Overview of the Trotskyist movement, 1940s to 1960s (part 2)

Submitted by AWL on 28 May, 2009 - 3:13 Author: Sean Matgamna

Part 2. Click here for part 1 of this article.

The Cannonites called themselves “orthodox Trotskyists” (as distinct from the “Pablo revisionists”). That was “orthodox Trotskyism Mark 2”, a subsection of the general post-Trotsky “orthodox Trotskyism”.

The “Orthodox Mark 2” side recoiled against the logic (or, anyway, a plausible logical development, made by Pablo) of the ideas they shared with the “Pabloites”. Logically, they should at that point have reviewed the issues of the 13 years since the emergence of two distinct strands within “Trotskyism”, the “orthodox” and the “heterodox” led by Max Shachtman and others. In fact they did not even repudiate the politics of the 1951 World Congress — the “founding conference” of all subsequent “orthodox Trotskyist” groups — on which Pablo tried to build. They repudiated only Pablo’s and Mandel’s development of those politics.

The “Orthodox Mark 2” accused the Pablo-Mandel group of not backing the East German workers’ rising of June-July 1953.

Their recoil led the SWP-USA to flirt for a while with the idea that Mao’s China was “state-capitalist”, publishing a couple of pieces on the role of “statification” in the modern world. (There was a small tendency in the SWP-USA which held that the USSR, too, was “state-capitalist”). But the SWP-USA stopped the “re-examination” very soon (less than a year) after the split, and cauterised their own impulses towards “revision” of the politics of the previous dozen years of their own history.

On both sides of the 1953 split, the “Orthodox Mark 2” and the Pabloites, there was an unacknowledged harking back to 1939-40. The Pabloites — or just Pablo — had toyed with the idea, extrapolated from the fact of anti-capitalist revolutionary Stalinism, that would or might be “centuries of deformed workers’ states”, a whole historic epoch of states on the USSR model after the Stalinists had taken over the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe. This was, in all but name, a variant of the approach of calling the Stalinist states “bureaucratic collectivism”, a new form of class society. Pablo himself would later, outside the Fourth International, in the late 60s and early 70s, evolve into a sort of “bureaucratic collectivist”.

The Pablo group saw historical progress in what the “heterodox” Trotskyists of the 1940s, the “Shachtmanite” “bureaucratic collectivists”, saw as barbarism. But the underlying themes, or, here, speculations, were of a new form of class society, neither capitalist nor socialist.

Trotsky, in 1939-40, wrote that Stalinism, if it became a world system replacing capitalism, would amount to a new form of slave society. Contemplating the same projection, Pablo was inclined to see it as historical progress.

Even without the extrapolation, “centuries of deformed workers’ states”, there was, underlying all the dialects of post-Trotskyst “degenerated and deformed workers’ states” theory of the Stalinist states, some variant of unacknowledged “bureaucratic collectivism”. Trotsky’s reasons for seeing Russia as a workers’ state — the system’s origins in a workers’ revolution and then a Stalinist counter-revolution; the idea that such a statified economy could have been created only by the workers’ revolution; the acute instability of the system — ceased to be plausible after the creation of new Stalinist states without a workers’ revolution. If the “orthodox” Trotskyists now called the Stalinist states “deformed workers’ states”, the “workers’” tag signalled only an appreciation of those states as “progressive”, not any real assertion that working-class action had shaped them.

All the main groups of “orthodox Trotskyism Mark 2” (the ICFI) — the SWP-USA, the Healy group in Britain, the Lambert group in France — arrested the logic of their own recoil from Pabloism, and would over the next decades, at varying speeds, turn into irrational sects, without coherent political logic. They continued to denounce “Pabloism” yet continued to share all of its basic theories on Stalinism. For a gruesome instance, the SWP-USA, the party of James P Cannon (who died in 1974), right now considers North Korea to be a “deformed workers’ state”.

