohesion concurrently with the disintegration of the old stratum of rulers. To set this highly important unification and its attendant events into a proper perspective, at least a sketch of the general background is necessary.

England is today on the verge of great revolutionary events. Its economic system, long the pride of the capitalist world, is shot through with gangrene. War, which puts all economies to the supreme test, has proved British capitalism to be inefficient, wasteful and corroded.

England, the first capitalism to rise to ascendancy, has retained a large part of its antiquated structure and now finds herself in a condition bordering on collapse. Lacking the tremendous resources of the United States, the ruling class has not been able to cover up its bankruptcy by the same sort of forced marches in production.

A measure of England’s economic crisis is the coal situation. Production fails to meet quotas set by war demands. The coal barons and their government even risk great miners strikes, which imply a further drop in production, rather than grant the basic demand of the miners: nationalization of the pits. The rulers are caught in this dilemma: endanger the military situation or open the sluices of nationalization—and thus threaten their whole system of private property. The issue is too “controversial” for Parliament to deal with, says Churchill ...

For the miners, and for the rest of the workers as well, real improvement in their miserable, ever-falling standard of living is directly tied up—in this declining economy—with outright nationalization of the means of production.

The negligible wage “concessions” are inadequate to the needs. Strikes are bound to increase. The class struggle is bound to sharpen. Just as its uncertain international position has created rifts in the ruling stratum so the deteriorating domestic situation will create still further schisms at the top.

The Education Bill

The issue of “mine nationalization” was too “controversial” for the government to act on, said Churchill, postponing it to some future general election when, he hopes, its acuteness will not be so glaringly illumined for the masses as in the flames of war. Churchill preferred to have his labor lackies handle the issue by betraying the miners from within and by “nationalizing” labor from other industries for the coal pits (the “Bevin boys”)—apparently only nationalization of mine property is “controversial.”

However, the domestic crisis found another means of obtaining parliamentary expression. In March an apparently harmless Education Bill came before the House of Commons. It contained a provision to equalize the pay of women educational workers with that of the male teachers. The Government opposed the provision. But, a majority of the Commons, including a sizable section of the Prime Minister’s own Tory party, passed it.

No one paid much attention to this minor setback of the Cabinet. But Churchill made it a major issue. He demanded a reversal of the vote as a test of confidence in his government. The whole country rang with the controversy. Finally, the Prime Minister got what he wanted.

Equal pay for women—and only in a white-collar segment of the working class at that—became an issue on which the government of British imperialism demonstratively made its war leadership dependent! Not a single sluice of social progress must be left open, the British rulers announced thereby. So great is their fear of the threatening social avalanche.

Churchill got his vote, to be sure. But the result was such a surge of resentment among the masses that, for the first time since 1940, the Tory-Labor coalition was seriously shaken.

Crisis in the Labor Party

Under pressure from below, the Labor party executive announced in April that “it recognizes that the Coalition government cannot function for post-war reconstruction and will end it when divergencies with the Tories on social legislation become sharply clear” and further that while the Coalition continues to function for war purposes, it will contest by-elections on its “own social program.”

The immediate cause for this step was the Education Bill incident. But a mass demand for labor to break the coalition has been sweeping the trade unions for the past two years.

The Labor party which, before 1939 was gaining by-elections steadily from the Tories, has seen by-election after by-election go to independents and to the newly formed, “radical” middle-class Commonwealth party. The labor leadership has so compromised itself that posters issued by petty-bourgeois outfits like the “Free Trade League” can nowadays appear with impunity in Labor strongholds in London, denouncing—“Labor Fascism.” Nor has the fact that the hated Fascist Oswald Mosley gained his release from prison, through the instrumentality of the Labor minister Morrison, helped halt the decline of popularity of the Labor party among the masses. This reluctant first half-step to appease the mass demand that it break the coalition merely means that even the myopic traitors in the Labor Party leadership are beginning to see the handwriting on the wall. The crisis is rotten-ripe.

The Treachery of the Trade Union Officials

While the first indication of a break in the political coalition becomes apparent, the trade union fakers have intensified their craven subservience to the capitalists on the economic field—where the masses have directly burst through the shackles of “national unity.” Not sham opposition is the task that the labor fakers have set themselves here, but a blindly fierce mending of the shackles. With hundreds of thousands of miners out on spontaneous strikes, with the strike fever growing, they resorted to desperate measures. Their pie-cards are directly at stake.

History will record to their ever-lasting shame that the trade union officialdom of Great Britain begged the ruling class to impose a new law against strikes and against the support of strikes. History will also record that the ruling class entrusted this task to Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labor and erstwhile “leader”—and betrayer —of the General Strike in 1926.

Under the new “Bevin Law,” as it is called, the despotic outrage of outlawing sympathy strikes—the infamous Trades Dispute Act of 1927 which sealed the defeat of the General Strike—is multiplied over and over again. Imposing penalties of up to five years imprisonment, the law makes it a crime to talk in favor of a strike anywhere outside of an official union meeting in the industry or plant affected. A crime to support an “unofficial” strike in the press. A crime to send financial aid to such a strike. The papers openly gloat that the trade union officials called on the government for aid to hold in line the union members whom they can no longer control.

