In mid-April of this year, the fragment of the British Workers Revolutionary Party led by Cliff Slaughter convened a conference in Budapest where it proclaimed the formation of a “Workers International to Rebuild the Fourth International.”
Attended by a motley group of centrists, state capitalists and middle class impostors, this conference represented a continuation and deepening of the attack which Slaughter has mounted on Trotskyism since his unprincipled split with the International Committee of the Fourth International in 1986.
Slaughter’s “international” is a petty-bourgeois movement which has been assembled for the sole purpose of creating a centrist trap to head off the revolutionary movement of the working class and block its intersection with the revolutionary internationalist program of Trotskyism.
While the WRP’s press has proclaimed that “delegates and individuals” from 14 countries attended this gathering, in the two-and-a-half months since then, it has yet to spell out the programmatic line or political identity of any of the participants. From interviews and published statements, however, it is evident that these forces were not brought together on any principled basis whatsoever. Some spoke as human rights advocates, others as syndicalists and still others as outright anticommunists.
Slaughter has no interest in programmatic unity. His “Workers International” is nothing more than a counterfeit platform from which to attack genuine Trotskyism. Since his split with the ICFI he has proceeded with this objective.
He approaches this task as a crude political provocateur. He attempts to claim the revolutionary heritage of the International Committee of the Fourth International, a legacy which he explicitly denounced as “anticommunist” when he broke with the ICFI in 1986. His aim is to use the mantle of Trotskyism to lend some credibility to a right-centrist diversion. At the same time, his Workers International was founded on the basis of a vile slander campaign against the genuine Trotskyists of the International Committee.
This attempt to create a bogus anti-Trotskyist front expresses the deepest needs of imperialism under conditions in which the old Stalinist, social democratic and bourgeois nationalist leaderships are collapsing internationally. His actions reflect the anxiety of the bourgeoisie over the growing influence of the International Committee in the world working class movement.
Among the delegations which attended the Budapest gathering was a group known as the Workers Revolutionary Party of Namibia. An examination of the origins of this group, its politics and its relations with Slaughter and the British WRP provides a revealing insight into the nature of the so-called Workers International proclaimed by Slaughter in Budapest.
In the period surrounding the declaration of an independent Namibia at the end of March 1990, the British WRP dedicated much of its efforts to a defense of activities in that country which amount to political provocation.
The British WRP intervened in the National Assembly elections held last November through its centrist ally, the Workers Revolutionary Party of Namibia. This organization participated in a bourgeois coalition known as the United Democratic Front, which included tribalist parties that had collaborated with the colonialist regime set up by apartheid South Africa.
The entire focus of this political endeavor was to denounce the bourgeois nationalist leadership of the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) over the detention and murder of SWAPO militants during an internal spy scare. The political line pursued by Slaughter and his Namibian associates was aimed, not at building up an independent working class alternative, nor at advancing a revolutionary program. Rather it was openly directed at weakening SWAPO and strengthening the hand of the South African apartheid regime and imperialism.
This intervention took place under conditions in which the previous authority of the bourgeois nationalist movements throughout southern Africa is threatening to break up, as their leaderships function more and more openly as essential props for continued imperialist oppression of the masses. This is not only the case of SWAPO in Namibia, but also of the African National Congress as it enters into deals with the apartheid regime in South Africa itself.
The imperialists know that the gravest threat to the new arrangements which they are attempting to work out in southern Africa is the emergence of an independent movement of the working class guided by a revolutionary party and program. Slaughter’s campaign on torture in Namibia was designed to head off the development of such a movement by rallying petty-bourgeois layers on an anticommunist program and then identifying this reactionary scheme with “Trotskyism.” This is the essence of all of his provocative activities internationally and the fundamental purpose of his “Workers International.”
In the struggle to win the political independence of the working class against the influence of bourgeois nationalism in the backward countries, revolutionary Marxists expose the organic incapacity of the national bourgeoisie to carry out the fundamental tasks of the revolution and the grave dangers which their leadership poses to the masses of workers and oppressed.
This is nowhere more evident than in Namibia. The independence settlement engineered by world imperialism in collaboration with the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy and accepted by the SWAPO leadership can resolve none of the problems of the Namibian revolution nor satisfy the revolutionary aspirations of the masses. The SWAPO leadership has embraced a “market economy,” making it clear it plans no major nationalizations. Control of the country’s mineral wealth will remain in the hands of giant multinationals and monopolists like De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. The vast majority of the arable and ranching land will remain in the hands of wealthy Boer and German settlers. The country’s independence is drastically curtailed with South Africa retaining possession of Walvis Bay, the only serviceable harbor on the Namibian coast, where the apartheid regime is maintaining and strengthening military bases.