Paradoxically, the Pablo-Mandel ISFI people (or some of them), who had tried to take their own ideas on Stalinism seriously — and who would begin to recoil from Stalinism, too, in the two or so years after the 1953 split — remained the more open and rational. They are the mainstream of post-Trotsky “orthodox Trotskyism”.

Workers’ Fight started with the “orthodox Trotskyist Mark 2” attitude to drawing any pro-Stalinist conclusions from defining the Stalinist states as degenerated and deformed workers’ states, but, as we’ll see, resolved the contradictions differently.

What happened to the Healy group after 1953?

The British group split in late 1953. A minority segment led by John Lawrence (and involving such people as the future left Labour MP Audrey Wise) supported Pablo and quickly became a satellite of the British Communist Party, eventually joining it. The majority of “The Club”, led by Healy, backed Cannon.

From 1954 the Healy group, working in the Labour Party, had their paper, Socialist Outlook, banned by the Labour Party. They published only a very tiny and very infrequent little magazine, Labour Review, and worked with the Bevanite left that was then very powerful in the Labour Party, selling and occasionally writing for its paper, Tribune. They remained far and away the main Trotskyist group.

The Healy group was now, though incoherently, very anti-Stalinist. When in 1956, at the “20th Congress” of the ruling party in the USSR, Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev denounced a part of Stalin’s crimes and then at the end of the year did as Stalin had done by bloodily suppressing the Hungarian Revolution, the Communist Parties everywhere were thrown into a crisis of political conscience and consciousness.

Perhaps as many as seven or eight thousand of the 35,000 members then in the British CP abandoned the Party and reconsidered the whole history of Stalinism. Few of them remained the revolutionaries they had thought they were while in the CP; but two or three hundred of them joined “The Club”. Some of those had been very prominent in the CP. Peter Fryer had been the correspondent in Budapest for the CP’s paper the Daily Worker, and had had his honest reports of what was going on in Hungary suppressed. Brian Behan was a prominent building worker. There were also a number of well-educated intellectuals.

The Healy group recruited them because it had an organisation that functioned as a small party (unlike the olther Trotskyist-derived groups, who were much more desultory); and because their involvement in the Labour Party and in the Bevanite movement offered the CPers some prospect of work other than very small-scale general propaganda.

The Healyites were a significant wing of the Bevanite movement. For instance, in 1956, Gerry Healy had an article in Tribune on the developments on Stalinism side by side with an article on the same subject by Aneurin Bevan.

It is hostile mythology that the Healyites functioned only as bag-carriers for the Bevanites, sinking their own politics. The “letters” section of Tribune, usually covering two of the paper’s 12 pages, offered them much scope.

With the new recruits from the CP, they started a big and impressive bi-monthly Labour Review, in which the leading ex-CPers wrote, from January 1957, and a weekly edited by Peter Fryer, The Newsletter (at first “Peter Fryer’s Newsletter”) from May 1957. Labour Review focused heavily on the history of the Communist Parties and of Trotskyism.

Paradoxically, the Healyites’ contradictions on Stalinism helped them. They were fiercely anti-Stalinist, much more so than either the Grant-Deane group or the Cliff (Socialist Review) group. They were able to present Stalinism, to those reconsidering it, as a historical aberration, a bureaucratic usurpation, a monstrous malign growth on the “workers’ state”. The Cliff group tended to see Stalinist “state capitalism” as historically necessary and therefore, however much they deplored it, legitimate and inevitable in the circumstances.

The Healy group was now able to expand its work in industry. In February 1959 it established a public organisation, the Socialist Labour League. The Labour Party instantly banned The Newsletter and the SLL, and expelled half a dozen people, including Healy himself. But the Healyites combined the public SLL with continuing work in the Labour Party, though the Bevanite movement was now defunct.