A few days after the promulgation of the “Bevin Law,” thousands of members of Bevin’s own union, the General Transport Workers Union, responded by going out and tying up all bus traffic in the busiest districts of London. The same week thousands of workers in the municipal gas plant walked out in Manchester, leaving that city without gas for seven days.

The “Communist” Party

In all these developments the Stalinist party invariably plays the auxiliary strike-breaking role. The main job is, of course, left to the trade union and Labor Party fakers. The appeals of the Stalinists against strikes are larded with pious references to the needs of supporting the military effort of the Soviet Union. They make a show of opposition to the crasser of the anti-labor acts which have aroused universal wrath among the workers. Thus, for instance, they advise Bevin that there are already adequate laws to deal with “Trotskyist strike instigators” without resorting to a new law such as the Labor minister espouses. Like all mass organizations in England and unlike its American counterpart, the “Communist” Party is still constrained to use socialist phraseology as a demagogic concession to the deep-rooted traditions in the working class.

Among the trade union bureaucracy, particularly in the mining and engineering industry, a strong section inclines to the newer, more energetic and more polished methods of betrayal that the CP espouses. It is among them that the Stalinists have obtained weighty support for their projected entry into the Labor Party—which the leaders of the latter still oppose—as well as for their “Left Unity” campaign, designed to revive and form the basis of a more “solid” Popular Front project. The Stalinists strain every effort to help in the betrayal of the workers, but are not appreciated or trusted by the powers that be sufficiently to be given a leading place. Among the miners, where they once had their strongest base, their influence is steadily declining.

The Labor “Lefts”

The so-called Labor “Lefts”—Aneurin Bevan, Laski and Co.—call every shot in the treachery of the bureaucrats and in the nefarious plans of the bourgeoisie. But—their support of the war leads them to cowardly submission every time! Bevan goes to his miners district, speaks to strikers, agrees that all their demands are correct and just, castigates the coal barons and the government for their crimes, and winds up—by urging the miners to go back to the pits because the strike hurts the war conducted by the very criminals he castigates. In spite of his old popularity with them, the miners wave him aside no less unceremoniously than the Stalinist Horner or the old-line bureaucrat Lawther.

Nevertheless, this very discreditment among his constituents pushes Bevan and his ilk into a more vigorous collision with the Labor Party heads. So much so and with such impetus that not only does the party bureaucracy want to “discipline” him but—finds that very difficult. In a recent parliamentary caucus such an attempt failed by a considerable margin.

It is safe to say that this group, despite all its gyrations, will remain what it intrinsically is—the “Left” face of the rascally bureaucracy.

The Independent Labor Party

As against all the other old and established working class organizations, only the ILP has held its prestige and even grown. The secret of its success is not hard to discover: it maintains an anti-war position, although with typical centrist trappings, and not too loudly or clearly.

However, it dissociates itself whenever it can from the Trotskyists. Its leaders hobnob politely with the parliamentary crowd. Half of them are really pacifists at heart. They are always ready for a jolly get-together with the bureaucrats. In short, no one in the ruling circles takes them seriously as a revolutionary threat. As a matter of fact, the ruling circles value them as parliamentary colleagues, perhaps with an eye to the future ...

Such in brief outline is the political background against which, in the middle of March, the Workers International League and the Revolutionary Socialist League held a joint convention at which these two organizations fused and took the name of Revolutionary Communist Party.

The Fusion Conference

The fusion resolution, adopted by the conference, places the new Revolutionary Communist Party squarely on the granite foundation of the principles and program of the Fourth International.

The name Revolutionary Communist Party has turned out to be highly successful. The bulk of the party’s new recruits comes from the Stalinized CP and its periphery. The Stalinists are trading on a name with which they have nothing in common politically, but one that is becoming ever more popular with the masses in Great Britain. The new party has thus seized the banner which is rightly theirs from the hands of the usurpers who besmirch it.

Needless to say, the Stalinists have reacted with wild fury to the new Trotskyist party name. They even have large posters in front of their headquarters calling attention to the situation, setting forth in huge letters that they are “the Communist Party.” This frenzied indignation is indirectly a good measure of the effectiveness of the RCP name. Of course, the RCP is no less anxious to distinguish its identity from that of the Stalinists, to whom they refer as “His Majesty’s Communist Party.”

Made frantic by the growing domestic crisis and impotent to deal with the rapid succession of sporadic strikes, the ruling class and its bureaucratic partners-in-crime take their revenge—by pouncing savagely on consistent revolutionists, the Trotskyists. The Trotskyists spend their time, not in apologizing for anybody or anything in the twists of official politics. Nor in hobnobbing with traitors. They go sounding the tocsin around the country, exposing the fraud perpetrated by the imperialist war on the masses; denouncing the hypocritical treachery of the labor lackeys of capitalism; baring the manifold ways devised for the cheating of the workers; and aiding to the best of their ability every effort of the toiling masses to improve their lot and awaken to their historic destiny.

