Splits and Fusions- an archive of Trotskyist, Communist and related publications in Britain

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Welcome to Splits&Fusions.

Here we will showcase documents from the various tendencies of what can broadly be described as the Trotskyist movement in Britain (with a nod to Irish, US and other publications in the English language). Additional areas of interest include Left and Council Communists, Libertarian Socialists and Class Struggle Anarchists particularly those deriving from or moving towards Trotskyism; Maoist groups and others from the left of ‘Official Communism’.

In most cases items will be presented without much in the way of editorial, beyond a brief (and hopefully factual) description of the group. Continue reading

Fred Bunby- Interviewed 26th March 1978

Fred Bunby was a member of the pre-War WIL and later the RCP. He was active in the Grant group in the 1950s but later drifted out of active politics. An obituary by Sheila Lahr appeared in Revolutionary History v7 no1.

This is the first entry in our Lost Voices series of interviews.

Interview given by Fred Bunby to Sam Bornstein on Sunday 26th March 1978 in London. Al Richardson and Bert Atkinson present.

Supplementary questions by Al Richardson and Bert Atkinson.

SB:     When did you first come into the working class movement?

FB:     I first joined the Labour League of Youth in Liverpool in 1935 or 1936.

SB:     How old were you then?

FB:     I was about 19 or 20 then.

SB:     Can you tell me something of the make up of the League of Youth in those days, the kind of people who were in it and what they worked at?

FB:     In those days, the Labour Party League of Youth was solidly working class. I don’t think you would find a petty-bourgeois in the Labour League of Youth then. On the other hand, the YCL was predominantly petty-bourgeois. There were hardly any workers, they were mainly Jewish, at the inception of the Popular Front period.

SB:     When did you first come into contact with the Trotskyist movement?

FB:     I first met Healy in 1938. He was on a visit to Liverpool and there was a Trotskyist group there of the RSL-MLL Their national leaders then were Starkey Jackson, Harber and a few others, and they had a group in Liverpool. Grainger, Kossof, and Don James – they were the older ones, and they also had about half a dozen youngsters in the Kirkdale Labour League of Youth and they were in the RSL-MLL. I never fancied them. Although I was in contact, I never formally joined them, so it wasn’t until ’38 when Healy came to Liverpool and he contacted us. We were then in the Fairfield League of Youth, the members whose names I remember were Arthur Leadbetter, Frank Foster, a couple of others and I. There were only about five of us, and Healy persuaded us to join the WIL group, although we were still on friendly terms with the young comrades in the RSL. A couple of months after the formation of the WIL in Liverpool, Healy persuaded all the youngsters in the Kirkdale League of Youth to break from the RSL and come over to us. There were seven or eight of them: Eric Brewer, Jimmy Deane, Johnny Birchall, Harry Matthews, and a couple of others whose names I can’t remember now. So, in Liverpool, we had a group of about a dozen strong in WIL, all of us youngsters, probably the oldest amongst us then would be about 22 or 23.

SB:     So, in 1938, there were about a dozen people who joined the WIL group, mainly from the League of Youth, and some from the RSL. What trade union work were the people with you doing? What did they work at?

Continue reading

Lost Voices of British Trotskyism

Maybe one day we could do a book!

Researching the history of the Trotsky movement in Britain, Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson conducted interviews with comrades who had been active in the movement in the 30s and 40s.

Some of them had been in the leadership, some were foot soldiers.

The interviews were sometimes quoted from them in Against the Stream published in 1986 and War and the International published in the same year. 

Al and Sam conducted several  dozen interviews. Unfortunately we do not have them all but we do have more than 20. At some stage we will list the ones which are missing in the hope that  Al and Sam might have passed copies on. 

If anybody has copies of interviews that others have done with veterans of the movement we would  be pleased to hear about them. 

Barry Buitekant 

Splits & Fusions will very soon start to publish a number of Al and Sam’s interviews, and other related material.

