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Workers Hammer No. 193

Winter 2005-2006

British imperialism and the myth of the "democratic" war against fascism

Revolutionaries and World War II

(Young Spartacus Pages)

Correction Appended

We publish below an edited version of the presentation given by Comrade Olly Laing at a Spartacus Youth Group forum in London on 22 October.

This year marked the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the second world war. I’m sure anyone here who observed George Bush and Tony Blair’s platitudes about the fight for freedom and democracy around the VE day commemorations was sickened by the hypocrisy of these imperialist butchers of Iraq. The notion that World War II was, for the British and American imperialists, a crusade of democracy against fascism is still used by them today to portray their imperialist wars abroad and war on civil liberties at home as progressive struggles against tyranny. After the 7 July London bombings, “the spirit of the Blitz” was invoked by politicians and the bourgeois media to declare the unity of all Londoners against “terrorism” — supposedly today’s tyrannical threat to democracy. The purpose was to rally the population around the flag of national unity, so that they would accept the racist and ever-increasing draconian “anti-terror” legislation. But national unity is a lie. Capitalist society is based on the exploitation of the working class by the bourgeois ruling class, which fosters the poison of racism and other bigotry, to divide the working class in order to maintain capitalist rule. Pushed by all manner of liberal and reformist ideologues, the idea that the second world war was a “people’s war” on the part of the “democratic” capitalist powers, with all classes standing together against fascism, is also a grotesque lie.

The Nazi regime was unparalleled in its barbarity. It systematically exterminated six million Jews, millions of Slavs and other peoples and strangled all working-class organisations, turning Europe into a living hell. But this did not make the Allied imperialist “democracies” anti-fascist fighters for freedom. To understand World War II, or the history of the twentieth century for that matter, it is essential to understand the significance of the Russian Revolution. In the period following the first world war, the political consciousness of all classes in Europe was dominated by the victory of the world’s first workers revolution in Russia in 1917. For those who gained any material advantage from the status quo, those with any ideological or religious connection to the bourgeois order, fear of communism dictated pro-fascist sympathies. In this period of economic and social crisis in Europe, where the facade of parliamentary democracy could no longer deceive and contain the militant organised working class, the bourgeoisie looked desperately to fascist reaction to smash the workers organisations and the threat of socialist revolutions. That imperialist pig Winston Churchill, today still celebrated as an “anti-fascist”, enthused over Mussolini’s fascists in 1927 with the declaration: “Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism” (quoted in Robert Black, Stalinism in Britain [1970] ).

It was in Germany that the Nazis placed themselves at the head of European reaction. The Russian Revolution had failed to spread to the rest of Europe and humanity was made to pay for this with Nazi terror and the Holocaust. The German proletariat had suffered the defeat of a series of insurrectionary and semi-insurrectionary movements in the period 1919-23 due to the immaturity of the Communist leadership there. The German bourgeoisie resolved to crush the organised working class once and for all. To do this it turned to the Nazi party which, in its crusade against communism, also fed off the traditional anti-Semitism of the German ruling class and targeted the whole Jewish people as racially decadent “Jew-Bolsheviks”.

It was only when German imperialism, militarised under Hitler, re-emerged as an imperialist competitor to be reckoned with that the “democracies” began to be hostile to the Nazis. For all the capitalist countries involved, the second world war was no different in character from the first world war. It was an interimperialist struggle for redividing the booty of capitalist profits. The imperialist states of both the Nazi-allied Axis powers and the Allied “democracies” all fought to defend their “right” to oppress and exploit the masses of the world. As Leon Trotsky pointed out, the “imperialist democracies are in reality the greatest aristocracies in history. England, France, Holland, Belgium rest on the enslavement of colonial peoples” (“Manifesto of the Fourth International on the imperialist war”, May 1940).

For Britain, as the oldest imperialist power, the second world war was all about defending an empire whose dominance had already been encroached upon and eroded by other imperialist powers. The bloody British Empire’s prize possession was its severely oppressed Indian colony. As Trotsky remarked upon the hypocritical pretensions of the British ruling class about defending democracy:

“If the British government were really concerned about the flowering of democracy then a very simple opportunity to demonstrate this exists. Let the government give complete freedom to India. The right of national independence is one of the elementary democratic rights. But actually, the London government is ready to hand over all the democracies in the world in return for one tenth of its colonies.”

