Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

The Revolutionary Communist Party during the war

51. The unification of the British section at the height of the Second World War was an advance for the world movement. It was regarded as a political threat by the British bourgeoisie, at a time when all the workers’ organisations supported what was universally declared to be a war for democracy against German fascism. The RCP’s founding conference stressed that Britain’s real war aim was to defend its colonial domination over the peoples and resources of the Empire. It indicted the reformist and Stalinist misleaders as traitors to the interests of the international working class:

“By their support of the war the Trade Unions, the Labour Party and the Communist Party, with their satellite organisations, have betrayed the historic interests of the working class and the interests of the colonial masses oppressed by British imperialism. It is the duty of revolutionary socialists to mercilessly expose the leadership of these organisations as agents of the ruling class in the ranks of the workers and to win over the broad mass of the workers from the leadership of these organisations to the party of the Fourth International.”[1]

52. The “patriotic front” could not postpone class struggles indefinitely. When they emerged, they did so outside the control of, and in opposition to, the official labour movement. By spring 1944, 3 million days were lost due to strikes, including in armaments production, the shipyards and mines. The RCP threw itself enthusiastically into these struggles. It played a leading role in the strike of engineering apprentices on Tyneside against Minister of Labour Bevin’s plans for conscription into the mines, organising mass protests that called for workers’ control.

53. An insurgent mood was also developing in the army. Along with members of other sections of the Fourth International, RCP members fraternised with civilians and soldiers wherever they were stationed. In September 1943, Trotskyists were involved in the revolt of 191 soldiers in Montgomery’s 8th army in Salerno, Italy—the biggest wartime mutiny in British military history. They were active in Egypt, where mock elections in the armed forces produced a Trotskyist prime minister and overwhelming backing for nationalisation, without compensation, of the land and the banks.

54. In response to the Tyneside strike, the War Cabinet held emergency discussions on the RCP, while Bevin attacked the organisation in parliament. One month after its founding conference, the RCP’s headquarters and the homes of several of its leaders were raided, and Haston, Heaton Lee, Roy Tearse and Ann Keen were arrested. The RCP leaders were the first to be prosecuted under the 1927 Trades Disputes and Trades Unions Act, passed in the wake of the 1926 General Strike and carrying a penalty of up to five years imprisonment. The raids were accompanied by a media witch-hunt led by the Daily Mail. Under the headline, “Stalin-Haters Fan illegal Strikes”, it reported, “The Trotskyists seek to bring the whole of civilisation down in ruins in the hope that their brand of communism would then triumph. It is the kind of Communism rejected by Stalin when he expelled Trotsky and set out to build a Russia that has been able to stand up to the greatest military threat in history. Even since then these people have done everything to damage Stalin.”

55. An extensive memorandum about the RCP written by Home Secretary Herbert Morrison on April 13, 1944, stated, “The Trotskyists do not regard the form of society which now exists in Russia as socialism—they believe that true socialism can be achieved only by more or less simultaneous revolution over the greater part of the globe; and they are bitterly hostile to the Stalinist regime because it has not only ‘betrayed the revolution’ in Russia itself, but by using the national Communist parties as the instruments of its ‘reactionary’ policy abroad has retarded the development of the working class towards world revolution.”

56. Noting that the Stalinists, “would very much like to see the Trotskyists and their small paper suppressed”, Morrison continued, “The ultimate aim of the Trotskyists is the establishment by means of uprisings all over the world of Workers’ Governments which will introduce common ownership and worker’s control of the means of production. They believe that world revolution will once more become possible as a result of the war.”

57. The use of the 1927 legislation was met with an extensive defence campaign by the Anti-Labour Laws’ Victims Defence Committee. In opposition, the Stalinist Daily Worker demanded, “Let the Government deal with these saboteurs with a strong hand”. In May 1944, the RCP leaders were brought to trial in Newcastle Moor Hall and sentenced to up to one year in prison. Such was the strength of opposition, however, that the Labour Party was forced to postpone its annual conference and the government was unable to enforce the legislation against a miners’ strike. In September, the RCP leaders’ sentences were quashed on appeal.


Prometheus Research Library, http://www.prl.org/prs/prs2/rcp-1.html.