The SLL grew quickly after the Labour Party re-established a national youth organisation in 1959-60. The group’s very bureaucratic regime, which had been relaxed for a while to attract the CPers, rigidified again. It gradually became more sectarian politically. It split from the Labour Party in late 1964, setting up “its own” youth movement. In 1966/7, when Workers’ Fight emerged, it was still by far the largest and most active group of the revolutionary left, but it was well set on a path of becoming an onanistic sect cut from the labour movement.

Forerunners of the SWP

What did Tony Cliff’s group, then called Socialist Review, do after 1950?

Tony Cliff shared the politics on Stalinism of the Grant-Haston RCP leadership in the mid 1940s. He held on to and developed a position which they had fleetingly toyed with around 1945-6, that Russia was “state-capitalist”. (The “heterodox” current of post-Trotsky Trotskyism also included a “state-capitalist” tendency, led by CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya).

Cliff published a small book on Russian “state capitalism” within the RCP in mid 1948. This would be edited into the publication Russia: A Marxist Analysis, put out in 1955 and a number of later editions. (Click here for more).

One of the reactions to Healy’s “dictatorship” in the “reunited RCP”, the “Club” of 1949-50, was that a small secret group of members in Birmingham decided to break from the organisation and did so by putting down a “Third Camp” motion on the Korean war at Birmingham Trades Council, one that contradicted the pro-North-Korea position of the “Club”.

They adopted Tony Cliff’s explanation of Stalinism, and the idea that “workers-statism” inevitably led to the Healy regime. At the end of 1950 they began to publish a duplicated paper, Socialist Review.

Korea had been their occasion for separation from “The Club”, but in their paper they had very little to say about Korea. For the first issue, Cliff wrote a general article about great-power rivalry, saying briefly that Korea had to be seen in that light; and they republished an article about the Korean war by a Ceylonese Fourth International supporter which had already been republished in the US “Shachtmanite” paper Labor Action. And then SR was silent on Korea for the next two years!

Myth, both friendly and hostile to the Cliff group, presents them as holding to a “Third Camp” position throughout the Korean war. In fact their changed their “line” on Korea in the December 1952 Socialist Review, by calling for “all foreign troops out of Korea”. That meant both the UN and the Chinese troops, but it would have left the North Korean army in possession of Korea. Right or wrong, that was a radical shift towards a positive siding with the Stalinist camp. If the Cliff group had taken that position in 1950, the politics of their break with “The Club” would not have included Korea.

The Socialist Review group initially exchanged articles with the Shachtmanite organisation in the USA, the ISL, but that soon stopped, and the evidence in both Socialist Review and Labor Action suggests that close relations were established only in late 1955.

The “Third Camp” group in Britain was at that point the Independent Labour Party, with its sizeable paper Socialist Leader. (Click here for more). Though it used the slogan “Neither Washington Nor Moscow, But International Socialism” — originating in the “Shachtmanites” in 1947 — SR did not stress “Third Camp-ism”. It tended to keep its head down.

In the mid-1960s, the “state-capitalist” SR, renamed IS, could hold its own with the other groups in “anti-imperialism”. They had more or less a consensus with them on Vietnam.

In the late 1950s, SR backed Mao’s China in what came very close to war over control of certain “offshore islands” and of Taiwan. IS denounced British imperialism for not handing Hong Kong back to China. The totalitarian reality of China, and what that meant for the people, the working class, and any labour movement there, played no part in their calculations: “anti-imperialism” ruled.

Surely the history of Socialist Review, and later IS, from 1950s to the mid 1960s is one of a group first elaborating its basic theory, then making propaganda to gain cadres, and then moving on to wider agitation?

That supposed pattern of logical stages of development does not fit. The first few duplicated issues of SR were “heavy” in content, but mainly in background articles of the “digest of the Financial Times” sort, heavy on economics and statistics. Beyond presenting evidence that Russia was not socialist, SR made no effort to push its “state-capitalist” theory, the chief thing that divided it from the “orthodox Trotskyist” organisations.

