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Trotskyist History No 1

Trotskyist History No 1

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Published by Gerald J Downing

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Published by: Gerald J Downing on Aug 27, 2009
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Trotskyist History No 1 September 1993
What Happened to the Workers’ Socialist League?
[Note by Chris Edwards (May 2002).
War is the sternest possible test for any Trotskyist organisation. While many British organisations failed this test in the case of theMalvinas/Falklands War (e.g. the Militant group with its “workers war” against Argentina position), the British proto-ITO comrades did attempt to defend a principled position against the bankrupt positions of the leadership of their own organisation, the British WorkersSocialist League (WSL).This is an account of the tendency struggle over the Malvinas war and many other issues todo with British imperialism. This document was written with the stated purpose of being a“balance sheet” of the tendency struggle. It was somewhat ironic that, Tony G, the author of most of this document, and the person who had played the least part in the WSL tendency struggle during 1982-3, felt himself most qualified to sit in judgement on the efforts of thosewho had been centrally involved in the tendency struggle. This was despite his insistence that he did not wish to do so at the beginning of this account (see below). In fact one of the barely disguised purposes of this “balance sheet” was to rubbish and belittle the efforts of the comrades who had been centrally involved in the tendency struggle.This was done in the knowledge that he himself was not a subject of this criticism since hehad only been a candidate member of the WSL throughout most of the period of the tendency struggle. He had consequently played little role in the tendency struggle. It takes a certainamount of arrogance for someone who was peripheral to a tendency struggle to presume to pontificate about the efforts of others who were at the sharp end. One consequent  shortcoming of this document was that Tony G was unable to comprehend the dynamics of the struggle and the context in which decisions were made. He had to rely on second hand information and documents. The result was that it was a largely scholastic document.Subsequent amendments made by those who were directly involved in the struggle made it less so. What was the context that Tony G underestimated? It was that of a circle of young,inexperienced, scattered, provincial, and overwhelmingly rank and file members, many of whom had never been in a tendency struggle before, who had to take on their own moreexperienced leadership in the middle of a war. Nevertheless, this is the only account of the WSL tendency struggle of 1982-83 and the subsequent attempts of the participants to regroup after being expelled from the WSL. And despite the overly-cynical approach to the tendency struggle that permeates the document, it nevertheless records the main events and positions taken. Much of this account may seemexcessively detailed and long-winded—Tony G always did like the sound of his own voice.The important point to bear in mind when reading it however, is that the crisis and disarrayof the WSL and the opposition which developed within it was precipitated by a very real issue —a colonial war against Argentina. A group of people struggled to change a reactionary position in their organisation during an imperialist war. This document records tha struggle]. 
1. Introduction
This assessment and balance sheet of the history of the British Workers Socialist League(WSL) was originally produced by Tony G., the secretary of the British Revolutionary
Internationalist League (RIL), with the assistance of other members of that organisation. Itwas endorsed by the RIL Central Committee in 1989. Despite pleas by RIL members, it wasnever endorsed by the International Trotskyist Committee (ITC), the internationalorganisation of which the RIL was the British section. Nor were any plans made for its publication. This was consistent with the client/patron relationship which had developed between the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL), the US section and dominant group of the ITC, and the RIL. The RWL was suspicious of any independent political development,such as the statements in the balance sheet about the reassertion of the progressive character of the struggle for Trotskyism carried out by the WSL between 1974 and 1980. Such areassertion was seen as a challenge to the RWL’s political, financial and organisationaldominance of the ITC and its notion that it was the source of modern Trotskyist orthodoxy.The RWL owed its domination of the ITC to a network of unhealthy clique relationshipswhich increasingly acted as a substitute for published political positions which could then be put to the test in the class struggle. This regime facilitated increasingly sectarian, posturinginterventions, particularly in the movements against the 1991 Gulf War and for abortionrights in the US and in Anti-Fascist Action in Britain and a turn away from the fight toregenerate the Fourth International. The revolt against this degeneration resulted in a split inthe ITC in 1991 and the later establishment of the International Trotskyist Opposition (ITO).We are now publishing this assessment of the WSL ourselves in an honest attempt to draw upan objective balance sheet of the most positive reassertion of the Trotskyist programme sincethe Fourth International split in 1953 as well as the WSLs subsequent crisis and itsimmediate aftermath.In fact, although Tony G.’s original document as a whole pointed to the healthy character of the struggle for Trotskyism in the WSL, and the short lived Workers InternationalistLeague (WIL), many aspects of it tended to denigrate that struggle and those who waged it inorder to fit it into an exaggerated role for the RWL. In particular, the fact the RWL’s clientsfound themselves on the wrong side of the split in the