Saturday, 15 March 2008

Review – War and the International by Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson (1986) Socialist Platform

This is to some extent a review in two parts, firstly I wish to give a general feel of the book and criticism and secondly I wish to draw upon a couple of the main lessons from this period.

War and the International is a book aiming to provide a history of the Trotskyist movement in Britain over the period immediately preceding, during and immediately after the second world war. The book is written in a very easily readable style and is littered with footnotes and references to interviews with many of the participants in the movement at this time. For this reason alone I would say this book is worth reading to find out more about this period.
However, I don’t think the book gives as full a history as is possible. Whilst it is very good on giving an internal history of the various Trotskyist currents at the time and their relationships with one another and the Fourth International, as you read it you feel like not enough context is given of the situation in Britain – just enough for the events to make sense is recorded but not enough in my opinion to get a really good feel of the influence of these events.

There are a few key things the book touches upon – firstly is the question of entrism. The book reports the various discussions on this issue and correctly criticises them for missing the boat in terms of not entering the labour party when it became very active in 1944/5, and then entering the party in a manner that effectively liquidated the gains of both the WIL and the RCP. There is also some discussion on the idea that Marxists should be in a reformist party in order to provide a leadership when the radicalised masses enter a party, but as the period shows those groups operating within the labour party during the war stagnated whilst the openly organised WIL made some major gains for an organisation of it’s size – additionally it’s main leaders Jock Haston and Ted Grant also managed to correctly analyse (although a little late) the developments internationally after the war.
The second is the question of left unity (or in this case unifying the sections of the Fourth International in Britain). The main lesson that comes out of this is that unity must be on a principled basis – the failure and time-wasting of fusions attempted by the IS of the Fourth International on a purely organisational basis is testament to this. Indeed, they manipulated sections to reinforce their own lack of authority when their perspectives turned out to be completely wrong. Indeed, these manipulations probably impeded the development of Trotskyism in Britain – I wonder what would have happened if the WIL had continued without being pressured through various fusions?
There are other lessons two, of how the WIL organise struggles during this period and the principled manner internal debates were conducted involving large amounts of the membership without distracting too much from the work of the organisation. This period is more than worth the study – and given the mis-education people get about the second world war and the period surrounding it I think such discussion is very worthwhile.

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