Because of its class position, SWAPO has proven unable and unwilling to carry out the basic tasks of national liberation and democratic revolution. The elections convened in November were held under the terms of United Nations Resolution 435 and in the framework of the deals between imperialism and the Gorbachev bureaucracy for “easing regional tensions.” These were designed to guarantee the continued power and privilege of the white minority together with the fundamental interests of imperialist capital.
The decisive task facing revolutionary Marxists in this situation is to forge the political independence of the militant young Namibian working class from bourgeois nationalism by putting forward a clear program of revolutionary class struggle. This is the essence of the Trotskyist perspective of permanent revolution.
In Namibia and South Africa, as throughout the oppressed countries, only the independent working class, leading behind it the rest of the oppressed masses, is capable of carrying out the tasks of the national revolution by establishing its own dictatorship, going over to socialist measures and fighting for the revolution’s extension internationally. This means an implacable and ruthless struggle to destroy the influence of the bourgeois nationalists of SWAPO.
But Slaughter’s WRP and its affiliate in Namibia chose to center their struggle not on these burning questions, but on the allegations of torture and murder of SWAPO fighters by their own leadership.
Throughout the weeks leading up to the elections in South African-occupied Namibia, Slaughter’s WRP dedicated virtually all its political resources to an international campaign vilifying SWAPO. Page after page of Workers Press carried testimony of ex-detainees and appeals to the British labor movement to end all support for the bourgeois nationalist movement.
This campaign had far more in common with the “human rights” crusades waged by anticommunist outfits like Freedom House than with any sort of Marxist struggle to liberate the working class from the domination of bourgeois nationalism.
There is a sharp contrast between the rightwing “human rights” tactic pursued by Slaughter’s WRP in Namibia and the principled stand taken three decades ago by the British Trotskyists, then organized in the Socialist Labour League, when similar events took place in the course of the Algerian liberation struggle. This contrast is one measure of the profound degeneration of the WRP.
In Algeria, both the petty-bourgeois nationalist leaderships, the FLN (National Liberation Front) and its rival the MNA (Algerian National Movement), engaged in bloody repression both internally and against each other’s supporters. The most infamous example of this was the so-called Melouza massacre of 1957, in which the FLN allegedly killed the entire population of a central Algerian village because of their loyalty to the MNA.
The British Trotskyists of the SLL condemned these crimes—which were far greater in scale than those of which SWAPO is accused—not from the standpoint of a hysterical campaign on human rights but within a clear political context. They denounced them as part of the whole turn by both wings of the liberation movement towards accommodation with French imperialism, culminating in the Evian Accord. At the same time, they exposed how the French imperialists themselves worked to incite such acts of fratricidal terror in order to weaken the liberation movement as a whole.
The type of expose which Slaughter’s Workers Press has conducted around allegations of torture and executions within SWAPO could indeed be mounted against virtually any of the bourgeois nationalist movements. But it can be stated categorically that in no part of the globe can a revolutionary working class party be formed on the basis of the politics of “human rights.”
Invariably, there are two interlinked issues involved in such settlings of accounts among the bourgeois nationalists. These movements operate under tremendous pressure from their imperialist enemies. Violent actions taken to protect themselves against infiltration and repression claim the lives not only of enemies and provocateurs, but also innocent victims. Second, when political differences do arise, they often become mixed up with allegations that the opposing faction is a product of imperialist penetration.
An added complication is that police agents, such as those sent into SWAPO by the South African BOSS, spread false suspicions, manipulating fears of infiltration in order to disrupt these movements.
There is, of course, an even more fundamental question, rooted in the class position of the leadership of these bourgeois nationalist movements. They are incapable of conducting a genuinely democratic struggle over political questions within their ranks because they are based on the false claim to represent the interests of all the oppressed, while in practice they defend the class interests of the national bourgeoisie.
Any number of examples can be given of this process. In El Salvador, the leadership of one of the main component groups of the FSLN was liquidated, culminating in the death of its founder, Cayetano Carpio, who had himself been accused of killing the group’s second-in-command. In Ireland, the IRA exterminated political opponents such as the INLA. In the PLO, there have been mutual assassinations and repression between the main-line Fatah organization and other factions.
Marxists are by no means indifferent to such events. In approaching them, however, they are obliged to examine as carefully as possible the empirical evidence and to confront the allegations of internal repression on the basis of a concrete analysis of the political issues involved. This is the exact opposite of the method pursued by Slaughter, based on the wildest exaggerations and middle class hysteria.
Exposes of internal repression of the type allegedly committed by the SWAPO leadership in its detention camps in Zambia and Angola—involving both legitimate security concerns over infiltration and repression of political dissidents—can never serve as the basis for politically defeating the bourgeois nationalists and forging the political independence of working class.
Such campaigns will inevitably attract genuine victims, political renegades from the national liberation movements seeking to settle old scores and, of course, police agents. A movement founded on such a lowest common denominator has no political basis to separate one from the other. This is precisely the type of political organization which suits Slaughter’s purposes.
