Duncan Hallas and the 1952 “Programme for Action”
I am most grateful to John Rudge for making available this 1952 document by Duncan Hallas and for setting it in its historical context.
Duncan Hallas and the 1952 “Programme for Action”
Setting the Scene
When the Socialist Review Group (SRG) was founded in the autumn of 1950 its 33 members would have been under no illusions as to the size of the task they had taken on. They wanted to change the world but how to concretely set about that task was the problem they faced.
Given that the majority of the founding members were young and belonged to the Labour Party’s youth organisation the Labour League of Youth (LLOY) this seemed a likely avenue for growth. I have recorded elsewhere (Rudge, 2015a) how the SRG’s attempt to get its own youth paper established in 1951 was all but stillborn. The other avenue specifically identified was to target individuals who had previously been members of the Revolutionary Communist Party. This too yielded no discernible results.
What, on the face of it, seemed much more successful was the establishment of the SRG’s publication “Socialist Review”. During the first year of the existence of the group six issues were published and whilst paid sales were in the hundreds rather than in the thousands it appeared regularly every two months and provided a platform around which the members could organise. Appearances can, however, be deceptive and by the end of 1951 voices were being raised in some quarters of the SRG as to whether “Socialist Review” as presently constituted was the weapon the group needed.
The first real airing of a desire for both a new style for “Socialist Review” and a new, more agitational approach for the group as a whole took place at the National Committee meeting held in February 1952. The catalyst was a long letter from the Bury branch of the SRG to the Secretariat in Birmingham which was written by Trevor Park, one of the founding members of the organisation (Rudge, 2015b). He pulled no punches when he criticised the too great a focus on theoretical issues and the fact that “too much of our propaganda was not of a sufficiently practical or agitational nature”.
Continuing with his theme and expounding some ways forward for the group he wrote:
“We still feel that the style of the S.R. will not appeal widely to ordinary members of the Labour Party nor will its price. A smaller, cheaper, printed paper with shorter articles written in a more basic and direct style would we feel have a much wider effect. More articles on immediate points of policy in Britain, on the development of unemployment, on the cost of living, on Trades Union questions, on rearmament etc. Fewer reprints of articles on the U.S.S.R., letters from Natalia (unknown to the vast majority of British workers), or messages from small groups abroad. This form of information is extremely important in an internal bulletin but NOT in a propaganda paper. We know the financial objections to what we propose but feel that the question is so important that if it is impossible to publish both a Review of the present type and a paper such as we suggest, we would reluctantly say, scrap the Review. With our present methods neither our membership nor our influence will increase. Surely the last 12 months has proved this.
The same criticisms apply to directives. Let us have fewer resolutions concerning Defence of the Soviet Union or stipulations for negotiations with such small groups as “Rally”. In their place let us have concrete proposals for particular campaigns…..It is only through methods such as these, and not by long discussions amongst ourselves on theoretical abstractions that we shall be able to build up or (more reasonably) play our part in building a mass Left movement in the Labour Party.
…….We simply think that the time has come to reassess our practical programme in the light of our experiences over the year.”
The February 1952 National Committee of the SRG discussed this approach from Bury branch (alongside another letter from Manchester) under the grandiose heading of “S.R. and the Tasks of the Group”. The debate was to bring to the surface some fundamental differences over the tasks of the organisation and the actions that should flow from them.
At this time the Birmingham branch of the SRG was not only still the “Secretariat” but was also the most cohesive part of the organisation. It was only in the course of 1952 that Cliff was to return to London from Dublin. Percy Downey of the Birmingham branch opened the National Committee debate and the minutes of the meeting show that he put forth the views of the Birmingham branch as follows:
“The task of the group is to build the Marxist cadre on a firm theoretical basis, this could not be done with an agitational paper. He pointed out that the R.C.P. had had a very good agitational paper but this did not prevent its collapse. Our main function was not to attack the Tories but to elevate the theoretical level of the working class so that they use the right tools to obtain socialism.”
