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Joseph Carter

The British I.L.P. Turns Leftward

Realignments in the Camp of English Reformism

(June 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 30, 10 June 1933, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The present world economic crisis and the pre-revolutionary crisis of British capitalism has had a marked effect on the entire English labor movement. This is particularly true of the traditionally left reformist party, the Independent Labour Party. A gauge of the growing maturity of a revolutionary crisis can often be found in the changes which the parties of socialist centrism undergo. These changes are seldom fundamental; they are rather changes of form and modes of expression.

To the party of J. Keir Hardie, which, immersed in the “practical” political tasks of the day, scoffed at the German theoreticians, Marx and Engels; the party which produced leading spokesmen for the House of Lords, the bourgeois prime minister, MacDonald, the aspiring Fascist, Mosley – suddenly, at Bradford last August proclaimed itself the party of revolutionary Marxism! The I.L.P. withdrew from the Labour Party, which it had built, on the grounds that its parliamentary representatives were refused to criticize and vote against the Labour Party caucus in parliament. This led to the organization of the Socialist League by those who wanted to continue the old policy, among them such leaders as H.N. Brailsford and Fred Henderson.

Up to the formation of the Communist party (1920-21) the Independent Labour Party contained some of the best revolutionary socialists in Britain. Such an outstanding spokesman of the present Communist party as R. Palme Dutt a Left Centrist of high calibre, got his training in the I.L.P. After the World War, the Independent Labour Party made advances towards the Communist International; addressed a number of fundamental questions to it. The reply drafted by Lenin, made even the more “radical” leaders lukewarm. Supporting the view of a democratic or parliamentary “revolution” to attain socialism, criticizing the Labour Party’s open collaboration with the British imperialists, and permitting wide differences of opinion and action within the party, the Independent Labour Party has succeeded in keeping thousands of militant workers from the Communist party.

Despite this, the I.L.P. in recent years lost many members. The following figures speak for themselves:









Aug. 1932


Since the Bradford Conference (Aug. 1932) the membership has further declined. At the same time a deep ferment developed in the ranks. The Revolutionary Policy Committee, a group formed months previously, continued to issue its own literature and hold meetings, some of which were advertized in the official organ of the I.L.P! In London and Lancashire, especially the influence of the R.P.C. was strong. The leaders of this group, Jack Caster, C.K. Cullens and others – most of them intellectuals – call themselves Leninists. In the divisional conferences held last February they presented their program: for stricter discipline in the I.L.P., for a revolutionary policy, the immediate organization of workers’ councils (Soviets) which would develop into a counter parliament, and for an approach to the Third International for collaboration. At the London and South Divisional and Lancashire Conferences their proposals were accepted. At the latter conference a resolution for immediate affiliation to the Comintern was rejected.

The belated manifesto (March 1933) of the Communist International for united front against Fascism was hailed by the I.L.P. as a vindication of its viewpoint. It had participated on Feb. 4th in the Left Socialist Parties’ conference at Paris which appealed to the Labor and Socialist International and the Comintern for united front against Fascism. A. Fenner Brockway wrote:

“The greatest significance attaches to this manifesto because of the recommendation to the Communist Parties to cease the attacks upon other sections of the working class if a basis of united action can be found.” (New Leader – 3-10-33 – Emphasis in original)

The I.L.P. addressed an invitation to the C.P., the Labour Party, the Co-operative Party and the Trade Union Congress for united front on a definite minimum program against Fascism and the capitalist offensive at home. Only the Communist party accepted and a number of demonstrations have been held throughout the country by joint committees. The “recommendation” of the Comintern was swallowed by the robot leaders of the British C.P. who quickly forgot that “This demand of the I.L.P.’ers, whether locally or nationally, for the dropping of criticism is a demand which must be mercilessly fought.” British Daily Worker, 8-13-32.

The I.L.P.’s forty-first annual conference, last April, met under such conditions: a sharp crisis in British imperialism, the victory of Fascism in Germany, a steady decline in membership, growing sentiment towards Communism in its own ranks and the beginning of united front action between the Communist Party and the I.L.P. The address of Brockway on the effect of the decisions of the Bradford conference, the need for an extra parliamentary institution, workers’ councils, to unite the working class for the overthrowing of capitalism and the subordinate role of the bourgeois parliament was acclaimed by the Conference. A resolution to support the unemployed organization led by the Communist party, the N.U.M.W., was carried overwhelmingly after some dispute’.