We have had some of these professionally re-typed from poor quality original typescripts and photocopies and we have others in the pipeline. Any donations towards this work would be gratefully received.

In most cases the misspellings of names and places, apart from obvious ones, have not been corrected. Not have any factual inaccuracies been amended.

These are oral testimonies from participants in the movement, many collected over thirty or forty years later and, as such we hope they will prove to be an invaluable resource for future historians of the movement.

Rob Marsden

Cliff Slaughter 1928 – 2021

Cliff Slaughter has died. As an important figure in the post-war British Trotskyist movement we will post here any obituaries and commentaries on his life and legacy.

“Cliff Slaughter died at 8 pm on Tuesday May 3rd , having been in a coma for the last few days. He had had a heart attack recently which he survived apparently in reasonably good spirits, but then had to be taken to hospital again with other problems. He was 92.” Paul Henderson, via Facebook.

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Andrew Burgin gives us this assessment, originally via Facebook:

A Few Words for Cliff Slaughter

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Phil Hearse, writing for RedMoleRising has a more critical approach, using Andrews notes as a starting point for his reply.

Cliff Slaughter- A Critical Appraisal

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Victor Osprey’s interview with Cliff Slaughter, from 2020- which we carried- must stand as his last interview. He gave very few anyway and this one does not really give much in the way of new information or insights.

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The World Socialist Website- vehicle of the Socialist Equality Party / ICFI offers a preliminary obituary here::

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/05/06/slau-m06.html

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And from Gerry Downing’s Socialist Fight:

https://socialistfight.com/2021/05/08/an-obituary-to-cliff-slaughter-1928-3-may-2021/

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We will add more items as they become available.

Before the May Day Committee… the London Workers Association

As often happens, a few days after posting about the 1968 May Day Committee, and lamenting the fact that we had so little material, I chanced upon this A6 sized flyer…

In the same large crate of miscellaneous and random items I then came across a few documents relating to a London Workers Association which was formed to contest the 1964 General Election.

This is the London Workers Association introductory leaflet

We then have an announcement of the candidature of Terry Chandler, for Bermondsey, on behalf of the LWA and a public meeting in support of him.

This is signed by Bernie Holland, Jimmy Jewers, John Lawrence, Pat Pottle, Bob Streetley and Ken Weller…

Bob Potter is named as treasurer.

A further circular from March 22nd 1964 sadly reports on differences within the committee which meant the immediate winding up of the LWA and cancellation of the public meeting and election campaign.

The signature is unclear- possibly J Hood. As John Lawrence appears to have originally been secretary perhaps he was in the minority of two opposed to dissolution…

THE LONDON WORKERS ASSOCIATION Archive

From May Day Committee to Workers Mutual Aid

We have previously mentioned John Lawrence, a veteran leader of the war-time Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party.

In the 1950s Lawrence supported Pablo against Canon / Healy and briefly headed the British Section of the FI before breaking with the international. Thereafter he made a name for himself on the left of the Labour Party, as leader of St Pancras council, whilst working closely with the Communist Party (even through the turbulent period after the Hungarian uprising in 1956).

Expelled from Labour, he joined the CP in 1958. Within the CP he was a minor oppositionist, voicing similar criticisms but not associated with the Maoist currents. He drifted out in 1964 but rather than returning to the Trotskyist fold he flirted with Solidarity and with a variant of anarchist syndicalism.

It was at this time, in the late 1960s that he set up the London May Day Committee to reclaim May Day as a workers festival to be celebrated with strike action.

We have a circular from the committee which would appear to be from 1968.

Later that year, together with Brian Behan, Fred Emmett, and a number of print workers, Lawrence formed Workers Mutual Aid to supersede the Committee.

This was a non-party rank and file organisation which published at least one introductory pamphlet. Little else is known of this short-lived grouping.