Slaughter’s WRP had no intention of fighting for the political independence of the Namibian working class and advancing a revolutionary proletarian program in opposition to bourgeois nationalism. To do so, it would have had to make a critical assessment of its own previous—and seemingly very different—attitude toward SWAPO and other such nationalist movements in Africa and, for that matter, internationally.
As recently as July 18, 1987, the Workers Press published a full-page photo special on SWAPO which ecstatically declared: “the people of Namibia have been organized—and their leadership, the South West African Peoples’ Organization, SWAPO, has been recognized by the United Nations since 1960.” This type of flattery for SWAPO and groveling respect for imperialist institutions like the UN were the hallmark of the WRP’s opportunist and mercenary adaptation to bourgeois nationalism under the leadership of Healy, Banda and Slaughter.
Again in September 1988, Workers Press carried an article by Dot Gibson which began by declaring that SWAPO “is widely recognized as the only legitimate representative of the struggle for independence of the Namibian people. It has led thousands of workers and youth in armed struggle for this cause.” While the article made a rather timid plea for the right of “socialists” to “criticize” the SWAPO leadership, it provided not the slightest hint that a Namibian WRP was waiting in the wings to denounce SWAPO for mass murder.
Moreover, Slaughter’s WRP has never criticized the counterrevolutionary role which its own leadership played in past interventions on the African continent, most criminally in its opportunist subservience to the petty-bourgeois nationalist leadership of the Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe. On the contrary, since breaking from the ICFI in 1986, the WRP has desperately tried to cover up this record.
At the end of 1979, the WRP, then led by Healy, Banda and Slaughter, played a direct part in the betrayal of the Zimbabwean revolution in the Lancaster House talks sponsored by British imperialism.
As the International Committee wrote in its analysis, How the WRP Betrayed Trotskyism: “For three months, the Workers Revolutionary Party had faithfully supported every step backward taken by the Patriotic Front and accepted the dirty job of selling the deal to the working class in Britain and the fighters in Africa. It worked day-in and day-out to boost the authority of Mugabe and Nkomo in order to facilitate their betrayal. Not once during the entire proceedings at Lancaster House did the Workers Revolutionary Party present anything that remotely resembled a Marxist analysis of the policies of the bourgeois nationalists nor advance a revolutionary program to counter their betrayal. It must be stated that the Healy-Banda-Slaughter leadership played the role of adjutants of British imperialism through their reactionary collaboration with the Patriotic Front traitors.”
In Namibia, while seeming to turn 180 degrees and adopt the posture of the most ferocious critics of the bourgeois nationalists (prepared to use any and all ammunition, including that supplied by the South African secret police, against them), now, as then, the WRP has played the same essential role as “adjutants of imperialism.”
The accounts published in Slaughter’s Workers Press never make clear the exact origins of the WRP of Namibia or how it established relations with the WRP in Britain. Generally speaking, organizations claiming to be Marxist publish documents and programs which explain their origins, history and attitude toward other tendencies. There is no such record in the Slaughter group’s account of the Namibian WRP.
Workers Press suggests that the Namibian organization was set up in 1983 by a couple of SWAPO dissidents who had proclaimed themselves Trotskyists after they had spent two years in Britain.
If this is the case, it was likely part of a process in which the WRP leadership was establishing all kinds of unprincipled relations with bourgeois nationalist and centrist groups internationally. Slaughter, at that time formally the secretary of the International Committee, functioned more as a foreign secretary for the British WRP. He, together with Healy and Banda, set up private relations with non-proletarian class forces, largely behind the back of the ICFI. These included its mercenary dealings with the Arab bourgeoisie, in which Slaughter was a direct participant.
While Slaughter chooses not to illuminate the history of the WRP of Namibia and its relations with the British WRP, one thing is clear: there was no mention whatsoever of this group in the pages of Workers Press until barely two months before the Namibian elections. By this time it had already joined the United Democratic Front electoral coalition.
From Slaughter’s own description, the Namibian WRP was founded without any specific program and existed on the basis of opportunist alliances with bourgeois elements and outright reactionary forces. The UDF was a popular front coalition which united disparate social forces on the lowest common denominator of opposition to SWAPO. There have been extensive reports that the coalition’s activities were directly financed by a South African foundation as a means of weakening SWAPO’s vote.
Slaughter himself made two trips to Windhoek on the eve of the elections to assist this reactionary alliance. In a speech given by Slaughter to a UDF gathering in Namibia, the WRP leader denounced SWAPO in the most violent terms, accusing it of having “inflicted a massive blood-purge, a reign of torture-terror, and a lie-machine of forced ‘confessions’” and warning that a SWAPO government would carry out a wave of repression.
“Against the conspiracy, we are ready to enter a tactical alliance even with parties which in various ways do not share our program as a whole,” he said.