The minutes go on to record that “there followed at great length a discussion around all the points P.D. had raised W.A. [Bill Ainsworth], R.C. [Ray Challinor], P.M. [Peter Morgan], R.T.[Tony Cliff], K.T. [Ken Tarbuck] giving 2 or 3 contributions each”. Neither Trevor Park for Bury nor any Manchester delegate was present at the NC.
The minutes do not record the contents of the individual contributions but the six motions passed at the end of the debate were all of an administrative nature and none of them appear to address the main thrust of the Bury branch argument. In fairness, it should be recorded that one of the decisions was for the next issue of “Socialist Review” to be printed (rather than duplicated) and this did indeed happen. Nonetheless, the main issue remained – and it was not going away!
For the purposes of this note it is worth recording that Duncan Hallas was the subject of two motions of censure at this National Committee meeting that were both carried. The first was moved by Tony Cliff and “notes D.H.’s failure to write document on crisis”. The second was moved by Peter Morgan and “notes D.H.’s failure to write draft programme”.
A discussion on a draft programme did take place at the next national meeting of the SRG at the end of May – this meeting was labelled as a National Conference – but the meeting decided not to endorse either of the two documents presented. One of these was from Cliff, the other from Tarbuck. It was instead agreed to call for other programme documents from the branches.
The scene was set for Duncan Hallas and the 1952 Programme for Action.
The Programme for Action
Before starting on the meat of the argument it is worth briefly recording a couple of facts.
The Hallas “Programme for Action” document (Appendix 1) has long been known about but, as far as I know, it has not been made available since its original publication. This is surprising as the debate around it is recorded in the minutes of the SRG National Committee of 9th-10th August 1952 (available in the Ken Tarbuck archive at Warwick Modern Records Centre) and the SRG Secretariat’s document “Reply to Comrade Hallas” (Appendix 2) was for some time available online at the now defunct “I.S. Origins” site. I stand to be corrected but I do believe that most historians reading the document on “I.S. Origins” did not appreciate quite what it was that they were dealing with. Whatever the reason I feel that the importance of this Hallas document has not to date been sufficiently recognised.
In any event this note represents the first time that both the Hallas Programme document and the SRG Secretariat response to it have been put together and the 1952 debate discussed. For that reason, I like to think that another small window into the history of the Socialist Review Group is being opened.
The debate itself took place on the second day of the two-day SRG National Committee namely Sunday 10th August 1952. In the minutes of the meeting the subject heading is “Socialist Review”.
Duncan Hallas was not in attendance and it was left to fellow Manchester branch member Ted Morris to open the discussion. He argued along the lines that “we should tone down the paper to make it easier for workers to understand” and that the “paper should give answers to problems people are faced with”. He also highlighted the truism that “we had not grown”. Ray Challinor clearly had some sympathy for these arguments and is recorded as saying that the “language of the paper is not Labour Party standard, most people do not understand” and we “should use terms Labour Party members understand”.
On the other side of the debate Bill Ainsworth was resolute in pursuing the previous Birmingham branch line that “we should maintain a high level and appeal to the advanced workers. We should develop our ideas of State Cap[italism]”. Ken Tarbuck added “we are not a party; we have not even a cadre for one. Our main task is to build cadres”. Tony Cliff put the nail in the Hallas coffin by stating quite specifically that “agitation was not our work” and then moving a motion “that the “Socialist Review” continue as a propaganda organ”. Cliff’s motion was carried 5 for and 2 against.
Interestingly, the minutes of the meeting give no feel whatsoever for the essence of the Hallas document, that is a programme “for immediate agitation in the British Labour movement” and a perspective being the “concrete plan of work to build the group”.