That is all the more surprising in that, at first, much of SR’s activity consisted of “intervening” in events organised by “The Club”. SR was in the Labour Party but not of it — propagandist visitors.

The group evidently went through a crisis in 1953, in which a number of key people dropped out, including Duncan Hallas (who would “revive” 15 years later in the political prosperity of 1968) and the joint secretaries of the group, Rhona and Ken Tarbuck.

From around that point, SR changed. It began to get its bearings in the Labour Party.

The paper, printed after the first few issues, appeared far less frequently than its normal monthly schedule, and in 1953 there were big gaps. From late 1953, the paper stabilised as a monthly eight-pager (small size, around A4, with sizeable print and thin contents).

Politically it was a rather nondescript Labour paper. Soon SR began to present their programme as a list of demands, printed in each issue, which they wanted the Labour Party to carry out.

When they reoriented in 1964-5, they rewrote history to assert that they were never really “of” the Labour Party. It had been just a place to find an “audience” for their propaganda. In fact the files of SR shows that they became very much acclimatised to the Labour Party.

Politically, their record defies schematic characterisation. Astonishingly, in the crisis year 1953, they never got around to saying anything about the June-July 1953 German workers’ uprising against Stalinism — the first such anti-Stalinist eruption visible in the West. In December 1953 they reprinted an article on it from another publication: that was the first and last comment.

As on Korea, they had surprisingly little to say.

On Russia, again, they were very strange. They published an article by a core member of the group, Jean Tait, insisting (i.e. rationalising from the given facts) that Stalinist slave labour, a system under which an expensively trained mecial doctor might be turned into a digger in the earth of Siberia, was both economically rational and a fixed feature of Stalinism. That was at the time of Stalin’s death — on the eve of radical changes in Russia in which Stalin’s successors would dismantle the labour-camp system.

There is clear evidence how SR saw itself as being seen by the anti-Stalinist left in the SR review of the second version of Cliff’s book Russia: A Marxist Analysis, in 1955. The reviewer, Peter Morgan, was at pains to argue that SR’s position did not make them “objectively” pro-Stalinist by way of accepting “state capitalism” as the only way to industrialise Russia. That “pro-Stalinism” was what the “degenerated-workers’-state-ists” accused them of, and it would be a very important issue when it came to explaining Stalinism to ex-CPers. (Click here for more).

The organisation did not have a theory of Stalinism — or, not one theory. In Cliff’s 1948 and 1955 books “Russian state capitalism” was defined as a product of a bureaucratic counter-revolution coming after a workers’ revolution, as something possible only after the workers had destroyed the bourgeoisie. (Here Cliff followed Trotsky’s reasoning). But that reasoning could not explain the Stalinist anti-capitalist revolutions, for the “state capitalists” any more than for the “degenerated and deformed workers’ state” people.

In a book on China, published in late 1957, Cliff nodded towards a theory that China fitted into the pattern of “Oriental Despotism” as described by Karl Wittfogel, a system in which the state was central in organising the economy.

The group would get an “integrated” theory of Stalinism only in 1963, with the notion of “deflected permanent revolution”, which adapted ideas about state economic activity in backward countries that had been commonplace in the “orthodox Trotskyist” press for quite a few years, for example in the articles on “state capitalism” in the SWP-USA’s magazine.

What may have been the most spectacular piece of SR’s journalistic bungling occurred in November 1956. As the Russian tanks fought Hungarian workers, SR came out with a front page on the (non-existent) fighting in... Poland! (It was touch and go for a while whether the Russians would invade Poland too, but they were reassured that the “reformist” Stalinists grouped around Wladyslaw Gomulka could keep control).

In December 1956 SR appeared for the first time in tabloid size and with more than double the space. The group started a new phase, stimulated by the crisis in the Communist Party and the emergence of the ferment among intellectuals that led eventually to the first version of the New Left Review.

How did the Socialist Review group do in 1956? Did they change after that?

