Workers' International League (1937)

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Workers' International League
Leader Jock Haston
Founded 1937
Split from Militant Group
Merged into Revolutionary Communist Party
Headquarters London
Ideology Trotskyist
Politics of United Kingdom
Political parties
Elections

The Workers' International League (WIL) was a Trotskyist group in Britain which existed from 1937 to 1944.

Formation[edit]

The WIL was formed in 1937 by around members of the Militant Group, who had split due to false allegations from the leadership of that group that Ralph Lee, then a newly arrived South African member, had misled a strike and used the strike funds to move to England.[1]

The split took around a third of the membership of the Militant Group and four of its branches,[2] including Jock Haston and Ted Grant. The group remained in the Labour Party, where they published Searchlight edited by Gerry Healy, which in September 1938 was replaced by the magazine Youth for Socialism,[2] which in its own turn was renamed Socialist Appeal in June 1941[3] as a result of the WIL's turn of focus away from the Labour Party.[4] The group also produced a theoretical journal Workers International News.[2] The WIL grew with recruits from the Labour Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Independent Labour Party and the Militant Group.

The Fourth International was formed in 1938, and the WIL refused to merge into the newly formed official British affiliate, the Revolutionary Socialist League itself a regroupment of the Militant Group and others.[5] They requested either affiliate or sympathiser status to the International but were rejected.

Outbreak of World War II[edit]

Unlike the Revolutionary Socialist League, the WIL readily adopted the Proletarian Military Policy developed by Trotsky in his last writings and expanded upon and advocated by James P Cannon and the Socialist Workers Party.[6][7] They campaigned for the creation of workers' militias instead of the Home Guard,[8] deep air raid shelters for workers, and after 1941 against the pro-war, anti-strike position of the CPGB.

Question of the Leadership[edit]

Due to the its adoption of the Proletarian Military Policy, the WIL argued that its members should go through the experience of the war with other members of their class by joining the army when called-up. But if this was applied to the whole membership it meant they could be dispersed and provide no real leadership and therefore the organisation took measures to preserve the leading cadres outside the forces.[9]

With the outbreak of World War II, the WIL expected to be banned and so temporarily moved a few members (Tommy Reilly, Jock Haston, Gerry Healy, John Williams and George Noseda) to Dublin.[10] It soon became obvious that the group would not be persecuted, and they were allocated paper for their publications.

On their own initiative, Arthur Carford, who had gained employment as an orderly at the Medical Examination Centre, where potential conscripts fitness was reviewed, and three other members from Sheffield attempted to steal cards to exempt the bearer from military service for medical reasons.[11] The four were arrested and charged at Sheffield Magistrates Court with "stealing, receiving, conspiring to steal and conspiring to receive these cards, to which later was added a fifth charge of doing those acts "with intent to assist the enemy".[11] Realising the seriousness of these charges (especially the fifth charge which carried a charge of 20 years imprisonment),[9] one of the defendants, Fred Jackson, defended himself arguing that by virtue of the political ideals it was impossible for Trotskyists to do anything deliberately to assist Nazi Germany, leading to no guilty verdicts on the fifth charge.[12] He was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, with Carford receiving 18 months,[12] however, given the irresponsibility of their initial action they were barred from holding office within the WIL for a year and reduced to supporter status respectively.[13] Of the other two defendants, Ward received 6 months and Beet was acquitted,[12] but as both had given statements to the police that could have implicated the WIL they were expelled.[13]

Trade Union Activities[edit]

The WIL began to orient towards the trade unions, and deprioritised entrism into the Labour Party. After the appointment of Roy Tearse as industrial organiser (replacing Gerry Healy),[14] the WIL found itself involved through him in setting up a solidarity committee in support of victimised workers called the Clyde Workers Committee after the original organisation bearing that name which had led the revolt on the Clyde during World War I.[15] This body called a conference in Glasgow on 5–6 June 1943, which attracted delegates from "Yorkshire's West Riding, Newcastle, Nottingham, Huddersfield, Barrow and London" and set up the Militant Workers Federation with Tearse as Secretary and offices in Nottingham near the Royal Ordnance Factory.[15]

By 1944, the Fourth International had realised that the WIL were far more effective and closer to the FI's policies than the RSL which had disintegrated into a set of warring factions, and so coordinated a unity conference. This produced the Revolutionary Communist Party, which adopted all the WIL's positions.[16]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.2-3
  2. ^ a b c Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.5
  3. ^ Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.53
  4. ^ Grant, T. (2002) History of British Trotskyism, London: Wellred Publications, pg.87
  5. ^ Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.23
  6. ^ Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.13
  7. ^ Grant, T. (2002) History of British Trotskyism, London: Wellred Publications, pg.75-76
  8. ^ Grant, T. (2002) History of British Trotskyism, London: Wellred Publications, pg.77
  9. ^ a b McIlroy, J. 'Fred Jackson (1916-2004)' In McIlroy, J. eds Revolutionary History, Vol. 8:4 pg.277
  10. ^ Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.9
  11. ^ a b Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.11
  12. ^ a b c Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.12
  13. ^ a b Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.19
  14. ^ Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.69
  15. ^ a b Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.70
  16. ^ Bornstein, S. & Richardson, A. (1986) War and the International, London: Socialist Platform, pg.106-110