Some Founding Documents of the Socialist Review Group
Once again I am grateful to my friend John Rudge for allowing me to publish here his account of some of the early documents of the Socialist Review Group, together with the documents themselves.
John Rudge Version 1.0 20th September 2017
Some Background 3
Introduction to the Documents
1. A Critical View of the Paper 6
2. To the Members of the Club 7
3. Amended Draft of Policy Submitted for Socialist Fellowship Conference 9
4. Correspondence with the International Secretariat of the Fourth International 12
Summing Up 13
Literature Cited 15
Appendix 1 17
Appendix 2 20
Appendix 3 23
Appendix 4 25
It is generally accepted that the key founding political texts of the Socialist Review Group (SRG) are those written by Tony Cliff between 1948 and 1950. They are “The Nature of Stalinist Russia” written in 1948, “Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism” written in 1949 and “On the Class Nature of the People’s Democracies” written in 1950. All three are very well known and need little or no introduction, with the proviso that the “Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism” document has never been publicly published in its original version. All published examples of this Cliff document are of an abridged and amended version written in 1968. I intend to transcribe the original version for publication at a later date.
These three texts are indeed the key founding political documents but to found something new requires not only a political break with the past but also an organisational break. In the case of the SRG this required a political break with the discredited 1950 politics of orthodox Trotskyism and an organisational break with the then “home” of Cliff and his fellow “State Capitalists”, namely Gerry Healy’s “Club”.
If Tony Cliff’s three documents deal with the political break leading to the founding of the SRG, the documents I present here might be said to represent some of the key components of the required organisational break.
The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) was the forerunner of most of the Trotskyist groups that emerged in Britain in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Its story has been told elsewhere, most notably in the work of Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson (1986). That work covers the start, the finish, the highs, the lows, the debates on “Open Party” and “Labour Party” and much more besides. I have no intention of retelling this story.
To put the founding of the SRG in to some context it is, however, worth noting a few salient points and dates.
The ending of the Second World War and the failure of Trotsky’s 1938 prognostications to materialise caused confusion in Trotskyist circles worldwide. Britain was no exception.
By 1945 the RCP was already operating with a Majority around Jock Haston and his supporters and a Minority led by Gerry Healy. Differences between the two groups were many, both on the strategic and on the tactical level. For our purposes here the key differentiator concerned the view of the Healy minority that Labour Party entry work was the critical political and organisational requirement of the period.
To cut a long story short this dispute came to a head in September 1947 when the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International agreed to the request of the RCP Minority (by now a formal faction) to be allowed to enter the Labour Party. At a special conference of the RCP the following month this was ratified and the RCP was split between those in the Labour Party, under the leadership of Gerry Healy and the majority still operating as an open party. Healy’s entrist organisation became known as the “Club”.
In truth, neither of the two organisations can be said to have prospered in the period following the split.
Healy’s “Club” probably had no more than 70-80 members and did not grow. It operated quite clandestinely and with a strict internal regime. Members had to have party names, e.g. Ken Tarbuck was “Austin”, Percy Downey was “Jones” and Gerry Healy was “Burns”. Discussion of a range of “contentious” political items was banned within the branches. It was not until December 1948 that it was to launch its own monthly newspaper Socialist Outlook. An organisation called the Socialist Fellowship was launched at a Labour Party Conference fringe meeting in June 1949 by some Labour Lefts and Club supporters. Its inaugural conference did not take place until November and it seems to have been a relatively modest affair attended by 100 delegates “from 29 towns where branches have been set up in the last few months” (Allaun, 1950). The objectives set were very “reformist-friendly” advocating “socialisation, workers’ control, ending the gross inequalities of income, a Socialist Europe and freedom for the Colonies.”
Both the new paper and the new organisation were vehicles by which the Club hoped to come into contact and attract to them wider layers – but operating in semi-secrecy and in such small numbers led their politics to become of the “lowest common denominator” variety. The revolutionary message was hidden in favour of what seemed acceptable or what they could get away with without offending their Labour Left “friends” or indeed, the Stalinists.
The open party under Haston and its other key leaders including Ted Grant and Jimmy Deane also struggled. By 1947 it only had just over 300 members and possibly half that at the end of 1948 as meaningful avenues of work closed off.
In December 1948 Haston and the majority of the Political Bureau (Haston, Atkinson, Tearse and van Gelderen) proposed “the dissolution of the RCP as an independent organisation and the entry of its members into the Labour Party” (Haston et.al., 1948). The dissenting members of the PB were Ted Grant, Jimmy Deane and George Hanson. Whilst this is what Haston and his majority proposed they did not seem to rate the prospects for Labour Party work too highly. They had few proposals for concrete action, rather an argument that the present situation was not producing results. There was a revolt from a portion of the membership and an “Open Party” faction was formed, one of whose signatories was future SRG founding member Geoff Carlsson. The “Open Party” faction argued that conditions for a productive entry into the Labour Party did not exist – activity there was low, the right wing were in the ascendency and the result of entry would be opportunism and compromise. They identified what opportunities that there were occurred in the industrial and trade union field where an open party could work best. The views of the “Open Party” faction is best covered in their 33-page document of May 1949 “Once Again – The Real Situation in Britain”.
The RCP was split one quarter supporting the Haston line, one quarter the open party line and the rest undecided.
The crucial event in the debate occurred when Grant, Deane and Hanson changed sides to support entry – even though they still stated that “the discussion has not convinced us that in the present situation entry would constitute a superior tactic”! (Grant, Deane & Hanson, 1949). Sam Levy, a leading member of the “Open Party” faction, gives an interesting, and withering, account of the actions of Grant, Deane and Hanson in which, amongst other things he quotes Roy Tearse’s summation of Ted Grant as “a pistol loaded with a fart”! (Levy, 1996). Suffice it to say that the three “leaders” who changed their minds became particularly unpopular with a section of the country’s remaining Trotskyists. Writing much later Ted Grant conceded “we made an opportunist mistake” (Grant, 2002). Without citing any references or sources Charlie van Gelderen says in a 1998 interview that Tony Cliff “was one of the biggest supporters of entry into the Labour Party” (van Gelderen, 2013). Given that, from October 1947, Cliff was “exiled” in Ireland and, as far as is known, took no part in these debates this viewpoint is contentious – but van Gelderen could be a reliable witness (1). Certainly, Ian Birchall has commented to me “If there was an argument going on Cliff would have taken part – it was not in his nature to stand aside. Doubtless he was constantly telling poor Chanie what she should be arguing. And remember the authorities were very generous in allowing him to visit England – I’ve seen his passport and associated documents at Warwick – it was usually for about six weeks a year (Birchall, pers. comms.).
In any event the die was now cast and at a special conference of the RCP in early June 1949 it was agreed to dissolve the RCP and call upon its members to join the Labour Party. The decision was formally announced in a special and final issue of the party’s newspaper Socialist Appeal in July. If this was not bad enough for a substantial number of the activists what was far worse was the agreement that even though the number joining Healy’s Club from the RCP would be larger than Healy’s own current membership it was Healy who would remain in charge with a majority on all committees. This was intended to last for one year until democratic norms would be established – a timetable that gave Healy until the 1950 Club conference (2) to do his worst – and this is precisely what he set out to do.
Life in the Club was memorable as Healy proceeded to reorganise branches and expel opponents, usually on the flimsiest of pretexts (3). Proper Pre-Conference discussion in the branches was difficult partly due to the paucity of relevant and quality material being circulated (4) and partly because that which was distributed had to be signed for and then handed back to the Club officialdom in a strict timetable (see Tarbuck, 1995). Incidentally, it is presumably this process which explains why it is so difficult to obtain and study internal Club material today.
The list of those expelled runs like a “Who’s Who” of prominent ex-RCP members – David James, Ted Grant, Bill Cleminson, Jimmy Deane, Arthur Deane, Sam Levy, Sam Bornstein, Roy Tearse…the list goes on and on. Many others resigned, including Jock Haston who threw in the “Trotskyist towel” in favour of reformism.
Many authors cite Tony Cliff as also being personally expelled. I can find no direct evidence and wonder if this was the case given that one Healy argument was that Cliff was not actually a member given that he lived abroad in Dublin (5). That said, expelling someone who was not a member was not beyond the pale for Healy – he was known for expelling people who had already resigned – Jock Haston being one case in point. What is certain is that Cliff’s supporters were expelled and Bill Hunter (1998) quotes from an undated Club National Committee resolution on the “Expulsion of the State Capitalists”. Unfortunately, I can find no copy of this document. Hunter also recounts the well-known story as to how Cliff was denied the opportunity to submit a document to the Club conference. No-one has ever said what this document was but it must presumably have been Cliff’s “On the Class Nature of the People’s Democracies” which is dated 1st July 1950 and was on a subject that was highly appropriate to Trotskyist politics at home and abroad at the time.
