British Committee for the Defence of Leon Trotsky

StakeAn attempt to emulate the American committee of the same name, the British Committee for the Defence of Leon Trotsky met with considerably less success, for reasons which Martin Upham goes into in great detail here.

We currently have two items published by the BCDLT.

First the pamphlet I Stake My Life.

Upham mentions the lack of co-ordination between the component groups of the Committee which led to its publication of this pamphlet whilst at the same time the Militant Group arranged for bulk import of the American printing…

Then we have one issue (no2) of the Information Bulletin of the Committee.

Interestingly note 79 in Upham mentions that whilst it is thought only two issues of the IB were produced another source suggests there were five. Perhaps one of our readers can put that one to rest…?



The British Oehlerites

oehlerA guest post by Mike Pearn (with a few notes and links from us)

The Glasgow Leninist League was formed in that city in 1932 by seven comrades who had been reading the American Trotskyist paper The Militant. Among them being Hugh Esson and Ernest Rogers.

[Rogers account can be found here S&F]

They were and remained a propaganda group attracted to first Trotskyism and then to American revolutionary Hugo Oehlers opposition to the entry of revolutionaries into centrist or left moving reformist parties. As a tiny propaganda group they failed to recruit new members through the remainder of the decade and were excluded from the various attempts of the wider Trotskyist movement to form a single organisation as a result of their opposition to entrism.

Despite their tiny size they orientated on industrial action when possible with Ernest Rogers playing a role in a 1937 apprentices strike. From 1937 their main base became Coventry where Rogers had moved in search of work. Anti-war propaganda in London saw them attract the attention of the state resulting in a collapse of support, from a peak membership of 30 in 1940, built in the previous few years.

As always this period saw them encounter the mainstream Trotskyists of the Workers International League from whom they poached Denis Levin and Arthur Priest. The reduced organisation were to clash again with the WIL and the RCP most calamitously in 1944 after Rogers engaged in an affair with the wife of WIL member Alex Tripp who then informed on the Leninist League. The sorry affair leading to Rogers dropping out of active politics, the expulsion of members from the WIL and the almost complete collapse of the Leninist League.

However in October 1944 Joe Thomas left Common Wealth with a few supporters forming the Communist Workers Group which then fused with the Leninist League which was by then led by Denis Levin. The fused group was known as the Revolutionary Workers Association of Great Britain and affiliated to the International Contact Commission the Oehlerite ‘International’.

[We have a copy of the RWA’s Open Letter to the RCP here S&F] Open

The new group can hardly be said to have thrived but it did briefly recruit a small number of activists on the London Docks thereby outflanking the Revolutionary Communist Party which had succeeded the WIL. Following which the RWA collapsed when in May 1947 Thomas split from the RWA and formed a new Socialist Workers League which lasted until 1951 when it in turn collapsed. Unlike previous groups it had a regular publication in the shape of Workers Review. WR

Connoisseurs of socialist sects will be amused to learn that the tiny SWL had before expiring generated its own even tinier opposition of one in the form of Arthur Priest who had become enamoured of the ideas, delusions being a more accurate characterisation, of American sectarian extraordinaire Marlen of whom no more will be said.

[Those who do want more information on the SWL and Priest’s opposition faction should look here… S&F]

Curiously it was also able to contain Alf Snobel a former RCPer and future supporter of Socialist Current. At this point the SWL split. Snobel we know joining the Socialist Current and we can safely assume that Priest failed to find any co-religionists and fell into inactivity. One group of SWL members, based in Hackney, around Tom Cowan and Denis Levin formed the Socialist Workers Group which later in the 1950s was to become the London group of the Socialist Workers Federation led by Harry McShane and Eric Heffer.

It is unclear whether this group is to be identified with the Militant Socialist Group which was based in London and affiliated to the SWF. Meanwhile 1954 Thomas and Levin both of whom were working in the Independent Labour Party left it to form the Workers League publishing the Workers News Bulletin. In 1961 Thomas was expelled for bureaucratism – the group probably had six members at this point. Led by Denis Levin it survived for another four or five years.

The notes above represent a rough chronology of British Oehlerism but say nothing about the politics of those concerned. In general all the various iterations of this very working class current held that they were working towards the construction of a revolutionary Communist Party and advanced a critique of Stalinism that was very similar to that of the mainstream Trotskyists. In the workplaces and unions they drew on the rank and file traditions of the revolutionary movement in Britain and with regard to the Labour Party believed that entry into that institution was contrary to revolutionary principle. This of course brought them into sympathy with Oehlers sect in the USA. And like all such groups they were subject to all kinds of personal squabbles and petty disputes that in the end cancelled out the positive work they did and their revolutionary enthusiasm.

Socialist Workers League- “Revolution”

revA bit of a mystery…

We present here a copy of a ten-page duplicated bulletin “Revolution” issued by the “Socialist Workers League”.

It is the first issue but has no cover date. An article on the Soviet invasion of Finland and mention of Trotsky’s recently published “USSR in War” date it to late 1939 or very early 1940. No address or contact information are provided.

