The Programme Of The International Socialists 1972-1974
Written May 2013 for some individuals interested in the history of the SWP. It was reproduced without permission by the Weekly Worker on 21 May 2013. Additional information appended 26 April 2014.
[NB this is written largely from memory without consulting all the relevant documentation, and without always being able to check precise dates.]
In the years 1972-74 there was extensive discussion within IS about the question of programme. A substantial draft programme was prepared and discussed at several meetings of the National Committee. A considerable amount of material debating the programme appeared in the Internal Bulletins of this period.
It is important to understand the context of the debate. IS grew rapidly in this period – c. 400 in 1968 to c 4000 in 1974. It was a period of intense activity – Vietnam, student revolt, then the big strikes of the early seventies. Those who joined us did so largely on the basis of activity rather than theoretical debates. Some of the new members came from other political traditions – Labour Party, Communist Party. Most – students and young workers – had no real political background. The aim of the programme was to define the politics of the organisation. The justification for the programme was set out by Tony Cliff and Andreas Nagliatti in an article called “Main Features of the Programme We Need”. This stated:
As we grow more and more, as we become more and more hegemonic, the need to define ourselves closely politically, and to increase internal homogeneity becomes greater and greater. The need to have a comprehensive document – here is what you are joining – here is what we fight for – will increase the effectiveness of IS.
There was a second factor. In this period IS experienced two serious internal oppositions. The first was the Workers’ Fight group (led by Sean Matgamna). This was an entry group, which maintained its own structures within IS; it was excluded at the end of 1971. Its politics at this time were classic “orthodox Trotskyism”.
The second was an undeclared grouping which operated semi-clandestinely, publishing pamphlets and IB article under individual names. It became known as the Right Opposition. It was not homogenous, and contained the forerunners of both Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and the RCP/Living Marxism/Institute of Ideas. They were excluded in the summer of 1973.
Both Workers’ Fight and the Right Opposition took a positive view of Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Programme. In particular there was an attempt to revive some of the demands from the 1938 programme, notably the “sliding scale of wages” (linking of wages to inflation). This notion of a “transitional programme” was firmly rejected by the IS leadership. Trotsky’s programme had been written at a time when it appeared that capitalism had exhausted its capacity to permit reforms and that reformism was therefore dead. For Trotsky a “transitional demand” was one which could win mass support, but which capitalism could not satisfy; it thus exposed the limits of capitalism. As Cliff and Nagliatti argued, this did not apply to the present period. Cliff developed this argument briefly in his biography of Trotsky, volume IV.
The draft programme was a substantial document of over 15,000 words. It did not have a single author – Duncan Hallas and Chris Harman wrote a good deal of it but there were other authors. (I seem to recognise some bits written by myself in the section on internationalism, but they had been incorporated into a text by somebody else, probably Duncan.)
A draft of the programme was included in the Internal Bulletin for November 1972, with additions in the IB for February 1973. It was broken into sections as follows:
- The Crisis of British Capitalism
- The Capitalist System
- Socialism, the Working Class and the Workers’ State
- Internationalism and the Internationals
- The Russian Revolution, Stalinism and State Capitalism
- Workers’ Control
- The Trade Unions
- Social Welfare
- The Revolutionary Party
(additional clauses) Common Market and the International Company
A section on gay oppression submitted by Don Milligan was rejected by the NC (only Dave Widgery voting for it). At my proposal a single sentence opposing discrimination against homosexuals was added.
The draft was taken to the 1973 conference, where it was remitted to the NC for further editing. This job was then given by the NC to a sub-committee consisting of Cliff, Duncan Hallas and myself. However, Cliff, without consulting the sub-committee, let alone the NC, passed it on to Roger Rosewell, who turned it into a pamphlet called The Struggle for Workers Power.
By 1974 the situation was changing rapidly. The annual conference, which normally took place around Easter, was delayed till September because of the crisis, both nationally (miners’ strike, fall of Heath, minority Labour government) and inside IS (emerging split between Cliff and Higgins). The programme was submitted to the 1974 conference. A resolution was tabled in the name of the National Committee:
Conference adopts the Draft Programme which has been amended and re-written in the light of the 1973 conference decision.
However the diminished importance accorded to the programme was reflected by the fact that the conference agenda gave it just 30 minutes, 9.30 – 10.00 a.m. on the fourth and final day of the conference (Tuesday) when many delegates would already have gone home.
I don’t have conference minutes to hand. My recollection is that the programme was adopted more or less on the nod. However, I could be wrong and it may have been remitted again. In any case it is my fairly clear recollection that nothing more was ever heard of the programme.
NOTE ON SOURCES: If anyone wants to research this topic the complete documentation is available in the Will Fancy Papers in the Special Collections at Senate House, London. These contain a complete set of internal documents, carefully arranged in order, for the 50s, 60s and 70s. I have several of the key documents and if anybody thinks they are of sufficient interest to be worth scanning I could provide photocopies – though not immediately.
ADDENDUM: Many thanks to John Rudge, whose letter I append below, for further information.
 The National Committee was the constitutionally supreme body of IS until 1975. It was elected by individual ballot at annual conference, and consisted of both full-timers and lay members. The EC (which in practice functioned like the present CC) was a sub-committee of it. The NC met on a Saturday once a month, between roughly 10.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. When the programme was under discussion, probably two hours would be set aside for this.
 The Internal Bulletin appeared monthly throughout the year. Until 1971 it contained minutes of the NC and EC. This was later replaced by a National Secretary’s report containing key decisions of the NC and EC.
 For more details on the background see my biography of Tony Cliff, chapters 7 & 8.
 Internal Bulletin, January 1973.
 The text of the revised programme appeared in one of the Conference IBs, but I do not have it to hand.