Cliff himself leaves the Club period entirely out of his autobiography which is a shame. It is known that he was in Britain for four-months during this crucial period – from 21st June 1950 to 25th October 1950 and he travelled the country. As Sam Levy wrote at the time;
“The State Capitalists claim 30 members, 7 in London proper, 6 Thames Valley and the rest in the provinces….It seems he [Cliff] just went into the provinces to pick up people for the asking. He claims to have the six Sheffield comrades who dropped from the party, he also claims five or six in Birmingham including Bill Ainsworth. He intends to use some pretext to split from the Party in the near future.” (Levy, 1950).
In addition to the Socialist Fellowship, the Club undertook activity within the Labour Party’s youth organisation the “Labour League of Youth”. One of their leading activists was a certain Miss Brown who was described by Frank Allaun, in a way that was acceptable in 1950, in his previously cited Socialist Fellowship Founding Conference Report as “an attractive Geordie L.O.Y. member”. Miss Brown was Audrey Brown who was to be the editor of the Club’s youth paper Socialist Youth when it was launched in December 1950. She is much better known from her later years as the Labour MP Audrey Wise. For more detail on this aspect of politics in 1950 see Rudge (2015a).
The political differences inside the Club in the first half of 1950 were many and I will not go into them here – in part they become clear from the documents I present. Underlying much of the debate, however, was the perceived accommodation to the Labour lefts, fellow-travellers and Stalinists; the unreality of British economic and political perspectives (Healy’s crisis syndrome); the role of Socialist Outlook and the Socialist Fellowship and differences on international questions – not least Russia and the People’s Democracies, Tito and Yugoslavia, China – and the Korean War that broke out on the eve of the Club Conference
I want to now turn to some of those documents of the period that I see as representing the break from Healy’s Club and the foundation of the Socialist Review Group.
Introduction to the Documents
1. “A Critical View of the Paper” (See Appendix 1)
I have typed this document from a copy held in the Jim Higgins archive at Senate House Library, London.
This document is undated but, based on its contents, it was written at the end of June 1950 or possibly, very early in July. The initials shown as “P.D. and K.T.” are those of Percy Downey and Ken Tarbuck of the Birmingham branch of the Club. Both were former members of the RCP Majority alongside several other members of the RCP Birmingham branch. For more details of these members see Rudge (2015b). The original document was drafted by Tarbuck and agreed by the wider group of Birmingham comrades who were unhappy with the Healy organisation. Their critique of the Club’s newspaper Socialist Outlook is used as a proxy for a more thoroughgoing critique of the Club itself.
For the record, at the time of the Club Conference Socialist Outlook was an 8-page monthly publication selling for 2d. It had a claimed circulation of 10,000. Its editor was John Lawrence. The official Club line on the paper as stated in their Executive Committee’s “Draft British Perspectives” for the Conference and dated 21st June 1950 was:
“The role of the paper is to relate the present political level of the left wing to revolutionary conclusions……In this connection the paper represents a tendency inside the L.P. which is moving from reformism to a revolutionary solution.”
Ken Tarbuck writes something about the Birmingham document in his autobiography (Tarbuck, 1995). I will not repeat what he says other than to reproduce how he summed up the document. He writes:
“…. the main thrust of the short document submitted to the 1950 conference of the Club…. represent[s] a clear and unequivocal line of rejection of the slide towards Stalinism and reformism which was evident in the pages of Socialist Outlook. There was no bending towards Haston, nor any towards Healy. It is somewhat ironic that when certain people discuss Healyism and attempt to pin down the start of his ‘decline’ no mention is made of this first statement against Healy in the British section of the Fourth International. Of course, in that particular document no mention was made about the Stalinist organisational practices of Healy, because at that point we did not want to precipitate our own expulsion. Nevertheless, the battle lines were drawn around quite fundamental issues.” (6).
Cliff visited the Birmingham comrades including Percy Downey, Ken Tarbuck, Bill Ainsworth, Peter Morgan and Gerry Curran around the time they were writing their document but Cliff almost certainly had no direct involvement in its production. Cliff did, however, “more than half-convince” them during his visit that his state capitalist position was the correct one although they agreed to await deciding on joining him until after the upcoming Club conference.
In the first issue of the SRG’s journal Bill Ainsworth continued and updated the critique of Socialist Outlook to include more detail on the recently started Korean War. He writes:
“Since the outbreak of war in Korea, the Socialist Outlook has campaigned for full and unconditional support for the Stalinist forces in Korea, who (so it claims) are conducting a genuine struggle for the national and social liberation of the oppressed Korean people. This attitude, of course, is, fundamentally, identical with that of the Stalinists and their fellow-travellers. Consequently, we consider it our socialist duty to urge all whose socialist hopes were raised when the Outlook was launched in 1948, to enquire now as we intend to do – whither Socialist Outlook?” (Ainsworth, 1950).
To my mind, the Bill Ainsworth article serves not only as a continuation of the Birmingham comrades’ Club conference document but also as a message to both the Healy and the Grant-Deane camps. That message, from one of the former RCP’s most respected members, is that he and the other Birmingham comrades were now firmly in the State Capitalist camp.
Fundraising after the Club conference to turn Socialist Outlook into a weekly paper was unsuccessful and it was not until May Day 1952 that it became a fortnightly. It eventually became a weekly in November 1952. In May 1954, the Labour Party NEC decided “that persons associated with, or supporting, Socialist Outlook are declared to be ineligible for membership of the Labour Party” (Labour Party, 1954). The last issue of the paper appeared in October that year following the Labour Party Conference where attempts to overturn the ban were defeated by 4,475,000 to 1,596,000 votes.
This is the first time this document has been made available in full. Whilst its authors were not members of Cliff’s group at the time of its writing they were members within a matter of weeks. It would not be over-stating it to say that the recruitment of the Birmingham comrades was of fundamental importance to the successful launch of the SRG. In that respect, how they saw the Healy group and how that reflected into their support for Cliff and the formation of the SRG makes this document highly relevant to our story here.
2. “To the Members of the Club” (See Appendix 2)
This document has been typed from an original copy held in my personal archive. It has appeared in print before in the book “The Fourth International, Stalinism and the Origins of the International Socialists: Some Documents”, published by Pluto Press in 1971. The book is long out of print and this text is not currently available elsewhere.
The document is undated but it is possible using archived correspondence to date it as being completed in the period 10th – 30th September 1950. It was originally drafted in London so one can assume that Tony Cliff was involved with it. This text was sent to Bill Ainsworth in Birmingham where the comrades there met on 9th September and submitted very extensive alterations. They were particularly keen that the story of the expulsion of Percy Downey and subsequent suspension and expulsion of the other Birmingham comrades was correctly told.
As it turns out much of the detail that the Birmingham comrades wrote in this regard did not make it into the final document. In fact, such are the differences that there are, in effect, two different versions – the other one is titled “To the Members of the B.S.F.I.” (7) and ends with “Signed in the name of the State Capitalist faction by its delegates in the recent Conference of the B.S.F.I. – J.S. (West London Branch); J.H. (Thames Valley Branch); T.M. (Manchester Branch)”.
I cannot be 100% certain whether or not this “alternative” version was ever used – both versions are held together in the Brenda Grant Trotskyist Collection at Nuffield College Library, Oxford – but I think it very unlikely that it was.
The story of how the Birmingham comrades came to help found the SRG has been told before (e.g. Birchall, 2011 & Tarbuck, 1995) so it will not be repeated here. I will, however, make a few points concerning this document, which is also sometimes called the “Open Letter to the Club”.
Firstly, is the question of whether Cliff’s supporters in the Club were constituted as a faction. Birchall quotes Chanie Rosenberg as saying that they were not a formal faction (Birchall, 2011 page 129). Interestingly, this document (and the “alternative” mentioned above) both refer to “the state capitalist faction”.
