Fourth International (March 1987)

G. Healy: Enemy of Permanent Revolution

Since his expulsion from the International Committee of the Fourth International last October, the renegade G. Healy and his followers in one of the revisionist fragments of the British Workers Revolutionary Party have escalated their attack on the program and principles of Trotskyism.

These attacks are the continuation of the WRP’s uncontrolled opportunist degeneration which led to the International Committee of the Fourth International’s split from Healy’s petty bourgeois clique of British nationalists.

But for Healy and his band of followers, their long-running masquerade as Trotskyists has been dealt a death blow by the ICFI with the publication of the IC statement, “How the WRP Betrayed Trotskyism.” This document thoroughly exposed the process of degeneration and betrayal which transformed the WRP into a paid propagandist for bourgeois regimes in the Middle East and the craven apologist for the trade union and Labourite bureaucracies in Britain itself, and a conscious enemy of the Fourth International.

Neither Healy nor his former cronies Banda and Slaughter have even attempted to answer this document.

Healy, however, has issued what he terms a “theoretical journal” entitled Marxist Review which has served as the organ for his group’s continuing assault on Trotskyism.

The June 1986 edition of this publication contains an article by one Ian Harrison entitled “Suez 30 Years On” which employs a potted history of Egypt and the 1956 Suez war to defend Healy’s liquidationist line and to mount a direct attack on Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

The formulations advanced by the Healy group in this and other articles make it clear that these renegades have adopted the same anti-Trotskyist line advanced by the pro-Stalinist leadership of the US Socialist Workers Party.

Significantly, in the course of this 14-page article the only mention of the Trotskyist movement’s attitude towards Nasser and the Nasserite movement is the fact that British Trotskyists organized plant gate rallies against British imperialist intervention in the Suez crisis. There is no mention whatsoever of the ICFI’s struggle against the Pabloite revisionists who sought to liquidate the Trotskyist movement into Stalinism and every form of bourgeois nationalism, including Nasserism.

The Trotskyist movement unconditionally defended Egypt against the imperialist intervention in 1956, and forthrightly supported the victory of the Egyptian armies in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. But it ruthlessly opposed the Pabloite formulations which presented Nasserism and other varieties of bourgeois nationalism as substitutes for the building of independent revolutionary parties of the working class as sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

In a report delivered for the ICFI by Cliff Slaughter in 1963, after the US Socialist Workers Party broke with Trotskyism and reunited with the Pabloites, the revisionist perspectives on these issues were subjected to merciless criticism:

The decisive test of a Marxist party’s orientation towards the mass movement is the degree of success in building a revolutionary cadre, whose links with the working class are forged in struggle against the opportunists and bureaucrats. In their concern over the past ten or fifteen years to ‘get closer to the new reality’, the revisionists have produced a circle of ‘leaders’ and a method of work diametrically opposed to this revolutionary preparation. For the colonial and semicolonial countries, it is clear that the so-called sections of the Fourth International which follow Pablo have become mere apologists for the nationalist leaderships. Their abandonment of an independent orientation to the working class is explicit. Such a method produces only a soft group of professional advisers who are not averse to becoming petty functionaries as we have seen in Algeria. From these positions of ‘influence’ they help along the ‘objective’ process whereby the petty bourgeois leaders are pushed towards Marxism.

On the question of Egypt itself, the IC condemned the revisionists for failing to analyze Nasser’s concept of “Arab Socialism” from the standpoint of “the class content of the struggle and the contradictions within the fight for political independence.” Such an analysis, it pointed out, “would be precisely against the interests of the petty bourgeois leadership, who also prefer non-class formulations.”

Furthermore, it denounced one Pabloite for “advocating ‘entry’ into Nasser’s national movement, and specifically disavowing any organized independent political opposition.”

The position taken by the Healy group today is indistinguishable from precisely this Pabloite line.

The conclusion of the Harrison article is the bizarre claim that the Suez crisis of 1956 proves the correctness of the WRP leadership’s craven support for Yassir Arafat’s diplomatic maneuvers with Hosni Mubarak in 1983. This position came under attack within the ICFI from the Workers League (which is in political solidarity with the ICFI).

After his lengthy account of the struggle for the Suez Canal in 1956, Harrison concludes by declaring:

Because the Nasserite movement could not complete the bourgeois revolution and solve the contradictions of the Egyptian economy, the successor movement led by Anwar Sadat succumbed to bourgeois nationalism and American imperialist policy.

