Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trotskyist Traumas (1985)

From the December 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is hostile to those political parties which stand for Trotskyism. Such organisations confuse the nature of the class struggle, mislead workers as to the real meaning of socialism and turn the ideas of Marx on their head in order to make them seem compatible with the elitist ideology of Leninism. Like all parties which aim to imitate the tactics of the Russian Bolsheviks, the Trots (as Trotskyists are known popularly) appoint themselves as vanguards, or leaders of the working class. Working on the arrogant Leninist assumption that workers are too stupid to understand the case for socialism, the Trots offer a programme of what are called "transitional demands", which amount in reality to a list of reforms of capitalism. Once workers have been recruited on the basis of such reformist opportunism. the Trots inform the new members that the reform programme cannot be realised by right-wing governments (including Labour governments, which the Trots unfailingly urge workers to vote into power) and therefore it is necessary to plan for workers to seize power in a violent coup d'├ętat. to be led by the self-appointed "revolutionary party", which will establish state capitalism, as did the Bolsheviks in 1917. In short, the Trots offer an anti-socialist political position, both in their tactics and their objectives, and socialists have no option but to expose and oppose them.

Like the Leninist Left in general, the Trots have never been numerically significant in Britain. In the late 1940s there was a brief period when the Revolutionary Communist Party (not the same as the RCP of today) had more than ten thousand members and hopes of ousting the Communist Party of Great Britain as the main Leninist party in Britain. But. as is predictable in organisations so obsessed by leadership, the top men in the RCP could not agree to share power and so spurious ideological differences emerged in order to allow each leader to lead his own splinter party. Unlike the CP, which claims to stand in the tradition of the Kremlin-led Third International, the Trots all claim to be the true descendants of the tradition of the Fourth International, formed by Trotsky in opposition to his one-time fellow leaders of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin and Stalin. The Trots accuse the CP of being "Stalinists" and the CP accuses the Trots of "ultra-leftism". In fact, all are united in their Leninist contempt for the ability of workers to organise consciously and democratically and in their belief that state capitalism is socialism. Since the days of the RCP the Trots have tended to split three ways (although. in talking about Trotskyist splits, nothing is that simple). One section, led by Tony Cliff, became the International Socialists in the early 1960s and the Socialist Workers' Party in the mid-1970s. After a brief spell of growth they are now in decline and doing their utmost to fuse with the second Trot organisation, the Revolutionary Socialist League, known publicly as the Militant Tendency. The RSL is led by Ted Grant, another survivor from the heady days of the RCP, and has practised a dishonest tactic known as "deep infiltration", that is. joining the Labour Party and attempting to take it over. Such an approach has caused RSL members to be disliked by most sections of the Labour Party, although it has been the most successful Trotskyist organisation in recent times. For example, it gained control of the Labour group on Liverpool City council, appointing RSL member Derek Hatton as Deputy Leader of the council. The SWP is impressed by the success of the Militant Tendency (although trade unionists in Liverpool who are losing their jobs as a result of Hatton's tactics are most certainly not) and SWP leaders are doing their utmost to persuade the RSL to leave the Labour Party and enlarge the SWP. At present there seems no chance of this happening. although the latest news is that a split has emerged between the Grant-led London leadership of the Militant Tendency and the Liverpool crowd.

The third section of the Trotskyist movement in Britain has been led since 1959 by Gerry Healy, a man few people would have heard of before late October of this year. Those of us who had heard of Healy know him as by far the craziest of the would-be Lenins: a man who uses violence as an answer to his opponents (the present writer was once the recipient of some of it) and is known throughout the Left for his fanatical passion for demagogic. leadership. Healy started as leader of the Socialist Labour League, formed not long after leaving the RCP, and this became the Workers' Revolutionary Party. It is difficult to trust any membership figures for the WRP: at most the party might have had 10,000 and until its recent split claimed 6-7.000 members, but it probably had far fewer and even less who were active. Despite its small size the WRP published a daily newspaper called Newsline (with racing tips and all) and was able to stage large-scale rallies. It has been alleged that the party received financial assistance from the Libyan dictatorship; certainly. it has received huge donations from its most famous member, the actress Vanessa Redgrave, as well as her brother, Corin, both WRP leaders. The WRP tended to recruit quite a few of its members from the actors' trade union. Equity, and it is no coincidence that some of the daftest working-class policies were devised by leaders who more often than not had no experience of working-class life. The top man in the WRP was always Gerry Healy: it was he who was seated on a large, throne-like chair on a podium at WRP rallies at Alexandra Palace.

In mid-October 1985 those of us who bothered to look at Newsline were stunned by the front-page headline: HEALY EXPELLED. This was equivalent to the Roman Catholic Church expelling the Pope. Did our eyes deceive us? But no, the front page of Newsline continued to run the story for days: the leader had been ousted. This is the first time in British Trotskyist history that one of the triumvirate (Cliff, Grant and Healy) had been thrown out of one of their own parties.