MAY DAY COMMITTEE and WORKERS MUTUAL AID Archive

The Mayday Manifesto

The Mayday Manifesto was written in 1967 by a grouping around Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall and EP Thompson who formed a ‘self-organizing, self-financed socialist intellectual organization’.

The seventy signatories including Iris Murdoch, Terry Eagleton, Dorothy Wedderburn, and Ralph Miliband, collaborated on what was a counter-statement, or challenge, to the policies and direction of Harold Wilson’s Labour Government. 

The Manifesto became a focus of those who wanted to revitalise the left and it gave rise to a series of conferences, a regular bulletin and a series of discussion papers and pamphlets.

Bulletin no5- May 1968 clearly demonstrates the wide ranging discussions then taking place around the Manifesto.

We also have pamphlet number 2 The Miracle and After on the German New Left and number 4, by Sheila Rowbotham on Women’s Liberation and the New Politics.

Other pamphlets in the series included:

Thugs and Wreckers- The case of the LSE

The revolutionary movement of the class struggle in France 1968-9

(if you have any of these, you know where to send them!)

From August 1969 we have a circular letter to comrades and friends outlining the intent to transform the Manifesto from a ‘presence’ to a national grouping with a loose but more centralised structure.

The impetus for this appears to be the loss of Manifesto supporters to other organised groups. It is not clear what ultimately became of this initiative and the Mayday Manifesto grouping.

MAYDAY MANIFESTO Archive

More Controversy…

We previously posted 8 issues of Controversy– the ILP sponsored journal of socialist discussion from the late 1930s.

Now we are able to add three more…

Volume 1, no 12 for September 1937 has an editorial looking back at its development over the first 12 months of its existence.

Articles include the memoirs of an International Brigader who recently fell foul of the CP, a criticism of the popular Front by August Thalheimer and reviews of two histories of the Communist Party by Henry Sara.

International Notes comment on the CPs silence over the disappearance of Andres Nin.

Volume 2, no1 (whole number no13) looks at 20 years of Soviet power (PA Sloan- a CP member) and Jim Garton provides another positive assessment of the Soviet Union.

Sandwiched between these articles is one by CLR James titled simply Totskyism.

The back cover of this issue advertises a verbatim report of the Dewey commission- 640 pages, and Victors Serge’s From Lenin To Stalin.

Volume 2 no14 (no14) for November 1937 leads with an article by Bertram Wolfe on Mexico.

Dan Hughes comments on the opposition to Mosley’s marches, WS Wigham calls for ILP / CP unity and John Sceats makes a case for socialist pacifism and an approach to the middle-classes!

The back cover advertises four journals: Socialist Vanguard, International Review, Modern Monthly and Socialist Standard (at least two of which we hope to cover on Splits and Fusions one day)

CONTROVERSY Archive

The Cork Workers Club

We briefly mentioned the Cork Workers Club in relation to the British and Irish Communist Organisation.

A very useful introduction to the Club and its background can be found here on the ever useful Cedar Lounge site- look for the comment by Fintan Lane.

To summarise, sometime after 1972 the Cork branch of the Irish Communist Organisation left to form the Cork Communist Organisation.

This made up largely of the Saor Eire people (publishers of ‘People’s Voice’ and distinct from the Dublin based organisation of the same name), who had earlier merged with the ICO. Their politics were a mixture of Marxist-Leninism (Maoism) and republicanism.

They eventually abandoned the ICO, partly because of the drift towards a ‘two-nationist’ position, and became the Cork Workers Club, which survived into the late 1970s as a real group and, afterwards, as a sort of publishing house.

More information can also be found here.

The CCO’s critique of the ICO is to be found in the pamphlet: On The Resignation of the Cork Branch of the Irish Communist Organisation

We also lifted three pamphlets from the Irish Left Archive!

The Cork Workers’ Club were prolific publishers of left materials, particularly their reprints of historical texts.

“It is our intention to republish a series of pamphlets and booklets which, in our opinion, are of historical value to the study of the development of the Socialist Movement in Ireland. All publication will be unabridged, and we would like to stress that in publishing them we do not necessarily agree with all the sentiments expressed.”