WIL in 1984, in opposition to theBritish supporters of the Trotskyist International Liaison Committee (TILC), necessitated the belittling of the political struggles of those who were in substantial political agreement withthe TILC. This included the GBL of Italy (later renamed the LOR) and the TAF of Denmark.The WSL was the British section of the TILC. Therefore the original document has beenamended and altered substantially by those comrades now in the ITO who participated inthat struggle. The RIL was formed in November 1984 as the British section of the ITC by agroup of comrades all of whom had been members of the Workers Socialist League until their expulsion in May 1983 and of the Workers Internationalist League (WIL) until its splits inJanuary 1984 and Summer 1984. Tony G. had been a full time organiser for Gerry Healy’sSocialist Labour League (SLL) in the 1960s before dropping out of revolutionary politicsuntil he joined the post fusion WSL in 1982. There is therefore, a continuity of personnel between the WSL and the RIL. Though those who formed the RIL had struggled againstliquidationism and insular national Trotskyism in the WSL and TILC and againstsectarianism in the WIL, represented by supporters of Workers Power and of the SouthAmerican based Fourth International Tendency (FIT). The latter’s sectarian attitude to theUnited Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) led them to attack the LOR, which hadfused with the Italian USFI section to pursue the struggle for Trotskyism.Producing a balance sheet of a movement or a struggle is never, for Marxists, an academicexercise or a question of scoring points (who was right or who was wrong). It is a seriousquestion of understanding our history by analysing it in its material context, in order to guideour action. The defeat and retreats in the class struggle in Britain have produced a state of retreat and confusion among those forces claiming to be Trotskyist, which have had to pay aterrible price for British contempt for theory. The degeneration of leadership and squanderingof cadre have been frightful. The desertion by the intellectuals (helped on their way by
 philistine economism and activism) has been almost total. There was only one future RILmember on a leading body of the fused WSL, cde. Sue E, and none from the pre-fusion WSLand only two members of the National Committee of the WIL, nor a single member of theinitial WSL break from Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party in 1974.The struggle to develop the original perspectives of TILC and build a section of the ITC inBritain had to be taken up by a dispersed group of rank-and-file and, to a large extent, activistmembers, in a situation of widespread retreat, major attacks on the working class, and withthe enormous weight of the Labourite tradition and its associated economist trade unionism inBritain. The problems makes the theoretical development and rearming of our movementdesperately important. The alternative is to use our problems as a source of apologies andcomplaints: if we take that road, all we can do is try to preserve the memory of the old WSLuntil “something turns up”. That road leads only to political oblivion. An objective analysis of the WSL (its origins, its relationship to the crisis of the Fourth International, its development,degeneration, and fusion with the International Communist League and also of the struggle of the Internationalist Tendency/Internationalist Faction (IT/IF) and the failure of the WIL toovercome the IT/IF’s contradictions) is essential to the future of Trotskyism 
2. The origins and Development of the International Committee Section in Britain
 The Workers Socialist League was formed in 1974 as a result of the expulsion by theWorkers Revolutionary Party (WRP) of the Oxford based opposition led by Alan T., Tony R.,and John L.. While there has been considerable discussion in TILC and in the ITC andelsewhere on the history of the Socialist Labour League/ Workers Revolutionary Party in thecontext of the crisis of the Fourth International, a summary of the main points pertinent to thedevelopment of the Workers Socialist League is necessary.
The formation of the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1944 reflected (to a certainextent) a sectarian response to the Labour Party class collaboration (the coalition government,etc.) and to the lack of any real Labour Party activity during the war. The problems thiscreated became marked with the end of the war and the revival of Labour Party political lifein 1945 and thereafter. Subsequently, Healy led an opposition calling for entry into theLabour Party, but it was essentially an opportunist response to the strength of socialdemocracy and the weakness of Trotskyist forces. These developments took place in a verydifficult period for the Fourth International. The Stalinist purges, the assassination of Trotsky, the war, and the Nazi occupation of much of Europe had severely depleted its forcesand disrupted its functioning internationally. It had, nevertheless, come through the war and into the post war world as a revolutionaryinternational. However, the strength, politically, of Stalinism and the expansion of theStalinist bureaucracy’s area of control, the beginnings of the restabilisation of capitalismunder US hegemony, and the Cold War posed enormous problems for Trotskyists, led in somecases to physical liquidation and generally to their isolation from the masses. Healy’s splitfrom the RCP on the basis of Labour Party entry and the consequent collapse of the RCP wasthe application in British conditions of the liquidationist course taken by the FourthInternational under its International Secretary, Michel Pablo, as it sought short cuts out of itsisolation and looked to larger forces that could in some way be substituted for buildingTrotskyist parties.
Healy’s group
The Club
practised a liquidationist form of entrism in the period 1948to 1956 and to some extent down to 1958. It was an early example of Trotskyites attempting

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