This is a truly astonishing statement, particularly when one considers the audience to which Slaughter was delivering his blood-curdling invectives against SWAPO. Slaughter announced that he was prepared to ally himself with political organizations which in various ways opposed the WRP’s ostensible program as a whole.
This is as specific as Slaughter has ever been about programmatic differences with his electoral coalition partners. As he well knows, any closer investigation could only serve to expose the depth of the WRP’s betrayal in Namibia.
Among the partners in his “tactical alliance” were right-wing stooge organizations that had collaborated with the racist South African regime and imperialism in their brutal repression of the Namibian national liberation struggle.
The major actors in the UDF were tribal parties which had previously served in the Bantustan administrations set up by the apartheid regime. It also included the Patriotic Unity Movement, a group set up by ex-detainees of SWAPO. This front appealed to the masses not on the basis of a revolutionary proletarian program, but on a backward platform based on tribal fears and on exposure of SWAPO’s internal repression, replete with lurid warnings against a “terrorist” government which echoed the anticommunist propaganda of the apartheid regime itself.
In adopting these reactionary politics as his own, Slaughter followed in the bloody footsteps of the British colonialists who were experts in fomenting tribal divisions as a strategy of “divide and conquer” in the territories ruled by the Empire. Nowhere was this method used to more terrible effect than in the African continent, the civil war which divided Nigeria two decades ago serving as but one example.
There is another and more direct precedent for Slaughter’s operations in Namibia: the involvement of the FBI-controlled US Socialist Workers Party in the Angolan civil war of 1976.
During that period, the SWP launched an international campaign opposing the victory of the MPLA and supporting the counterrevolutionary, CIA-controlled forces of Jonas Savimbi and Holden Roberto, UNITA and the FNLA, both of which based themselves on appeals to tribalism. The SWP defended the tight of these movements to take CIA cash and declared them “real nationalist movements.” In a statement which Slaughter now echoes in Namibia, they warned that an MPLA victory would result only in “a bloodbath in which the real winner would be imperialism.”
As the ICFI wrote at that time: “This group’s degeneration into chauvinism and anticommunism is now almost complete with its abandonment of the national liberation struggle in Angola. This reveals a group of middle class skeptics which is being rapidly transformed—like the late Shachtman—into a counterrevolutionary agency of the State Department.” With only minor modifications, the same assessment could be applied to the activities of Slaughter’s WRP in Namibia.
When Seven Days, the weekly paper of the British Communist Party, attacked the WRP’s line in Namibia, the WRP made a backhanded admission that the Stalinists’ charges were true. In an editorial published in the November 4, 1989 issue, Workers Press denounced the Stalinists for calling the UDF “an alliance of parties who participated in the apartheid second-tier authorities and bantustans.”
Workers Press stated: “This distortion is so big that it’s a lie. The UDF—a temporary electoral alliance—includes tribal groups (some of which participated in the second-tier authorities), together with the new Labor Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party of Namibia (who participated in no such authorities) and the Patriotic Unity Movement....”
The Stalinists, in this case, had no need to distort or lie about the WRP’s activities in Namibia. The UDF was not only an electoral vehicle for tribalists and collaborators with apartheid, but an alliance of such collaborators with Cliff Slaughter and elements he has declared to be “Trotskyist.”
That the “temporary” character of this bloc was seen by Workers Press as a mitigating factor is all the more damning. Electoral alliances are by their very nature temporary. But it is particularly in an election campaign that a genuine revolutionary party must fight to delineate its program in the sharpest fashion, fighting for the political independence of the working class and against any illusions in bourgeois democracy. Any type of multi-class electoral bloc can only lead to the betrayal of the working class.
But Slaughter’s policy went beyond a betrayal of the class independence of the working class in an election. He blocked with forces who had opposed the very struggle for independence and aligned themselves with the apartheid regime. Moreover, for all the agreement between the WRP and its coalition partners on vilifying SWAPO and its leader Sam Nujoma as mass murderers during the election campaign, once it was over, the UDF members in the Constituent Assembly joined in the body’s unanimous vote on February 17 to install Nujoma as Namibia’s president.
Indeed, one of the coalition’s principal candidates, Reggie Diergaard of the Labor Party of Namibia, joined the SWAPO-led government, together with representatives of other bourgeois parties.
These events, hardly surprising given the class nature of the WRP’s coalition partners, only underscore the absurdity of Slaughter’s claim that one can fight for the independence of the working class by joining in an electoral alliance with bourgeois and even tribalist parties based on the common program of denouncing SWAPO repression. Whatever belated criticisms the WRP makes of those who now support Nujoma and join his government, the fact remains that these were the people the WRP told Namibians to vote for.