Whilst the outcome would almost certainly not have been different I do wonder how the debate might have gone had Duncan Hallas actually been in attendance. In a letter that he wrote to fellow SRG member Edward Grant (not to be confused with the much better known Ted Grant!) dated 6th August Duncan rehearsed his arguments in favour of his “Programme for Action”. Those arguments go way beyond the type of language being used in “Socialist Review”.
Hallas wrote his letter in the context of Edward and Brenda Grant being in line for expulsion from the SRG at the August National Committee meeting but I will confine my comments to the main matter of the Programme. This is some of what Hallas wrote on that subject:
“..I want to put my own conception of our difficulties. As a group we are not developing. No doubt this is in part the result of inertia, routinism and so on. But this answer cannot account for very much. Basically we are not developing because our methods of work are not politically orientated. We are a propaganda group and as such have reached, more or less, the limit of our growth….This [Programme] is very brief as I intend to supplement it both verbally and by a demonstration of what can be done locally (we are well advanced in getting a group such as I describe here in Manchester).
All this is not an excuse for organisational inefficiency. Our organisation must be improved – and we in Manchester are amongst the worst offenders in this respect. But it is essential to recognise the limits of development, given the best organisation, with a given political line.
Let me illustrate this concretely. I joined the W.I.L. in 1943; at that time it was growing rapidly. In spite of a not very efficient machine we were within sight of putting Trotskyism on the map as a serious political tendency. We had only 4 comrades in Manchester, 3 of them very young and very raw, yet we were able to exert considerable influence, sufficient to alarm the local Stalinist hacks. Simply because we had a favourable situation and the right programme and emphasis. In the later years (1946-1948) we had far more members (about 20), a far better organisation, good sales of the paper (about 400 a fortnight), control of a key factory (Fords at Barton) and were much more experienced. Nevertheless we declined and finally disintegrated. We had our old slogans and orientation, which no longer suited the situation. Haston and Co. were unable to readjust themselves and we lost the best cadre British Trotskyism ever had.
With us the situation is reversed. We are pursuing the propaganda, small circle line that was necessary from 1946-1950 at a time when we should be putting out a concrete agitational programme. But we are very small? Yes, but the W.I.L. started out with 12 members, one of whom was a police agent. Nevertheless, it did the job.
Perhaps all this sounds very remote from the present problem. In reality it is not so. Periods of stagnation or decline invariably bring to the surface personal conflicts, squabbles about minor questions and so on.
We are now entering a favourable period. Some comrades have been forecasting this period for so long they can’t recognise it when it arrives. If we seize our opportunity most of our internal problems will be greatly eased. This, in my opinion, is the real question.”
One cannot help but think that a debate held along the above lines would have been, at the very least, interesting.
Whilst the minutes of the National Committee meeting might give the impression that too little attention was paid to the Hallas document the subsequent “Reply to Comrade Hallas” (Appendix 2) signed by Percy Downey, Ken Tarbuck and Peter Morgan on behalf of the SRG Secretariat and distributed to the membership indicates otherwise.
It is clear from their document that the Secretariat had both studied the Hallas submission closely and also spent some time in drafting their reply. The view of the Secretariat is neatly summarised in their “Introduction” as:
- We reject Comrade Hallas’s analysis of the reason for the weakness of the Group. We cannot agree that the Group is in any position yet to make a direct intervention in the political arena.
- Nevertheless we accept [the] Programme as a basis of discussion and believe that such a programme can be a valuable aid to us in our work.
In short, the Programme is fine if over-wordy but we have to continue to build cadres through study circles, even if we are happy to change their name to “Socialist Review Readers’ Clubs”.
Given that the current membership figure that the Secretariat quote is 30 – less than when the SRG was founded in 1950 – this response was hardly likely to go done well with that section of the membership pushing for change.
On a personal level I have, for a considerable time, pondered on the role that Tony Cliff played in all of this. Clearly his forceful intervention at the National Committee in favour of Birmingham and against Hallas and the others seeking change was very important. The question I ask myself was why Cliff went down this route and the answer I suggest may lie with tactics rather than principle.
