A comment on the NC decision to form a Socialist League

Ellis Hillman

This document, opposing the decision to launch the Socialist Labour League, was published in the February 1959 issue of Forum, the internal discussion bulletin of the Healy group.

THE DECISION of the NC to form a revolutionary Socialist League is a serious political blunder.

For some time now it has been apparent that a whole chain of circumstances has been driving the group towards the proclamation of a new Open Party, a new “Revolutionary Communist Party”.

The fact that this process has not been understood by the leadership of the group reflects the empiricism which has characterized its functioning over many years. A combination of an empirical adaption to events, and an impressionist outlook on national questions – has now brought about the most serious situation in the history of British Trotskyism.

After eleven years of hard work in the Labour Party – the basis upon which the group was able to turn to the CP after the 20th Congress – the group is now being placed in the position of overturning its declared Conference policy. This policy was the product of the experience of a movement painfully acquired through struggles whose lessons have a very direct bearing on the present discussion. The policy of working within social-democracy to prepare the way for a mass revolutionary party is now being pushed aside for a policy that has already been tried out in the history of the Trotskyist movement and been found impractical.

The circle has been completed from ENTRY to EXIT. With this difference. Whilst the old RCP hammered the issues out in a serious and responsible – if prolonged – discussion of the merits or otherwise of entering the mass Party of the working class, the abandonment of the work that resulted from the old discussion appears to require but a few desultory and confused contributions and points of view from the NC.

The NC reporters have demonstrated the confusion of ideas that lie behind the decision to form a League. This confused thinking is now being carried into the movement at large, and is already evident in some of the Newsletter articles on the Workers’ Charter.

Whilst the older comrades are busily engaged in convincing themselves (?) that the announcement of the League will not cut across the basic line of work within the Labour Party, the spokesman for the new turn does not agree to their artificial limitations.

For him, and in this he is consistent, the League is the “framework of the new revolutionary party” (to quote his own words). He has declared that all members of the old movement will have to join the League, irrespective of considerations of the work within the Labour Party, irrespective of considerations of proscription of the League by the Right Wing.

Again, he has stated that the main cadres of the old group will have to be placed in the open League.

This position can be respected. It is consistent, logical, and requires the most serious discussion. It is an attempt to solve some of the problems arising from the group’s expansion (e.g. the non-functioning of key t.u. factions), the poor Labour Party work, the failure to recruit industrial workers on a permanent basis, the lack of proletarian composition of the London leadership, the theoretical primitivism and cliché-mongering that is becoming a substitute for serious Marxist analysis) by the “short cut” to the powerful mass Party that is our common objective.

The League, however, may well not be the short cut to the mass Marxist party – but the short cut to a second-class Communist Party. In the event of setbacks, the League could open the road back to the CP.

This is not to say that the comrades who are pressurising the group into acceptance of the League perspective are being pulled back by Stalinism. It is not inaccurate, however, to state that what is pulling them is the proletarian base of the CP. Many CP industrial workers will work together with us, but will not accept our LP orientation as an alternative to the CP. In fact, it could be said that the majority of the best militants still remain attached to the CP industrial machine. Will the League open the road to these workers? Surely, this itself is a debatable proposition requiring two or three Aggregates to clarify the group.

The new exit turn of the NC is even more serious than a change of strategy which will be absolutely fatal to the continuation of serious work within the Labour Party by what one presumes will be the League’s entrist fraction. The new turn opens the door to the dangers of a complete liquidation of what we have termed the orthodox Trotskyist movement, and its replacement by an unconvincing parody of the present CP.

In this matter, the major responsibility rests with the Old Guard of the Trotskyist movement who have bowed to the pressure of “CPism” that is becoming increasingly evident in the leadership of the group. Instead of guiding the industrial strength of the group into the Labour Party, and establishing in the London Labour movement the basis of a militant Left Wing which could directly challenge the Right Wing on their policies – the leadership has allowed the leading comrades around the Newsletter to develop their work outside the real Labour Party. Instead of the older comrades convincing the leading comrades of the necessity of creating the beginnings of an alternative leadership within the Labour Party, of bringing the class struggle directly into the GMCs, the wards, the Labour Party Conferences – the Newsletter people have apparently convinced (?) the older comrades of the pressing importance of “independent” activity around a League or a Newsletter Association as a substitute for a serious overhaul of Labour Party work.

The NC comrades have been repeatedly warned individually and collectively over a whole period as to the consequences of their empiricism. The political results of the new turn will be far-reaching. The membership have the right to the fullest discussion of a policy that is at loggerheads with Conference decision. A National Conference of the group is now an urgent necessity.

11 January 1959

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