— “India faced with imperialist war”,

25 July 1939

As for the United States, the society was founded on black chattel slavery whose racist legacy of black oppression was, and still is, an essential feature of American capitalism. Its interests in the war had nothing to do with the defence of “democracy” but everything to do with the defence and advancement of its imperialist sphere of influence in the world, particularly in the Pacific. From the Allied firebombings aimed specifically at the civilian populations of Dresden and Tokyo and the atomic mass murder in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to British imperialism’s deliberate starvation policies in its colonial domains like Bengal, the Anglo-American war was an imperialist crime against humanity.

For defeat of imperialism and defence of the USSR

Trotskyists upheld the Leninist programme of revolutionary defeatism for all the capitalist states involved in the second interimperialist world war. Revolutionary defeatism is the position taken by Leninists in a war between rival imperialist blocs, where the working class has no side. It means hostility to all sides in a military conflict, with communists working for a revolutionary uprising of the proletariat on all sides. In a war between a colonial or semi-colonial country and an imperialist power, revolutionaries do have a side. This policy is known as revolutionary defensism, the position we of the International Communist League took in the 2003 war on semi-colonial Iraq, without giving any political support to Saddam Hussein. There was a just side to take, in defence of Iraq against US and British imperialist attack. We fought for class struggle in the belly of the imperialist beasts, and for the blacking of military shipments in order to defend Iraq against the imperialist slaughter.

In an interimperialist war the defeat of an imperialist power — with the ruling class weakened, demoralised and totally discredited — opens up revolutionary possibilities. It is this situation that the programme of revolutionary defeatism strives to achieve. Revolutionary defeatism is best encapsulated by a slogan of the German revolutionary Marxist, Karl Liebknecht in World War I: “The main enemy is at home!” The aim being for the workers to focus their opposition against their “own” capitalist ruling class in order to turn the imperialist war between nations into a civil war for socialist revolution. The position was developed by Lenin in the first world war, against the treachery of the reformist leadership of the so-called “socialist” parties of the Second International, who supported their “own” national bourgeoisies in the conflict. These agents of the capitalist class in the workers movement led the workers into the interimperialist slaughter, against their own class brothers, for the profits of their exploiters. The term Leninists use to describe the support of members of the workers movement for their own imperialist ruling class is “social-chauvinism”. As Lenin wrote in the midst of the first world war: “A revolutionary class cannot but wish for the defeat of its government in a reactionary war” (Socialism and War, 1915).

It was the betrayal of fundamental socialist principles by the social-chauvinist reformist leaders which necessitated the crucial split in the workers movement between the reformists, who had proven their loyalty to their national bourgeoisie, and the revolutionary internationalists who still represented the interests of the working class, socialism and therefore humanity. Lenin’s Bolsheviks broke with the Second International on the basis of the programme of revolutionary defeatism towards all the warring capitalist powers. It was this split that enabled the Bolshevik Party to uniquely lead the working class, supported by the peasantry, in a socialist revolution in 1917 against the Russian aristocracy, landlords and capitalists. The revolution pulled Russia out of the interimperialist conflict.

It was the existence and participation of the state that resulted from this revolution — the Soviet Union — that made one important difference in the strategy of revolutionaries in World War II. While being for the defeat of all capitalist states, Marxists were for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union. This was because the USSR was a workers state that had overthrown capitalist and landlord exploitation, as well as tsarist tyranny. It was based on a collectivised, planned economy where production was not determined by the capitalist profit motive. The revolutionary economic and social gains that produced full employment, free universal healthcare, education and affordable housing remained despite Stalinist degeneration. The revolutionary leadership under Lenin and Trotsky fought for world socialist revolution, but the conservative bureaucracy led by Stalin abandoned this programme when it usurped political power from the working class in 1924.

The rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy came about in the context of the abortion of the German revolution in 1923, which produced a wave of disillusionment amongst the people of the Soviet Union and a conservative cynicism about the prospects for the international extension of the revolution. The majority of the revolutionary Bolshevik workers who had led the Russian Revolution had either been killed in the civil war or co-opted into the bureaucracy. Lenin had been incapacitated by a stroke during Stalin’s rise to power, and died in January 1924. Motivated by maintaining their privileged position against the working people, the Stalinist bureaucracy had given up on world revolution in favour of peaceful coexistence with world imperialism under the utopian-reactionary dogma of “socialism in one country”. To consolidate this political counterrevolution, the Stalinist bureaucracy exiled, executed or imprisoned the best remaining proletarian revolutionary elements led by Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition.

USSR liberated Europe from Nazism despite Stalin

The Stalinist misleadership seriously endangered the Soviet Union during World War II. Soviet Russia was Hitler’s main target and the Nazis almost succeeded in destroying it due to the sabotage of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Stalin’s regime had been consolidated by bloody purges in the 1930s in which many of the Red Army’s best officers were murdered, including Marshal Tukhachevsky, one of the most brilliant generals in the civil war of 1918-21. Stalin trusted the paper promises of his 1939 pact with Hitler. He ignored all warnings from Soviet spies of the coming Nazi invasion and even when it was clearly imminent he ordered the Soviet armed forces not to actively prepare for defence. But it was the Soviet Union, despite Stalin, that took on the vast majority of the Nazi war machine, smashed it and liberated Europe from fascist enslavement.

Up until the last year of the war in Europe, nearly 95 per cent of all German troops were engaged against the Soviet forces. By the time the Allied imperialists launched D-Day the guts of the German army had already been destroyed, especially in the decisive battles of Stalingrad and Kursk in 1943. A truly remarkable example of the Soviet peoples’ endurance and heroism was the 900-day siege of Leningrad, where the city’s population was mobilised in a fight to the death to defend the city from the Nazis. Over 800,000 citizens died. For example, when a giant armaments factory was attacked by German artillery the workers formed a battalion and went to the front.

In fact the D-Day “second front” was not motivated by finishing Hitler off, but by saving European capitalism from the Soviet Union. The policy of the imperialist “democracies” was to let the USSR, the real arch-enemy of the imperialists, go it alone against German imperialism so they would destroy each other. Only when it was clear that the Soviets were going to win the war did the Western Allies launch D-Day in fear of Europe succumbing to Soviet dominance. Around 28 million Soviet citizens sacrificed their lives in defending the world’s first workers state and liberating Europe from Nazism. It was testimony to the superiority of a collectivised, planned economy and the fact that the Soviet working peoples saw they had revolutionary gains to defend that the USSR had the resources and the will to defeat the powerful and barbaric Nazi war machine.

The Trotskyists of the Fourth International were the only force in World War II who had the revolutionary Leninist perspective of defeat for all of the imperialist powers and defence of the Soviet workers state. The policy of the Stalinised Communist parties internationally was determined by Stalin’s diplomatic manoeuvres with the imperialist powers, burying the interests of the international working class. For the first couple of months of war, when Stalin was in a pact with Hitler, the Stalinist parties declared it an interimperialist war. But even then their strategy was not Leninist revolutionary defeatism. Instead of fighting for civil war against the bourgeoisie, the Stalinists called for imperialist peace. In fact its “neutral” stance tilted towards Nazi Germany, with the Communist parties giving backhanded support to Hitler’s “peace initiatives”.

But after the USSR was invaded by the Nazis, the Stalinists transformed the nature of the imperialist “democracies” from being exploiters and oppressors of the world to lovers of “freedom” and “democracy”. The Stalinists were now for the defence of the British and American imperialist fatherlands and supported the war effort. Siding with their “own” ruling class in the war meant class-collaboration for the Communist parties of the Allied countries. The American Communist Party supported the racist internment of American citizens of Japanese origin and expelled those from its own ranks. The British Communist Party opposed independence for India for the duration of the war.