The revamped SR group different from the Healyites in their courtship of dissident CPers in that they did not at all present themselves as Trotskyists, or deal with the history of the Bolshevik opposition to Stalinism. They remained in relation to the Newsletter group what they had been vis-a-vis “The Club” — political satellites and “intervening” fellow-travellers.

Now they also entered the intellectual ex-CP milieu. They presented SR as very much a paper of debate, tagging articles by such as Cliff as “discussion pieces”.

One episode lights up the reality of the SR group. They very briefly “fused” with a small ex-CP group (Pat Jordan, Ken Coates, etc.; people who would later start the Mandelite organisation), and in the process rewrote the “What We Stand For” programme that was in every issue of SR.

It had been a group of demands presented as proposals for a Labour Government. Now, on the request of the recent ex-CPers, it was revised to say that this could not be a purely parliamentary affair, but would also have to involve working-class mobilisation outside Parliament. A vast improvement — but in fact it was a variant of the formula the CP had adopted as the alternative to the revolutionary Marxist position on smashing the bourgeois state when it formally abandoned that in 1951.

The episode is a measure of the extent to which SR, more so even than the other groups, had been hegemonised by the Labour Party, once it “settled in”.

A big movement against nuclear weapons got going in 1957 and 58. One of its initiating points was the Norwood Labour Party resolution to Labour Party conference 1957, which originated with the Healy group and was moved by one of its members, Vivienne Mendelson.

The Healyites called on workers to refuse to on nuclear-weapon installations — to “black” such work, in the expression of the time. SR followed suit, and made “Black the Bases!” into one of its central fetishes for a number of years.

They used “workers’ control of the arms industry” as a main slogan (the workers would supervise the construction of hydrogen bombs?)

But there was a new verve in SR, which went fortnightly from January 1958. The group grew a little. It gained a few ex-CPers, though only after they had become disillusioned with the Healy group.

SR’s long period of “understudying” the Healy organisation politically, and involving itself in affairs the Healy group initiatied, led some SR people to decide to “fuse” SR with the then reasonably open, much bigger, and much more “successful” Healy group. In fact, a big majority of its 20 or so members voted to do that (against either two dissenters, Tony Cliff and his partner Chanie Rosenberg, or them and one other: accounts vary).

The Healyites did not want them, so it was easy for Cliff to evade the consequences of the vote. But the experience led to an important innovation in the politics of SR — its “Luxemburgist” phase.

In general the politics of the group became tinged, around 1957, with anarchism and loose phrasemongering. Around 1951 all the Fourth International groups had thought World War Three inevitable and imminent, but they had sobered up with the thaw in the Cold War after 1953. SR continued to regard World War Three as inevitable long after its former co-thinkers had moved on. This added a hysterical note to SR’s agitation on the H-Bomb. With almost no industrial workers in its ranks, it made front-page calls for "blackonh" amd strikes against the Bomb and the nuclear bases.

In 1959, so its press shows, the group went through another organisational crisis and semi-collapse. The paper became irregular again, and went back to a monthly schedule. A number of its old cadres bio-degraded into the Labour left (for instance, Stan Newens, the future left Labour MP).

The future SWP turned to “Luxemburgism” after 1959. What did that mean?

The turn to “Luxemburgism” was a turn to give the group “protection” from the supposedly Leninist Healy organisation, triggered by the vote to join that group. It was a simple and crude as that. As simple and crude as the decision a decade later, in 1968, that the group should now be not “Luxemburgist”, but “Leninist” again.

A spurious “Luxemburgism”, a concocted ideology claiming the authority of Rosa Luxemburg and supposedly justifying looser, lower-key organisation by revolutionaries, had existed since the 1920s — since the 1922 publication by Paul Levi, an expelled former German CP leader, of Luxemburg’s criticism of the Bolsheviks in the revolution, which she herself had chosen not to publish.