July-August 1952 was a period of intense crisis in the SRG with division inside the Birmingham branch and division between Birmingham and London. As well as Edward and Brenda Grant being in line for expulsion the Hallas letter talks of a possible split. At the Birmingham branch meeting of 17th July Bill Ainsworth had resigned as the editor of “Socialist Review” and Percy Downey had resigned from the group – both had however reversed their decisions before the National Committee met.
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Cliff, in siding with Birmingham, was attempting to take the line of least resistance in keeping the organisation together. We will never know – but my suspicion (and it is no more than that) is bolstered by something that happened at the National Committee meeting on 30th November 1952. It was here that Cliff successfully moved a motion “that all members be written to asking them to contribute articles of a more popular nature and that an experiment be made with the printing of such articles”.
In any event the decision to back the Birmingham line in August did not bear fruit. Within a few months of the August National Committee meeting Bill Ainsworth and Percy Downey had both resigned from the SRG – this time for good. Not only that but within a year or so the only member left in Birmingham was Peter Morgan. If that was not bad enough the main branches on the other side of the debate – Bury and Manchester – were inactive.
Does Any of This Matter?
Of course, this is all ancient history but in this instance I would answer “yes”, it does matter. It matters on a number of levels.
Firstly, notwithstanding the SRG Secretariat’s statement that they had “ruthlessly and mercilessly” pruned the Hallas “Programme” the 12-point “Programme” they came up with is unmistakably still the Hallas one. This Programme became the official SRG Programme appearing for the first time in “Socialist Review” Volume 3 Number 1 in February/March 1953. It was the Programme that was the subject of Mike Kidron’s 10-part explanatory series titled “On Our Programme” that ran in “Socialist Review” between Volume 3 Number 6 in February 1954 and Volume 4 Number 4 in December 1954. The Programme continued unchanged until November 1955 when a minor rewrite occurred to include subjects relating to discrimination and the abolition of conscription. Another change was made in November 1956 to add a new point on state education. It is, however, more than fair to state that Duncan Hallas wrote the SRG Programme.
It was not until March 1961 that “Socialist Review” announced that “this issue carries a completely new formulation of “WHAT WE STAND FOR”. It is hoped that this new presentation will be of more use to comrades in arguing the relevance of Socialist ideas to their fellow factory and Labour Party workers”.
Secondly, is the debate on the subject of agitation and propaganda. Duncan Hallas was to revisit this subject in 1984 in what was to become one of his best known articles (Hallas, 1984) – one that is still being used today in SWP educational material. It is interesting to compare and contrast the Hallas view on the subject in 1952 and his view in 1984. Is it really the case that a group of 30 socialists in 1952 were in a position to move to agitation? If yes, were the perspectives Hallas proposed the right ones?
The “1952 Hallas” answer was obviously “yes”. In my view, the “1984 Hallas” would be much less certain. For him, “agitation requires bigger forces. Of course an individual can sometimes agitate effectively against a particular grievance, say, lack of soap, or decent toilet paper in a particular workplace, but a widespread agitation with a general focus is not possible without a significant number of people who are suitably placed to carry it, without a party.” (Hallas, 1984).
The nearest the SRG had to a Programme before Hallas was what “The Socialist Review Stands For”. In “Socialist Review” Volume 1 Number 7 January-February 1952 (the last time it appeared before the August debate) this was replete with phrases such as:
“for an international workers’ fighting front against imperialism and war”
“for a Socialist Britain in a Socialist Federation of Europe and the world”
“against secret diplomacy and the imperialist division of the world”
I think this shows that what Hallas actually achieved in 1952 could be best summed up as moving the SRG from abstract propaganda to concrete or real propaganda. No mean achievement.