The size of the Trotskyist forces was small but their intervention was significant and heroic. British and American Trotskyists were persecuted and jailed for their anti-imperialist propaganda and support for working-class struggles during wartime. In Britain greedy bosses used the war as an excuse to drive down wages, particularly in the coal mines. The miners reacted with strikes which the British Trotskyists threw their forces behind, calling for the organisation of strike committees and all-out support for the miners, demanding nationalisation of the mines without compensation to the coalowners and under workers control. This was in stark contrast to the British Stalinists, who acted as strikebreakers. They insisted that the miners should go back to work as they were criminally damaging the British war effort and joined the capitalist government’s witch hunt against the Trotskyists, becoming the most enthusiastic in slandering the Trotskyists as Nazi agents.

While fighting for class struggle against the imperialist war, British and American Trotskyists were actively fighting for the defence of the Soviet Union. Members of the American then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) — which is in no way a relation of the British Socialist Workers Party — volunteered as merchant seamen for the deadly Murmansk supply run to Russia, risking their lives in U-boat-infested waters doing their internationalist proletarian duty to aid the USSR. On these supply runs Trotskyists also carried revolutionary internationalist propaganda to inspire the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy that was undermining the defence of the Soviet workers state. As for the hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries in Stalin’s prison camps — among whom numbered many individual Trotskyists who survived the executions of 1937-38 — they requested to be sent to the front to fight to the death against fascism. When Stalin refused to allow them to do so, they did what they could for the Soviet war effort by agreeing to the extension of the working day to twelve hours. In 1941 Stalin ordered a further wave of executions of political prisoners. Among 157 murdered on 11 September were Olga Kameneva, Trotsky’s sister, and Christian Rakovsky, formerly a leading member of Trotsky’s Left Opposition.

Fraternisation with the soldiers of the occupying armies is an essential wartime activity for revolutionaries in order to undercut national chauvinism. In Nazi-occupied Europe, French Trotskyists fraternised with working-class conscripts of the German army in a bid to get them to turn their guns the other way against the Nazi rulers. Courageously, they distributed an underground revolutionary newspaper in German, Arbeiter und Soldat (Worker and Soldier) and built a cell within the German armed forces at Brest. For example, 65 heroic French and German Trotskyists were shot by the Nazis in 1943 when they were discovered. Rather than trying to evade forced labour in Germany, some French and Dutch Trotskyists went to work there in order to aid the hoped-for German workers revolution against the Third Reich. Such proletarian internationalist mobilisation of the German workers — in or out of uniform — against the Nazis was anathema to the Stalinist-led resistance in Europe. In alliance with the much smaller nationalist bourgeois resistance, they carried out the chauvinist and anti-working-class policy that the “only good German is a dead German”.

The PMP: departure from Leninism

Though the Leninist position of revolutionary defeatism of all the capitalist powers was the main thrust of Trotskyist policy during World War II, there was a political deviation from this perspective. Based on their hatred of fascism, the British and American working classes were overwhelmingly supportive of the conscription drive and war effort against Nazi Germany. By 1940 the Nazis had occupied most of Western Europe in a matter of months and stood across the Channel — less than 30 miles from Britain. There was enormous pressure on the American and particularly the British Trotskyists to accommodate to the misguided consciousness amongst the workers — pushed by the reformists such as the Labour Party in Britain — that they must support their so-called “democratic” bourgeoisie in a war against the fascist powers. The “Proletarian Military Policy” (PMP), first adopted by the American SWP in September 1940, was a partial capitulation to this consciousness.

It’s a fact that Trotsky authored the first expression of what became the PMP. However he was murdered by a Stalinist assassin shortly after its formal adoption and didn’t have the chance to defend or reconsider the PMP in the debate raging within the Fourth International. Observing the rapid advance of the Nazi armies in Europe, Trotsky saw how the European bourgeoisies had given up the fight and accommodated the Nazis very easily. This was particularly so in France whose bourgeoisie was, if anything, even more anti-Semitic than the German ruling class and wanted to smash the organised working class just as much. Generalising this experience Trotsky predicted that the remaining “democracies” would soon appease Hitler or turn into military dictatorships, ripping off their democratic mask. This would quickly expose their reactionary character to the working class which, armed and with military training from the capitalist state itself, would direct its anti-fascist and democratic sentiment against its “own” imperialist rulers. But this underestimated the extent to which the British and American imperialists would use the facade of a democratic crusade against fascism to further their own war aims: a facade which the PMP complemented. We of the ICL are unique today in opposing the PMP. And now I’ll tell you why.

