An open letter to [ILP] national conference
By WIL (Fourth International)
[Leaflet, Easter 1942]
The annual conference of the ILP meets at a time when revolutionary possibilities are already opening up. The confidence of the British working class in the leadership of the ruling class is daily being stricken by the heavy blow of events. In industry, in the army and in the government of the country, the ruling class is being increasingly exposed in its utter incompetence to offer the workers any solution to their problems. The increasing votes cast for ILP candidates, the result of the Grantham bye-election, the strikes in the mines, all point to one thing: the working class in Britain is in the process of breaking with the capitalist class, all it needs is an alternative lead and an alternative policy.
The members of the ILP are looking up to the leadership for a policy and a programme which would enable the party to mobilise this growing radical tendency in the working class for a decisive struggle against capitalism and for workers’ power.
For a workers’ military policy
The campaign for a “Socialist Britain Now” and the programme associated with it, is the answer to this demand. But look at the programme from whichever aspect you like, it offers no solution to any one of the fateful issues which history has placed before the workers.
The programme could well have been formulated in the years of peace for all the account it takes of the war; surely it is not a programme for 1942! If the working class is to fight for power in war as well as in peace, then it must have a programme for war. We cannot merely denounce the war as an imperialist war and say, as the pacifists do, that we shall have nothing to do with this foul thing. The workers do not want a foreign conqueror, least of all a fascist one. They want to see fascism destroyed, and they know that all the issues in our epoch will be settled by military means. That is why they continue to support the war, not from enthusiasm but for lack of an alternative. Only a working class policy for war which would separate the workers from the capitalists and at the same time guarantee success against all foreign capitalist aggression could mobilise the masses for the struggle for power.
Instead of regarding the war and the universal militarization of the masses with tragic contemplation, the ILP leadership should have faced up to these facts. But even yet they cannot break with pacifism; even yet they cannot tell their members that conscientious objection is no answer to imperialist wars. The need for a class programme for workers in uniform is not even realised. The demand for the universal arming of the working class under the control of trade unions and shop committees, trade union schools, for providing military training for workers, the ejection of the pro-fascist officer class from the armed forces and the election of officers by the soldiers are not even mentioned. And yet without such an independent military policy it is impossible for the workers to fight fascism whether from within or without. Maxton, Brockway and the rest of the leadership have demonstrated that the only break they have made with pacifism is in phrases. The demand for peace with Hitler may have been dropped, but pacifism still remains the dominant note.
Need to expose Labour leaders
Most members of the ILP will concede that the campaign for a socialist Britain has remained on the level of pious generalities. And this is no accident, for it lacks the one essential element of a real socialist campaign for power, viz, a concrete programme for action. There is no hint as to what we have to do now and in the immediate future to bring about socialism in Britain. There is the necessity for going to the meetings and taking friends along to hear Maxton. There is the duty of voting for party candidates. But beyond that, what else? Nobody knows the answer. Without any concrete programme for action, the campaign hangs in the air. It remains a campaign of leaders without any real relationship with the masses.
The mass of the organised workers, unfortunate though it is, accept the leadership of the Labour and the trade union bureaucracy in the belief that they are waging a real war in defence of their rights against fascism and for the defence of the Soviet Union. Without conducting a campaign to expose the labour bureaucracy it is impossible to convince the masses of the need for a new and revolutionary leadership. The tie-up of the organised working class movement through its official leadership with the ruling class is mainly responsible for the present inertia and immobility in the movement. To mobilise the rank and file of the trade unionists against this coalition in a nation-wide agitation round the demand that the Labour and ILP lenders should take power on a socialist programme and wage a genuine war against fascism is the immediate task. Smash the coalition. Labour to power on a socialist programme—these are the only slogans which could rouse the working class to immediate action, including that immense mass which is only beginning to attain political consciousness.
Brockway may argue that to demand that the Labour leaders take power is to deceive the workers into the belief that Morrison, Bevin and their associates can defend the interests of the workers. This is a dull and pedantic argument. How could anyone imagine that a campaign under present circumstances, demanding that the Labour leaders break with the capitalists and fight for power on a socialist programme, can be anything but the most effective method of educating the workers as to the bankruptcy of the Labour leaders and into an understanding of the need for a revolutionary party? When Lenin was demanding a break on the part of the socialist ministers from the capitalists in the provisional government, was he deceiving the Russian masses as to Kerensky and his friends?