In February and March, the Workers Press ran a four-part series defending the WRP’s practice against a growing number of critics. The first two parts consisted of Slaughter’s reply to a group of Shachtmanite centrists with whom he has had relations in the US. He stated that the WRP of Namibia had entered the UDF in August, two months before he first held discussions with them in Windhoek, because of its fear of “an avalanche victory for SWAPO.” While Slaughter declared, “Our opinion is that it was wrong to proceed with this as a primary consideration,” he went on to justify and provide a pseudo-Marxist cover for just this position.
As he put it in his reply to the American centrists, “The WRP’s tactic in the election went closest to what would have been achieved by a united front approach as was possible, in the given situation.” This little phrase, “in the given situation” can, as Slaughter well knows, be used to justify virtually anything. But to claim that the UDF had anything to do with a united front is a barefaced lie. This electoral bloc of petty-bourgeois and even tribalist parties is the opposite of the Marxist tactic of the united front of the working class.
The electoral bloc supported by the WRP was not a means of fighting for the political independence of the Namibian proletariat, but of subordinating it to hostile class forces. Moreover, there is no indication in any of the various statements of the WRP of Namibia published in Slaughter’s Workers Press—not to mention Slaughter’s own lectures in Windhoek—of the slightest criticism of the WRP’s right-wing electoral partners, or of any attempt to prepare workers for their inevitable betrayal. Instead, they were consistently painted in the most “revolutionary” colors while the WRP urged workers to vote for them.
Further on in the same article, Slaughter wrote, “The fight on this issue [SWAPO’s internal repression] was the most effective way of building a challenge to the whole ‘independence deal’, raising concretely the questions of Stalinism, bourgeois nationalism, bourgeois democracy and the struggle to overthrow imperialism.”
The imperialists and the apartheid regime themselves agreed with Slaughter that anticommunist propaganda on the so-called detainee issue was the “most effective” and “concrete” means of decreasing support for SWAPO and strengthening their political position in a post-independence Namibia. This basic agreement on tactics was no accident.
The key purpose of the UDF bloc which the WRP supported was not to raise the class consciousness of the Namibian proletariat, but to deny SWAPO a two-thirds majority in the Constituent Assembly, thereby compelling the bourgeois nationalist movement to seek a compromise with elements of the Democratic Tumhalle Alliance, the main party representing the direct stooges of Pretoria, and other bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties. This, in the eyes of the Slaughter group, was the means for upholding “democracy” in Namibia.
One of the leading spokesmen of the Namibian WRP, Ms. Erica Beukes, declared proudly: “Right now in Namibia ... the SWAPO government is completely exposed. It didn’t get the two-thirds majority that it wanted and it is due to our fight.”
To claim all the credit for the election of a substantial bloc of right-wing anti-SWAPO delegates is more than a bit boastful. As Slaughter himself indicated, the WRP effort was part of a broader campaign, directed by the imperialists themselves.
He wrote: “The fact that the collaboration of SWAPO with other parties in government is now more clearly the future pattern is due, in large part, to the impact of the campaign on the detainees question during the election period. The imperialists wished, before the election, to use the ex-detainees to a certain extent against SWAPO, i.e., in order to manipulate the election for their own direct and traditional representatives to gain the maximum leverage on SWAPO. For example, they worked might and main to ‘depoliticize’ the Parents’ Movement.” (In a subsequent article, Slaughter admitted that the Parents’ Movement, which he claimed had been founded with the participation of Ms. Beukes and others in the leadership of the WRP of Namibia, had already adopted an openly pro-imperialist position, attaching itself to right-wing human rights groups.)
As we have seen, the “detainees question” was the overwhelming focus of the WRP’s own activities in Namibia and the sole basis for its unity with the parties of the UDF. Thus, Slaughter’s WRP found itself in the same trench with the imperialists in Namibia, campaigning on the same single issue and using the same ammunition to attack SWAPO.
Slaughter shamelessly boasted that the main political campaign with which he and the WRP identified themselves for months was a vehicle for achieving the aims of imperialism and the apartheid regime; i.e., denying SWAPO a two-thirds electoral majority and thereby forcing a SWAPO government to collaborate with their direct stooges.
These stooges, principally the Democratic Tumhalle Alliance, were far too discredited among the masses to ever achieve such an objective campaigning on their own miserable record of betrayal and right-wing political line. The imperialists and the apartheid regime desperately needed a different angle from which to attack SWAPO. The detainees scandal served this purpose. And Slaughter and his WRP were brought in to provide the entire operation with some “left” credentials.
In choosing “human rights” as the focus for this maneuver, neither the imperialists nor Slaughter were inventing anything new. The selective manipulation of the human rights question has long been the stock-in-trade of imperialism, which suddenly “discovers” abuses among those it seeks to depose or at least discipline, while discreetly ignoring the bloody repression which it itself sponsors and directs throughout the globe. Slaughter’s WRP has been fully integrated into this imperialist operation.
