Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

The vexed question of entrism in the Labour Party

75. Hostile accounts of this period written by opponents of the International Committee emphasise disputes over whether to carry out entry work inside the Labour Party or maintain an open tendency as the defining question in the struggle within the RCP. Tactically, the issue was an important one—bound up with consideration of whether measures pioneered by Trotsky in the 1930s were applicable to the post-war situation in Britain. But whereas by 1949 all sections of the RCP were formally in agreement on entry into the Labour Party, this concealed growing differences over political prognosis and orientation.

76. Healy led a semi-clandestine entry group in the Labour Party, known as The Club. Its work around the journal Socialist Outlook was based on the recognition that, with the majority of socialist-minded workers viewing Labour as their party, and its left wing as their leaders, it was not enough to abstractly counterpose revolution to reform. It was necessary to participate in the struggle against the right-wing Labour and trade union leaders, and demonstrate the superiority of a revolutionary leadership against the vacillations and compromises of the lefts.

77. The Haston/Grant majority had initially opposed entrism, but was forced to agree by the virtual collapse of its external faction. Underlying its acceptance of the turn was a growing demoralisation as to the possibility of breaking the influence of social democracy over the working class. The Fourth International warned that the political positions it articulated expressed:

“liquidationist tendencies…. Nothing is to be done because reformism is transforming the working class; nothing is to be done because Stalinism is achieving victories for the working class. They have not much hope to build the Trotskyist organisation; they have no hope in the development of the Fourth International.”[1]

78. In 1950, Haston abruptly resigned from the RCP on the basis of an explicit repudiation of the Fourth International and an embrace of the Labour Party. In a letter dated June 10, he declared, “From the thesis that Stalinism and Social Democracy had betrayed the working class, we drew the conclusion that a new International was necessary. We went further and declared that we—who constituted ourselves the Fourth International—were the established leadership of the world working class.” Rather, Haston insisted, Labour was “introducing major reforms”, India had “achieved political freedom...under the leadership of the Indian bourgeoisie” and capitalism had been overthrown in Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe and China.

79. He concluded, “It follows from the above that we have no right to claim political and organisational authority as the international leadership of the world proletariat.” The Fourth International should be replaced by “some form of international consultative centre”, embracing “all left wing currents.” Haston went on to state, “I reject the thesis that the Labour Party cannot under any circumstances be the instrument of socialist emancipation and that only through the form of Soviets can a transformation of society take place in Britain. Although I have never excluded the possibility of the parliamentary overthrow of capitalism in the advanced countries, particularly in this country, I now believe that it is our task to advocate the use of parliament as the most economical vehicle for the complete transformation of British society.” “The Labour Party has many bureaucratic features,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, it is one of the most democratic workers’ organisations in existence…the task is to loyally adhere to the mass party and seek to drive it forward on the road to the complete transformation of the system.”[2]

80. Haston’s position was shared by others in the leadership of the RCP, some of whom also resigned. Grant refused to take a stand against Haston and was expelled. Together with a small group of supporters, he formed the International Socialist League, forerunner of the Militant Tendency (now the Socialist Party).


Cited in The History of British Trotskyism to 1949, Martin Upham (1980), Open letter from the IS to all members of the RCP8 February, 1949, http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/upham/14upham.html.


Cited in What Next?, Jock Haston (1950), Letter to the “Club”, http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/pages/healy/Haston.html.