The national revolutionary struggle of 1956 was a progressive struggle and for this reason we have to say to the cowardly representative of the American petty bourgeoisie, David North, that the decision of Yassir Arafat to visit Egypt in 1983 in order to strengthen the nationalist movement was correct. (See North’s ‘A Contribution to a Critique of G. Healy’s Studies in Dialectical Materialism.’)

North has never built anything in his life. Arafat had fought as a part of the 1956 movement, leading a bomb disposal squad in Port Said. He knew what forces could be unleashed, as they were when the poor masses in Lebanon moved in 1984.

The struggle to defend the gains won by the Nasserite movement cannot be resolved on a national basis. When Nasser pledged to ‘turn the Middle East into a minefield under the feet of imperialism’, he could well have been speaking of events today. Following the assassination of Anwar Sadat, Egypt again exploded with the revolt of the young police conscripts in 1985.... In Sudan the mass movement brought down Jaffar Numeiry, a pillar of US imperialism in the area....

Leaving aside the question of the presumed “bravery” which it took for the WRP leadership sitting in London to hail Yassir Arafat’s trip to Cairo in 1983 (no doubt an element in Healy’s calculations was the prospect for an Egyptian fundraising tour by Vanessa Redgrave), the alleged cowardice of Workers League National Secretary David North will no doubt remain a mystery to the readers of Marxist Review.

The issue arose during a struggle waged within the International Committee against the entire political line of the Workers Revolutionary Party, expressed most sharply in its abandonment of the theory of the permanent revolution.

On January 23, 1984, North addressed a letter to then WRP Secretary Michael Banda in which he criticized the WRP’s position on the Arafat-Mubarak talks as part of the WRP’s overall liquidation of a proletarian perspective in the Middle East in particular, and “a political drift towards positions quite similar—both in conclusions and methodology—to those which we have historically associated with Pabloism.”

The News Line had hailed Arafat’s talks with Mubarak following the PLO’s forced evacuation from Beirut and the attacks which it suffered at the hands of both Israel and Syria as “audacious diplomacy” which had served to “undermine” the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel. It denounced even those within the PLO itself who criticized the trip as having “limited minds and narrow outlooks.”

The Healy leadership argued that by showing up in Cairo, “Arafat has brilliantly managed to bring Egypt back into Middle Eastern calculations and, at the same time, to stay out of the clutches of both Damascus and Amman,” and that by meeting with Mubarak he had managed to “boost the nationalist morale of the Egyptian masses.”

In response, the Workers League wrote: “As Marxists, our starting point in making political analysis is never the conscious intentions of political leaders; it must be the class forces they represent and the logic of the class struggle of which their actions are a necessary expression. The policies of Arafat reflect his class standpoint as a petty bourgeois nationalist. He is maneuvering not only between different bourgeois regimes within the Middle East but between the opposing class forces within the Palestinian movement. However great his personal courage and heroism, Arafat’s policies cannot provide an answer to the great historic problems of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. While it is our duty to defend him and the PLO against the reactionary machinations of the Syrian Ba’athists, we are by no means obligated to hail his pragmatic turn to Mubarak as some sort of strategical masterstroke.

Our calculations, if not Arafat’s, are always based on an estimate of class forces and the potential of the working class for revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie. For us the salvation of the Palestinian Revolution does not lie in escaping from the ‘clutches’ of Syria by leaping into the clutches of Egypt.... Our strategical goal should always be the mobilization of the working class—supported by the peasantry—against the bourgeoisie in each and every Middle Eastern country.

Subsequent events have provided a sobering vindication of the position taken by the Workers League. Far from solving the PLO’s problems, Mubarak has merely sought to tighten a noose around its neck. He collaborated with Jordan’s King Hussein in attempting to force the PLO into renouncing the struggle for Palestinian national rights as part of a US-sponsored “peace plan” which led to the subsequent expulsion of the PLO from Amman and Hussein’s attempts to undermine its leadership on the West Bank.

As to the claim that the trip “undermined” the Israeli-Egyptian accords, Mubarak’s hosting of Shimon Peres in Alexandria last week has established the worthlessness of the WRP’s argument.

Despite the WRP’s reactionary claim that Arafat’s embracing of Mubarak would “boost the nationalist morale of the Egyptian masses,” the seething discontent of the Egyptian working class has continued to mount, boiling over in the police conscript riots of last year.