Cliff now went over to that position. The group published, as a duplicated pamphlet, Luxemburg’s criticism of the Bolsheviks. It reprinted the version put out in 1940 by the former Right-Communist Lovestone group in the USA as it dissolved, with the translation by the Lovestoneite Bertram Wolfe and Wolfe’s footnotes.

Cliff wrote an introduction identifying with Luxemburg, though vaguely enough. He also wrote a pamphlet on Luxemburg, in which he said that Luxemburg was more right than Lenin on party organisation. That was published in January 1960 (not, as is said, a year earlier, though it had been announced then).

It was all a matter of hints and half-thoughts, rather than a full-scale, serious revision of ideas; but the adoption of this pseudo-Luxemburgism was a sort of culmination of the loose “centrist” phrasemongering that dominated the group in the previous period.

And then what was the group like when it became “IS”, in the period up to the founding of Workers’ Fight in 1966-7?

After 1960 the group began again to build itself. There would be slow but sustained growth, mainly from youth recruited in the Labour Party youth movement, where SR competed with the Healy group.

In 1960 a journal named International Socialism was started as a common property of a very wide editorial board, in which recent ex-Healyites were heavily represented. It was a very broad coalition, including even the incipient Posadist group (so, though it had its political roots in the Fourth International’s politics of about 1951, the British Posadist group can be said to have been, organisationally, a small splinter from IS!)

Intellectually it was dominated by the SR core group, and edited by Michael Kidron, who had edited SR for the previous seven years. International Socialism gradually became a “group” journal, and in 1962 the group renamed itself “IS”.

Its main publication now was Young Guard. This was more like an anarchist paper than any other political trend — very incoherently anarchist, but wildly denouncing “leaders” and so on. Anomalously, it was also a Labour Party paper, and one that seemed “safe” enough not to be banned when the Labour Party banned the Healyite youth paper Keep Left in 1962.

The organisation focused on slogans like workers’ control, using them vaguely and often meaninglessly (as in the nonsense about workers’ control of the nuclear-arms industry). But it sounded good and non-bureaucratic.

The IS group grew in this phase and, because of its loose politics, seemed an attractive alternative to the bureaucratic Healyites. It began to change in the mid 1960s, as we shall see.

Militant/Socialist Party

And the third group in the 1960s, Militant, today’s Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal? What were they like?

The Grant-Deane group of 1950 was the rump of the RCP leadership, minus two of the three central people, Haston and Lee. It had emerged utterly discredited from the collapse of the RCP.

Wanting to shed his responsibilities, Jock Haston had suddenly changed his line on working in the Labour Party. He proposed to go into the Labour Party. Implicitly he accepted that Healy had been right. In fact he was proposing to liquidate the RCP, to collapse, and the decision was arrived at not for political but for personal reasons.

Grant and others had formed a personal clique around Haston-Lee. They had not changed their minds about the politics of going in to the Labour Party. Now, to keep in line with Haston, they also agreed that the RCP should dissolve into the Labour Party.

The Healyites had said for years that the leadership was more a clique of friends than a political formation. They could not have had a clearer or more decisive vindication than the behaviour of Grant faced with a variant of Healy’s “Labour Party” line coming from Haston.

The RCP majority that now fused, inside the Labour Party, with the Healy group, was politically disoriented and disheartened. One of the RCP leaders, Bill Hunter, concluded that the Healyites had been right about the clique, realised that he himself had been part of it, and changed sides.

The fact that so many of the ex-RCP leaders fundamentally believed that they really should not be in the Labour Party at all, and had consented to going in only out of demoralisation, added urgency to the Healyites’ desire to sort them out and not let them “run” the Labour Party work.

Grant and his close associates were expelled and formed a group called International Socialist, publishing a very tiny and very thin magazine of that name. They had a base in Liverpool — around the big family of the Deanes, the group often being called the “Deane group”, after Jimmy Deane — and in the Labour League of Youth, where they published a small paper called Rally.

They led a vegetative small-scale propaganda existence in and around the Labour Party.