The basic motives for the attack on the Revolutionary Communist Party have already been indicated. Here we shall deal only with the immediate cause and developments ensuing.

The actual charges against the Trotskyist leaders, Jock Hasten, general secretary of the RCP; Roy Tearse, national secretary of the Militant Workers Federation; Ann Keen, northeast (London) district secretary of the party and Heaton Lee are: violation of Trade Disputes Act (of 1926) in connection with the recent great strike of engineering apprentices in Scotland.

In the case of the apprentices, mass resentment grew against the Bevin order drafting these young men—many of whom had nearly completed their 4-year apprenticeship acquiring the mechanic’s skill for a life-long trade—into coal pits, where they saw no future for themselves and only another obstacle to the miners’ fight for nationalization, with which they sympathized.

“We refuse to carry the burden imposed on the industry by the lust for profit and inefficiency of the coal-owners. Since they are directly responsible for the coal crisis it is against them that compulsion must be directed,” says the Statement of the Tyne Apprentices Guild, January 1944.

Open defiances swept the ranks of the apprentices. They were resolved not to become “Bevin Boys.” When one of their number received the draft order, the Tyneside Apprentices Guild sent a letter to Bevin demanding exemption from compulsory mine labor for all apprentices in the “industrial engineering trades.” The Minister of Labor failed to reply. Thereupon the Guild called its 5,000 members out on strike. A few days later they were joined by 20,000 others in Glasgow and elsewhere. (The various local machinists unions, expressed support; even the Executive of the national Amalgamated Engineers Union expressed sympathy with their cause; although organizational relations between the latter and the Apprentices Guild were strained.)

The strike was rather wide-spread and appeared well-organized and coordinated. It gave the ruling class a particularly bad scare, because it came from a new and unfamiliar quarter of the working class.

The RCP supported this strike, and the just grievances of the apprentices. The apprentices guild is a new organization. It grew up as a matter of fact in conflict with the established trade union machine which in its complacency refused to organize the young workers or take them under their wing—leaving them pretty much to their own devices.

The raids against the RCP conducted by Scotland Yard were to primarily obtain “proof” which dealt with the apprentices’ strike, among other things. Theirs is the first case to be tried under the Trades Dispute Act of 1926 and this in itself is an indication of the unpopularity of that Act among the masses. Furthermore, the new implementing Bevin Act—openly proclaimed and directed against the Trotskyists—is, if anything, even more unpopular.

The Labor “lefts”—alleged friends—only see the “numerically insignificant” group. They treat the attacks, the raids, the arrests of the Trotskyists—against which they, to be sure, protest—as a farce. The bureaucrats, the Will Lawthers, the Bevins, in the wake of the bosses, are more circumspect. They see the powerful ideas of the Trotskyists. They see a serious menace in the prospect of a convergence of these ideas and the great stirring mass of miners, ship-builders, engineers. They can’t see the joke. They are in deadly earnest. The British Tribune of April 14 reports:

“Mr. Lawther, the leader of the miners, is said to have stated in a speech that the Trotskyist organization must be taken seriously and that the amendment of the law under consideration [the ‘Bevin Law’] is on the request of the miners leaders themselves.”

The growth of the British Trotskyists and the unification of several groups into a single, centralized section of the Fourth International, is an event that this enemy cannot help but note. And, with apprehension.

Meanwhile, the RCP is having difficulties in obtaining the release of the arrested comrades on bail. Meeting halls for defense rallies — due to Stalinist interference mainly—have been barred to the RCP and it has had to hold its initial London meetings in the open, at Hyde Park.

Immediate Effects of Attack

The attack on the young party, fraught as it is with great danger to its existence, has other sides by way of compensation.

The new Revolutionary Communist Party has at once become a factor of first importance in the political consciousness of the country. The press, the radio, are teeming with news about it.

Great sympathy has been aroused for Trotskyism among masses of miners and other workers who for the first time have heard of this party and who have heard it identified with their own eruptive militant action.

In the organized labor movement, workers moving leftward now have a new, dramatic banner before their eyes as a rallying point.

Thousands of communist workers, betrayed and disillusioned with Stalinism, see the cherished communist ideal reborn in new form, awakening glorious memories.

In the ILP, among the Labor “Left,” the rank and file evince immediately spontaneous solidarity with the persecuted Trotskyists. The leaders, forced to go along, make uneasy jests, and try to avoid mentioning the new party and its papers in their own meetings and in their own press.

A broad defense committee has already been organized with the participation of the ILP and Labor “Lefts”. Those who have already joined the national committee of the “Anti-Labor Laws Victims Defense Committee” include:

The assault of the ruling class on the new party cannot help but cement the unity and invest the membership with a strong sense of party loyalty and party patriotism from the very first. All reports indicate that the fusion is an accomplished fact and not merely a formal decision.

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