Secondly, the Birmingham comrades position on the Korean War which Percy Downey put in a motion to the Birmingham Trades Council meeting on Saturday 2nd September 1950 is described as very similar to the position put on the front page of Militant, the American SWP’s paper, by John G. Wright. Wright’s specific article is not identified but my research shows it must be the article headlined “Hands Off Korean People’s Right to Decide Own Fate!” in Vol. 14 No. 27 dated 3rd July 1950. I have attempted to obtain the wording of Downey’s Trades Council motion but the minutes of the relevant meeting are missing from Birmingham Library. This particular set of Trades Council minutes is also missing from those held at Warwick University Modern Records Centre. I therefore fear that the wording of the motion may now be lost (8).
Thirdly, just to clarify the initials of those listed in the document as being expelled by the Club they are, in addition to Percy Downey, E.G. = Ted Grant; J.D. = Jimmy Deane; T.M. = Ted Morris; B.D. = Bill Donnelly. The latter two were founding members of the SRG.
Fourthly, the statement that the state capitalist group makes up “a quarter of all the active Trotskyists in Britain” tells us something of the level to which Trotskyism had shrunk. The SRG was formed in the same month as this document with 33 members. You can do the maths!
And what should we make of the contention in the document that “we, the state capitalist group…..could no doubt have challenged the present leadership of the Club [and]….. we could have in a short time gained the majority of the organisation.” Is this possible? Well, in one sense the question is, of course, academic – the required democracy to make it possible did not exist. If the democracy had existed, then the claim may not have been completely far-fetched. Bob Pitt (2002) remarks on how “the state capitalist position of Tony Cliff had won a growing number of adherents in the Club; but Healy, incapable of answering this faction theoretically, resorted to organisational suppression as a substitute for political argument”. Jock Haston in his resignation document and Ted Grant in his “History of British Trotskyism” remark on the inability of the international leadership and of Healy to address Cliff’s arguments.
At this time, Cliff’s group attracted a number of younger members including those allied with Ellis Hillman and at the other end of the age/experience spectrum veterans like John Archer also provided assistance (9).
The ”State Caps” were also helped as other oppositions to Healy within the Club struggled to get themselves organised. If one reads Ted Grant’s “History of British Trotskyism” one might conclude that he rolled up his sleeves and organised the remnants of the Trotskyist movement himself. The truth seems quite different. Tarbuck remarks as to how Grant “seemed to have withdrawn into his shell” (Tarbuck, 1995). The same point was made somewhat more forcefully at the time directly to Grant by Jimmy Deane. In a letter written to Grant on 24th June 1950 Deane pleads:
“Ted you MUST write. You have to write a criticism of the perspective turned out by Healy, also you have to write a document on Yugoslavia. This is the only way in which Healy will be exposed and also by which you will regain support. For heaven’s sake get down to this immediately. A document on perspectives is urgently required, for Christ’s sake do it Ted.” (Deane, 1950 – emphasis in the original).
When SRG founding member Raymond Challinor told the story of his first meeting with Cliff in Staines, West London in November 1947, he makes it clear that Cliff’s intention, at least at that time, was indeed to stay in the official Trotskyist movement and fight to gain the majority for his political positions:
“My disagreement with Cliff at Staines arose as a consequence of our different evaluations of Trotskyism. In my opinion, the idea of Russia as a degenerate workers’ state had become the ark of the Trotskyist covenant, an uncritically-repeated mantra that did not remain open to critical scrutiny. Cliff, on the other hand, thought it imperative to relate entirely to the Trotskyist movement. By factional struggle, he believed that the Fourth International could be won to our position. To me, this remained an illusion. We had to relate ourselves to new cadres who would emerge in the course of fresh struggles.
The issue was really settled for us by Gerry Healy and his comrades. They unceremoniously turfed us out.” (Challinor, 2000).
Finally, it is worth highlighting just how close the phrase in this document “International Socialists must oppose Washington as well as Moscow” got to the “strap-line” that was later to go hand in hand with the organisation for many decades. That famous “strap-line” “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism” (10) appeared soon afterwards as the final sentence in Tony Cliff’s (writing under his pseudonym R. Tennant) first ever article in Socialist Review (Tennant, 1950).
Moving on from these points of detail, overall, the document is extremely important on several fronts. It makes an excellent job of demolishing the politics of the Club and its leaders, it castigates the organisational shortcomings and democratic deficit, it shows that any return to the old leadership would be futile and it highlights that “the acceptance of the conception that Russia is a workers’ state…must lead to political bankruptcy”. This last element was critical – it separated what was to come from both Healy and from the other main grouping struggling to rebuild, namely those around Ted Grant and Jimmy Deane. Most of all it is a call to the political action of building a new organisation “to maintain the genuine Trotskyist tradition in Britain”.
As the Pluto Press book in which this document previously appeared is now hard to find I reproduce below extracts from the note, written by Richard Kuper in 1971, to introduce the document at that time. Richard tells me (pers. comms.) that his note was written following discussions with both Tony Cliff and Duncan Hallas. Cliff and Hallas were, of course, personally involved in these events. Richard wrote:
“……The united British Trotskyist organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) split in 1947 over the question of entry into the Labour Party, the minority led by Healy favouring entry, the majority under Haston opposed to it. With the agreement of both groups the International Secretariat divided the British section and the minority pursued the entry tactic and published the newspaper Socialist Outlook from 1948. In the summer of 1949 the majority of the RCP, faced with a decline in membership and influence, the failure of the anticipated left turn of the Labour Party rank and file and a general political disintegration, decided also to opt for entry. They agreed therefore to fuse once again with the minority. But the minority, arguing that their strategy had been proved correct in practice, demanded a majority on the executive bodies of the fused organisation. This was accepted by the RCP leadership and agreed to by the International. This was supposedly a prelude to the establishment of a fully democratic regime at the 1950 congress: and this fused organisation, during its brief of existence (sic) had no name, being referred to merely as “The Club”. It was in this period 1949-50 that disintegration was turned into a rout. The Haston leadership defected to the pastures of reformism; other leaders of the majority were expelled on a variety of charges; still other cadres drifted out of politics altogether. Some regrouped around the duplicated paper Socialist Review which began publication at the end of 1950 based on a state capitalist analysis of the Eastern European regimes. The Socialist Review group held its founding conference at Whitsun 1951 (11).
This document was prepared after the 1950 congress of the Healy organisation when the wave of expulsions gathered its momentum…..”.
In his introduction to the 1971 book Duncan Hallas only has this to say on the document:
“”To the Members of the Club” speaks for itself. The “Club” was, of course, the secret Trotskyist organisation in the Labour party which the Healy-Lawrence leadership was purging of all who were critical of their pro-stalinist policies.”
3. “Amended Draft of Policy Submitted for Socialist Fellowship Conference” (See Appendix 3)
This document has been typed from the text published in the very first issue of the SRG’s journal Socialist Review of November 1950.
It had been agreed at the Founding Conference of the SRG, notwithstanding the expulsion from Healy’s Club:
“…that members work inside the Socialist Fellowship and set up branches where none exist, except in special cases to be determined by Secretariat and local comrades”.
This decision was hardly surprising as the SF could provide a ready-made audience for the newly-formed organisation, albeit this audience was nowhere near as big as once hoped. At the inaugural conference of the SF in November 1949 sights were set on achieving a membership of 30,000 in 18 months but, by July 1950, its national membership was estimated by the Liverpool branch of the Club as about one thousand. In fact, by September 1950 the organisation was in decline. A number of the founding Labour lefts including Ellis Smith, Bessie Braddock and Fenner Brockway had resigned over the anti-U.N. stance taken by the SF on the Korean War and there is plenty of evidence in the archives that its branch meetings were generally small.
This draft policy document was actually written in September 1950 by Peter Morgan. It seems that there was a reasonably active branch of the Socialist Fellowship in Birmingham. Bill Ainsworth, in a letter to Jean Tait dated 10th September, describes Peter as being “especially well known in the SF locally” and that they were considering two main steps for an upcoming Birmingham SF meeting. One of these was “putting forward amendments to their policy from inside the conference”.