The central demand of the PMP was to call for trade-union control of the compulsory military training being carried out by the imperialist state, with “federal funds for the military training of workers and worker-officers”. The implication that working-class organisations could control a function of the bourgeois army was wildly utopian. It went against the Leninist understanding of the state. The military is part of the “special bodies of armed men” that make up the state. The police, prisons and army in a capitalist state are there to defend capitalist property relations and the rule of the bourgeoisie against any threat to its order, including the working class — the ultimate potential threat. These oppressive institutions cannot be reformed to act in the interests of the workers. They must be smashed and replaced by organs of working-class rule through a socialist revolution. Revolutionaries fight for democratic rights for the soldiers within the bourgeois military, and for the forming of soldiers soviets, or councils, to further a split within the army, with the rank-and-file soldiers coming over to the side of the workers in a socialist revolution against the bourgeoisie. And if the working class is conscripted, revolutionaries will go into the military with the rest of their generation in order to further this split. But this does not mean revolutionaries support the imperialists’ conscription drive and war effort.

Calling for the funding of military training, even if under the control of the trade unions, the PMP was in brazen opposition to the slogan of revolutionaries in the first world war: “Not a man and not a penny” for the imperialist military. It went against the elementary Leninist revolutionary defeatism during interimperialist war that the main enemy was the working class’s “own” imperialist bourgeoisie. Ultimately the PMP could only be for the trade unions to control and to make more efficient the American and British imperialist war effort.

Trotsky was wrong in his support for the PMP in 1940 — in fact his and the Fourth International’s positions in the build-up to and early months of World War II are the most effective polemics against the PMP. In his 1934 polemic “War and the Fourth International” Trotsky tears apart the bleatings of reformists about the need to support the bourgeoisies of the democratic countries in order to fight fascism. He wrote:

“The sham of national defense is covered up wherever possible by the additional sham of the defense of democracy. If even now, in the imperialist epoch, Marxists do not identify democracy with fascism and are ready at any moment to repel fascism’s encroachment upon democracy, must not the proletariat in case of war support the democratic governments against the fascist governments?

“Flagrant sophism! We defend democracy against fascism by means of the organizations and methods of the proletariat. Contrary to the Social Democracy, we do not entrust this defense to the bourgeois state.... And if we remain in irreconcilable opposition to the most ‘democratic’ government in time of peace, how can we take upon ourselves even a shadow of responsibility for it in time of war when all the infamies and crimes of capitalism take on a most brutal and bloody form?”

The PMP went against the entire nature of Trotsky and the Fourth International’s otherwise heroic and revolutionary defeatist intervention into the war. In the “democratic” imperialists’ colonies the Trotskyists went nowhere near the PMP. Within a few weeks of Britain’s announcement that India was at war with the Axis powers, 90,000 workers were on strike against the war in Bombay, with strikes and mass meetings in Calcutta and elsewhere. If the Trotskyists had demanded, during this strike wave, that the British imperialists fund military training under trade-union control so that the Indian masses could “fight fascism” and defend British “democracy”, it would have meant their virtual dissolution into the British administration. This most starkly demonstrates the absurdity and the anti-internationalist parochialism of the PMP. It only had application for the Anglo-American imperialist centres, not their enslaved colonies or, of course, the fascist and military dictatorships of the Axis powers.

In 1942 a gigantic movement for independence known as the “Quit India” movement swept the subcontinent. Inspired by Japanese military victories in Britain’s Far East colonies, barricades went up in the streets of Bombay and strikes erupted with millions shouting “Long Live the Revolution!”. The British retaliated by killing thousands, bombing villages and interning tens of thousands in concentration camps. The Trotskyists of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India intervened heroically calling for “Down with imperialism! Down with the imperialist war!”.