Finally, what impact did all this have on Duncan Hallas himself? I was initially tempted to say, “look, Hallas and Cliff had clear political differences in August 1952 and Hallas was defeated in terms of getting political action. Hallas never wrote another signed article for “Socialist Review” after August 1952. The minutes of the SRG National Committee in November 1952 record that a motion was moved that Hallas be given 1 month to pay dues or have his membership reduced to sympathiser status. It’s pretty obvious that the political differences covered in this note were the direct cause of Hallas leaving the Socialist Review Group”.
Whilst that was indeed my initial temptation it is sometimes the case that 2+2=5. Whilst all that is said in the preceding paragraph is true, on reflection I don’t think things were as straightforward as that.
We know that Hallas moved to Edinburgh in 1953 to work for the National Council of Labour Colleges and this would have taken him, for geographic reasons if nothing else, far away from any other SRG members. It is also oft recorded in various minutes, letters and personal accounts of those who knew Hallas that his activity could be spasmodic – “intellectually brilliant but sometimes dilatory” as Stan Newens so wonderfully described it to me. Indeed, Stan recalls taking Tony Cliff on the back of his motorcycle on a tour of the north of England and Scotland sometime in 1953 or 1954 where they met T. Dan Smith in Newcastle, Harry McShane in Glasgow and Duncan Hallas in Edinburgh. Stan still remembers the blocked sink at Duncan’s home! In any event, Stan specifically remembers that Duncan or “Don” as he was always known at this time was still an SRG member – albeit inactive. He was certainly a member in early 1954 as a letter exists written by Ray Challinor in January 1954 that states in terms of the SRG that “Don is plodding along as usual in Edinburgh”. Cliff merely reports that Hallas “had left the organisation in 1954” (Cliff, 2000).
It certainly seems that the 1952 differences did not lead to the immediate departure of Hallas from the SRG. It is much more likely that personal circumstances combined with political factors to engineer the break – but the percentage appropriate to each cause has to remain a mystery.
The Duncan Hallas “Programme for Action” has been ignored for far too long. I contend that it should take its rightful place amongst those works that show him to be an important thinker and activist of what has been loosely described as the I.S. Tradition.
I am extremely grateful to Stan Newens, Keith Sinclair and Ian Birchall for their assistance. Without their help this note would not have been possible.
Cliff, Tony. 2000. A World to Win. Life of a Revolutionary. Bookmarks Publications Ltd., London, England, 247pp.
Hallas, Duncan. 1984. Agitation and Propaganda. Socialist Worker Review No. 68 September 1984 p. 10. Available online: https://www.marxists.org/archive/hallas/works/1984/09/agitprop.htm
Rudge, John. 2015a. Rebel, Rebel: The Youth Publications of the SWP from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Available online: http://grimanddim.org/tony-cliff-biography/rebel-rebel/
Rudge, John. 2015b. The Founding Members of the Socialist Review Group. Available online: http://grimanddim.org/tony-cliff-biography/the-founding-members-of-the-socialist-review-group/
24th December 2015
A Programme for Action
Since the inception of our group we have pursued a policy of propaganda and education amongst advanced workers, many of them already influenced by Trotskyist ideas. We have concentrated on building a cadre rather than on influencing the class struggle. In spite of occasional attempts at political action, that is to say, intervention in specific struggles with concrete slogans, we have remained in the main, a purely propaganda group. (Of course individual comrades have been engaged in various actions – I am concerned here with the group as a unit.) I believe that this policy was absolutely correct in the first period of our existence. We have succeeded by these means in stabilising our membership, getting rid of indigestible elements, integrating new comrades, and in publishing a paper. But we can make no significant further progress along these lines as the experience of the last six months has demonstrated. The conclusion to be drawn is, in my opinion, that we must enter into serious political work with our present cadre. In order to avoid any misunderstanding it is essential to make clear the difference between political actions (or agitation if comrades prefer) and propaganda. If in a local labour party we put down a motion on the textile crisis saying, in effect, that the crisis is inevitable under capitalism, condemning the self-defeating class collaboration policies of the leadership and calling for a struggle against the bosses (as, for example, is done in the excellent article by Cde. Lowndes in the last issue of our paper) – this is propaganda action. Everything we say is true and it is very