It is difficult to get to the bottom of the recent WRP split and, from the point of view of establishing socialism, it is not of much importance. But there are lessons to be learnt from what has happened. According to Newsline, Healy was expelled for using WRP-owned flats as a base for taking advantage of twenty-six female members. If this is true, then Healy and they are the victims of all that goes with the vanguardist approach to life. If a man is given power over other people it is not surprising when he takes advantage of them. If women workers are taken in by Healy's nonsense in the political arena, who is surprised if they are taken in by him sexually? It is quite likely, however, that the grounds for the Healy expulsion are utterly fraudulent and the story has been concocted in order to discredit a leader the WRP has spent over a quarter of a century urging workers to admire.

Mike Banda, general secretary of the WRP. has been in the forefront of the Healy expulsion and it is not improbable that the action was a smear, used to cover up the real reasons for the split. It is not uncommon for those lacking the courage of a political argument to use smear tactics as a means of alienating a leader from the followers. If this is what has happened, then Healy and his supporters (including the Redgraves) will rightly accuse Banda and his clique of using despicable Stalinist techniques. That will be true but, as socialists have often told the Trots, Stalinism follows Leninism as surely as night follows day. If they want to run an organisation of leaders and led, in which the led must be conned into obeying their leaders, there is no avoiding the dirty struggles which leader- politics thrives on. Healy has left the WRP with its membership records. Banda says that the WRP leadership still wants to question Healy regarding Healy's possession of a £16.000 BMW car. And these are the people who are proposing to show the uneducated proletariat the way to socialism!

The crisis in the WRP can be seen as one episode in the recent decline of the Leninist Left in Britain. The CP is split, with most of its members disowning the Morning Star which the CP rule book instructs them to sell. The Militant Tendency is despised by most Labourites and has been seen to fail in its efforts at running capitalism in Liverpool. The SWP seeks unity with the Militant Tendency. although the former (quite correctly) regards Russia as state capitalist and the latter regards it as a workers' state. The Left within the Labour Party is lying low in order to make vote-winning easier for Kinnock. Indeed, one-time hard-Leftists like Ken Livingstone are preparing for the eventuality of a coalition with the Alliance after the next general election. The Left is in a mess.

The Socialist Party, as a principled revolutionary party, founded in 1904, long before the Bolshevik revolution, will not cease to show the Trots for what they are. They are wrong and we will expose their political ignorance; they are dishonest and we will expose their trickery; they are clownish and we will laugh at their amusing misfortunes. We can do that because, not only have we made a principled analysis of Leninism since its inception, but we stand for the interest of the working class. The same cannot be said for the creatures of the gutter who write newspaper articles on the WRP to discredit the concept of "socialism" or "Marxism'. Journalists made great use of the WRP story: RED IN THE BED proclaimed the Mirror (31 October) and SEX STORM ROCKS VANESSA'S PARTY stated the Star on the same day. In London, LBC ran a five-minute feature on the Healy expulsion and the Channel Four News on 30 October had Michael Crick (a name to remember) searching the gutters for material with which to smear the Trots. When was the last time any of these "democratic" media allowed the WRP time or space to tell workers what they stand for? The fact is that these bogus democrats of the media. like their counterparts in Moscow and Pretoria, are in the propaganda business and they will quite willingly broadcast unsubstantiated smears if they will weaken the ideas of those seen to be dissidents. We have made it clear that the WRP are enemies of the working class - but so are those who have been capitalising on their embarrassment. The WRP are not democrats and would not come to the aid of socialists being smeared by the media. The demise of the WRP is to the benefit of workers as there is one less party of confusion-mongers on the scene. Perhaps some of those who invested their energies in Trotskyism will now wish to find out about the real Socialist Party.
Steve Coleman


Imposs1904 said...

A really poor article littered with many inaccuracies:

- The article has it wrong on the membership of the Revolutionary Communist Party at its height. At best it had about 500 members - not the 10,000 claimed in the article.

- "the Trots all claim to be the true descendants of the tradition of the Fourth International, formed by Trotsky in opposition to his one-time fellow leaders of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin and Stalin."

Not sure how that slipped through. Lenin died in 1924. The Fourth International was founded in 1938.

- Tony Cliff wasn't seeking unity talks with the Militant Tendency in the mid-80s. In fact, his tendency was to issue fake unity pleas as a means to recruit more impressionable types moving in these political circles. It was a tactic of his all through his political life.

- Coleman gets the date wrong with regards to when Healy led his organisation. !959 was the year of the launch of the Socialist Labour League. In fact, Healy had led his own independent organisation - best known as 'The Club' - since 1950, when he was the main beneficiary in the fall out from the demise of the RCP.

- I guess Coleman wasn't to know but the allegations of sexual abuse made against Healy were not part of a smear campaign. The sad reality is that the inner circle of the WRP had covered up Healy's crimes for years and it was only when it was politically expedient to do so that they used it against Healy in a coup against his leadership.

There's other minor quibbles about the article but the factual errors had to be noted front and centre. It's just a shame that the Socialist Standard Editorial Committee at the time didn't spot them before going to press.

Nice cartoon of Trotsky, though.

Unknown said...

I thought the cartoon was of SPGB member HM