If British imperialism’s war effort had been damaged by colonial uprisings abroad and working-class struggle at home, it would have been a good thing for revolutionaries and the masses of the world — including the British working class. As our comrades pointed out in Documents on the “Proletarian Military Policy”: “far better that intense proletarian class struggle and colonial uprisings paralyze the British and American war effort, perhaps leading to transient German victories, than that the proletariat implicitly support the Allied armies by demanding better trained and equipped soldiers!” The pamphlet goes on to explain:

“If mass popular opposition to the war had disrupted the British war effort, leading Hitler to attempt a Channel crossing (as it was, he never mounted a serious effort), the German conquerors would have inherited the problems of the British bourgeoisie, compounded by national resentment at the foreign invader. The colonial slaves of the British Empire would doubtless have taken advantage of a humiliating British defeat to declare their independence. It is not hard to imagine the revolutionary world scenario which would have ensued, infecting even the soldiers of the Wehrmacht [the German army], many of whom were sons of Social Democratic and Communist workers.”

For anyone who thinks winning the worker-soldiers of the German army over to the overthrow of Nazism is just wishful thinking, I should point out that 80,000 German soldiers were shot or hanged by Nazi authorities for insubordination or desertion during the war. As well as the Trotskyist cells I have already mentioned, there are other instances of proletarian resistance and solidarity within the German army that we know about. One example was reported by the American SWP’s newspaper, the Militant. It printed two letters in 1942 from a socialist worker drafted into the German army. He had spent three weeks in Warsaw at the end of 1941 where he had made contact with Jewish Bundists and Polish socialists, for whom he raised 500 marks from his underground resistance group upon returning to Berlin.

Many may think that the Trotskyist position of turning the imperialists’ second world war into a series of socialist revolutions against all the capitalist powers, even if courageous and principled, never had any chance of happening. But there were pre-revolutionary situations around the world during and because of World War II. Proving the policy of revolutionary defeatism correct, the military defeat of the fascist Italian bourgeoisie in 1943 led to the Italian working class rising up and taking their revenge against Mussolini and his ilk. They seized arms and formed workers councils, creating a pre-revolutionary situation against the capitalist order. Similar revolutionary opportunities occurred with the defeat of the Nazi-collaborator regime in occupied France. But it was the betrayals of Stalinism which strangled these revolutionary opportunities. Desperate not to see the overthrow of capitalism by workers revolution in the West, the Stalinist bureaucracy ordered the re-emerging Communist parties in Italy and France to instruct the workers to disarm and join the governments of the supposedly progressive “democratic” bourgeoisie.

Had the workers made their revolution, under the kind of leadership the Trotskyists were fighting to build, there was every chance that the working-class conscripts of the American and British armies in Italy and France would have refused to crush them and indeed supported them. A revolutionary appeal to these soldiers, particularly the black GIs who faced vicious racist discrimination in the forces and at home, could have split the base of the armies from the officers, winning it over to the cause of socialist revolution. Stalin also allowed the British imperialists to crush the Greek Communist Party-led uprising at the end of the war. After the defeat of the Japanese imperialists, the Vietnamese Trotskyists — with a mass following amongst the workers — led the 1945 Saigon insurrection against the reinvading French colonialists who were supported by British forces. The uprising was put down and the Trotskyist forces massacred, not only by the French and British imperialists but above all by the Vietnamese Stalinists.

Even though the PMP was adopted in theory in America by the SWP, in practice — because it was utopian and because the American Trotskyists did focus on opposing the American imperialist war effort — it never came to anything.

There were two Trotskyist groups in Britain at the start of the war: the Revolutionary Socialist League and the Workers International League. The Revolutionary Socialist League opposed the PMP, correctly arguing that it was a concession to social-patriotism. The Workers International League, however, embraced it — though there was opposition to it within the party. The Workers International League remained revolutionary defeatist towards British imperialism in its activities. It highlighted British atrocities in its colonies during the war and called for their immediate unconditional independence. It actively supported strikes and made clear in a headline from its newspaper Socialist Appeal: “Capitalist Second Front will crush European Revolution”. But its support for the PMP did blunt its revolutionary propaganda and provided for a current that was conciliatory to social-chauvinist defensism of British imperialism. There is a flyer from the time for a meeting of the Workers International League. It says workers control of production is the answer to the chaos of the war effort. It doesn’t mention any opposition to the imperialist war. At a 1943 Workers International League conference, one of its leading members, Ted Grant, went so far as to voice his support for an army of British imperialism. He declared: “We have a victorious army in North Africa and Italy, and I say, yes. Long Live the Eighth Army, because that is our army” (quoted in Sam Bornstein/Al Richardson, War and the International [1986]). Grant was talking at a time when there was working-class dissent in the Eighth Army. But it was still very much an army of British imperialism. Grant’s statement is an example of the seeds of social-chauvinist and reformist perspectives that were to grow and contribute to producing the many Labourite outfits sometimes referring to themselves as Trotskyists in the decades since the war.