In the event the draft policy proposed by Peter Morgan “was not accepted for the Socialist Fellowship Conference” which was held in London later in the month. Jim Higgins on reading the document in Socialist Review, I think rightly, recognised its importance as forming a proto-programme for both the new organisation and its journal. Higgins wrote:
“The programme of the new journal was cunningly outlined in a piece by Peter Morgan, Amended Draft of Policy Submitted for Socialist Fellowship Conference. This document had a certain root and branch quality to it that might have caused some unease at Labour Party headquarters had they been aware of it. The Labour Party’s policy document Labour and the New Society was castigated as, “… one more milestone on the road away from socialism …”. Russia and the Western powers were characterised as equally obnoxious imperialisms. Nationalisation of the land, all large financial institutions, industrial and distributive enterprises, without compensation and under workers’ control, socialist planning and the monopoly of foreign trade were also called for. In addition to a state financed national building plan, all luxury hotels and mansions were to be requisitioned and all existing housing to be controlled and allocated by tenants’ committees. Prices and any necessary rations were to be controlled by the Cooperative Societies and distribution workers. A rising scale of wages and a declining scale of hours was also thought to be, and probably was, a popular demand. The call for the abolition of the monarchy, the House of Lords, the standing army and the officer caste was balanced by the demand for a militia with the election of officers and full trade union rights for all ranks. The document was nicely rounded out with a call for an end to secret diplomacy, an end to annexations or reparations, for freedom of the colonial peoples and the United Socialist States of Europe. After all this it is rather sad to read the plaintive footnote at the end which says: “This draft was not accepted for the Socialist Fellowship Conference.” (Higgins, 1997).
It is an interesting footnote and a sign of how things have changed in the Labour Party that Peter Morgan could describe Labour and the New Society as “one more ominous milestone on the road away from socialism”. Today’s Labour Party, even under Corbyn, would be petrified to put forward a document that’s opening section is called “The Moral Basis of the New Society” and says:
“….Capitalism degraded humanity…When the pursuit of gain was proclaimed a major virtue, values were lowered and the claims of human brotherhood were sacrificed to the demands of private profit. When wealth was worshipped and its power exalted, the rights of property came before the rights of man.
Socialism is dedicated to a different end. We appeal to what is good in people, not what is bad. We rely on fellowship and friendliness, not on fear and greed. We seek to enlarge freedom for everyone to lead a full; vigorous and happy life, not to cramp individuality. We want to enhance the stature of every human being….”. (Labour Party, 1950).
They may be just words, but they are powerful words.
Peter Morgan’s draft policy may never have got beyond the pages of Socialist Review but the actually-agreed SF policy was issued in a pamphlet in December 1950 under the title From Labour to Socialism: A Programme for the Next Election. This programme was surprisingly left-wing, almost certainly because, with the departure of many of the Labour lefts, what remained of the SF was somewhat more akin to a Healy front organisation.
No doubt because of its decline, at the SRG National Committee meeting in December 1950 it was agreed that, subject to discussion with the Secretariat, local SRG branches could withdraw their members from the Socialist Fellowship. As far as I can tell the Birmingham SRG comrades continued their work in the SF.
The last hurrah for the SF was a series of three anti-war conferences in London, Manchester and Birmingham attended in total by 450 delegates. The last of these was the Birmingham conference held on 15th April 1951 at which the speakers were S.O. Davies, M.P. and John Lawrence. The pre-publicity issued for the Birmingham conference states:
“We do not believe that the present policy of war preparations is supported by the majority of our great Labour movement, and to test this opinion and allow the rank and file to express its own point of view, we propose to move the following resolution at the Conference:
“This delegate conference of the Birmingham Labour movement, being convinced that the threatening war can be averted only by international socialist action, pledges itself to fight inside the movement for the ending of all war alliances with capitalist countries; the withdrawal of British forces from Korea; the granting of immediate independence to those colonial countries at present under British domination; and the concentration of the energies of the Labour Movement on securing the complete and utter defeat of capitalism and the Tory Party as our contribution to the building of a socialist world.”
Whatever one’s criticisms of Healy, his methods and his politics it would be churlish not to recognise that good work was being attempted.
In large part, however, it was the programme agreed at the SF Conference and its production as a widely-sold pamphlet that would lead to the demise of the SF itself.
When the axe fell the official line of the SF leadership was to express “great surprise”. I am not so sure it was such a great surprise. A marvelously frank letter is held in the Trotskyist Collection at Nuffield College, Oxford written in the first week of May 1951 (days after the ban was announced) by Bill Pickett, the Secretary of Birmingham Socialist Fellowship. In the letter, he writes:
“No-one in the Fellowship is surprised at the ban. In fact, about three months ago we discussed the possibility in B’ham SF and on that occasion we decided, – with the sanction of the National Committee, – to carry on in secret IF the ban was imposed.”
The Socialist Fellowship was proscribed by the Labour Party at the end of April but the Birmingham “carry on in secret policy” was ignored. In keeping with the tactic of deep-entry, the proscription, although protested by letter, led the leadership to immediately dissolve the SF to avoid the possibility of the expulsion of members from the Labour Party. The letter from the SF leadership to the Labour Party NEC dated 29th April 1951 could not have been clearer on this point:
“….In order, however, that their membership of the Labour Party shall not be endangered, we are sending a copy of this letter to every member of the Socialist Fellowship and to all “Fellowship” Secretaries throughout the country, so that they shall clearly understand that the “Fellowship” no longer exists.”
This is how the Labour Party N.E.C. explained the proscription to the October 1951 Labour Party Conference:
“Socialist Fellowship was formed in 1949 for the purpose of socialist education within the framework of the Labour Party.
After some time it became apparent that the organisation was getting into the hands of people engaged in persistent criticism of the policy of the Party and of the Government, and several Members of Parliament, who had taken part in the formation of the Socialist Fellowship, withdrew their support.
The second National Conference of Socialist Fellowship held in September 1950, adopted a programme for the next General Election. This programme was opposed to the policy of the Labour Party.
A journal, known as Socialist Outlook, though not the official organ of Socialist Fellowship, published the propaganda of Socialist Fellowship and made a special feature of cultivating grievances in the League of Youth.
Socialist Fellowship carried on continuous agitation against the Foreign Policy of the Party, organised conferences and formed groups with Constituency Labour Parties in support of its agitation. The constant belittling of the achievements of the Labour Government and the fractional activities it organised had a disturbing effect on many parties and led to a diversion of effort and attention from the task of building up an efficient electoral machine in the constituencies.
The National Executive Committee felt that its duty was to protect the Party from the disruptive influence of Socialist Fellowship by placing it on the list of Proscribed Organisations.” (Labour Party, 1951).
In hindsight, putting forward an election policy in opposition to the official Labour Party policy might seem a questionable political decision for those operating deep entry and who were not, at the time, seeking to split.
4. “Correspondence with the International Secretariat of the Fourth International” (See Appendix 4)
At the founding conference of the Socialist Review Group held over the weekend of 30th September – 1st October 1950 there was an agenda item titled “Relations with F.I.” [Fourth International]. The minutes of the founding conference record the following for this agenda item:
“Agreed that, being a Trotskyist tendency, and believing that our position on Russia rounds off Trotskyism to the needs of our epoch, we shall fight for the building of the F.I. as a genuine Trotskyist organisation. We shall apply for membership of the F.I. If we are denied admission, we shall propagate our ideas in the F.I. and in the organisations close to it. Open letter on these lines to be sent to the I.S. claiming recognition”.
The draft of the letter to the I.S. (12) was written in London and sent to Bill Ainsworth by Jean Tait on 17th October. The SRG certainly had no illusions as to what the reply would be, after all, it was the I.S. that had been the power behind Healy for a considerable period. This is what Jean Tait wrote on the subject in her letter:
“Enclosed is a draft letter to the I.S. I don’t think it is necessary to enlarge. It is sufficient to send it with the declaration – all this is for the record. The reply from the I.S. will certainly be negative.”
Of course, the reply was negative, the F.I. having “complete faith” in the Club. The signatory of the letter from the Fourth International, “Pilar”, was one of the dozen or so pseudonyms used by Michel Pablo (itself a pseudonym). We have translated “Angleterre/Anglais” from Pilar’s French text as “England/English” but we should assume that he meant “Britain/British” as the Club also organised in Scotland and Wales.
The corollary of knowing in advance that the response from the FI would be negative was the simultaneous decision of the SRG to write to other groups who were developing a State Capitalist position or, at least, were reappraising their analysis of Russia. None of these contacts came to anything in the short term.