A sharp fight occurred on the question of international affiliation. The National Council of the I.L.P. recommended disaffiliation from the Labour and Socialist International. A resolution was introduced supporting disaffiliation and instructing the National Council “To approach the Secretariat of the Communist International with a view to ascertaining in what way the I.L.P. may assist in the work of the International.” The mover of the resolution made it clear that he was not asking for affiliation to the Communist International but collaboration in whatever form is agreed upon. John Paton, secretary of the party, supported the National Council’s view and polemised against the resolution calling for approach to the Comintern. Jack Gaster defended the resolution. The vote was very close. The resolution carried by a vote of 83 to 70.

Another resolution, which embodied the full program of the Revolutionary Policy Committee, offered a new constitution for the party. It emphasized the function of the workers’ councils and the subordinate role of the parliament. It was then strongly opposed by the old guard, particularly F.W. Jowett, who stated that the I.L.P. was asked to achieve power by civil war. He stated that the I.L.P. should aim to achieve socialism by parliamentary means. The leaders of the R.P.C. supported the new constitution. According to the New Leader report of the proceedings (4-21-33) “by 90 votes to 8, (the) Conference rejected the vital section of the new Constitution.” Apparently the most ambiguous terminology was desired!

An interesting part of the Conference was the attempt to introduce stricter discipline in the I.L.P. A motion to introduce a probationary period in which the applicant for membership would be tested was rejected. Further an amendment was introduced “safeguarding pacifists from disciplinary action on account of their objection to take part in war, was withdrawn on an understanding from John Paton that the N.A.C. would accept its intention!” A truly revolutionary socialist party!

A resolution for united front action with the C.P., Labour Party, etc., was adopted after some dissension. The new national council although containing supporters of the Revolutionary Policy Committee like Jack Gaster is in the main controlled by the Brockway-Maxton tendency in the I.L.P.

The Comintern had replied to the request of the I.L.P. for collaboration. Instead of issuing a programmatic declaration so as to win the revolutionary workers within the I.L.P. to Communism, the Stalinist bureaucracy has confined itself to merely welcoming the step and declaring its readiness to collaborate with the I.L.P. A most excellent opportunity missed to educate the ranks of the I.L.P. But Stalinism, once again taken by surprise, is uncertain as to the next steps; it is in a quandary.

The American Stalinists claim the results of the I.L.P. conference and particularly the resolution to approach the C.I., which they incorrectly interpret as application for membership, as a victory “for the united” front policy of the Communist Party of Great Britain. (Daily Worker – 1-17-33) What sheer nonsense! In the last few years, the British party carried on the craziest zig-zags of any section of the Comintern. Subordination to the “Lefts” during the British miners’ and general strike in 1920; its constant changes on the parliamentary field which were understood by no one; suddenly the third period with its “independent” leadership of strikes and the building of new unions; then the famous Charter campaign which was an attempt of a united front mass movement which was still-born, its policy of falsification, etc., alienated the best sections of the I.L.P. from the British party. The proof is the fact that few of them were won for the party.

In the columns of the Labour Monthly a discussion has been going on for some time on Communism and Left Socialism, of some value. But the practical activities of the party (with the exception of its unemployment work which has been fruitful) negated most of the gains made in that manner. In more recent times the Communist Review has contained articles which attempt to discuss the problems of the Left Socialists. But the influence of the British Party on the Independent Labour Party or the Revolutionary Policy Committee is negligible.

The tendency towards Communism in the I.L.P. is due primarily to the awakening of the more conscious elements within it to the impasse in which British imperialism and world imperialism finds itself today. It appears paradoxical that at a time when Stalinism has failed miserably in Germany these elements approach the Comintern. From one point of view it shows their own political immaturity, from another and more fundamental view, is is an indication that they correctly do not identify Communism with Stalinism.

The view of the more advanced workers in the I.L.P. – and they are unfortunately in a very small minority – is expressed in a statement [1] issued by four members previous to the I.L.P. conference. These comrades clearly state that the place of all revolutionary workers is in the Communist party. They point out that the I.L.P. is a social democratic organization and cannot be reformed; that the Revolutionary Policy Committee course in this direction is false and futile. They further point out that the present Communist party has a number of serious shortcomings which require discussion. They innumerate the theories and policies upon which they cannot agree: the theory of socialim in one country, the policy of the united front from below, the policy exemplified by the Amsterdam anti-war congress, and the absence of party democracy. They call upon the I.L.P. members to join them in this struggle.

The Left Opposition comrades, who have recently issued a printed organ, Red Flag, have a great task on their shoulders: to win the revolutionary workers of the I.L.P. for the Communism of Marx and Lenin, to educate the members of the Communist party along the line of the Left Opposition. On the basis of the lessons of the British General Strike and the Anglo-Russian Committee, the recent teachings of the German events, the program of the Left Opposition on the colonial question and in the Soviet Union, our comrades in Great Britain should forge ahead rapidly.


1. This statement will appear in the forthcoming issue of The Militant. – Ed.

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