But the real reason why Brockway and the leaders of the ILP refuse to raise this concrete slogan and are content to leave the socialist Britain [campaign] on the level of pious generalities, is because they themselves are not convinced of the need for a complete break with the Labour leaders but in reality they are still their allies. Brockway scoffs at the Labour leaders and yet refuses to put up candidates in bye-election against Labour nominees. His excuse at a recent conference that the party cannot afford the money is contradicted by the fact that the party has raised the money to put up two candidates simultaneously—in Cardiff and Cathcart, against Tories.
Left wing attacked—right wing tolerated
This refusal to undertake the task of exposing the Labour leaders in the eyes of the workers arises at the bottom from the absence of all revolutionary perspectives and their desire to remain on the friendliest term with the reformist leaders. Tom Colyer said at a recent meeting in London that he did not believe that the Labour leadership had deliberately betrayed the socialist cause; they have made a grievous blunder. The truth is that the ILP leaders are thinking in terms of parliamentary alliances and combinations and socialism through bye-elections. This opportunistic tendency expresses itself not only in the programme but also on questions of organisation and party discipline. Extreme toleration and friendliness continues to be shown towards C.A. Smith and Jennie Lee whose policies and utterances stand in open contradiction to the official party policy. But the process of ferreting out and isolating Trotskyist sympathisers is never allowed to flag. The centrists have always fought the revolutionaries within their own ranks with far more vigour and consistency than the reactionaries. Of late this hatred of Trotskyism on the part of Brockway, Padley and the other leaders has reached such a stage that no amendments were allowed to be put at socialist Britain conferences, thus reducing them to a farce.
The need to combat Stalinism
Equally typical of this centrism is your leadership’s failure to offer intransigent opposition to the criminal policies of Stalin. Their refusal to face up to the implications of the campaign of intimidation which accompanies the present Stalinist line flows logically from their refusal to offer political opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy—its abandonment of internationalism, its persecution of the revolutionaries inside Russia as well as outside. The belated article They disgrace the name of communism hastily published in the pre-conference New Leader in an attempt to anticipate this criticism, will not deceive the revolutionaries in the ILP.
Brockway states (December 8 1941) that he does not believe it necessary to hold “special” meetings to combat the Stalinist campaign; that such meetings would assist rather than deter the Stalinists in their provocations. At the same time he refers to the tactics they used against the ILP’s brother party—the POUM—in Spain. But it was precisely because the POUM carried out the same ostrich policy as is now being carried out by the ILP, that facilitated the attacks against it, culminating in the murder of its leaders by the Stalinists.
Already the campaign has reached the stage of physical assault, not only of Trotskyists but of members of the ILP. As the war proceeds and the workers turn towards the left, the Stalinists will in desperation turn to more violent methods. Under these circumstances it is an elementary precaution of self-preservation that a vigorous campaign of exposure be waged against these degrading methods of organised hooliganism. The Central Committee of the Communist Party has issued instructions that the names and addresses of all Trotskyists should be secured. This undoubtedly applies to members of the ILP as well. In Spain and in France this action was a prelude to Stalinist assistance to police reaction. In the Nazi occupied countries the names and address of revolutionaries opposed to CP policy were handed over to the Gestapo. This is not a question of a merely incidental character. It concerns the very existence of workers’ organisations which operate a policy opposed to Churchill and the Communist Party. If the ILP refuses to carry the struggle against the Stalinist pogroms, how will they face up to the far stronger blows of the capitalists when they really start to suppress the left wing? Particularly since they will have the active assistance of the Stalinists.
We appeal to the members of the ILP to force its leadership to reverse its present disastrously negative policy and to conduct a vigorous united front campaign with other working class bodies which will expose the Stalinists before the whole labour movement, as well as protect our organisations from their gangster assaults.
In this conference a great responsibility rests on the shoulders of the revolutionary elements in the ILP. It is time to wage a relentless struggle against the unreal opportunistic pacifist policy of the leadership. If they genuinely believe that the ILP can be transformed into a revolutionary party, they must fight for a revolutionary policy. In this task they will have the full support of the Workers’ International League and the revolutionary workers gathered under the banner of the Fourth International, the banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.