It is clearly Trotskyist and pro-FI (see the back page calls in support of the Fourth International as well as the use of a Trotsky sketch in the mast head) and reprints articles by Max Shachtman and James Burnham and other American socialists.

This rules out it being linked to the later Oehlerite organisation of the same name.

Oddly, there are no references whatsoever to this organisation or publication in any of the standard references or histories- Bornstein and Richardson, Upham, Alexander or the Trotskyist Serials Bibliography.

One intriguing possibility, put to us by Mike P, is that this is a publication of the RSL using a false name. There is some evidence for this in the fact that the paper is anonymous and has the instruction “Pass on to another socialist or leave in a bus or a library. But be careful!”

Perhaps the paranoia of an organisation which expected to be banned and have to go underground in the near future…?

UPDATE: Mike further adds “ The mystery is solved! It’s a publication of the split RSL (RWL) which is given away by the reference to the Trotsky essay The USSR in War which they had just published as a pamphlet. Probably published anonymously as a result of their justifiable fear or repression.

The Red Party- Red Star

Red Star.jpgAs we have said before, we interpret our mission to document the British Trotskyist movement quite widely and will often cover groups which probably did not or do not consider themselves to be in the Trotskyist tradition.

One such is the short-lived Red Party which formed in 2004 from a faction within the CPGB (Weekly Worker group).

The Wikipedia article on this group, its origins and trajectory appears to be quite comprehensive so we will simply present here the five issues of Red Star magazine which were published in 2004 / 2005


An interesting magazine written in a modest and non-dogmatic style. Does anyone have a copy of the Tiny Red Book also published by the Red Party?

The Revolutionary Socialist League- British Section of the FI 1938 – 1944

BulletinThe Revolutionary Socialist League was first formed in early 1938 with the merger of the Marxist League and the Marxist Group.

Later that same year, a fusion brokered by the American Socialist Workers Party brought together the RSL with the Militant Group and the Revolutionary Socialist Party to form a new RSL.

The only significant grouping of British Trotskyists remaining outside this organisation was the Workers International League.

The RSL became the British section of the newly formed Fourth International claiming 170 members. They maintained the Militant Labour League for those members working within the Labour Party and continued publication of the Militant alongside the open paper Workers Fight.

Riven by factions and losing groups of members to the WIL, by the time the RSL and WIL fused to form the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1944 the RSL was reduced to a small rump.

Our holdings of RSL materials include the following:

7 issues of Workers Fight newspaper- V1 no5 appears to be the last of the ‘old series’ October 1938 and is followed by V1 no1 ‘new series’ November 1938 continuing to V2 No4 September 1939


As Mike P points out, “the four duplicated issues of Workers Fight with different colour front pages are not publications of the official RSL led by D D Harber and Starkey Jackson. They are in fact publications of the group that later renamed itself the RWL led by Bill Duncan and Hilda Lane.”

We have left these issues in the folder but also copied to the corresponding folder in our holdings for the RWL.

Two issues of the Bulletin of the British Section of the FI– a magazine issued by the war-time RSL

Pamphlets and Leaflets including the RSL printing of the Transitional Programme. According to Bornstein and Richardson it is not clear whether this document, which proved controversial, was published immediately or some time later by the RSL.

Two of the leaflets clearly illustrate the ‘defeatist’ positions of the RSL which put it at odds with the WIL.

The Enemy is in Our Own Country and Our Enemy British Capitalism

Within our Internal Documents folder you will find two RSL Internal Bulletins from 1939 and, from the period of the proposed fusion with the WIL, you will find resolutions proposed by the Militant Group (RSL faction) and the joint RSL-WIL fusion document.

Additionally- Socialist Platform published this compilation of RSL documents on the question of entry.

The Leninist Faction of the BSFI

LeninistAn outline of the Left Fraction which existed within the Revolutionary Socialist League from the 1940s can be found on Wikipedia whilst a more detailed, but partisan, account was written by a key participant- Harry Selby- in 1964.

What neither source mention is that in the early 1940s the Left Fraction also styled itself the Leninist Fraction.

We have two issues of “The Organ of the Leninist Fraction of the British Section of the Fourth International”. From April 1942 and January 1943, respectively, each is a substantial duplicated bulletin taking up key questions around issues such as Democratic Centralism and the so-called American Military Policy.

We will return to the Left Fraction in the future with a more substantial collection of documents…



Youth For Socialism

JoinWhen the Workers International League split from the Militant Group in 1937 it began publication of the theoretical magazine Workers International News whilst supporters in the Paddington Labour League of Youth produced a duplicated paper Searchlight.


Searchlight soon gave way to a a national youth paper- Youth For Socialism as a tool for intervention in the LLOY, heavily focussed on combating the influence of the Stalinist ‘Advance’ faction.ARP

We have 28 issues of YFS in our archive covering the period September 1938 to May 1941.

The paper appeared in several formats – as both a magazine and as a printed tabloid paper- 4 or 6 pages. progressives

Earlier issues are notable for their wonderful cartoons, some of which are reproduced here.

Whilst many of the issues are in excellent condition, some are in very poor condition and the paper crubles to the touch. We have scanned them all- including volume 1 issue 10 for June 1939 of which only the top half of each of the six pages remains!Reformist