Plastrik (Judd/Stanley) Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Henry Judd

Britain’s Political Crisis and the Role
of the Independent Labor Party

(May 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 18, 4 May 1932, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“British capitalism cannot fight Nazism. All it can do is wage an old-fashioned imperialist war – and wage it inefficiently at that.” (Walter Padly, in the British New Leader)


It is as clear as daylight that England is rapidly approaching a crisis in its history.

No country can undergo a series of disastrous military and political defeats, year after year, without experiencing the most serious internal reactions. This is happening in England today. The fact that things are – at the moment – rather quiet should not fool us for a moment. It is a typical “quiet before the storm.”

To summarize what has happened to England in almost three years of warfare is a simple matter.

  1. The unwieldy but mighty British Empire, ruling 550 millions of people and providing the economic and political basis upon which England itself has rested for centuries, is experiencing its dying agonies. A goodly section of it is already gone (either by direct conquest into Japanese-Axis hands; or by economic conquest into American hands). The rest of the empire (India, Ceylon and Africa) are faced with imminent invasion. Britannia no longer rules the waves; the “sun that never sets” now casts but a few dim shadows, These are FACTS, not opinions.
  2. The ruling class of Great Britain (headed by Churchill) has proved itself an utter military and political failure. The latest (and probably most disastrous) of its defeats was the abysmal failure of the Cripps mission to India. England’s capitalist class not only cannot organize the nation’s war industries for all-out war efforts; not only cannot make a revolutionary-political appeal to the peoples of Europe and Germany (to whom it offers, for instance, the “Free French” monarchist, de Gaulle!); it cannot even arrive at a temporary settlement or agreement with the most conservative nationalists of India (Nehru and Gandhi). Truly, such a leadership cannot be expected to offer a program to England’s people now. This is precisely why Churchill speaks so rarely (and why his eloquence becomes even more vague and vaporous with each new speech). The great “Man of the Hour” is fumbling in the dark, seeking any wand (Cripps!) upon which to lean his tired, heavy weight.

People Anxious for Great Changes

Yet, as Harold Laski wrote on January 19 in the Reynolds News: “I doubt whether there has been a time in our history since the Chartist movement when the mind of the masses was either prepared or so anxious for great changes as now.”

This is the essence of Britain’s approaching crisis: the revolutionary mood of the people as contrasted with the bankruptcy of their ruling class. This is why England’s crisis is a class crisis; a political crisis in which the workers are pitted against the boss, capitalist class.

In the midst of this situation there are only two left-wing labor organizations that present a serious political program of action to the British working class. The traditional party of the. workers, the British Labor Party, is deeply involved in the crisis itself since it has become completely tied up (by way of the Bevinses, Attlees and Morrisons) with the Churchill government. The conservative leaders of British labor have placed their fate completely in the hands of the tottering politicians and bankrupts of England.

The two organizations we refer to are (1) the Workers International League (Fourth International) and (2) the Independent Labor Party.

Unfortunately, the WIL – if its newspaper, Socialist Appeal, and its publications are any evidence – does not appear to have very much influence or support among the more politically advanced British workers. While its political program is undoubtedly more correct than that of the ILP, it seems to suffer from a mechanical sectarianism and political “orthodoxy” that are reflected in the abstract slogans and its lifeless repetition, “to the letter” of the policies advocated by The Militant in America, its major political effort is directed toward readmittance to the British Labor Party, from which it was expelled shortly after the war began.

More important from the standpoint of immediate developments in England is the British Independent Labor Party (publisher of the New Leader), many extracts from whose press and publications we have occasionally printed in Labor Action.

ILP Has Grown Considerably

There is no doubt whatsoever that the ILP has grown considerably in size and influence since the war began. This is proved by the character of its paper, the New Leader, by reports on the activities of the ILP and its members, by the publicity and notice it is given in the capitalist press of Great Britain. The ILP plays a fairly important role today in the life of England.