The Socialist Party: parodying the PMP

Ted Grant went on to lead a reformist outfit called Militant, which was characterised by being deeply buried inside the Labour Party until it was thrown out in the early 1990s. The Socialist Party of today has its origins in the Militant group and still holds to Militant’s reformist social-chauvinist tradition. In a Socialist Party meeting a week after the 7 July terrorist bombings, Socialist Party speakers, including its leader Peter Taaffe, participated in an orgy of social-patriotic ravings about the need for the working class to unite against terrorism and war. They said what was needed was for the trade unions to help in organising a campaign for this unity. This sentiment was repeated in its newspaper for the next four weeks in a row, with the front page spelling out such slogans as: “No to terrorism, no to war” and “Workers’ unity against war and terrorism”. We Marxists of the International Communist League of course condemn all terrorist attacks against innocent civilians. But this condemnation does not mean echoing the British ruling class’s own campaign for mobilising national unity “against terrorism”, which is aimed at maintaining class peace and arming the state to the teeth with reactionary racist “anti-terror” legislation. The Socialist Party’s demands for demonstrations to be built by trade unions and working-class organisations under the slogans “United against terror” and “United against war” conceal the fact that the biggest threat to the working class and oppressed at this moment in time is not terrorism but the “anti-terror” laws.

In providing a thin proletarian veneer for the ruling class’s own aims of national unity in the “war against terrorism”, it is as though the Socialist Party are acting out their own bizarre parody of the PMP. Instead of trade-union control of the war “against fascism” today they are practically calling for trade-union control of the “war on terror”. The difference being, of course, that the PMP was a result of tremendous pressures on Trotskyists resulting from the Nazi victories and a desire of the working class to fight fascism. The Socialist Party’s unity campaign against “terrorism and war” is the result of its standard reformist practice of shamelessly adapting to the most backward moods and fears within the working class which are conditioned by bourgeois scaremongering.

In contrast we communists of the Spartacus Youth Group and International Communist League base ourselves on the principles laid out by Trotsky at the founding conference of the Fourth International:

“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s programme on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour of action arrives — these are the rules of the Fourth International.”

This is our tradition and this is why we honour those Trotskyists in World War II who swam against the stream in the fight against imperialism — fascist and “democratic” — and the struggle for socialist revolution, the only road for the liberation of humanity. A struggle which today we fight to carry forward.


The article “Revolutionaries and World War II” published in Workers Hammer no 193, Winter 2005-2006, stated, referring to the “Proletarian Military Policy” (PMP), that Trotsky “was murdered by a Stalinist assassin shortly after its formal adoption”. The PMP was formally adopted by the American Socialist Workers Party in September 1940, after Trotsky's assassination which was in August 1940. (From WH no. 196, Autumn 2006.) There is also a letter concerning this article.

Workers Hammer No. 193

WH 193

Winter 2005-2006


Irish unions show their strength

Wretched deal at Irish Ferries


Imperialist "democracy" means barbarity in Iraq

For a multiethnic revolutionary workers party!


Unions must organise immigrant workers! Full wages and benefits for immigrants!

For solidarity strikes to defend crew members occupying Irish Ferries!

Down with "partnership" and all class collaboration!




Elizabeth King Robertson



Down with racist state of emergency!

Ghetto youth upheavals in France


British, US imperialist troops out of Iraq now!

"International Peace Conference" building illusions in a kinder, gentler imperialism


British imperialism and the myth of the "democratic" war against fascism

Revolutionaries and World War II

(Young Spartacus Pages)