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Haston was a member of a small group of members of the Communist Party of Great Britain who moved towards Trotskyism in the late 1930s after splitting with the CPGB in 1934. The group he led, known as the Paddington group, joined the Militant Group led by Denzil Dean Harber and when in 1937 a group of South African Trotskyists appeared in London it was Haston who moved their acceptance into membership of the Militant Group.
The South Africans were led by Ralph Lee, hence they were referred to as the Lee Group and had been active in that country. A dispute with the Communist Party of South Africa was to follow them to Britain however and it was alleged that Lee had stolen strike funds from a group of workers in dispute. These allegations would in time be proven to be lies but were reported to the Militant Group by Charlie van Gelderen, an earlier immigrant from South Africa, and led to the split of those members of the group working with Lee.
By the time the truth had been established and the International Secretariat of the Trotskyist movement had exonerated Lee the damage had been done and the comrades had formed a new organisation. The new group known as the Workers International League (WIL) as organised in late 1937. In its first days the small group was led by Lee but when he returned to South Africa in 1941 Haston became the leading figure within the growing organisation. He would also form a personal alliance with Millie Lee at this time.
In contrast to the official British Section of the Fourth International, the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL), the WIL was to experience serious growth in this period recruiting supporters from the CPGB, the RSL and from within the Labour Party. Again unlike the official section the WIL accepted the Fourth International Proletarian Military Policy (PMP) although not without an internal struggle that pitted a minority around Haston, Millie Lee and Sam Levy against Ted Grant and Gerry Healy. Haston emerged the victor from this factional tussle and the PMP was adapted to the needs of the WIL.
Haston was also a member of a delegation of the WIL which was sent to Ireland early in the war to prepare a fall back party centre in the event of their being made illegal and having to function underground as had happened to revolutionaries in the previous war. In the event they remained legal, although they were persecuted at one point and the Government spied on them, and the delegation returned to Britain one by one. While in Ireland they did recruit further supporters to their cause aiding in the establishment of an Irish Trotskyist movement. Haston was the last to return from Ireland and found himself arrested and jailed as he was travelling on false papers, his own having been passed to a comrade evading military service.
After 1941 and the turn of the CPGB to support of the war the WIL recruited a number of militants from the CPGB in large part due to their concentration on industrial work. They also sought and succeeded in recruiting from the declining Independent Labour Party picking up members in the Tyneside region. When an apprentices' dispute developed in that area they were then well placed to intervene and as a result Haston was to find himself in jail.
This short term behind bars was because the Trades Disputes Act of 1927 was used against the supporters of the strike among whom the WIL were prominent. Their earlier support for unofficial strikes in the coalfields, particularly in Kent, had also drawn upon them the attention of the authorities.
Leadership of the RCP
Shortly after this dispute the WIL was to fuse with the Revolutionary Socialist League the factionally divided official section of the Fourth International (FI), to become the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) Haston was by this time seen as the foremost leader of the Trotskyist movement in Britain.
Like the WIL the new party was opposed to the electoral truce of the war years between the Labour and Conservative parties. However they had been far too small to be able to break the truce in earlier by-elections so when the Neath Division fell open they sought to take advantage and Haston was the obvious choice of candidate.
Despite the RCP lacking a branch in Neath at the start of the campaign Haston was able to poll 1,781 votes in the Neath by-election, 1945. More importantly an RCP branch was constructed and literature sales were large. Haston's relations with the Labour candidate, D. J. Williams, would seem to have been personally harmonious, so much so that later in 1949 Williams was instrumental in finding Haston a job with the National Council of Labour Colleges.
With the turn of the war against the Nazis the RCP was at pains to look for any signs of the coming revolutionary upheavals that were expected in line with the perspectives of the Fourth International as outlined in the famous Transitional Programme. The leading theoretician of the RCP, Ted Grant, was therefore far seeing when he sought to tailor the political demands of the mvement to the actual movement rather than succumbing to a rosy view of events. This realistic view of events was also prompted by the agreement of the RCP leadership with the documents of the Goldman-Morrow-Heijenoort minority in the American Socialist Workers Party.
Divergence from the Fourth International
Therefore when in 1946 Haston led a delegation of the RCP to a conference of some of the sections of the Fourth International in Paris it is surprising that he moved that the conference be considered as a Congress of the movement. This was in part motivated by the opposition of the RCP to the demoralisation of the German comrades of the International Communists of Germany (IKD).
More important, politically, were the amendments that Haston wrote, along with Bill Hunter, to the resolutions of the FI leadership put forward at the meeting. In contrast to the FI leadership the RCP amendments recognise that Stalinism had emerged from the war strengthened and that an economic crisis was unlikely in the near future. Therefore it was argued political demands and expectations had to recognise these changes and not pose revolutionary tasks in the absence of a revolutionary situation. The FI majority around Ernest Mandel and Michel Pablo, backed by the SWP in the United States, prevailed however.
The dispute with the leadership of the FI deepened with time and became centered on three interlinked questions. Firstly there was the role of Stalinism in Eastern Europe where the RCP took a different position to the FI in particular when the latter began to support the split of Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia from the USSR the RCP became very critical. This criticism being expressed in documents written by Haston. Secondly there was the question of economic perspectives and the growing tendency of the Labour party government of Clement Attlee to take various industries into state ownership as was also happening in eastern Europe. Again it was Haston who opposed the idea that state ownership could be equated with any form of socialism in the pages of Socialist Appeal. A complementary document on more general economic perspectives being written for the RCP by Tony Cliff who later acknowledged himself to have been greatly influenced by Haston in this period. Finally there was the question of political perspectives which raised the question of whether or not to the RCP should enter the Labour Party as a body. Haston opposing this idea while an FI sponsored minority around Gerry Healy was granted permission by the FI to join the Labour Party against the democratically decided views of the RCP in 1947.
A minority faction, led by Healy split from the RCP in 1947 in order to enter the Labour Party. Under pressure from the Fourth International the RCP dissolved itself in 1949 and joined Healy in "the Club" which was the informal name given to Trotskyist entrists. Haston, demoralised by the problems Trotskyism in Britain had been undergoing since the end of the war and facing harassment from Healy, resigned from the movement in February 1950. He remained active in the Labour Party for the rest of his life, becoming a lecturer for the National Council of Labour Colleges and then educational director for the EEPTU.
- Grant, T. (2002) History of British Trotskyism London: Wellred Publications, pg.299