In the account of the Budapest conference published in Slaughter’s press, Ms. Beukes of the Namibian WRP was quoted as declaring, “today we see the result of our fight, where Namibia has now got two human rights organizations. It’s got a women’s movement that is also taking up the issue of human rights and this is the result of the fight we started back in the 1970s.” This “fight” directly served the ends desired by Pretoria and world imperialism.
Frequently opportunist politics and personal interests go hand in hand. The WRP of Namibia’s human rights activities appear to have a lucrative potential. An article published by Workers Press in May reports that Ms. Beukes is presently heading up something called the “Ex-Detainees Support Committee” which is soliciting for a fund of $700,000, ostensibly to support about 150 former SWAPO prisoners!
The second half of Slaughter’s four-part series on Namibia revealed the increasing defensiveness of the WRP as the reactionary character of its detainee campaign has become known. It consisted of an exchange of letters between Slaughter and one Greg Dropkin, of the Namibia Support Committee, a man who had previously written as a correspondent for Workers Press on the very issue of Namibia.
Dropkin denounced the WRP’s claims that up to 20,000 Namibian liberation fighters had been killed by SWAPO security forces as a grotesque fabrication. He furthermore revealed that one of the main sources interviewed in Workers Press on SWAPO atrocities was an official of the DTA, the stooge party of the apartheid regime—a fact which had been tactfully omitted from Slaughter’s paper.
In his reply, Slaughter admitted that both these charges are true but insisted they were meaningless. He acknowledged that the WRP inflated the number of detainees killed by the SWAPO security forces by at least a factor of 20 and then accused Dropkin of playing “the ignoble role of apologist for these crimes by seeking to make the lowest possible estimate of the numbers involved”!
Such a wildly irresponsible attitude attracted more than just the attention of the WRP’s middle class radical critics. It had already opened up the WRP to be manipulated by the most reactionary forces, including the police agencies of the South African apartheid regime.
On November 18, 1989, the Workers Press carried a lead story under a banner headline based on a letter supposedly written by Bongani Mukhongo, the Dunlop shop stewards’ committee leader of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. The letter condemned what it alleged were plans for secret talks between the African National Congress and the Inkatha organization as a “sellout” and an “act of high treason.” The Workers Press published this document in full, concluding with its own statement, “Here in Britain, the Workers Revolutionary Party is ready to work, together with all who will do so, against the threatened sellout.”
The letter was no sooner printed in Workers Press than it was exposed as a fraud. Faced with a mounting barrage of denunciations, the WRP was compelled to publish a front-page column in its November 25 issue under the title, “We Fall Victim to ‘Dirty Tricks,’ ” admitting that its provocative lead in the previous issue had been based on a forged letter planted by BOSS, the apartheid regime’s secret police.
The fact that Slaughter’s WRP found itself working together with BOSS was no accident. Its political agenda over the preceding period had closely paralleled the work of the apartheid secret police. This group did not so much “fall” for the BOSS’S “dirty tricks” as jump.
Significantly, in the midst of the WRP’s whirlwind campaign on the issue of SWAPO’s internal repression, the cover was lifted on a South African secret police operation which dovetailed neatly with the WRP’s political maneuvers.
This came about through the testimony, cited in the January 1990 issue of South magazine, of Susan Dobson, a white South African woman who had worked as a double agent for the African National Congress inside the apartheid regime’s Bureau of Information. Dobson fled Namibia for London after learning that her ANC affiliation was about to be exposed, and revealed that she had been sent to Namibia as part of a Bureau of Information team assigned to discredit SWAPO.
South magazine reported: “She said she had had to flee to avoid imminent arrest. The ANC confirmed that both Dobson and her husband had been secret members for a decade, and that it had ordered them to leave as South African security authorities appear to have discovered their true role.
“The brief of the covert South African team in Namibia was to portray South Africa in a favorable light in the pre-election period and to discredit SWAPO by feeding information to journalists they considered sympathetic which would be published in South Africa and abroad.
“Particular attention was to be paid to publicizing allegations of torture by former detainees held by SWAPO....” It is now apparent that Dobson’s superiors in the apartheid regime found at least one “sympathetic” conduit in the form of Slaughter’s WRP.
That the BOSS would seek out the WRP and Workers Press as a conduit for its dirty tricks is no accident. The distinctly anticommunist tone to the entire campaign waged by the WRP in regards to SWAPO and Namibia gave it every reason to be confident that Slaughter’s organization would prove a useful instrument. The anticommunist content of this campaign can be clearly seen in a March 4 statement issued by the WRP-Namibia in response to the affair of Anton Lubowski, a former SWAPO official who was assassinated last year. South African security chiefs have now claimed that he had functioned as their covert agent. The statement concluded: “The slanders and killings in Eastern Europe have led to upheavals on an unprecedented scale. The people are clearing their history from a 70-year-long travesty of lies and deceit.