By rejecting the strategic perspective of the independence of the working class and the building of revolutionary parties internationally and through its creation of gross illusions in the regimes of the Arab bourgeoisie, the Healy leadership itself played a direct and criminal role in the betrayal of the Palestinian masses.

The PLO was itself betrayed by these same regimes that Healy had flattered and applauded. During the siege of Beirut, Libya’s Gaddafi demanded that Arafat and his forces commit “revolutionary suicide,” while Iraq’s Saddam Hussein paved the way for the Israeli invasion by attacking Iran. While Harrison writes about the movement of the masses in Lebanon in 1984, the fact was that the same forces which led this movement, inspired by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, have turned repeatedly towards violent attacks on the PLO and have sought to drive its forces from Lebanon.

Healy made countless trips to the Middle East to hobnob with these bourgeois leaders as well as with the PLO leadership itself, but he never so much as criticized their policies nor gave the least warning to the PLO, which had no answer for the complex political and social crisis of Lebanon. Above all, he was completely opposed to building any section of the International Committee of the Fourth International in the region. Palestinians and other Arabs who approached the WRP were sent packing and told to go join the PLO or another nationalist movement.

This entire twisted perspective is summed up in Harrison’s odd formulation that “North has never built anything in his life. Arafat had fought as a part of the 1956 movement, leading a bomb disposal squad in Port Said.” In other words, those like North who worked to build the Trotskyist movement in the working class internationally were nothing, while the “real revolutionaries” were those participating in bourgeois nationalist movements, or even in a bomb squad in Port Said. Never in the history of the Marxist movement has there been a more open statement of liquidationism.

Harrison’s presentation of Nasserism is reeking with what Lenin described as “the attempt to put a communist cloak around revolutionary liberation movements that are not really communist in the backward countries.”

As the Thesis on the National and Colonial Question passed by the Second Congress of the Communist International established: “The Communist International has the duty to support the revolutionary movement in the colonies only for the purpose of gathering the components of the future proletarian parties—communist in fact and not just in name—in all the backward countries and training them to be conscious of their special tasks, the special tasks, that is to say, of fighting against the bourgeois-democratic tendencies within their own nation.”

But the Healy group does not even acknowledge that Nasser was a bourgeois nationalist! It states only that his movement “could not complete the bourgeois revolution and solve the contradictions of the Egyptian economy,” while declaring that “the successor movement succumbed to bourgeois nationalism and American imperialism.”

This is a conscious deception. Sadat was, together with Nasser, a leader of the Free Officers movement which carried out the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952. These events were not the product of a mass uprising of the working class and oppressed Egyptian masses, nor even the result, as in Algeria, of a protracted liberation struggle, but rather a military coup carried out by a tightly knit faction of officers of the bourgeois army.

The Free Officers movement for a time actually turned the reins of government over to old line bourgeois politicians after deposing King Farouk. In his autobiography, Sadat admitted that, “We entrusted Ali Mahir with the formation of a new government instead of doing it ourselves—that is, instead of having a government of army officers—because we had not prepared ourselves to take over power.”

The Free Officers themselves included rightist, Stalinist, and Islamic Fundamentalist elements, with Nasser balancing between them at the same time as he attempted to balance between the Egyptian masses and imperialism and to present himself—just as has virtually every other bourgeois nationalist from Peron to Nkrumah—as a “third way” between the US and the Soviet Union.

While he became a symbol of Arab nationalism and the struggle for national liberation from imperialism throughout the Middle East, there is no question that Nasser was a bourgeois nationalist. As for his supposed salvation of the Palestinians, he in fact kept the liberation movement in cold storage, with the PLO succeeding in breaking free only after Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. It was this class character of the regime which allowed its sharp shift to the right under Sadat after Nasser’s death in 1970.

Harrison declares that the “struggle to defend the gains of the Nasserite movement cannot be resolved on a national basis” and then proceeds to describe the assassination of Sadat, the 1985 Egyptian police conscript revolt and the overthrow of Jaffar Numeiry of Sudan, making it clear that it is not here a question of world revolution and permanent revolution, but only a rehash of Nasserite Pan-Arabism which is being advocated.

In fact, all of the events which he describes represent the upheaval of the masses against the inheritors of Nasserism. Sadat was Nasser’s comrade, Mubarak his follower and Numeiry himself came to power in a revolt inspired by Nasserism.

Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, whom the WRP leaders regularly hailed as the revolutionary leader of the Arab world, took the failed Pan-Arab ventures which Nasser sought in order to confront Israel, Britain and France, and reproduced them as farce, with the attempts to create a union with such imperialist stooges as Morocco’s King Hassan and Tunisia's President Bourguiba.

In his final paragraph, Harrison writes: “The defense of the gains of the Nasserite movement can only be undertaken by raising the struggle against imperialism on to a higher level. It is necessary to establish a Workers and Farmers Government which will carry out socialist measures and land reforms. This means building an Egyptian section of the International Committee of the Fourth International—the world party of socialist revolution.”

Here all the classless abstractions of revisionist capitulation and liquidationism congeal into the openly counterrevolutionary line which has been advanced by Menshevism, Stalinism and the Barnes leadership of the Socialist Workers Party.

The driving force of the Egyptian revolution is not for the WRP the world crisis of capitalism and the independent struggle of the working class, but the “defense of the gains of the Nasserite movement.” For the WRP renegades, this “defense” is not a question of mobilizing the working class against the national bourgeoisie to complete the national democratic revolution through its own proletarian methods, i.e., socialist revolution. On the contrary, it is simply a question of “raising the struggle against imperialism to a higher level.”

It is not a class question, not a question of the inherent incapacity of the national bourgeoisie, however radical, to complete the national revolution. Therefore, the task as presented by Healy’s WRP is the old Pabloite formula of gaining “influence” among bourgeois nationalists and helping to push them along to the left.

This is what is meant by the call for establishing “a Workers and Farmers Government which will carry out socialist measures and land reforms.”

Trotsky raised the demand for a workers’ and farmers’ government in the Transitional Program with the sharp warning, “The slogan ‘workers’ and farmers’ government’ is thus acceptable to us only in the sense that it had in 1917 with the Bolsheviks, i.e., as an antibourgeois and anticapitalist slogan, but in no case in that ‘democratic’ sense which later the epigones gave it, transforming it from a bridge to socialist revolution into the chief barrier upon its path.”

Here the Healy group, just like Barnes of the SWP, is treading firmly in the footsteps not of the Bolsheviks and Trotsky but those of the Stalinist epigones.

The workers’ and farmers’ government is hardly advanced here as an “antibourgeois slogan”; the Healyites fail to even recognize the bourgeois character of the nationalist movement. What in fact is represented by this slogan in the mouth of Healy’s WRP is the Stalinist “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” which was counterposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the theory of permanent revolution.

The content of this slogan is to subordinate the working class to the petty bourgeois and bourgeois nationalist agencies of world imperialism and thereby strangle the proletarian revolution.

Having been expelled by a vote of the International Committee of the Fourth International, the Healy group has the impudence to write, “This means building an Egyptian section of the ICFI.”

Such verbal gestures to Trotskyism were routinely used by Healy when his clique headed the WRP to cover their anti-Trotskyist, liquidationist practice.

No sections were built for all the trips by Healy and his lieutenants to the Middle East. Instead, following the example of the SWP’s liquidationist approach to Castroism in the 1960s, the WRP leadership proceeded to shower various bourgeois nationalist leaders with pseudorevolutionary adulation. Gaddafi was declared to have “developed politically in the direction of revolutionary socialism,” while Saddam Hussein of Iraq was supported in his execution of Iraqi Communist Party members.

This latest repudiation of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution by Healy’s WRP, while even more explicit, comes as no surprise.

Healy, Banda and Slaughter long ago turned their backs on the struggle which they waged against Pabloite revisionism in the early 1960s, rejected the strategy of world socialist revolution and based themselves both politically and financially on unprincipled alliances with Arab bourgeois regimes.

When Jack Barnes openly denounced permanent revolution and repudiated Trotskyism in a speech delivered on December 31, 1982, the Healy clique remained deathly silent. An analysis of the SWP leader’s speech produced by the Political Committee of the Workers League was censored from the WRP’s publications.

In the wake of their expulsion from the ICFI, Healy and his followers have proceeded to openly attack Trotskyism and line up with Barnes as declared enemies of the permanent revolution.

The struggle for the socialist revolution in Egypt and throughout the Middle East will take place through the implacable rejection of these counterrevolutionary theories. It requires the building of independent, proletarian parties as sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International to carry out the “special tasks” outlined by Lenin 66 years ago—the overthrow of the national bourgeoisie and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as part of the world socialist revolution.