We have scanned three pamphlets (no’s 3, 4 and 11) from their Historical Reprints series and in the process of writing this have just discovered scans of several more on the Woodsmoke Blog. So, we now have ten out of at least eighteen.

We are sure other comrades will have a lot more of these on their bookshelves just waiting to be scanned…

The CORK COMMUNIST ORGANISATION / CORK WORKERS CLUB Archive

The Socialist Workers Group 1941-43

A footnote in the history of British Trotskyism, the Socialist Workers Group originated in the South London Group of the RSL. By 1941, with the departure of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Revolutionary Workers League, this faction was the only grouping within the RSL advocating an open party tactic.

As a result it came into conflict with the Harber / Jackson leadership and one of its leaders Arthur Cooper was expelled for publicly declaring he would not uphold the policy of the RSL.

He was followed out by a small number of his comrades including Fred Emmett and Sid Bone.

This group then issued a document announcing its formation. “For the Building of the British Section of the Fourth International” was addressed “to all former members of the MLL(RSL) and sympathisers. It was signed F, B and E. B is clearly Bone and E is Emmett. Presumably F is Cooper but I am not certain.

In this document, dated April 1941, the group mentions a bulletin “Socialist Fight” however, in her Bibliography of the British Trotskyist Press 1932-1956 (Warwick 1979) (a very useful resource to which we will return in the future) Alison Penn lists only a first issue- vol1 no1 and suggests that none have survived.

It is still possible that an issue of Socialist Fight may exist somewhere- perhaps in the Harber papers at Warwick.

The SWG entered into fusion discussions with the Workers International League. Although they came to nothing, Al Richardson states that they were reported in Workers International News. However, I have been unable to find any reference to this either in the existing copies of WIN or the contemporary Socialist Appeal.

Subsequently the five members of the Socialist Workers Group applied to rejoin the RSL, arguing that whilst they were right in their original opposition they should have stayed in to put their case rather than leaving. Their application was accepted by the RSL Executive Committee only to be then over-ruled by the Central Committee leaving the SWGers in limbo.

Now styling themselves the Croydon Group (of the RSL) they asserted their right to appeal to conference. This was denied on the grounds that they were not actually members of the RSL (disputed by the SWG who countered that to be accepted into membership by the EC, and even given internal documents, only to be ejected by the CC amounted to expulsion and thus there were grounds to appeal…)

This discussion between the two groups is detailed here, in a series of letters– eight in all.*

By mid-1943 the SWG had dissolved itself into the Trotskyist Opposition- a tendency within the RSL (but by then largely operating outside its discipline) around John Lawrence. This was a pro-WIL faction and thus in favour of the open organisation.

Consequently, with the re-unification of the factions of the RSL prior to fusion with the WIL, the Trotskyist Opposition and thus the former SWG came back into the fold…

SOCIALIST WORKERS GROUP Archive

*A note on initials.

The five members of the SWG are AC- Cooper, SB- Bone, FE or FLE- Emmett plus DD and RJ.

Replying for the RSL are MJ- presumably Margaret Johns and ELD- E. Leigh Davis plus MB (unknown).

Ten Years For The Locust Reconsidered

Thanks to Ian Hunter for giving his permission for us to publish this essay he wrote in 1989.

Ten Years for the Locust Reconsidered- An essay on Trotskyism in Britain 1938-1949 is a response to Jim Higgins Ten Years for the Locust which appeared in International Socialism no14 Autumn 1963.

As such it defends the British Trotskyist movement, in particular the wartime RCP, against Higgins charge that its demise was largely down to its own mistakes, internal problems and false perspectives rather than, as Hunter says, the completely inimical objective circumstances it found itself in after the war.

As far as we are aware, this article has only previously been circulated as a photocopied typescript so we are happy to bring it to a slightly wider audience. Well worth a read.