The picture I have painted is of the struggle of one group of comrades to find a path away from the impasse in which the British Trotskyist movement found itself in 1949-1950. By necessity my picture paints Healy in truly dark colours but it would be unfair to the comrades who supported him with good intentions if I did not at least record how they saw things at the time. The quote I give below was written by Club member Harry Ratner in 1994 and quoted approvingly by fellow member Bill Hunter in 1998. With these two prominent endorsements, I take this view to accurately reflect how they saw things at the time:
“The Club’s policy during this period has been criticised by various Trotskyists as opportunist and a liquidation of Trotskyism. It is certainly true that the Labour MPs and union leaders associated with Socialist Outlook were far from being Trotskyists, or even Marxists, and that many of them had a history of flirting with the Stalinists in their “front” organisations. But this was the level of development of the labour movement at the time. These people did reflect, more or less faithfully, the thinking and outlook of thousands of ordinary members of the Labour Party and trade unions, and these were the people we were trying to reach. In order to establish the paper as a viable proposition and begin to get a hearing, we had to use these connections. It is the easiest thing in the world for a small group of people to sit in a room and make resounding revolutionary declarations which nobody else will hear. It is more difficult to build a real movement. This involves going out and convincing flesh and blood workers in the local Labour Parties, union branches and on the shop floor in a specific situation in the real world out there”.
Written at a distance of over 40 years Ratner’s argument is compelling. Indeed, the SRG would have agreed with the need to relate to workers in the real world. It would also have agreed with the need to do united front work. The issues and differences were in what is left unsaid.
1. Cliff and van Gelderen will have known each other well. After their arrival from Palestine Tony Cliff and Chanie Rosenberg lived for a time at van Gelderen’s home.
2. There is some confusion about the precise date of the 1950 Club Conference. Some authors, e.g. Tarbuck, 1995 and Birchall, 2011 quote July 1950, others e.g. Bornstein & Richardson, 1986 quote August 1950. I have seen no definitive proof but, based on certain documents, I favour it having been held early in August 1950.
3. “Healyite” authors (e.g. Hunter, 1998; Ratner, 1994; Shaw, 1983) tend to deny the charge that expulsions were anything other than justified. They are, in general, helped by the fact that relevant documentation is not available to researchers. Unfortunately for their case at least two expulsions are very well documented in the Jimmy Deane archive held at Warwick University Modern Records Centre – David James and Jimmy Deane himself. I have examined all the letters, documents and reports (from both sides) relating to these two cases and they thoroughly undermine the Healyite denial.
4. The first issue of a long-awaited theoretical journal was actually published in July-August 1950. Titled Marxist Review: A Journal of International Socialism it contained just two articles. It is only remembered for the article by Paul Dixon “A Deserter to Reformism” which is an attack on a document written by Frank Ward “The Left and the Labour Government”. The reason it is remembered is that Paul Dixon was the pseudonym of long-time Trotskyist Denzil Dean Harber. This is Harber’s last work in the Trotskyist movement before departing completely for the more agreeable field of bird-watching. No other issues of Marxist Review were issued in 1950.
5. Here’s an interesting question on this residency issue. Was Tony Cliff a member of the Socialist Review Group? The answer may not be as obvious as you think. In a letter written by Bill Ainsworth on 28th November 1950 to “Comrades Jungclas and Lenz” he says “Our group has three basic documents on this [the Russian] question: 1) “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”; 2) “Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism”; 3) “The Class Nature of the Peoples’ Democracies”. Whilst the author is not a member of our group, as he does not live in this country, his writings are of great assistance to us.” (My italics – JR). In case it is thought that this wording is an aberration by Bill Ainsworth, I can confirm that this is not the case. The wording was supplied to him by Jean Tait in a long and politically detailed letter from London on 17th October. As Cliff was in London at this time he is sure to have been aware of its contents.
6. Important though it was, it is not strictly true for Tarbuck to later say as he does that their contribution “represents the first statement against Healy in the British section of the Fourth International”. The 1950 Club conference received some other highly critical contributions from the membership. Two I have particularly consulted are “The Way Ahead” by “R.A.K.” and “Statement of the Liverpool Branch on British Perspectives” – the latter was not, in fact, published for the Conference. In true Healyite fashion it was “received too late”.
7. Not to be confused with an “anonymous” later document of the same title that was also concerned with departure from Healy’s Club. The “anonymous” author of that document was Ted Grant.
8. The relevant microfilm at Birmingham Library is 331.88094249.
There is a Trades Council/Labour Party motion on Korea held in the Jimmy Deane archive at Warwick (MSS.325/27/C50(4)) that is undated, has no author and no information on where, when or even if it was used. It is clearly from the time of the outbreak of the Korean War in July 1950 and it does have a certain “Third Camp” flavour. It is exceedingly unlikely that this motion has anything to do with Birmingham. I reproduce it here purely as an example of what someone, somewhere on the non-Stalinist left was thinking and doing about the Korean War at the time. The motion reads:
“This TC&LP calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities in Korea and the withdrawal of all foreign troops. It believes, however, that any agreement between the Big Powers which leaves the country divided and subject to foreign domination either from Moscow or Washington and London can but sow the seeds for further wars.
This TC&LP declares itself in complete support of those peoples who are struggling for national emancipation and national unification. In keeping with this Socialist principle we call for a united and democratic Korea and the financing of the reconstruction of Korean towns and industries by all the countries which have subscribed to their destruction.”
9. John Archer translated articles from the P.O.U.M.’s newspaper La Batalla, mostly of Eastern European news, for the SRG’s journal, Socialist Review. Archer expressed the fact that he had “been attracted by the State-Capitalists (not merely because of the shabby way they have been treated)…” but had told Cliff “that I don’t think any small grouping built around him on the State-Capitalist basis has a cat in hell’s chance”. He also believed that “They have neither clear positions nor organising ability nor resources and he [Cliff] dominates them intellectually 100% as far as I can see”. (Archer, 1950).
10. The strap-line was “borrowed” from the U.S. Shachtmanites – see Birchall (2011) page 136.
11. The Founding Conference (Foundation Meeting) of the SRG was actually 30th September – 1st October 1950.
12. “I.S.” refers to “International Secretariat” – the leading body of the Fourth International.
My thanks to Ian Birchall, Julian Vaughan, Graham Sinclair, Stefan Dickers, Bridget Parsons, Richard Kuper and Charlie Kimber for their help with this project.
Ainsworth, Bill. 1950. Whither “Socialist Outlook”. Socialist Review Vol. 1 No. 1 November 1950 pp. 31-35.
Allaun, Frank. 1950. The Founding of the Socialist Fellowship. Socialist Outlook Vol. 2 No. 2 January 1950 p. 4.
Archer, John. 1950. Letter to Jimmy Deane dated 2nd October 1950.
Birchall, Ian. 2011. Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time. Bookmarks Publications, London, 664pp.
Bornstein, Sam and Al Richardson. 1986. War and the International. A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain 1937-1949. Socialist Platform Ltd., London, 252pp.
Challinor, Raymond. 2000. Tony Cliff’s Early Years in Britain. Revolutionary History Journal Vol. 7 No. 4 pp. 185-187.
Deane, Jimmy. 1950. Letter to Ted Grant dated 24th June 1950.
Grant, Ted. 2002. History of British Trotskyism. Wellred Publications, London, 303pp.
Grant, Ted, J. Deane & G. Hanson. 1949. Letter to the Members 2pp.
Haston, J., H. Atkinson, R. Tearse & V. Charles. 1948. Statement on the Perspectives of the R.C.P. submitted to the Central Committee 8th & 9th December 1948. Internal Document of the R.C.P. 5pp. [N.B. V. Charles was a pseudonym of Charles van Gelderen].
Higgins, Jim. 1997. More Years for the Locust. The Origins of the SWP. IS Group, London, 177pp.
Hunter, Bill. 1998. Lifelong Apprenticeship: The Life and Times of a Revolutionary Volume 1: 1920-1959. Porcupine Press, London, 434 pp.
Labour Party, 1950. Labour and the New Society: A Statement of the Policy and Principles of British Democratic Socialism. Labour Party, London, 39pp.
Labour Party. 1951. Report of the National Executive Committee to the Fiftieth Annual Conference of the Labour Party, to be held in the Spa Grand Hall, Scarborough, from the first to the fifth of October 1951. Labour Party, London, 80pp.
Labour Party. 1954. Report of the Fifty-Third Annual Conference of the Labour Party. Labour Party, London, 266pp.
Levy, Sam. 1950. Letter to Brian Deane dated 7th September 1950.
Levy, Sam. 1996. A Footnote for Historians. The Open Party Faction, 1948-49. Revolutionary History Journal Vol. 6 No. 2/3 pp. 177-187.
Pitt, Bob. 2002. The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy. Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php/british-material/509-gerry-healy-rise-and-fall/8098-rise-and-fall-of-gerry-healy
Ratner, Harry. 1994. Reluctant Revolutionary: Memoirs of a Trotskyist 1936-1960. Socialist Platform Ltd., London, 270pp.
