Report of pre-conference, August 1942
By Political Bureau of WIL
[WIL, Internal circular]
The first national meeting of our organisation, our pre-conference, has now been concluded. Discussions were held on all the main political questions, India, industry, the new Constitution and the perspectives. A resolution on military policy was referred to the Internal Bulletin due to the lack of time and to insufficient discussion before adoption. The resolution of our American comrades and their general political ideas on this question was formally adopted by conference to express our complete solidarity with the military policy of the Fourth International.
Now that our position on the main strategical and tactical questions has been formally adopted and the new Constitution comes into force, it is necessary for the branches to tighten up on their work and put into force the new orientation of the organisation.
The pre-conference marks an epoch in the development of the British working class. It marks the “coming of age” of British Trotskyism. In the past the Trotskyist groupings in Britain were more or less compelled to exist as discussion circles without any real contact with the workers. Composed in great part of intellectuals and petit bourgeois elements, their discussions never passed beyond the academic stage. Ours is the first national conference in Britain of Trotskyists in which the delegates and membership were almost exclusively proletarian in composition.
This in itself is a tremendous step forward for our movement and a reflection of the process of development in British society today. The objective situation reveals itself as one tremendously favourable for the development of the revolutionary party. The delegates revealed the determination of our group to face up to the problems posed by history. The problem of transforming as swiftly as possible, the old outlook, habits and ideas, and prepare to transform our group into a party capable of leading the working class to the conquest of power.
The adoption of the new perspectives and the new Constitution formally marks the break with the old past of the group. The change from the group based primarily around study circles, to a propaganda group striving to integrate itself with, and face to, the masses. The delegates and the conference discussion revealed the hope and confidence that our young, weak and untried organisation would grow up to the tasks posed by history.
18 branches were represented by delegates; 4 were unable to attend. Many districts in which there are prospects of forming branches in the immediate future were represented by individual comrades who did not possess delegates’ votes. Most of the industrial areas and cities were represented, but some important gaps are revealed where it becomes necessary immediately to find a basis, notably Manchester and Wales.
The age of the delegates revealed that we are composed in the main of young workers, although a few old seasoned fighters were present as well. The eagerness and anxiety of the delegates to get down to the job was the theme that ran right through the conference.
The whole tendency and outlook of the delegates, which expressed the feeling among the groups, was outward.
All delegates were members of trade unions. Miners, engineers, railwaymen, clothing workers, transport, sheet metal workers, aircraft, woodworkers, carpenters, building trade workers, etc., were represented at the conference. It was revealed that between 90 and 95 percent of the members of the organisation are members of trade unions. The organisation is overwhelmingly proletarian in membership and outlook.
The basic ideas of the conference which have thoroughly rooted themselves among the membership in the past year were accepted by the membership unanimously. The Constitution in which the new orientation of the group is embodied and the perspectives, apart from one or two minor points, were agreed on as the basis of our work in the coming period. The membership endorsed the turn away from the LP tactic and on to the road of building the revolutionary party as an independent force, without any hangovers from the old orientation being revealed. The old garment as cast aside and the new one donned without any attempt to cling to an outmoded tactic.
Conference understood the basic problem as the necessity to prepare and train the cadres for the coming revolution in Britain. Now that this basic idea will form the axis around which the whole of the activity of the group will revolve, it is necessary to strenuously and seriously implement the pre-conference decisions.
1. The education of our cadres, to assimilate theory, understand history, to speak and face up to the problems involved in transforming the group into an organisation which will be capable of conducting agitation among the masses.
2. Work within the factories, trade unions and factory committees on the lines of the discussion and documents to be systematically conducted.
3. A decisive turn towards the workers disillusioned with Stalinism.
4. The fraction in the ILP and the group itself to observe very carefully the developments within the ILP.
The leadership and the membership revealed the utmost confidence that with systematic work on the orientation indicated, it should be possible to double, and more, the membership by the time of the conference in a few months time.
Shortcomings in the organisation were: the production of the Socialist Appeal late in the month, which retarded the work of the organisation in the provinces; the inexperience and youth of a large proportion of the membership; the fact that as yet the theoretical level as revealed by the discussions is not as high among the membership as it should be; the weakness of some sections of the membership in numbers and connection with the workers.
Conference was a test of how far our organisation had developed. It revealed a certain lack of internal preparation on the part of the leadership in relation to documents and theses for discussion. Most of the energy had been expended on the external side of our work and not sufficient time spent on conference preparation. In this sense it revealed that we are not only in the process of forging an organisation but of forging a leadership itself.
The need was revealed for the leadership to systematically educate and raise the level of the membership. In this connection it is absolutely necessary to transform Workers’ International News into a theoretical journal for the education of the members and close contacts, while the internal bulletin could be used for the purpose of educating the members, as well as for the purpose of discussing controversial questions.
The discussion on relations with the IS and the RSL revealed the determination of the membership to end the present ridiculous situation and to achieve a firm, principled, basis for fusion. The discussions with the RSL should serve as the basis for the education and inoculation of the membership against the sectarianism and ultra-leftism of all sects.
In itself, the conference is a water-mark of achievement for the Fourth International in Britain. It revealed the tremendous vistas of growth and work which stretch out in front of us. But the mood of the conference was not one of intoxication at the achievements already made.
The perspective before us is one which, for the first time, the Trotskyists can look forward hopefully to the possibility of playing a role in the great events to come. As far as the broad movement is concerned we have not even yet scratched the surface. But the conference marked the beginning of a new stage. It marked the beginning of the beginning. For the first time Trotskyists saw the historic possibility opening out in front of them, of influencing events not as spectators but as active participants. The delegates realised the immensity of the tasks and the immaturity of their forces to carry out these tasks. But they also saw the transformation of quantity into quality. We face these prospects and the coming events on an entirely different plane to that of two or three years back.
And that was the main achievement of the conference. The delegates left London determined to face up to the scope and limitless opportunities (only limited by the stature and numbers of our own forces) of the work which opens out before us. They went imbued with the faith and confidence that our organisation can form the nucleus that will build the party in the period opening ahead. At the same time, they went back with no false ideas of the relative weak forces at our disposal when compared to the objective tasks. They went back with the determination to do everything to remedy the weaknesses of the group and to make it a fit instrument of the British proletariat.
On balance, the organisation can be well satisfied with the success of the conference, despite the many weaknesses which it revealed. It can be well confident that by “common effort” all shortcomings will be rectified. But despite all weaknesses, the delegates know, our comrades know, that their party, their group, is the party and the factor in Britain which will transform the situation to the favour of the working class.
For the immediate attention of all locals
To implement conference decisions immediately it is necessary to prepare the group for the next step forward.
1. Locals should immediately elect delegates to form the DCs in the following districts: Scotland, Yorkshire, Lancs., Midlands, London. DCs in the provincial centres should be convened for the second week-end in each month, should elect officials and immediate notification and contact should be made with the centre.
2. Thorough discussions on perspectives should be undertaken, a review of local activity undertaken, and the local work brought into line with the decisions of the conference.
3. To facilitate the work of the Political Bureau and the Central Committee in training the membership locally, the first and third weeks of each month should be given entirely to local business and group activity. On the other weeks, a political discussion should be undertaken by the locals on the main political problems facing the workers, on the leading articles in our press, or on the letters of the Political Bureau when and as these are circulated for discussion.
4. The Socialist Appeal must be used even more vigorously than in the past as a national organiser.
Note: Minutes of the CC and the PB will not be circulated except to members of these bodies. To maintain the maximum contact between the locals a fortnightly report will be sent out from the centre to replace the old practice of circulating CC minutes.