necessary to say it as effectively as we can. But it is not a political intervention. Supposing that instead, we put down a motion demanding work or full maintenance at trade union rates, mentioning in passing our general thesis but concentrating our fire on the immediate demand then we are giving a concrete answer to a concrete question, an answer which wide sections of the workers can understand and can be induced to struggle for – in other words a political as opposed to a propaganda answer. At the present time our answers as a group are all of the propaganda variety. The decisive proof of this is the paper. We have articles, excellent articles, on many questions, articles which analyse and inform, articles for the serious student, but not (with one or two exceptions such as the articles of Cde. Carlsson) articles calling for action in any immediate and concrete sense. To say that we must now enter into serious political work means that we must shift our emphasis from propaganda to agitation. To do this we need two things, a programme and a perspective. Again to avoid misunderstanding by a programme I do not mean a document reiterating the fundamentals of Communism – though such a document one should certainly also have – I mean a list of things we tell the workers to do now, by a perspective I do not mean an analysis of the decline of British capitalism – again this is a necessary weapon in our armoury – I mean a concrete plan of work to build the group. I submit the following as a suitable transitional programme, i.e., as a programme of demands which can be made to appear both necessary and realizable to broad sections of the workers given their present (reformist) level of understanding but which in reality pass beyond the framework of bourgeois democracy. Naturally, since it says only part (a fairly small part) of what we advocate, it is only one of several possible programmes and for that reason I would not be dogmatic in defending the inclusion of one point and the exclusion of another. But I would strongly maintain that it is the sort of programme for which we ought to be actively fighting.
The “Socialist Review” stands for the overthrow of the Tory Government by all the means at the disposal of the working class movement and the establishment of a Labour government pledged to carry out radical measures in the interests of the workers, including the following:
- To break the stranglehold of finance capital on the means of livelihood of the people and progress towards socialism, renationalise without further compensation all industries denationalised by the present government and nationalise the Joint Stock banks, insurance companies, the land, the chemical industry and the twelve sections of the engineering industry specified by the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions.
- To eliminate the class of social parasites whose numbers have been swollen by the so-called compensation provision of previous nationalisation measures and establish the socialist principal (sic) that all who eat must work, introduce the principle of cash compensation to ex-owners in cases of proved need only, such need to be assessed by elected committees of workers, and suspend interest payments on the national debt except on holdings of less than £500.
- To prevent the growth of a new class of bureaucratic “managers”, and to make “industrial democracy” more than a phrase. The majority of all members of national, area and other boards in nationalised industries shall consist of elected workers’ representatives who shall be subject to periodic re-election and to recall at any time by the men and women who elected them and who shall be paid the average skilled rate in the industry concerned. To prevent sabotage by the capitalists in the remaining privately-owned industries. Two or more elected workers’ representatives shall sit on the board of each concern employing more than 20 workers with full legal rights to attend all meetings and inspect all books and documents and to call in expert advisers from outside where necessary. To prevent bureaucratic mismanagement and unnecessary disputes, no change in working conditions at pit and plant level shall be permitted in any industry without the consent of the pit or shop organisation of the workers in whose hands shall rest exclusively the control of hiring and firing.
- To develop the social services till they approach the socialist principle of from each according to his ability to each according to his need, taking the following first steps:
a) Reinstate a completely free national health service and abolish the anomaly of the “private” patient.
b) Establish the principle of full maintenance at trade union rates for the unemployed.
c) A sliding scale of adequate pensions based on a new and realistic cost of living index.
d) A real housing drive assisted by the allocation of adequate capital resources, interest free loans to local authorities, more drastic powers to requisition and rent-free state-owned land.