What is this party like? What does it do? What does it stand for? Since the ILP will be heard from increasingly as England’s crisis grows, it is important to learn all we can about this organization. The ILP is a growing organization which has gained most of its support because of its opposition to the war and its program for a “Socialist Britain Now.” It participates actively in the British labor movement and has many prominent trade unionists as members; it is the principal organizing force behind Britain’s shop steward movement, a movement which is now in violent clash with the boss-collaboration, labor-management committees of the English Stalinists; it has an active group of spokesmen in the British Parliament and takes part regularly in local and national elections.

As a sign of its political strength we can cite two recent elections, one in Scotland, the other in Wales. In the Edinburgh contest, the ILP candidate got 1,950 (29 per cent) of the votes. In the Wales election, where Fenner Brockway, editor of the New Leader, opposed the “Colonel Blimp” candidnte of Churchill’s cabinet. Sir Griggs, the ILP candidate got 3,300 votes (26 per cent of the total). This later election was of national significance and had the British Tories greatly disturbed.

ILP Stands for the Third Camp

Many of the political ideas and proposals of the ILP (as contained in their publications) are of a genuinely revolutionary character. The party has consistently denounced the war as an imperialist fraud and berated the Labor Party for its support to the war. It stands for the “Third Camp” of workers’ action against the two war camps. It has carried on excellent exposes of boss profiteering, black market scandals, imperialist dirty work in the colonies, etc. Its immediate program of action is based upon the unfair and uneven burden of the war which rests upon the English workers. The party has likewise agitated for freedom to all the British colonies and – particularly in the Parliamentary speeches of McGovern – has yanked hard at the Tory-imperialist tail of Winston Churchill.

At the moment, the ILP has launched a campaign known as the “Socialist Britain Now” campaign. This has received wide publicity and is apparently being conducted with some success, since it answers the needs of the hour. There are five principal slogans in the campaign:

  1. Equality of War Burdens, by taxation, price control, etc.
  2. Workers’ Control of Industry.
  3. Liberation of the Colonies of the British Empire.
  4. Aid to Soviet Russia.
  5. A Socialist Peace Offensive by a British socialist government.

Likewise, the ILP campaigns militantly against growing reactionary tendencies in the country. As its resolution presented at the party’s annual Easter convention (reports of which are not yet available here) states:

“As this war develops, the economic and political structure of Britain approximates steadily toward a dictatorship. Military and industrial conscription, the prohibition of strikes, the tying down of workers to their jobs, etc. ...”

There is no doubt that the ILP is receiving its response because it has formulated answers to many of the questions being asked by Britain’s workers.

We cannot but approve and welcome every militant step forward on the part of Britain’s working class, particularly in view of the severe situation that is coming. To cover up their bankruptcy there are indications that the British rulers will attempt to institute in full some sort of a brutal, military dictatorship. Is the ILP fully prepared to meet this, can it lead Britain’s workers to success?

Some Doubts and Criticisms

Here, while fully recognizing all the excellent and progressive work done by this party, we must frankly voice our doubts and criticisms. We do not agree with the ILP on many things – obviously, for example, its position of defense of the Soviet Union. Likewise, its inability to clearly formulate what it means by its “Peace Campaign,” as contrasted with the “Appeasement – come to terms with Hitler” campaign of a group of British rulers and capitalists.

The ILP is confused and contradictory on many important political points. This reflects the confused character of its membership, many of whom are religious pacifists, reformists and reformers, conscientious objectors, etc. For the ILP is not a really unified, homogeneous revolutionary Party. It ranges all the way from the conservative Parliamentarians (led by the erratic James Maxton) to revolutionary socialist militants, with experienced jugglers and political tight-rope walkers like Fenner Brockway balancing the odd assortments together. Clearly, such a party is in process of evolution and will itself experience many internal crises and difficulties. Various resolutions offered by local branches to the Easter Conference showed this. They ranged all the way from open pro-war resolutions, to resolutions urging preparations for a Workers Red Army in England!

Labor Action, as in the past, will continue to report the development and activities of the ILP with all the interest and attention it deserves. The coming year in England will determine whether the ILP can measure up to the great revolutionary needs or whether it will befall the same fate as the Spanish POUM and the French PSOP (both similar political organizations). These parties failed to win political clarity and, as a consequence, perished in the political crisis that struck them. The ILP still has the time and possibility of learning those lessons.

Plastrik (Judd/Stanley) Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 13.6.2013