In 1956 the Grant-Deane group became the British section of the Pablo-Mandel international network. Pablo’s old British section, the Lawrence group that broke from “The Club” in 1953, had become a group of CP-minded Labour Party “entryists”, with a strong based in the St Pancras Labour Party.

Lawrence would be expelled from the Labour Party in 1958 and join the CP. They were CP loyalists during the uproar over the 20th Congress and the slaughter in Hungary. So Pablo now had no British section.

Only a few individuals in Britain backed the Pablo-Mandel international. They published a duplicated magazine called Fourth International. In it, they started a series of articles by a leader of the “International Secretariat”, Pierre Frank, who had been in Britain during the World War, about the iniquities of the Haston-Grant RCP leadership. The series ended halfway through when the Grantites agreed to be the “British section”!

They had responded to an advertisement put in Tribune by the people publishing Fourth International, calling for interested people to join them to re-establish a group.

Out of this the Grantites got some subsidy and a much bigger magazine, Workers’ International Review. They founded a new organisation, the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL), and soon they had a printed paper, Socialist Fight. They “regrouped” old Trotskyists, among them the founding secretaries of the Socialist Review group, Rhona and Ken Tarbuck, and some of the CPers who had briefly “fused” with SR in early 1957, like Pat Jordan.

Differences over Labour Party and economic “perspectives” led the group to fall apart. In a repetition of the RCP pattern, a group whose first loyalty was to the “International” wanted to try, like the earlier Healyites, to organise a broad left in the Labour Party. They would eventually hive off to launch The Week.

Soon Socialist Fight ceased to appear; then it reappeared as a very dull duplicated publication. For years the group was deep in the doldrums.

It picked up slowly in the early 1960s. Co-producing Young Guard with the Cliff group, it was overshadowed by them and gained little, but it began to attracted a trickle of young people in the Young Socialists.

The group started a monthly, Militant, in October 1964, managed to sustain it, and began to grow. It was demoted to “sympathising” status by the Fourth International in late 1965.

The politics of the group, by this time, amounted to a weird but internally coherent world view in which Stalinism was the inexorably advancing world revolution. Its advances were always to be welcomed, but also to be criticised: they were a matter of Stalinism answering the needs of the “autonomous movement of the productive forces”.

They described the Stalinist bureaucracies as effectively ruling classes (though they did not call them that), with a historic mission to carry through the anti-capitalist revolution. Later would come the working-class (“political”) revolution. They were capable simultaneously of defining Stalinism as totalitarian and welcoming its victories.

A strange “vulgar evolutionism” shaped their outlook on the British labour movement too. History was evolving towards the triumph in the Labour Party of first a mass “centrist” current and then by “the Marxists” — themselves. Their operational politics were govened by a commitment to that “perspective”, conceived as a scenario for the future.

Under the impact of outrage against the Labour government, there was a big exodus from the Labour Party in the late 1960s of leftists and of other Trotskyists. The RSL/ Militant inherited the remnant of the Labour Party youth movement, controlled it from 1969 for 17 years, and turned the YS into their recruiting ground. In the early 1980s, aided by a clumsy and miscarried first attempt by the Labour Party leadership to purge them, they became a very big organisation.

The “Mandelite” group (The Week, later IMG) around Pat Jordan and Ken Coates had split from the RSL around 1960. Some of them worked with SR/ IS on both the youth paper Young Guard and the International Socialism magazine (which was not solely the property of the Cliffites until 1963).

In the mid 1960s, following a decision of the International, they attempted to create their own broad left of the Labour Party, where in fact a broad left did not exist, by publishing a duplicated weekly called The Week — a “news digest for socialism” — which had the programme and policies that a Labour reformist left would have had if one existed.

That was the situation on the British left that led to the emergence of Workers’ Fight, forerunner of AWL, in 1966-7. Class struggle was beginning to rise, and heading towards the biggest battles in Britain for many decades, in conditions where there was no effective revolutionary organisation.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.