Rudge, John. 2015a. Rebel Rebel: The Youth Publications of the SWP from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Available online at: http://grimanddim.org/tony-cliff-biography/rebel-rebel/
Rudge, John. 2015b. The Founding Members of the Socialist Review Group. Available online at: http://grimanddim.org/tony-cliff-biography/the-founding-members-of-the-socialist-review-group/
Shaw, Mickie. 1983. Robert Shaw 1917-1980: Fighter for Trotskyism. New Park Publications, London, 238pp.
Tarbuck, Ken. 1995. Ever Hopeful – Never Sure. Reminiscences of a Some-Time Trotskyist. Available online at: http://www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php/british-material/518-ken-tarbuck/8274-ken00
Tennant, Roger. 1950. The Struggle of the Powers. Socialist Review Vol. 1 No. 1 November 1950 pp. 1-7.
van Gelderen, Charlie. 2013. Conversations with Charlie. Resistance Books, London 192pp [The book contains the text of a long interview with van Gelderen that was recorded in 1998].
A Critical View of the Paper
From a technical standpoint, the paper is maintained at a high level in respect of its layout, etc., and it also has a degree of restraint seldom found in the left wing press. These creditable achievements should be carefully guarded, for they create a valuable and quite accurate impression of a serious publication worthy of serious attention.
Turning quickly from subsidiary technical questions, important though they are, to the primary question, which is of course, the political content it is necessary to speak out boldly and critically on a number of matters for, despite the considerable extent to which the paper is carrying out the tasks for which it was launched, there have been a number of serious mistakes and omissions.
The first and most serious of these is its failure to combat Stalinism actively and directly. References to Stalinism and its crimes are extremely rare in the columns of the paper, and in at least one of these rare references, – to wit – the Editorial comment on the C.P. intervention in the General Election (see the issue of April 1950) – the subject is not dealt with in a creditable way. In the article cited, the comment is incorrect in emphasis, comes dangerously close to rendering assistance to the Stalinists in the propagation of their treacherous policies, and also betrays something of a misunderstanding of the reasons for their utter defeat in the elections.
It is especially regrettable that the Stalinists “Peace” Campaign has not been thoroughly exposed in our paper for what it is; namely, a cynical attempt to exploit, on behalf of the Soviet bureaucracy, the genuine and fast-growing feeling among the workers for a reversal of the drive towards war. The paper ought consistently to have presented our clear alternative to this Stalinist treachery – and also, of course, to the policy of the Social Democrats – but in fact, practically nothing has been done. The extreme urgency of this task is underlined by the Korean events, even if not by the report of the I.S., dated April 1950, with its categorical and patently false statement that “the out-break of the third world war (is) impossible for long years”.
Another and not less serious point of criticism is the question of Yugoslavia. Whilst it is indisputably correct to support the Yugoslavs in their struggle with the Cominform, an uncritical attitude to their activities past or present, and to their theories where these are false, is both unjustifiable and dangerous. We cannot forget for example that, even as late as July 5th 1948, (i.e. after the Tito-Stalin split), Comrade John G. Wright wrote in the SWP “Militant” Tito knows no other school of politics than Stalinism. The hands of this shady adventurer drip with blood of hundreds of Yugoslav Trotskyists and other militants whom he murdered during the civil war in Yugoslavia. He began his service as a purger of Stalin’s political opponents as far back as 1928……everywhere his speciality was purging Trotskyists. It was in this capacity as an unquestioning tool of the G.P.U. that Tito was permitted to rise to the top. A fortnight later, Comrade Wright wrote again on this subject in the “Militant”. He wrote…..”Tito and Stalin want the workers to choose between them……..Regardless of what Tito and Stalin want, the workers will surely reject this trap of choosing between the type of gold braid worn in Belgrade as against the type Stalin prefers in the Kremlin”. Written by one who is now an active protagonist of the current fundamentally different attitude of the I.S. towards Tito and his regime in Yugoslavia; (that there exists there a workers’ state and a regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat;) that searing indictment was typical of the Trotskyists attitude two years ago. But, if, as it seems, we are now expected to regard this previous attitude as being false and without foundation in fact, as has been suggested verbally by the British secretary and other comrades – and this appears to be the reason for the silence on our part on this important question – the onus rests upon these comrades to advance some proofs that it is false, because, whilst Tito’s biography is surrounded in considerable obscurity – and the G.P.U. agents biography isn’t – all the material at the disposal of the authors of this document confirms that Tito has been a willing tool of the G.P.U. for many years, and was, in fact, Stalin’s star pupil!
As for the economy and regime in Yugoslavia there seems to have been relatively little change, fundamentally, since June 1948, and yet, as everyone should remember, prior to that date Yugoslavia was held up to the other “peoples democracies” by the Kremlin as the model, the example par excellence of the noble art of “advancing towards Socialism” or in other words, of becoming a small copy of the U.S.S.R.
It seems clear that the comrades who are in charge of the paper have unquestioningly followed the lead of the I.S. in this matter, but, when it is recalled that prior to the Tito-Stalin break, the I.S. succeeded in convincing themselves that the “peoples democracies”, INCLUDING Yugoslavia, were CAPITALIST states, a characterisation which they maintain to this day in relation to the rest of the buffer states, surely it is seen to be advisable to examine the new thesis of the I.S. with the utmost caution. It must be admitted that if our paper had been in existence before the Tito break, its back numbers could have become a first-class embarrassment, if they had carried the idea that Tito’s Yugoslavia was capitalist!
Other examples of important matters upon which there is nothing but a stony silence in the paper are: the attitude practical and theoretical, of the TITO leadership towards the thieves kitchen at Lake Success, towards Trieste, reparations, and the pernicious Stalinist theory of “Socialism in one country”. If persisted in, this uncritical attitude could only expose the paper towards the charge of leaning towards Tito, rather than towards Trotsky, for its inspiration.
In politics, suppression of criticism is much more serious than silence, as everyone in our ranks will readily agree.
In this connection it has been alleged, by M. Lee, that criticism has been suppressed by the editorial board of the paper, in respect of a letter critical of the Yugoslavian leadership. Whilst the allegation has been given a fairly wide circulation, no denial has been issued, (unless to a limited circle). With view of the serious nature of this allegation, the facts should be given to the membership, and the charge rebutted, if, as it is to be hoped and expected, it is a false one.
Another extremely important question, which, although it has been dealt with in the paper, has been handled badly, is the wages issue. The ideas of the transitional programme of the F.I. on this question centred as they are around the demand for a sliding scale of wages, etc., have not been presented clearly and consistently as the ONLY wages policy which meets the situation. In point of fact, most of the paper’s fairly numerous articles devoted to wages, or referring to that subject – including those of our own comrades! – are almost indistinguishable from those appearing in the C.P. press. With these facts in mind, it is regrettable to have [to] note that the 1950 Conference Document, actually embodies it within itself. Whilst it quite correctly characterises the Stalinist wages policies as opportunist, its statement of OUR wages policy, omitting as it does, the all-important sliding scale demand etc., is, despite its protestations to the contrary, hardly more distinguishable from the line of the C.P. on this issue, than the articles referred to above.
Although all those who wrote in the paper are critical of the official policy in one or more of its aspects, there is such a variety of opinions presented, that considerable confusion must inevitably be created in the minds of the readers as to precisely what the paper does stand for. Most readers, we can be sure, do not carefully part off editorial articles from the general contents. This lack of a clear ideological thread running through the paper, whilst to some extent inevitable at this stage, could be partly corrected if a smaller proportion of its contents was contributed by dubious “lefts” and quasi-fellow-travellers, and if their shortcomings, etc., were taken up editorially more often. More of our own comrades should be invited to take up particular issues in signed articles.
Whilst the paper has plenty of vigour, the whole contents tend to be presented in a purely agitational style, little or no attempt being made to raise theoretical discussions. Fewer unamplified slogans, (such as were a serious fault with the old “SA”) and, instead, more thorough explanations of our programmatic ideas would be an important step forward, insofar as it would greatly assist the political education of the readers. Morgan Phillips’ attack on Marxism; Stalinism and Titoism; and Morrison’s’ “new” definition of Socialism are three topical examples of subjects which lend themselves to this type of article, and which, (in the case of the first and third of these examples) will be wasted if we let them pass with a few caustic comments and epithets – well deserved these latter may be!