- A foreign policy based on independence of both Moscow and Washington, political support to the struggles of the workers and peasants everywhere, independence to the colonies or free federation if they desire it as an immediate right, economic aid to the backward areas, withdrawal of all British forces from overseas, and immediate publication and repudiation of all secret treaties and only such rearmament as is necessary to defend a socialist Britain.
I will not attempt to anticipate objections to this sort of programme except on one point. It may be argued that because the programme does not call for workers’ councils, democratisation (a euphemism for disintegration) of the state machine, etc., it is a reformist programme. I would reply to that by pointing out that this programme cannot possibly be carried out without a fight to the finish with the bourgeoisie. In the course of that struggle the situation will become clearer to the advanced workers and we can then advance such slogans which will then be seen to be necessary. To advance them now would be simply a waste of time. It goes without saying that in our propaganda we put the Marxist case, but this programme is for immediate agitation in the British Labour movement and must therefore be designed to fit the consciousness of that movement, not of some hypothetical one.
Finally our perspective. Our next steps should be:
- Transform the S.R. into a paper fighting for this programme as an immediate task.
- Initiate groupings in the localities based on this programme including all who will accept it regardless of what illusions they may have on other questions.
- Invite all existing groupings and individuals to do likewise. (I have in mind here people like the Kendall group in the L.O.Y. and the “Rally” periphery, etc.) and attempt to unite them on this basis into a national fraction.
- Develop trade union fractions within this group on the basis of our usual trade union demands.
- A paper for this group (ours if possible but not as a principle).
I believe that with work and good direction from the centre this is a realistic proposition and is the correct tactic for a Labour Party fraction. We start on the basis of a programme (unlike the “Socialist Fellowship”) which will be acceptable to many elements whom we cannot now reach (“we are sectarian” etc.) and who will in the course of the struggle arrive at a consistent revolutionary position – with our assistance, naturally. This is the road to a sizeable revolutionary fraction and ultimately to the masses.
REPLY TO COMRADE HALLAS
The attitude of the Secretariat to Comrade Hallas’s document can be summed up briefly as follows:
1) We reject Comrade Hallas’s analysis of the reason for the weakness of the Group. We cannot agree that the Group is in any position yet to make a direct intervention in the political arena.
2) Nevertheless we accept Programme as a basis of discussion and believe that such a programme can be a valuable aid to us in our work.
II) The Political Perspective
To some extent discussion on Comrade Hallas’s perspective for Group growth is academic because the Emergency N.C. of August 9th-10th did not accept these perspectives. Nevertheless for the benefit of those comrades who were not able to be present (including unfortunately, Cde. Hallas himself), the Secretariat considers a short resume of its attitude would not be out of place.
Comrade Hallas commences by saying that the Group has concentrated on cadre-formation rather than on influencing the class-struggle. Quite frankly, comrades, no other course is open at the present time!! And probably for a long time to come! When Cde. D.H. talks about our “influencing the class-struggle”, we presume he refers to the class struggle in Britain, and not to the international scene. We should remember that the affiliated membership figure announced at the Labour Party Conference last year was very nearly 6 million and that the T.U.C. affiliated membership is 8 million. What chance an organisation of 30 people has in decisively influencing the course of either of these bodies is surely problematical.
This is not to underestimate in any way the importance, significance or future of our Group. We are convinced that we have the correct policy – a policy which will, which MUST be accepted by the great mass of the workers if any road is to be found out of the quagmire of capitalism. But we must walk before we run. And it is just kidding the comrades to say we can jump from one stage to the next at the present time.
Comrade D.H. does not deny that our comrades are actively engaged in the class struggle or that they are putting forward a correct line to meet concrete situations that arise within their immediate area of contact. It is difficult to see what more can be done at the present time. Comrade D.H. suggests that the time has now come to change the “S.R.” from a propaganda to an agitational medium.
Let us make it clear what is meant here. An agitational paper is one that presents a few clear, simple ideas to a large number of people, giving them a direct lead on day-to-day issues. A propaganda organ gives many ideas i.e. basic and theoretical, in a clear simple way, but its appeal is to a much more restricted readership.