“We in South Africa should fight to oppose the lies and distortion of our history. We owe it to our heroes to clear their names, because this struggle is tied up with the establishment of genuine democracy on a world scale.”
This extraordinary statement was published without comment in Slaughter’s Workers Press, which presumably agrees with the denunciation of 70 years of “lies and deceit.” This is not a slip of the pen. It is simply parroting the anticommunist propaganda which equates the October 1917 Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky with the bureaucratic degeneration of Stalinism. Moreover, the WRP-Namibia statement makes it clear that it is not socialism or proletarian dictatorship for which it is fighting, but “genuine democracy on a world scale,” a struggle which encompasses the right-wing forces seeking the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe.
Throughout the course of its anti-SWAPO campaign, the British and Namibian WRP made repeated comparisons of the internal repression practiced by SWAPO and the mass murder committed by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union during the purges of the 1930s. The Workers Press launched the campaign with an interview, published September 23, 1989, with Hewat Beukes of the Namibian WRP, in which he declared: “Stalinism the world over is being exposed for its methods—of which the SWAPO methods are an extension. The hallmarks of Stalinist methods are character assassination and physical elimination.”
In his reply to Dropkin, Slaughter directly cited the example of Trotsky’s struggle to expose the Moscow Trials, writing: “What can we say about Dropkin objecting to the demand for an international inquiry into SWAPO’s crimes? Surely everything must be done to expose the crimes of Stalinism against the working class. Does Dropkin think, perhaps, that an international inquiry, fought for by socialists into the Moscow Trials in 1936-38, would have been harmful to the working class?” (Workers Press, March 24, 1990).
These words were written barely four years after Slaughter organized the split of the WRP from the International Committee on the basis of a pro-Stalinist program which included a public denunciation of Security and the Fourth International, the first investigation ever conducted by the Trotskyist movement into the crimes of the Stalinist GPU. This investigation brought to the attention of the most class-conscious sections of the working class the bloody role of the Stalinist secret police. Security and the Fourth International provided new information on the assassination of Trotsky in August 1940, the murder of his son, Leon Sedov, in February 1938, the murders of Rudolf Klement and Erwin Wolf, both secretaries of the Fourth International, and the killing of Ignace Reiss, the GPU defector who declared his support for the Fourth International.
Slaughter was repeatedly pressed by the International Committee to explain his reasons for repudiating the findings of Security and the Fourth International, but he consistently refused. His earlier effort at international regroupment of centrist forces, the so-called Preparatory Committee, was founded on an explicit rejection of Security and the Fourth International, in order to curry favor with the anti-Trotskyist and pro-Stalinist forces with whom he was maneuvering.
Four years ago, Slaughter and the WRP denounced the exposure of the crimes of Stalinism, claiming that the Stalinist agents who infiltrated the Fourth International and set up the assassinations of Trotsky and Sedov were the victims of a “frame-up” organized by the International Committee. Now Slaughter joins in an imperialist-inspired campaign of provocation in Namibia, citing as his historical justification, the necessity to expose the crimes of Stalinism! Slaughter assumes that his readers have political amnesia, that they will forget in 1990 what he wrote in 1986, allowing him to shift from apologies for Stalinism to vulgar anticommunism, depending upon his immediate political needs.
Cliff Slaughter is a political provocateur. If he were working as a direct agent of an intelligence service’s “dirty tricks” department—whether imperialist or Stalinist—he would behave no differently. Whether this is the case or not, we cannot say. The fact that his political provocations play directly into the hands of the most reactionary imperialist interests, however, is already proven.
Only in this context can one understand a seemingly offhand reference which he dropped into his debate with Dropkin over the number of detainees killed by the SWAPO security forces. Slaughter stated that he is sure Dropkin doesn’t agree with the “twisted little group of David North (the so-called ‘International Committee of the Fourth International’ which split from the WRP a few weeks after our expulsion of G. Healy) that the murder and torture of members is somehow not ‘political,’ not a ‘betrayal.’ ”
What is Slaughter talking about? What is the purpose of insinuating this slanderous non sequitur, as ludicrous as it is sinister, into his reply to Dropkin? Once again we see the hand of a skilled provocateur. Slaughter presents his foul insinuation as if it were a well-known and established fact. He is telling his readers, without offering any proof or indeed any explanation whatsoever, that there exist organizations known as the International Committee of the Fourth International and, in the United States, the Workers League, and a man called David North, the national secretary of the Workers League, who support murder and torture.
There is a definite political aim in this libel: by planting this association of the ICFI, the Workers League and David North with “torture and murder,” Slaughter is striving to mobilize radical public opinion against the Workers League. Among these layers, Slaughter intends to prevent any consideration of the genuine program and political record of the International Committee with the statement, “Don’t you know, those are the people who support murder and torture?” Or perhaps, simply, “those are the murderers and torturers.” Such slanders are further aimed at isolating the Trotskyist movement and preventing its mobilization of political support against the real murderers and torturers of the capitalist state.