Politically, it is incontestable that a weekly paper would be a valuable asset to us particularly now events are gaining momentum. It is equally incontestable, politically, that a daily paper would be an even greater asset. But, in the face of the relatively small support and distributing force at the disposal of the paper, we suggest that the proposal to go forward to a weekly issue is, organisationally, premature. It will entail a great risk of overloading that force, and in particular, the group members, who, as the 1950 Conference Document “British Perspectives” half admits, are already overworked to an extent that is adversely affecting their political education. It would be more in proportion to our resources if fortnightly publication was adopted as an intermediate step, thus testing the ground before taking steps which might well have to be retraced very quickly, and, as in even the best conducted retreats, at considerable cost. If it proved practical to enlarge the paper at the same time, it would then be possible to deal with many political issues which have perforce to be excluded at present, and to provide space for the lengthier explanatory articles suggested above.
In conclusion, we hope that all comrades will seriously consider the ideas raised in this document, which we believe are important to the success of our work in the future.
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CLUB
The Political Bankruptcy of the Club Leaders
As every member knows, the Club is undergoing a deep crisis. This crisis was brought to a head with the Korean war. The Korean supplement of the S.O. tells us: 1. That North Korea is a workers’ state that must be supported without criticism; 2. That Yugoslavia’s stand on the Korean war must be supported enthusiastically; 3. That only reactionaries can appeal to the UNO to solve the Korean question. It is difficult to imagine more contradictions in so few lines. Yugoslavia, which opposes North Korea (and with the narrow interests of the Yugoslav bureaucracy in mind does not even criticise South Korea and its master – U.S. imperialism) must be praised! Only reactionaries appeal to the UNO, but Yugoslavia, whose main plank of foreign policy is that UNO is the citadel of peace and progress, must be commended! Yugoslavia must be applauded and also the Kremlin agency in North Korea, at a time when radio Moscow calls for making “Yugoslavia a second Korea”! So North Korea is a workers’ state, quite healthy, and there is no need to criticise it! – and this after the Club leaders spent years telling us that the Stalinists in China, Korea, etc., are counter-revolutionaries! What a picture of abject, political, ideological bankruptcy!
The Korean war also exposed the “allies” of the Club leaders. For a long time the S.O. did not find it necessary to utter a word of criticism and warning about the reformist stand of Ellis Smith, Mrs. Braddock and Brockway. Now the three of them have come out openly in support of U.N.O. (read American and British imperialism). The other “stars” of the Club leaders – Tom Braddock and more recently S.O. Davies – are not less ready to jump on the opposite bandwagon: Braddock is chairing a British-Soviet Society meeting and S.O. Davies is speaking under the auspices of this Stalinist propaganda organisation.
The Korean war and the visit of Morgan Philips and Co. to Belgrade must convince even the blind that the declarations of the Club leaders about Tito moving in a Trotskyist direction are pure illusion. When Stalin put forward the theory of “Socialism in one country”, the policy of the People’s Front, of the monolithic party and the leader cult, of the death sentence for workers who stole because they were hungry, of support for the League of Nations and UNO, he was a counter-revolutionary. When Tito, the man who rose to the top of the Yugoslav C.P. as a G.P.U. agent (as the Club leaders rightly told us two years ago) follows the same policy, this is not counter-revolution. When the Yugoslav leaders continue to speak about the “Trotskyist-fascists”, this is hidden from the Club members by its leaders. Not for a minute have the Yugoslav leaders ceased to justify their killing of the Yugoslav Trotskyists as fascists. For example, the Yugoslav Embassy in London, writing about the Rajk Trial in a circular dated 23rd September, 1949, uses phrases such as “…. The notorious Trotskyist Pal Justus”, “Trotskyist and Gestapo-like”, etc. Then, if this snub to the Club leaders were not enough, there comes the open opposition of Yugoslavia to North Korea, with no attack at all on South Korea. And it becomes clearer every day that in order to build “socialism in one country” Tito will appeal more and more to the American dollar. For this he will need Morgan Phillips as a contact-man much more than the Club leaders. Yugoslavia’s “Review of International Affairs”, which deals with Russian exploitation of Bulgaria, Poland, etc., without mentioning the exploitation by American and British imperialism of the Negroes, the Indians, the Malayans, the American and British workers, etc., shows clearly that Tito’s face is not towards internationalism but towards a horse deal with the U.S.A. The famine in Yugoslavia, worsened by Tito’s exporting of foodstuffs in the interests of building “socialism in one country” – increasing the wealth and privilege of the bureaucracy – drives Tito more and more into the arms of U.S. imperialism.
Political Dishonesty of the Club Leaders
It is the duty of the Club leaders now to admit to the members the terrible mistakes made. Instead of this everything is hushed up. And no wonder: the same Club leaders who wrote in April 1948 that Yugoslavia is a capitalist country with “an extreme form of Bonapartism”, two months later unashamedly extolled Tito. If tomorrow Tito openly joins the U.S. alliance, the Club leaders will have to break with him or otherwise break with Trotskyism. In any case, in all probability they will try to cover up their present policy of extolling Tito as a Trotskyist “fellow-traveller”.
The Organisational Crisis
The zigzag policy of the Club leadership, of saying one thing one day and another the next, of blunting the issues, of capitulation to Titoism, Stalinism and Reformism, of hailing one M.P. one day and, when he walks out, uncritically hailing another, has of necessity had a very bad effect on the organisation. Notwithstanding the hard work of the members, and the large circulation of the S.O., the number of members of the Club who support the leadership’s line is only very slightly bigger than it was three years ago. The “victories” the leadership announces every now and then are summed up in the real stagnation of the organisation numerically. As regards the ideological level of any newly-recruited members, the leadership does its best to keep it very low.
The ideological bankruptcy of the Club leaders, combined with their political dishonesty, leads them to the abandonment of democratic centralism. A week before the Conference of the Club a motion was put, based on trivial grounds, to expel E.G., who has for 22 years been a member of the International and one of its leading theoreticians. Only the fear of exposing themselves led the leaders of the Club to postpone decision on this motion for two months after Conference.
Comrade J.D. was expelled earlier quite unjustifiably. Without agreeing politically with either E.G. or J.D., we, the group of comrades who consider Russia a state capitalist country, protested against this bureaucratic handling.
Now the blow has fallen on Comrade P.D., for many years an active, devoted member of the Club, and one of its best-known trade union militants. The reason given for his expulsion is that he put forward in public a position on Korea different from the Stalinist Korean supplement of the S.O. The position he put forward was very similar to that put forward by John G. Wright very much more publicly, i.e., on the front page of the “Militant”. (J.G.W. is lucky to be outside the jurisdiction of the leaders of the Club!). Another five members of the branch who voted against P.D.’s expulsion were not expelled, but were suspended and given one month to reverse their position, which is tantamount to expulsion.
Thus, for opposing both the Russian puppet Government of North Korea and the American puppet Government of South Korea a comrade is expelled from the Club. Even if the position put by P.D. was wrong, the Club leaders are not justified in expelling him. Especially so when they declare their solidarity with the Yugoslav C.P. and say that the high revolutionary quality of this party makes the building of a Trotskyist faction unnecessary; and this is said about a party which calls only North Korea a puppet government, but not Syngman Rhee’s clique!
The expulsion of P.D. and virtual expulsion of five of his supporters in Birmingham, together with the later expulsion of T.M. and B.D. of Manchester for similar “crimes” comes after the actual refusal to accept any new members into the Club who do not accept that Russia is a workers’ state, and is being followed by a purge of all who refuse to endorse P.D.’s expulsion.
All this, together with the bureaucratic high-handedness of the Club leadership in refusing to circulate a document of the state capitalist faction, shows the depths to which they are prepared to descend.
We, the state capitalist group, who make up a quarter of all the active Trotskyists in Britain, could no doubt have challenged the present leadership of the Club. In face of the catastrophe for which the Club is heading with its open capitulation to Titoism, we could have in a short time gained the majority of the organisation. One condition was necessary for this, internal democracy. But this the bankrupt and dishonest leaders of the Club insist on violating, thus forcing us to break organisationally as well as politically with the Club.