This, too, has become a familiar argument, and one that was again debated and turned down by the next N.C. [JR Note: they surely meant to write “the last N.C.”].
Surely the experience of the “Socialist Appeal” proves quite decisively that door-to-door sales of an agitational paper (together with sporadic interventions in specific strikes – surely concrete enough action for Comrade D.H.!) are no earthly use as a Party-builder. This is, after all, the main task of a party paper. It is only by steady sales among the small circle of workers with whom we are in daily contact that a grouping such as ours can be built on firm foundations. For this purpose a propaganda organ is by far the best medium, and the Group is well-advised to stick to it.
WHY DO WE ACCEPT THE D.H. PROGRAMME AS A BASIS OF DISCUSSION.
We accept Com. D.H.’s programme as a basis of discussion because any grouping in the workers’ movement that spurns concrete answers to the workers’ bread-and-butter demands is sectarian doomed to failure. We can accept in its entirety Com. D.H.’s preamble to this section of his document. He says: “…. We need two things, a programme and a perspective. Again to avoid misunderstanding – by a programme I do not mean a document reiterating the fundamentals of communism – though such a document one should have certainly – I mean a list of things we tell the workers to do now (D.H.’s emphasis). By a perspective I do not mean an analysis of the decline of British capitalism – again this is a necessary weapon in our armoury – I mean a concrete plan of work to build the Group. I submit the following as a suitable transitional programme i.e. as a programme of demands which can be made to appear both necessary and realisable to broad sections of the workers given their present (reformist) level of understanding but which in reality pass beyond the framework of bourgeois democracy.”
Our main criticism on Comrade D.H.’s programme is not the number of points or the specific nature of the points but rather with the length and verbosity with which it is set out. Our experience in the Labour Party (and particularly of motions for Annual Conference agenda – some of which are atrocious!) has convinced us that a programme-of-action must be stated:
For this reason we have pruned Comrade D.H.’s programme ruthlessly and mercilessly and present it in amended form as follows:
- The complete nationalisation of heavy industry, the banks, insurance and the land.
- The renationalisation without compensation of all de-nationalised industries.
- Suspend interest on the national debt. Compensation to ex-owners only as a result of a Means Test administered by elected workers’ committees.
- A majority of workers’ representatives on all nationalised and area boards subject to frequent election, immediate recall and THE AVERAGE WAGE OBTAINING IN THE INDUSTRY.
- Two or more workers’ representatives to sit on boards of all private concerns employing 20 or more people with access to all documents.
- Workers’ committees to control hiring and firing and working conditions.
- Abolition of payments for national health service and of private pay-beds.
- Establishment of principle of FULL WORK OR MAINTENANCE.
- Sliding scale of adequate pensions based on new and realistic cost-of-living indices.
- Interest-free housing loans to local authorities and drastic powers to requisition and rent free state-owned land.
- A foreign policy based on independence of both Washington and Moscow and only such rearmament as is needed to defend a Socialist Britain.
- Withdrawal of British troops overseas; freedom for colonial peoples and offer of economic and technical aid.
If Comrade D.H. wants a concrete proposal for the next stage in our development we suggest the formation of local Labour Party groups of SOCIALIST REVIEW READERS’ CLUBS. These would fulfil two valuable functions:
- They would provide rank-and-file cover for our paper which may be necessary for any purges the Transport House bureaucracy may be planning against Left-Wing groupings.
- They would primarily be useful as study circles where a thorough and fundamental theoretical education could be provided for the advanced workers who are badly in need of such instruction. Any existing study circles could quite easily be transformed to play such a role. It is only from such training-grounds as these that the cadres will be built.
This, comrades, is the next step. And we put forward this proposal as a serious basis for discussion at the next N.C. The very fact that the “S.R.” is attracting such attention as a result of advertisements in larger Left-Wing papers proves we are on the right lines.