Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Workers Socialist League

The Workers Socialist League (WSL) was formed by Alan Thornett and other members of the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) after their expulsion from that group in 1974. The expulsions had come about as a consequence of Thornett and his friends questioning the sectarian turn of the WRP as they saw things. They argued within the WRP that this turn would isolate the WRP and that it was necassry to turn back to the Trotskyist Transitional Programmne. They wrote a number of documents to argue their case and as a result wwre expelled. A minor controversy surrounded the documents as it has been alleged that Thornett was not the author but that in fact they wer written by members of the Bulletin Group. The Bulletin Group being supporters of Pierre Lambert and therefore heinous to the WRP.

The WSL was however founded in 1975 with a leadership grouped around Thornett, Tony Richardson and John Lister. It published the weekly paper Socialist Press and a number of issues of a theoretical journal Trotskyism Today in the pages of which the United Secretariat of the Fourth International was dismissed in an article entitled The Poisoned Well. Unlike the WRP, whose politics it inherited, it covered Irish politics, womens struggles and broke with the homophobia characteristic of Healy. it also decided, this in common with most Trotskyists, that Cuba had been a workers state since 1959.

In its first few years the WSL attempted to capitalise on its existing base in industry and expand outwards from its base in Oxford. However despite more realistic perspectives than those it had inherited from the WRP it was never able to reroup more than 150 members most of the former WRPers simply faded politically and as the level of industrial struggle slackened in the late 1970s the WSL was marooned. Its history then would like many other Trotskyist groups be one of splits and internal factional struggles.

The first of such factional struggles and the second too were the result of the development of a small group of supporters of the American Spartacist League. Spartacist London had been founded in 1975 by American, Canadian and Australian Spartacists with the intention of engaging other Trotskyist groups in debate. As both they and the WSL have a common past in the International Committee of the Fourth International they paid great attention to the WSL. The result was that they recruited a number of WSL members to their views and these formed the Leninist faction in 1977. The Leninist Faction would split to join the London Spartacists in forming the Spartacist League in 1978. This debilitating factional struggle had its sequel in 1979 when another group of WSL members were similarly won to the Spartacists this time calling theirselves the Trotskyist Faction.

Meanwhile 1979 saw the election of a Conservative party Government and the bginnings of a major employers offensive against the trade unions. This also had a reaction in the Labour Party which swung to the left and began to exert a gravitational pull on groups such as the WSL. By 1980 the WSL was essentially working within the Labour Party which caused a degree of internal differentiation within its membership as to how to relate to the Labour Lefts around Wedgewood Benn who they saw as reformists. The presence of another Trotskyist group in the Labour Party, the International-Communist League, also posed problems and the possibility of the two groups merging was raised.

Those members of the WSL most opposed to any fusion of the WSL with the I-CL tended to be those involved with the groups 'open' work around unemployment which was then a massive question in Britain. In fact the WSL launched a short lived National Unemployed Workers Movement at this time which despite its name was actually more concerned with unemployed youth than workers thrown out of the fctories. None the less the fusion of the two groups was achieved in July 1981 with the fused group maintaining the name Workers Socialist League, often called the 'new' WSL, with Socialist Organiser as its paper although theoretically SO was a 'broad' paper and not that of the WSL or I-CL before it. The WSL remained affiliated to the Trotkyist International Liaison Committee (TILC) the small international tendency of groups which the WSL led. Its other affiliates were to be found in Denmark, Italy, Greece, the USA and Turkish exiles. The only group affiliated which supported the former I-CL was to be found in Australia.

Within the new WSL factional disputes broke out immediatly. Although their were many issues involved in the internal debates the War for possession of the Falkland or Malvinas Islands was paramount. Traditionally Trotskyists defend countries oppreessed by imperialism in any military conflict calling this military support which is differentiated from political support. The knee jerk reaction from Trotskyists in britain then was to give such support to Argentina when war broke out regardlerss of historic claims to the islands or the question of guilt as to who began the war. Some Trotskyists disagreed with this view and took a dual defeatist position on the war on the grounds that Argenetina was not a semi-colony of imperialism, to use the termijology drawn from Lenins book on imperialism. The I-CL element in the new WSL was one such tendency and there taking this position caused outrage within the WSL, including from some I-CL cadre. The position of the former I-CL was made even more outrageous to the left which was now cohering in the WSL by their advocacy of self determination for the Falkland Islanders.

By Summer 1982 clear if informal factional lines had developed in the WSL. On one had was the former I-CL around Sean Matgamna, then a centre around Alan Clinton followed by a smaller left wing drawn from the old WSL. The TILC groups were to line up in support of the WSL left when in January 1983 it constituted itself as the Internationalist Tendency (IT). Not only did the IT raise the issue of the Falklands in their doucments but they offered both wings of the leadership a challenge on almost all important issues of the time from the Labour Party to ireland to Palestine and so forth. The IT had 38 members most from the old WSL but including I-CLers with its main support in Leicester and Nottingham. It was led by Chris Erswell, Mike Jones and Pete Flack.

In March 1983 the IT declared that it was now a faction, thus becoming the Internationalist Faction (IF), and adopted a number of documents in which their crioticisms of both wings of the leadership was stepped up. However there were by now tensions in the IF as members became sympatheitc to the Workers Power group and the international tendency around the Argentine Workers Party (PO) the Fourth Internationalist Tendency. The Internationalist Factions members sympathetic to Workers Power left to join that group. The next stage in the developing split was the April 1983 TILC meeting at which the WSL delegates voted to prevent Chilean sympathisers from affiliating to the TILC. The WSL then walked out after a resolution calling on Alan Thornett to fight Sean Matgamnas revisionism. The IF who sympathised with the TILC were then expelled from the WSL. The IF would go on to form the Workers Internationalist League.

The WSL was a little smaller after the expulsion of the IF and still split between the supporters of Sean Matgamna and Alan Thornett. The end of the group would not be far off.