No Hastonian Alternative
The past leadership of the Club in the persons of Haston and Co. are no alternative whatsoever. After capitulation to Stalinism, they were ready to capitulate to Reformism. The majority of them left the movement. Those who have no faith in Trotskyism are therefore almost entirely inactive. Their belief in Russia as a workers’ state leads them to accept Stalinism as the bearer of the proletarian revolution to half Europe and half Asia. E.G. is even confident that Stalinism will carry the revolution to the rest of Europe and Asia. For these people, Stalinism in reality is not the gravedigger of the revolution, but its bearer. Only inertia prevents the last remnants of this tendency from dropping entirely from the movement. They led the Club, up to 1947 having a large majority of the members (five-sixths), but by their politics led to the total disintegration of their faction and to the consolidation of the present leadership. No criticism of the present leadership of the Club can make up for the bankruptcy of the former political friends of Haston.
The Only Road
The acceptance of the conception that Russia is a workers’ state, with the necessary corollary that Stalinism (and Titoism) carried a revolution of tremendous dimensions, must lead to political bankruptcy. The rejection of this conception is a prerequisite for rearming and building a genuine Trotskyist tendency in this country. International Socialists must oppose Washington as well as Moscow. They must not capitulate to Reformism or Stalinism. They must support the right of each nation to independence from Anglo-American imperialism (India, Malaya, etc.) while not blunting their criticism of the reactionary leaderships of the national movements (whether Nehru or Tito). They must uphold workers’ democracy as the only way to socialism and democratic centralism as a vital factor of the revolutionary socialist party.
The present leadership of the Club has betrayed Marxism politically and organisationally and led the Club to demoralisation and decadence. Members of the Club, oppose this slippery road and join us in order to maintain the genuine Trotskyist tradition in Britain.
AMENDED DRAFT OF POLICY SUBMITTED
SOCIALIST FELLOWSHIP CONFERENCE
by P. Morgan
The Socialist Fellowship declares that “Labour and the New Society” represents one more ominous milestone on the road away from Socialism, along which the British Labour Movement is being led.
The policies of the leadership, far from helping the realisation of socialist hopes and aspirations, have led directly and disastrously to the brink of World War III. Decisive action must be taken or else the struggle whose flames already light the skies of Korea, between the imperialists of Russia and the West for the domination and exploitation of the world, will engulf the whole of humanity in a holocaust of misery and devastation without precedent in history.
The ONLY way out of this terrifying and grim situation is for the workers to end the rule of the exploiters in every country, and to carry out the long-declared intention of the Socialist movement, the establishment of an international socialist society. The inspiration of a policy unambiguously directed towards this objective would reimbue the British workers with all the socialist enthusiasms that animated them in 1945, and would give the working people of all countries a real impetus to swing into action, and to play THEIR part in ridding the world of capitalism, the chaotic and decrepit social system which is the root cause of all poverty, misery and wars in the present era.
In this situation, therefore, the Socialist Fellowship calls upon the socialist workers of Britain to demand that all sections of our Labour movement should wage a united struggle along the lines of the following programme: -
1) Extension of nationalisation to include the land and all large financial, industrial, and distributive enterprises, without compensation. (Existing compensation to be cancelled. Hardship appeals to be assessed by workers’ tribunals).
2) Introduction of a Socialist overall plan, with control of production, at all stages, not in the hands of bureaucratic boards which have no connection with the workers, but by democratically elected committees of workers and technicians. All foreign trade to be a state monopoly.
3) Abolition of business secrets. All company books to be open to inspection by the trade unions and workers’ committees.
4) Luxury hotels and mansions to be requisitioned and all existing housing space to be controlled and allocated by tenants’ committees. Luxury building to cease. A state-financed national housing plan to be drawn up and operated in collaboration with the building trades unions and tenants’ committees.
5) Prices of consumer goods, and any necessary rationing to be controlled by committees elected from the distributive trades workers, Co-operatives, factories, housewives, small shopkeepers and small farmers.
6) A rising scale of wages to meet any increase in the cost of living to be assessed at regular intervals by workers’ and housewives’ committees and the trade unions, with all wages based on a guaranteed minimum. A falling scale of hours with no reduction of wages to absorb any unemployed who must, in any case, be fully maintained whilst not working. A maximum working week of 40 hours without loss of earnings.
7) Abolition of the Monarchy, the House of Lords, and the law of inheritance. The immediate repeal of all strike-breaking and anti-labour laws. The vote for all citizens at the age of 18.
8) Dissolution of the standing army, and its substitution by a workers’ militia. Abolition of conscription, military law and the officer caste. Election of officers from the ranks. Worker officers to be trained at state-financed military schools under the direction of the trade unions. Full civil and trade union rights for all members of the forces.
9) An end to secret diplomacy; a peace without annexations or reparations based upon the self-determination of nations. The unconditional withdrawal of British troops together with all civilian administration units from foreign soil, including all colonial countries. Freedom for all colonial peoples to choose their own forms of government.
10) Unity with the workers and exploited peoples of all countries in their struggle for the overthrow of capitalism, and for the establishment of a United Socialist States of Europe, and of the World.
Letter Sent to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International 30th October 1950
From the attached document you will see why our group found it necessary to establish a new Trotskyist organisation in Britain.
The old leadership is bankrupt politically, capitulating to Stalinism and Titoism, lacking any consistent policy towards reformism, and showing all the signs of bureaucratic degeneration; furthermore in spite of its grandiose pronouncements, it is in reality, not gaining in numbers.
The wielding of the big stick by the leadership to silencing any opposition makes reform of this organisation impossible. We believe the establishment of our group as an independent organisation, a nucleus for the revolutionary party is in the genuine interests of Trotskyism. We appeal to you to recognise us as the official British Section of the Fourth International. If you are not ready to grant this, we wish at least to be recognised as a sympathetic organisation of the 4th International.
B. Ainsworth (Sec.)
Enc: Open Letter to the Club
Follow-Up Letter Sent to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International 27th April 1951
I enclose a copy of a letter sent to you six months ago, to which we have as yet received no reply.
I am wondering whether you received it, therefore I have sent this copy, also a copy of the document that was enclosed with the original.
Developments that have taken place since that time have shown that our attitude to the Club leaders was based on a correct appraisal of their orientation. Today there is little or nothing which differentiates these people from the Stalinist fellow-travellers working within the Labour Party. In fact, these pro-Stalinist people are now the only real support that they have. It is not at all surprising, that, in these circumstances, the Stalinist bookshops display the Club paper with as much prominence as their own material. The last issue even went so far as to paint a picture of Chinese working people under an unfurled banner – the banner depicted was the counter-revolutionary banner of the bloc of four classes!
This is an extremely serious situation. Please reply at once.
Reply to the Socialist Review Group from the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (Original French Text) Le 25th Mai 1951
Cher camarade Ainsworth,
Nous accusons recéption de la letter du 27/4/51 et des documents annexes.
Le SI regrette la formation de votre groupe, qui a scissionné nos forces en Angleterre sans attendre la discussion normale des idées que vous défendes, à l’intérieur de notre movement anglais et international. Ceci démontre un manqué de confiance, tout à fait regrettable, au caractère démocratique, responsible et sain de notre movement international dans son ensemble.
Nous ne partageons pas ni vos critiques, ni votre façon de procéder sur le plan organisationnel.
Vos accusations contre “The Club leaders” ne nous paraissent du tout fondées. Ces camarares sont absolument dévoués à la ligne et la discipline de notre movement international, et ont déjà accompli, indépendamment de telle ou telle erreur possible d’application, de tectique, un travail absolument magnifique en Angleterre.
Ils jouissent pleinement de notre confiance.
Dans la mesure où votre désir est sincère de rester encore dans notre movement international, nous vous conseillons vivement de réintégrer le Club en tant que membres disciplinés et de mener là, ainsi qu’à l’intérieur de notre movement international, la lute pour les idées particulières que vous défendez.
Avec nos salutations fraternelles,
Pour le S.I.
Reply to the Socialist Review Group from the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (English Translation)
25th May 1951
Dear Comrade Ainsworth,
We acknowledge receipt of the letter of 27/04/51 and the accompanying documents.
The SI regrets the creation of your group, which has split our forces in England without waiting for the normal discussion of your ideas within our English and international movement. This represents a regrettable lack of trust in the responsible and healthy democratic nature of our international movement.
We agree with neither your criticisms nor your organisational approach.
We feel that your attacks on the “Club leaders” are completely unfounded. These comrades are deeply committed to both the line and the discipline of our international movement. They have already carried out, regardless of any minor errors in tactics, absolutely splendid work in England.
We have complete faith in them.
Given that your desire is to remain within our international movement, we strongly advise you, as disciplined members, to re-join the Club and to fight for the specific ideas you defend within our international movement.
For the I.S.