Of course, Slaughter’s political associates, who know such a backhanded allegation to be a criminal slander, will not utter a peep. As far as they’re concerned, no methods are too filthy in the struggle against the Trotskyists of the ICFI.
Those who are familiar with the political trajectory of Cliff Slaughter will not be surprised by these methods. They are identical to those he pursued in his split from the International Committee in 1985-86.
What are the facts of this split? Gerry Healy, the man with whom Slaughter collaborated intimately for 30 years, was expelled from the WRP in October 1985 on charges of physical abuse of party cadre.
In the months preceding this expulsion, Slaughter and the rest of the WRP leadership worked desperately to suppress demands by loyal party members for a control commission to investigate Healy’s abuses. They deliberately concealed the growing crisis over this question from the other sections of the ICFI.
When Slaughter and others in the WRP leadership were unable to contain this crisis any longer and it erupted into a public scandal, the International Committee insisted that the issues of Healy’s personal degeneration could not be understood except as a manifestation of the political degeneration of the British section. It demanded the initiation of a thoroughgoing discussion of program and perspective in order to rearm the WRP cadre and root out the national opportunism which had dominated the party’s political work over a whole period.
Slaughter was vehemently opposed to such a political examination of the WRP’s theory and practice and, most particularly, of his own considerable responsibility for the party’s historical betrayal of the working class. To derail any such investigation into these issues, he deliberately set out to whip up a middle class hysteria over the question of rape. He encouraged and applauded WRP General Secretary Mike Banda’s assertion that “the party has been split not on tactical and programmatic issues, but on the most basic question of revolutionary morality” and “on the relation between the sexes in the party.” Banda, basing himself on these politics, wound up within a few short months renouncing Trotskyism and embracing all the crimes of Stalinism.
The issue of torture and executions did come up in the ICFI in the period leading up to the split, but not in the way Slaughter suggests. In 1982 and 1984 the Workers League criticized the opportunist relations of the WRP leadership with various sections of the national bourgeoisie, especially in the Middle East, In particular it raised the issue of the WRP’s public support in 1979 for the execution of the Iraqi Stalinists. In 1984, the Workers League published a statement in its press denouncing the Iranian regime’s execution of members of the Tudeh (Stalinist) party. On both occasions when it demanded a discussion within the ICFI on the WRP’s unprincipled relations with the bourgeois regimes in the Middle East, it was Slaughter who led the rabid denunciations of the American Trotskyists and threatened the Workers League with immediate expulsion from the ICFI.
Thus, Slaughter’s preoccupation with “murder and torture of members” is a relatively new phenomenon. Such practices did not overly trouble him when he served as a bagman in Healy’s mercenary relations with the bloodstained Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and worked to silence any denunciations of these practices with threats and intimidation.
So, when Slaughter stated in relation to Namibia that the campaign on the detainee issue was an effective way to mobilize forces, he knew what he was talking about. In October-November 1985, it was he and Banda who declared that the issue in the split was “for or against rape.” When the IC exposed this fraudulent attempt to suppress the political issues in the split, Slaughter cynically declared that the IC’s position was that “rape is not a political question.” Now Slaughter has simply extended this formulation, translating the IC’s insistence on apolitical examination of the degeneration of the WRP into support for “torture and murder.” The purpose is the same in both cases: to incite disoriented middle class elements who have no interest in issues of program or principles and to mobilize them against revolutionary Marxism.
The campaign on rape was aimed at blocking the clarification of the Trotskyist cadre of the International Committee and preventing a thoroughgoing struggle against revisionism. In Namibia, this same method has been employed to create a movement with a twofold purpose: the creation of a direct anti-SWAPO provocation in the midst of the elections and the diversion of workers and radicalized middle class elements seeking a revolutionary alternative to bourgeois nationalism into the imperialist-controlled swamp of “human rights.”
Slaughter prides himself as an expert in the psychology of politically degenerated petty-bourgeois layers and in his abilities to appeal to their class resentments in order to turn them against the working class. His skills in doing so make him an especially valuable asset for imperialism, a procurer of these elements which it requires to attack the Trotskyist movement. Once one understands this method, Slaughter’s provocations and reactionary maneuvers on the world arena are highly predictable.
Four years after the split with the International Committee of the Fourth International, Slaughter’s role has emerged ever more directly as that of a political hitman for imperialism. As the Namibian affair demonstrates, the crude operations which he and his bogus “Workers International” carry out on the international arena are quite consciously directed at simultaneously smearing the name of Trotskyism and sabotaging the struggle to build genuine proletarian revolutionary parties.